Thursday, 3 November 2011

It's all just Everquest with extra sprinkles

I’ve heard a few folks recently talking about the end of traditional MMORPGs, sometimes with some fairly dramatic terms used describing the death of the genre and the imminent demise of its Warcraft overlord. There’s probably quite a bit of overstatement going on there, well actually there’s no probably about it, MMORPGs are not going to die out anytime soon, but I think it would be more than fair to say that the genre has stagnated in quite a big way. The current lack of imagination (effectively game development by numbers) means that all the games coming out are still just Everquest with sprinkles on top. They might look different, be available in a range of flavours and some might even have a flake chocolate bar stuck on top, but essentially they’re all just bloody ice-cream again and again and again.
 
The only goal is to upgrade your equipment. Sure, you could perhaps claim it’s the achievements of beating bosses and dungeons, but if that was true then having beaten the boss once you wouldn’t repeat it over and over, after all people don’t often play through single player games more than once. Players are only repeating dungeons whilst they need upgrades from them, it’s not like these dungeons are better than single player experiences and the most fun thing ever... So like it or not, the whole point of the game is that upgrading of equipment. To do this you will collect 10 missing socks, kill 10 rats, go up levels, farm the basic dungeons, get raid ready, start raiding and then raid, raid, raid until all upgrades are done. By which time an expansion arrives to raise the equipment bar and you’ll repeat the process.
 
That in itself is fine, we’ve had a good time over the last 14 years of MMORPG gaming and I’m not saying that the concept of the games has been flawed or anything. It’s just that I’m now seeing many veteran gamers burning out on games far earlier than before. Once you’ve seen all the new scenery, mastered playing your choice of class and done a good chunk of the instanced dungeon experience, things start to get a bit meh a whole lot faster. Can you really be bothered to go through the hours of grinding raid content to get to the final event? A final event that is only a temporary finale anyway, since an expansion will arrive and cancel out all your past effort. And you’ve done all of this before in EQ, WoW, AoC, Aion, EQ2, RIFT, etc, etc. Better surely to move on to the next game and go through the process with new scenery and things to learn, then move on to yet another game once this one gets dull.
 
We used to stay loyally subbed to one MMORPG for years, but now I feel that this stagnation is nudging us more towards being game world tourists. The theme-park moniker for games like WoW, RIFT, etc has become all to true. They are turning into somewhere we go on holiday to, have a great time, but then we leave and go somewhere else. I’m expecting SWTOR and GW2 to have roughly a 3-6 month lifespan for most people, after which people will start to succumb to that nagging sensation of déjà vue. We’ve been here before… it’s all the same… disappointment kicks in and back to Warcraft (most people’s first MMO) they go. I think this is one of the major reasons so many people end up going back to the comfortable familiarity of WoW, it’s not because of some incredible difference in quality, it’s simply because people move on expecting new stuff, but the new games are not actually new. They’re just WoW reskinned, or Everquest with extra sprinkles.
 
So you’ve got the WoW hooked people only dipping into other games for a holiday and then returning disappointedly to WoW, or you’ve got us veteran types totally bored of WoW that just move from game to game looking for Eldorado, but ultimately we’re  just stuck in a never ending coach tour of virtual worlds.
 
Of course when it comes to the amount of time subbed to a game there are exceptions for everyone, when a game has an IP that is special to us for example, but there are no games coming that we’ll ALL be playing long term because of the “game” itself. Folks can talk about WoW beaters all they like, but I just can’t see anything reaching and most importantly maintaining those kind of sub levels until something offers genuinely different motivations to play. Right now, no matter how people try and hype up SWTOR, GW2, etc, there is nothing on the horizon that isn’t just bloody Everquest again.
 
 
Note I’m talking about MMORPGs, not MMOs or arena games, as those are a whole other kettle of fish :D

6 comments:

  1. And Everquest is just DIKU with graphics.

    I talked about this at length a few months ago in a blog post of my own:

    The squandered potential of MMOs

    http://www.frogdice.com/muckbeast/game_design/the-squandered-potential-of-mmos.html

    It seems to me that half the evolution tree of online RPGs was prematurely killed by the failure of Star Wars Galaxies and a subsequent fear in the industry to make true virtual world games after that.

    That's why all we are seeing now is DIKU clones (or WoW clones if you prefer) and very little innovation at all.

    The MMORPG genre is overdue for a big time revolution. Someone is going to revitalize the other side of the tree and make an awesome game.

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  2. Disagree hugely.
    WAR pissed on all the big name MMOs for PVP.
    RVR was a fantastic step in the right direction.

    Being able to be a nordic, barbarian chaos bastard and slap other players around in fast, action-based combat in small skirmish and huge fights alike, is one of my favourite gaming experiences to date.

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  3. Oops, I meant MMORPG.
    Planetside was better, and EVE is truly gargantuan.

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  4. I did mean to mention actually that WAR, DAoC and EVE have tried to do something different and genuinely have different goals for playing, but they're the only big players that have. And unfortunately despite you and I having a great time with it, most people have seen WAR as a slow drawn out and painful crash and burn, which will not have publishers leaping to invest in true RvR games anytime soon. Otherwise DAoC2 would have been announced instead of being cancelled... So whilst DAoCs and WARs RvR was a step in the right direction, it's a road to nowhere as almost everyone has given up on it.

    Plus both DAoC and WAR have now stepped much too far into the gear/upgrade grind simply because that's apparently what MMORPGs have to be. You hit max level in either game these days and you've got ages of having a shit time just grinding gear to be able to compete. There's no justifiable reason for this other than this is what other games do..

    EVE, yeah totally an exception to all the rules and I rate it hugely, but it's a niche game and in reality has very little influence on the direction of the genre as a whole. That could change of course, if Dust 514 lives up to it's promises, in which case everything changes :)

    Planetside 2 has huge potential. However these are just a tiny handful of exceptions in a genre dominated by bazillions of games doing the same thing. And more and more of them coming.

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  5. To be fair, when it comes to gear grind in DAoC nowadays it is pretty much non-existant, as long as you have some friends to help you a bit.

    For example, a few weeks ago i leveled a healer and got her to level 50 and fully templated in one week.

    The big problem with DAoC though is the massive hill you have to climb when it comes to Realm Ranks, it is extremely unforgiving to go out in the Frontiers as a RR1-2 and stumble upon RR11-12s all over the place.

    But i have to say that even if the game is 10 years old the RvR is still better than WAR ever has been.

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Half man half pixel. Music obsessive, likes a drink, occasional bastard.