In my constant quest for more and more worlds to explore, I come across some really strange, wonderful and grotesque places. Some of these games draw me in from the beginning, and some turn me off within 20 minutes, but I have found that charm works more wonders than big budgets do.
It's the same way I feel about movies, being that I can enjoy a summer blockbuster romp as much as the next viewer, but tend to really get stuck on lower budget movies that use the little they have in more creative ways. It's pretty ridiculous to consider what a crapper Transformers 2 was, for example, especially when you consider how many millions it took to make it. Even more so when you compare it to a movie that was made for a fraction of the T2 budget, one that might have grabbed you in deeper ways like The Blair Witch Project or Donnie Darko. For the money they spent on Transformers, that plot should have been better than a beer in the shower. If you can make someone jump out of their seat with a 3 million dollar explosion, that's OK. But if you can do it with nothing but tricky lighting, then that's much, much cooler.
That might explain my recent obsession with browser based MMO's. Many of them are of the standard variety of Face-book type games, RTS's that move at a snails pace, but many more are now stepping into the light that are clever, cute and downright intriguing. Look at zOMG, Gaia ONline's new browser based add-on to their already millions strong social network. The game is doing wonders with flash, and while it might not be everyone's cup of tea, anyone with a right mind would have to recognize the nice bit of work and creativity that went into it. Also, consider that it equals zero download. You register and start playing. It runs smoothly, is a lot of fun and the music is top-notch.
Then look at something like FaunaSphere, a strange 2-D Flash romp in a trippy world of pollution, pets and customizable mini-worlds. (Look for a review soon on ablegamers.com) Again, zero download, yet almost all the functionality of many "normal" mmo's out there.
So many people claim that a normal, large MMO like Everquest 2 has so much more to offer, and while that is true in many respects, you have to look at the proportions and the type of machines or set-ups required to run either game. EQ2 is still a pretty GPU hungry game, and still needs tweaking for lower-end machines to run it. While it does have a large number of wonderful in-game systems, there is the consideration of a more expensive machine to run it, and more hard drive space.
Granted, most basic machines sold now could run it at lower settings even with many of the on-board chipsets, but the latest rages are Netbooks and portability. According to some of the numbers I have been seeing and some of the trends, Netbooks and smaller note-books are going to be attached to more and more players each year. As wireless networks spread (or access like my 3-G access on my lil' Netbook) the more people will want to play-on-the-go. Gaming is becoming the norm, like music or watching movies.
In other words, the trend is smaller and less upkeep, not larger with upgrades every year. The iPhone is the next popular platform, not another console. Look at what the iPod did for portable music, and watch what happens when a more robust gaming ability comes to the device.
I noticed, also, that the MMO developers community seems to be mainly divided into three groups:
1) Subscription based, "older model" games, large downloads/file sizes
2) F2P games, various download sizes, cash-shop models
3) The browser based/no download model. F2P, cash-shops as well
From all of the developers I have met, the last two seem to be off on their own, not nearly as concerned with the giant that is WoW, and much freer because of it. And if you look at the only other games in NA (and the rest of the world) to have more players than WoW, you'll look at a F2P game. Some of the largest are browser based no-download games.
At GDC they predicted that Flash would have full 3-D capability within 2 years. While that might drive download sizes up, it would not increase hardware requirements much in the same way standard MMO's have. Soon, you will buy a note-book for 100 dollars that will be running full 3-D games, playing through wireless networks and possibly laughing at the fact that people used to pay 50 or 60 dollars just for a DVD of software.
At least, that's my prediction, and my hope. I'm tired of worrying about upgrading or buying new thousand dollar machines every two years.