Is it me, or am I the only person who is getting sick of the same shit packaged in a different wrapper? I've been into this genre longer then I like to admit sometimes, and it has become clear to me that the idea well has been out of water for the last few years. What ever happened the the game designers who actually made their own worlds, wrote their own lore, and made a game that didn't play like a hot steaming pile of crap? It seems to be a horrible trend of developers trying to sell us on the next cookie cutter game.
Do any of the other MMO veterans ever stop and wonder how the hell we ended up here? I mean really stop for a minute and take a look at where this whole thing started. Everquest brought the RPG experience into a real 3D world. Asheron's Call was a massive zoneless, seamless, skill based game that thought way outside the box. Dark Age of Camelot really helped to show us that PvP can be fun and meaningful and brought us the first RvR. Anarchy Online took us into the Sci-Fi for the first time with a staggering large world and introducing instancing and randomly generated missions. All of these games are classic MMO's that layed the foundation for this genre. All of these were flawed in their own ways, but conceptually these were all innovative ideas. With the rock solid foundations these games gave the genre, the developers have built a house made out of paper.
Some of the blame for this lack of innovation falls on the players. Innovation hasn't been selling. Why do some people get suckered in by franchises?! Buying a game because of an association with a movie, pen-and-paper world, books, and other games is one of the worst reasons to buy a product. This also severely limits the amount of creativity a designer can use because they have forced themselves to conform to someone else's ideas. Time and time again we have seen this to be a bad formula for a few reasons. First of all, look at all of the MMO's that are based off of some franchises that are complete and utter debacles.
Star Wars Galaxies was a complete train wreck of game. When they decided it would be a good idea to let everyone be a Jedi, did they actually think anyone would not want to play an overpowered class with a light sabre?
Dungeons and Dragons, another complete waste of internet bandwidth. Maybe its just me, and that I used to play and run D&D campaigns with my friends, but this game had little to do with the real game then the name on the box.
The Matrix. While I can understand everyone desire to go roof jumping and dodge bullets in slow motion, the game was a disaster, and I marvel at the fact it hasn't been shut down yet.
Lord of the Rings. Yep, I went there. So you basically thought if you took World of Warcraft, slapped some Middle Earth models on it, cut the size of the world by 50%, and added the ability to play a monster, that people will play after the initial new game wanderlust wears off?
Let me take an aside here and hold Turbine's feet to the fire. Turbine, you should be ashamed of yourself more so then any other MMO company. WTF happened to you guys?! You had Asheron's Call on your trophy shelf, probably the best MMO many veterans will testify to playing, and you blew it. AC2 is probably the worst tragedy this genre has ever had. How could you screw that up?! All you had to do was keep the same mechanics and update the graphics a little, and instead you gave us something that had nothing to do with AC1 besides the name of the world and the title on the box. Now you let AC1 whither away. Turbine has been reduced to riding the coat-tails of other franchises and milking their lore to stay in business. I weep for the people who got a lifetime subscription to a game with a life cycle of 2-3 months. Go fix AC1 and stop milking other people's ideas.
There is such a thing as bad innovation. Just because its a new clever idea, doesn't mean you should have turned off your common sense at the design meeting when you heard it. If you are going to try something new, at least make sure that it is implimented good. Here are some examples where real innovation went bad.
Archlord - From their website......"There can be only one ArchLord! - Do you have what it takes to become the mighty ArchLord? Work with your guild as you embark on an epic voyage to be crowned the single ruling ArchLord."
There is on small problem being that the ability to become the Archlord WAS NEVER IN THE GAME A YEAR AFTER RELEASE! Way to go guys! You named your game after this idea and didn't use it! The developer should work on a new game called "Safety Net", where he throws himself off the roof of a high building.
Auto Assault - Let's make a game that targets MMORPG players. Players who are inspired from high fantasy and let them role play as cars! Everyone wishes they could be in a world of cars! Oh wait, we already are. Since this one actually did get shut down, maybe they should start a new project called "Welfare Assault", where players get to role play as out of work game developers on welfare.
Sword of the New World - The first game to allow you to control 3 characters at the same time. I guess its an interesting idea if your into that sort of thing. What baffles me is how someone could build an entire game around this idea, and provide almost zero character customization. A poll on their own forums shows that only 27% of those polled thought the games customization was good. Point and click movement also makes me shake my head wondering why in 2007 are we trying to make a 3D MMO with the movement system of Diablo?
As we look toward the future, the good news is that there are finally some innovative games we can get excited about. Pirates of the Burning Sea is a good example of trying something fresh and innovative. If it launches and runs OK, it will finally give us a new of looking at MMOs, and taking them to a new setting. Darkfall seems to be aiming to give us something with little to no restrictions and possibly redefine PvP. Darkfall's biggest danger is it may be setting it's setting the bat too high for itself to jump over. Hopefully they will be able to silence the naysayers chanting vaporware. Darkfall and Conan are both trying to change the face of MMO combat Will people pay to play a game like Fury when Guild Wars is free? Is Warhammer going to do enough enough to set it apart from every other cookie cutter MMO, or will it just be another franchise milking?
Honestly, only time will tell if there is really a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully players will start paying for innovation instead of chasing after memorable franchise names. When it becomes profitable for them to break the cookie-cutter they will do it. It won't happen until a game comes along that changes the way developers look at everything, and for that to happen we as players should vote with our money in favor of originality when it is well thought out and implemented well.
Co-Leader of Inquisition