Syp at Bio Break has written here about the common idea that games in the past were far better. It’s tough, because I agree 100% on the need to stop worshipping older games as the pinnacle of design. However he anticipated something unintentionally I have been thinking a lot about recently. I think that the “better” aspects are hurting MMOs. I’ll quote him here:
Have we lost some features and types of gaming mentalities that did make the genre richer? I don’t doubt that we have. But have we gained a lot as well? From my perspective, definitely. I take so much for granted these days in MMOs that I would’ve given so much to have back in 2002. I sincerely do not miss forced grouping, overly harsh death penalties, and the feeling of being completely lost in a game world.
What we have gained according to his list is accessibility and the elimination of negatives. However, has the genre actually evolved? Or have flaws just been stripped away to attract more people? They have evolved, but in a way people may not like.
Lets look at the upcoming MMOs that people are excited about and what they add:
-Star Wars: The Old Republic: Full voice acting, and the melding of Mass Effect style story sequences and rail shooter levels.
-Guild Wars 2: One of the things they trumpet is a Gears of War style revive system where party members can prevent you from a fantasy form of “bleeding out.”
-FFXIV: Gorgeous cutscenes and the story-based missions FFXI was known for.
-Vindictus: High quality game, but not an MMO. You play as pre-named characters, even.
Lets also look at some of the current MMOs. Global Agenda is a persistent FPSMMO. APB was the same till it shut down. A surprising number of F2P games are simply online console games you’d find on the PS2 or Gamecube. Star Wars: The Clone Adventures and Marvel Superhero Squad are multiplayer minigame collections. Champions Online is an MMO, but it’s segmented, instanced, and could almost be duplicated as a stand-alone console game. Need for Speed World could be as well.
My point is that it looks like the genre is changing in a way that is killing the MMO. All of these examples are not expanding on the concept of a virtual world, but are merging console and offline game conventions into MMOs to provide what Syp lists. The MMOs of the future will be net games: console games with a multiplayer component in order to eliminate piracy for AAA releases. It’s already started. Go to Beau Hindman’s Rise and Shiny column at Massively and count how many F2P games he tries that stretch the boundaries of what a MMO is.
The future is MAG. People don’t remember that before Halo and Xboxlive made online FPS multiplayer work, Zipper Interactive gambled and won on SOCOM, proving that it could. With MAG I think they have anticipated the MMO market again, and while it’s a fun game, I’m betting its model will spread, with the unintended side effect of putting the final nail in the coffin of the open world. My bet is that when Call of Duty embraces this, we’ll start to see MMO makers even more choose the net game over the virtual world.
Interesting times to live in, no?