Upon first inspection it would seem the MMO genre is pulsating with fresh ideas and life. But thats far from the truth, and I think most would agree. The whole scene is beginning to look like the same game repeated over and over, same game with different names.
I can remember back in the day when the prospect of the upcoming Everquest excited many. Ultima Online still being a newly released game was setting expectations so high in terms of gameplay and content possibilities. Then when Everquest was finally released, I tried it and got sick of it in a month. It became pretty apparent to me where the genre was headed even back then, an emphasis on graphics and repetitive hacking and slashing. With few exceptions thats exactly what happened. Are people really satisfied with this type of gaming? Will we ever say enough? Im keeping my fingers crossed.
It is really hard for me to fathom what these game developers could be thinking while they spam the shelves with these recent titles such as Vanguard, Lord of the Rings Online, even Everquest 2. How many times can you expect to squeeze the same idea for all its worth without just failing miserabley? I think we will be finding out soon. It did work for World of Warcraft, but in my opinion the winds of change will soon be blowing.
Dont get me wrong, there are a few shining lights and more dim ones that dare to stray away from this awful trend. Take for example EVE Online, a great game whos original content and ideas mixed with gameplay and massive scale make it one of a kind. EVE is becoming more and more hugely successful right now, wich I believe is mostly due to its willingness to stray away from the norm of MMO gaming. People are desperate for a breath of fresh air and games like EVE are reaping the benefits of that fact. The same is true for other, less impressive titles like Guild Wars, and Dungeons and Dragons Online. These sorts of games being called “massively multiplayer” is something questionable. In a world of instances who needs the “multiplayer” part at all? Its almost an insult to the idea of MMOs. And in the case of Dungeons and Dragons Online, a shameless use of a popular name. It still frustrates me that the name of Dungeons and Dragons was squandered away on such a game. The worst thing about either of those games is the fact they are so linear,possibilities dont reach much further than fighting, finding treasure and gaining experience.
On top of all this, it seems that even if a game is fun to begin with that theres no promise it will stay that way. It happens all too often, whiners and criers find a message board and throw fits until the nerf bat is put to use. Just once Id love to see a game that maintained a zero-tolerance for whiners policy “if you cant take the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Such a policy would draw hardcore gamers like moths to a flame,and quickly weed out the children who would probably quit after a few months anyway. Creating a social environment that would be almost too good to be true and virtually irresistable to players who cringe at the thought of watching l33t “chuck norris” joke scroll across their screen. Not to mention establishing a large and loyal long term playerbase.
Developers need to take a look at games like EVE and Ultima Online, instant classics that have created a loyal playerbase. These games offered near endless possibilities and massive environments to interact with. Ultima Online still maintains a playerbase to this day and many still call it their favorite MMO of all time. This is despite its lack of high end graphics, wich arent really a priority to many people when looking for a good MMO. Graphics encourage people to try a game, but they dont keep players.
There does seem to be a few people in the business that share my thoughts. With a handful of promising looking titles on the horizon like Gods and Heroes, and Pirates of the Burning Seas there still seems to be hope. I can only sit and wait, hoping these games end up delivering what I and many others hope they will. Hopefully they will and if they do, they will no doubt be huge successes. And with a little luck, maybe their success will cause other game developers to rethink their approach and get it right this time. Gameplay,originality and content over graphics,bells and whistles.