Monday, July 28, 2008

No More "WoW Killer" MMORPGs, Please

We've heard the phrase "WoW Killer" in reference to up and coming MMORPGs ever since the release of the retardedly successful MMO that spread the world of escapism via persistent online worlds to the masses.

While being a "WoW Killer" is certainly a lucrative prospect (what development or publishing company wouldn't want 62% or more of the MMORPG market share?), what has this goal given the gaming public?

Mediocre all-in-one attempts at dethroning the online giant. Penny Arcade inadvertently summed up the MMORPG industry with their E3 Press Conference Comic. Now replace Microsoft in the first frame with MMO marketers, Nintendo in the second frame with investors and community relationship managers, and Sony in the third frame with developers and you'll see an uncanny resemblance.

Here are a few games I've tried that attempted to take a slice of the pie from the King of MMOs:

  • City of Villains
  • Dark and Light
  • Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Age of Conan
Thankfully, there were a few atrocities that I was able to avoid thanks to my fellow gamers warning us in advance of how wasted our dollars & time would be if we purchased or played these products (The Matrix Online, Hellgate: London, RF Online, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea).

What do all of these games have in common? Well, besides mediocrity of course. They all tried to do too much. So much that they failed to deliver in any specific area. So seems to be the trend with MMORPGs these days. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in today's MMO development studios.

I'm a firm believer that every MMORPG that receives financial backing and development support starts off with a few great ideas. A series of innovations that lure investors into green-lighting multi-million dollar products that promise to deliver great results. Somewhere down the line, priorities change. The intended PvE only game (LotRO) is pressured into adding PvP content to capture additional market share. Or the hardcore grind-fest is pressured into being more casual-friendly (Vanguard). In Age of Conan's case, the Free For All hack-n-slash and massive Siege-O-Matic 6000 PvP game is pressured into being more PvE friendly, with PvE raiding content added into the mix. To achieve what? That's right, more market share.

The result of these all-in-wonders is a half-finished, bug-laden, polished turd.

What could have been a "unique and innovative combat system" (AoC) turns out to be a boring, uninspired twist on typical MMO mechanics, pressing up to 6 buttons to achieve what you got with one button press in prior games.

The "most amazing and interactive crafting system ever devised" (Vanguard) comes out as a half-assed puzzle game that inspires suicidal tendencies, not fun.

The "most in-depth character customization" and "exciting new PvP dynamics" (CoV) drowns in a sea of tedious grinding combined with consumable-laden frustration as you attempt to chase down Flash-wannabe #8793 and his mass-teleporting compatriots, hoping to gain a few brief seconds of fighting after a three hour long high-speed chase over the roof tops of what has become a very small gameworld once you started moving at 6000% of normal run speed.

All in all the result is more of the same crap we've seen before, just with a new skin on it.

Meet the New Boss

Same as the Old boss

The one developer who gets major kudos for sticking to their guns is CCCP. They found a solid niche audience, and they resisted the temptation of the masses. Sure, they only possess a 1.5% piece of that pie chart linked at the beginning of this post, but they clearly stand out amongst the other all-in-one clones and wannabes (WoW & Asian grind-fest MMORPGs excluded) as a victor. They found something they're good at, and found success with it.

What's the point? I hope more developers follow this mindset in the coming years so that we, the customers, can receive a product worth our money. The choice is in your hands, oh great and wise developers. Remember, the customer is the one who is going to make or break you, not your publisher. Don't listen to all of us. Listen to the ones who share your vision of the next great MMORPG, and you might stand a shot at creating it.


Wk said...

This was a really great post. Just thought I needed to say that.


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