the one thing that strikes me about MMOs, and MMORPGs in particular, is the sheer endurance of the games themselves. Most of them are nearing a decade old now. Some of them are past that.
In fact all the kings of the MMO genre- WOW, EVE, even runescape, were released in 2004, 2003, and 2001 respectively. All are the acknowledged kings of the fields they compete in (yes eve- partially since no other game even attempts what it does) and all of them are now compartively ancient.
It has been through dozens of re-releases, lovingly upgraded graphics and textures, and a constantly expanding world that these games still have a veneer of graphical respectability. Constant expansions introducing new content have kept them competitve.
But still- ten years.
Certainly there has been no creativity on the competitors part. the vast majority of newly released MMOs merely build upon the success of older ones, and usually are indistinguishable from their predecessors- see WOW clones. the few newer more ambitious ones don’t intially target the western market at all- they are made in Japan, South Korea, and china.
The few western MMORPGs released in the same area as WOW have fallen on their face- mostly adopted by second rate gaming companies, more than a few MMOs hamstring themselves with a second rate MMO. Examples are abound. Warhammer Online- a game that was drawing off a massive pre-existing game base with fantastic potential, fell noticeably short of the mark. Others such as LOTRO- another game with a massive pre-existing consumer base- have been playing second fiddle for years despite being by most acounts a great game. Recently LOTRO has made themselves mostly free to play, an interesting and aggresive direction which i’m taking a personal interest in.
However so far the most sucessful one for dethroning WOW- Rift, has by that measure failed miserably. It should have been able to capitalise on WOW’s venerable age, introduce powerful new graphics, learn from nearly a decade of experience to avoid previous mistakes, and create a new innovative experience.
To that measure it may have succeeded- the graphics are slightly less cartoony than WOW, and the class system slightly more developed. However the laws of inertia are working against rift here and this is why it has failed miserably.
WOW has constantly upgraded it’s graphics and content over the past 8 years. it has also constantly released new content. It has a vast, mature player base. The sheer size of wow- clocking in at 36 GB (or so), means a world that is as massive in actual size as it is in player size. Rift, has notcieably failed to provide the necessary gap between the gameplay and graphics of WOW in order to compensate for these massive advantages in it’s favour.
SO what needs to happen in order for WOW to fall.
Well actually we already got a taste of what needs to happen. To be precise, we got it last November.
We got Skyrim.
Skyrim didn’t just surpass the graphics of Online MMOs in the same genre, it put itself on an entirely new level. the level of detail and the dynamic snowfall among other things, the huge detailed world, the dynamic sounds and highly skilled voice acting just a few things. the constant NPC interaction, the dynamic and skillful combat- all of this makes WOW feel like it’s grandfather- where you need to mash buttons in a certain order to kill things rather than parry and block, and the graphics look cartoony by comparison to this highly realistic world.
Someone once posed that if Berthesa was to take Skyrim’s engine, add all the provinces from previous games and steadily add the others into one huge MMO, then as another once put it “Not a single child would be born ever again”.
For the moment, Berthesa has said a resounding “no” to this idea.
If they don’t, someone else should.
Of course, one could argue, Skyrim isn’t Online, doesn’t have to deal with the problems of being a MMO, which are not limited to sychronising several thousand players at the same time, latency, and such. Which brings me onto my next point.
Developers need to stop playing the game by WOW’s rules. Currently every single MMO can be run off any computer, and can connect to any server from just about anywhere and still be able to function basically.
this was WOW’s calling card back in 2004. the fact that an Australian kid using a 4 year old laptop with the processing power of a solar powered calculator can run WOW and connect to the NA servers is impressive- and is now becoming increasingly redundant.
the Internet is speeding up. 4G networks are coming online all over the globe. Latency- once the bane of every online game is now becoming more of a nussiance than the game breaker it once was- and that’s for FPSs like COD. Provided you are using a stable cable ADSL or even fiber optic internet connection to a server in your region, Lag is merely the memory of something it once was.
At the same time, so are computers. the Standard RAM on a laptop is now 4GB, up from 2 less than a year and a half ago. We are now almost 3 full generations of proccessors down the track since 2004- just by intel standards (pentiums, core duos, I5/I7/I3s) . Computer hardrive space is now about 500 gb standard up from less than a third of that 3 years ago.
Additionally, the nature of the gamer itself has changed almost unrecognisably in the past decades. It has aged, it has broadened, and it has gotten richer. Now the College and Uni students who were the first wow players are now relatively wealthy professionals potentially with a small family. The high school students are now uni graduates. The young nerdy dad’s are now older nerder dad’s potentially with kids of their own playing the game.
This demographic shift is important- because it also represents a economic one.
Not the one you expect. the wave of freemium games have proven that even if the gamer works as a highly paid software engineer with no kids, he will still shrink from paying 15 bucks a month- however if the game is FREE he will probably end up spending 100 dollars in a binge to get “just that right skin/item combo”. No the other economic shift.
Gamers will now spend untold amounts of money in order to secure 2GB graphic cards with crossfire, 16 GB of ram, the gaming i7, 2 TB of HD space, and a massive internet connection to ensue that they can download the lastest episode of whatever Anime serries they are following.
the Wow killer, or de-throner, will be the one to capitalise on this.
Introduce Skyrim class graphics to MMOs. introduce complicated and intensive combat that doesn’t rely on the simplicity of the autoattack. Introduce out there and difficult innovations like Mounted & aerial combat, minecraft style player driven cities and architecture. Introduce player held lands which they can hold in their own name rahter htan for an NPC faction, and allow them to set their own laws and customs.
Introduce dynamic quests that can be altered by the presence and actions of other players. Introduce a MMO that stretches for thousands and thousands of miles, takes up a 100 GB of HD space. Introduce soemthing that can stretch your gaming computer to the max.
I’m not saying make this game something unplayable on anything but these machines, but seriously, why not stretch the envelope.
Because ultimately, Catering for the lowest common denominator hurts everyone else. Who cares about the 1 rural australian playing on NA servers on a shit computer- let’s instead cater to the 1000 comparable people on decent computer. Make something that WOW can’t compete with on it’s 8 year old mechanics.
We need a challenger. we need a serious, seasoned gaming company to take on blizzard. We need someone who isn’t afraid to spend the big bucks.
And we need a open mind and a leap of faith from everyone else.