Monday, November 24, 2008

State of MMO's and the marketplace

This really isn't a WAR post... WAR will be referenced, but so will WoW and DAoC as well; I'll probably throw in some EQ and UO for spice and flavor.

Ok, so a post on VN got me thinking.. this guy posted about why WAR has kind of not lived up to some people's expectations, and just about the state of MMO's in general right now.

History lesson, and I'm not MMO history expert.. in fact, I'm probably in my MMO Mid-Life-Crisis, and not an 'old timer'.

Back in the day, the first big mainstream MMO's were Everquest and Ultima Online. These are the holy grails of MMO's... EQ *defined* the PvE Experience, and it was what Brought to life D&D and MUDs in a very real, graphical sense. It set the standard on how the combat system was to work, how Mana / Hits worked in a game environment, experience and leveling speeds, class balance and synergy and 'bosses' or raiding. Most of all functions and framework for any modern MMO's PvE experience can be attributed to lessons learned and discovery made during EQ's time as the prime-MMO... and to the naysayers: EQ must have done something right; there’s still people playing on their servers, and its about to be 2009. PvP.. this was defined by U.O... the Pace of PvP, skill level involved, skill sets required by certain classes, and roles filled in a group. Unfortunately, I never really had the opportunity to play UO, which I really regret.

So these were the basic MMO's... the crowd playing them was pretty young/green.  But as UO and EQ progressed... the player base got more mature, and more what is termed, Min-Maxed based. People wanted to know the formulas behind the game, they wanted more complexity, they wanted more depth in Combat and Content, and they wanted more skills required of the player and less repetitious (spelling?) button mashing. They wanted a defining rift between the haves and the have-nots... people who took the time to max their character, learn the strengths and weaknesses, and figure out the complexities of the games SHOULD have a distinct advantage.


Then came DAoC.. this was the by-product of a player base asking for more complexity. To date, I really don't think there is a more complex (save *maybe* AoC.. but I don't think so) combat and casting system. Players had to worry about multiple stats, resists, buffs, buffbots, potions, positional, reactive, realm abilities, charges, timers, procs... there was a plethora of information to see, process and react too during combat. At it's peak, DAoC saw a subscription base of about 250,000 people.. and was the first "RvR and Siege"-centric MMO to date. No one had even touched some of the Ideas that Mythic introduced in DAoC... from Keep sieges, to RvR-managed dungeons, massive RvR battles, relics... these were all new and fresh ideas introduced because of a demand from the player base. DAoC was, thru the SI expansion, Community-Centric... the community rallied behind one another... responding to Frontier calls, RvR keep sieges, relic raids and Emain-Roaming.

Fast forward November 24, 2004; World of Warcraft is released. WoW, I personally think, can be attributed to the most massive set back in gamer-thought and culture since the advent of the modern computer game. WoW introduced the MMO genre to (yes 11 million people worldwide) about 3 million new players between the US and Europe. WoW introduced a new-player 'friendly' combat system and interface, along with simplistic skills sets, easy to learn combat mechanics, minimal stats and requirement for character knowledge. While this was great for MMO exposure, it set the mind-set of the playerbase back to the EQ era. People entirely new to the genre where put off by the complexities of DAoC, EQ and UO. In terms of PvP, no one wanted any lingering or detrimental effects associated with events such as loosing or death... WoW had no death penalty and Global PvP ment little in terms of progression. There was no "realm pride".. now the community was divided into a subset of guilds, with the only commonality between players on the same 'realm' were aesthetics. Players didn't demand a combat system that rewarded skill and reaction; but one that padded mistakes and was more forgiving towards beginners. Community, complexity and.. responsibility... were tossed out the window in WoW, in favor for a larger player base and more money.

Money does in fact, drive a business. And the shift proved great for Blizzard, good for them. However, 11 Million subscribers has proven to be a paradigm-shift for the MMO genre in general. Now every MMO must compare and compete with WoW; lets face it... it's the 800lb gorilla in the room, you can't afford to ignore it.

Now, since 2004 there has been a lot complaints about WoW. Their player base hasn't shown to be terribly dedicated as it experiencing an ebb-and-flow with each new MMO release. Their players are eagerly awaiting the next-best thing. However, it hasn't been delivered. MMO companies are too set in trying to compete with WoW in Blizzard’s arena instead of thinking outside the box and coming up with something new and innovative.

I thought WAR was going to be the new innovation. I mean honestly, it's a Mythic Product. The people who INVENTED RvR, Class balance in RvR Scenarios, RvR dungeons and half of the skills found in modern MMOs. As much of a Mythic fanboy as I am, and a WAR-addict... Mythic really missed a great opportunity. They Missed the mark... they tried to take WoW, a PvE focused game... sling some new paint, new carpet and some landscaping on it, and make it an RvR game. What they said on paper really hooked a lot of people; the game had over 800K people sign up for the Beta for crying out loud. People are DESPERATE to get away from the treadmills that MMO's have become! Yet... post-release and taking a 2month look back at the game, there's too many points that they really missed the mark on; and now their subscription base is showing signs of dwindling because of it (in conjunction with a WoW Expansion pack). Mythic took the same path as Blizzard... and instead of adopting a complex combat system; they went with an AP based, low-mechanics, few-stat combat system that uses casting on the run, a lot of instas, and very few interrupts... and now they’re seeing the detrimental effects of it (trouble balancing RDPS with MDPS). And the great, seemingly innovative RvR systems they had touted, have kind of fallen to the wayside and many people see no incentive to RvR in the open and prefer the Mini-games that scenarios have become. The entire 'tiered' system subdivides the community on a 3x4 basis, per realm... so there's very little community interaction, outside of either your Guild or a Premade. RvR is essentially pointless, as the keeps and battlefield objectives play little part in terms of zone capture... PvE Questing and Scenario's play just as much of a role; so the need to go capture keeps and objectives is small. City sieges, the massive and epic battles that were touted pre-beta...turns out are a collection of PQ's, in which the opposing side race to complete PvE objectives quickly.. and that determines if the city is sacked or not; which seems backwards given its an RvR focused game. And the PvE, even for PvE, is very repetitious and boring... 

Don't take the previous statement as saying that I don't like WAR, or I'm a WAR naysayer. I'm not; I fully enjoy WAR and it's the best MMO out there right now... but it didn't really live up to its expectations, from an older-gamers’ perspective. Before we see another DAoC-esque innovation in the MMO game-space, the Collective WoW mentality is going to have to grow up. Maybe they're showing signs of it; they're not loyal to WoW by any means... but they're just not there yet. I think as time progresses, its going to become harder and harder for innovation to shine through, however, because investors are driving game development now (the game industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, achieving higher level or revenues that film now) and they've seen what the WoW model has done. Hopefully tho... a small, idealistic development company can not succumb to investor's whims and produce a quality, innovative and complex MMO and propel the mindset of the current MMO generation to the level that we should currently be at.

Mythic did it in 2000/2001... hopefully, either they or someone else, can do it again.

SUMMARY: The post was NOT really (I got off on a tangent) directed toward my feelings at the shortcomings of WAR, its moreso how WoW and it's mentality have really set back the progression of innovative MMO thought and gameplay with the advent of simplistic, forgiving combat systems, and a diluted community based around gear and self-centeredness... foregoing community and the "RP" of MMORPGS. 

No comments: