Monday, October 15, 2007

The Current and Near-future state of MMOs

Tobolds had an article on his blog about the doom-casting around MMOs and how many bloggers are all pointing to the same dark morass 2008 will be for MMOs and saying “Doom! Doooooooom!” He also thought it would be interesting for some kind of counter-point discussion. Not being one to shy away from rambling on about poorly-researched subject matter, and also having been in a blogging slump lately, I considered it prime time to dust off the keyboard and dazzle my readers with my foresight, insight and overall mastery of the English language.

Then I came back to reality, and wrote this instead:

Player benefits of the current MMO slump:

1) Rather than play new, players can cross-pollinate. 2008 will be a good time for players to play other established games which they may not have considered. World of Warcraft, Everquest2, Guild Wars, Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes, to name a few, have been going well for a while now. Players can break away from the games they may be tiring of and try another one that has already been established for a while. Who knows? Perhaps in trying a game you dismissed at first may introduce you to a really great game.

2) An opportunity for Sleeper Hits. While most of the big-name MMOs seem to be delayed or cancelled, perhaps this is prime time for an MMO from a small name developer to leap to the front of the pack and impress people with awesome game-play / neat stories / whatever floats your boat. The industry as a whole could use some fresh blood. A company of any size could really shine if they bring something revolutionary to the table in 2008.

3) Games with room to grow. Many people love being in on the ground floor of The Next Big Thing (tm), but how about getting in on a game which is being refined. Lord of the Rings Online needs some more work with regard to combat fluidity, quests for certain levels and some other tweaks but it’s getting there. Tabula Rasa sounds like it needs more content. I imagine they’ll probably build it sometime. You could be one of the folks that got in at the ground level and, by playing and offering constructive feedback, you could help to make a good game great. People love the current polish of WoW, but seldom seem to remember the MONTHS of server problems, log in queues, inventory problems and crashes that came immediately after the launch. Tomorrow’s refined game started today as a passable, not-that-bad-but-not-that-great game.

4) Go the ^$%# outside. Another benefit of not having a lot of new gaming options: no excuse to stay cooped up inside.

All that, of course, is from the player perspective.

From the perspective of the MMO companies, I think they are engaged in a great struggle. How does one make an MMO in a post-WoW world? Whether you like the game or not, WoW pretty much defines what a release and continued development in a great game should be. I view WAR’s delay not as a failing on the part of Mythic, but perhaps a success: they’re not going to release a game that’s crap and if it is so far from being worthy that it won’t be releasable for a good long time, then it’s best to pull the plug and get to retooling it now instead of knowing that there are problems and trying to release it anyway.

I don’t remember where I read it, but one gaming insider said that no one remembers when you release something late if it’s good, but everyone remembers when you release crap too soon. I’m sure I paraphrased that badly, but the attitude of releasing worthy games is a good one. In the end, it will strengthen the genre and provide us the users with ever-widening sources of viable game play whatever our personal preferences may be.

If we have to wait for the Next Big Thing(tm) in gaming until late 2008 or 2009, that's cool by me. If the game companies are worth their salt, there should actually be a number of releases that should be quite good whenever it is that they can be released.

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