Any member of any gaming forums such as the one run by this site will tell you that there are a several subjects that will occur and re-occur as often as there are new people coming and going from these halls of reading. And among those subjects, the cry for innovation is king.
It seems like a player barely has time to begin playing an MMO (MMORPG, Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game) before the muse of innovation takes a hold on their brain and they find themselves out here in these internets trying to sell some idea that they believe will make the game that they are playing better.
Developers listen. Don't let anyone lie to you. They are always here among us, always reading, always looking for that one thing that they might have missed. But for both developer and armchair developer alike, there is one simple truth that, if ignored, can cause what I believe to be a techno-degenerative disorder. That truth is simply this, "Some things only look good on paper."
Examining the goals of an MMORPG one would think that the basic idea would be to provide the user with an entertaining adventure that they could share with other players. Simple enough. But when you begin to add other terms, such as persistent world or universe or grouping or player versus player combat, sandbox or theme park play, or the myriad of other terms that have been created to describe different routines that must be added to the overall program, the idea of entertaining becomes segmented and those segments become demographics.
Now we have to create a game that appeals to as many, or at the very least the largest demographic. And more terms are created like accessible, hardcore and story driven. Each term relating to some form of innovation past, present, or future that must be included into a title before its release in order for that title to appeal to the largest amount of players and thus generate the largest amount of revenue.
It's a puzzle for certain. One that many a developer and studio has tried to complete over the last 17 or so years. But in the race to innovate, more often than not, it seemed that the better the programs became at assisting the players the less entertaining they became.
When I was a kid there was this spooky song that always made me feel fear when I heard it. No it was not bye bye Ms. American Pie*, although all props to that one too (it was a creepy time in music), but rather different song that discussed....
"The overriding theme, of a world doomed by its passive acquiescence to and over dependence on its own overdone technologies" **
Woo! That thing gives me shivers just thinking about it!
How creepy is it then to actually watch something like this happen in something as seemingly innocent as an MMO? Any major dude will tell you *** though that this is exactly how things have been going down. Subroutines such as group finder, external programs like VOIP and Youtube, add ons such as damage parsers, and even habits of our (the players) own advent, such as min/maxing have all "helped" us right out of many of the requirements that used to have to be met in order to actually enjoy ourselves.
Temperance**** is described as moderation in action, thought, or feeling, or otherwise "restraint" and yet there has seemingly been no restraint when it has come to adding or using tools that have degenerated our ability to have fun.
Common forum complaints these days come in the form of questions like "What ever happened to guilds?", "Casual or Hardcore?", or "Where has the communication gone?". Many players have adopted a cynical outlook that "if it is making the developer money then someone must like it and so you must not complain". An outlook that comes with its own disdain for the so-called "newbs" who require these so called "carebear" typed games. Opponents to this cynicism insist that it is not the fault of the people but of the developers who insist on forcing their product on the lowest common denominator, upon the release of each new title, instead of growing in demand and complexity with its overall fanbase.
Developers remain fairly silent, at least until years after their title has either made them a ton of money or fallen into disapproval. But numbers don't lie. And the numbers, if anyone is looking, are clearly showing the same surge, fall, and then leveling of player attention as they enter, leave, or become regular players of these games.
But what does all of this mean? Well, a couple of things.
It is my belief that the base is not going to stop playing a game that they have already deeply invested in to begin playing a game that has all of the same bells and whistles. It is also my belief that the less you demand of some players, many players in fact, the less they will enjoy the overall experience. And finally it is my belief that you can not go all or nothing and expect to hold onto the majority of the water that comes in with the tide.
The learning curve between a game like Star Wars Galaxies and a game like Star Wars The Old Republic is distinct. One demographic is going to obviously love one game while another is going to prefer the other out of sheer desire to overcome the challenge. Both games may have ideas that appeal and likewise detract from their overall entertainment value, but where one game might be far more entertaining in one form, that form, for all intents and purposes, might be exactly the thing that keeps it from rising to the legendary status of the other.
The perfect "Brainship"***** requires both a brain and a brawn, ease of use and demand of player. Important social functions like dialogue, leadership, word of mouth instruction, relationship building, and anonymity must not be ignored. Likewise the ability to teach important skills such as typing, consistency, and dependability should not just be thrown out with the bathwater just because these things require the player to actually "learn" a thing or two.
All of these things contribute, or have contributed to the overall experience that is the MMO. And I have seen and been witness to many an MMO player who has not only been entertained while exercising these muscles, but has been improved by the workout.
The opposite effect has been that, as each new innovation has come to market or reality as an idea, we have seen the "fun" factor of many of these games decrease to that of waste of time. Tic, Tac, Toe is a fun game when you are 5, but when you are 25-45 you kind of want to play something with a little more substance. Eve Online is about right there on the line of more than the average person can handle, but still, its offspring Dust 514 is doing wonders at teaching your basic 3-D shooter player how to build a ship in that universe. Brilliant work if you ask me. But then what else would you expect from a game that takes its very plot from the same idea that the term "Brainship" comes from?
Moving forward I think that other companies need to consider this concept. If you already have an accessible game, maybe its time to pull some routines out and build a rougher, more harsh, more socially engaging title. Likewise, like CCP, if you already have a game that is on the cutting edge of player interaction requirement, maybe you want to bring out your next title in the form of something that would make the previous title more accessible.
The sweet spot would be something right in the middle of all of that. But as such a work might prove to be too expensive of an endeavor, for now, just giving the players a means to graduate might be enough.
All I know is that the continuous move towards either/or is going to eat its self. As we lose the concept of what was really fun about these games in lieu of catering to the largest demographic, which until said time that the majority of the world is all playing MMO's will always be the new player, we will also lose the point of the entire process, which is to provide the player with an entertaining adventure that they could share with other players.
At least that is how it is in my understanding.
* "Bye, Bye, Ms. American Pie" American Pie - Don McLean - 1971
*** "Any major dude will tell you" Steely Dan - Pretzel Logic 1974
***** The Ship Who Sang - Anne McCaffery - 1969
IN THE YEAR 1995
Original lyrics by Zager and Evans (In the year 2525).
Parody by Jesad
In the year nineteen hundred ninety five
If the playerbase is still alive
If MMO’s can survive,
they may find.
In the year two thousand zero five
Ain't gonna need no group, you will be flying.
Words will have changed to only acronyms like dps, pvp and the sims.
In the year two thousand one five
You ain't gonna need no guild, won’t need no friends.
Everyone will have something more important to do.
Nobody's gonna look at you.
In the year two thousand twenty five
You might start losing the use of your eyes.
Your back will make you cry real tears.
Cause you ain’t been out of that chair for years.
In the year two thousand thirty five.
Won’t have no husband, won’t have no wife.
They both will have rolled out on you.
Like your son and your daughter too whoa, whoa!
In the year two thousand forty five.
Your gamers blog will suddenly burst into life.
With all the things that you have to say.
About the state of MMO’s today!
In the year two thousand fifty five.
Obama care is going to eat you alive.
You probably won’t notice a thing.
You’ll be too busy on your one thousandth ding.
In the year two thousand sixty five.
I'm kind a wond'rin' if you’ll still be alive.
You’ve spent your life in an uncomfortable chair.
You’ve talked to no one, you’ve barely been there.
Now it's been seventy years.
You’ve upgraded your equipment through a thousand tiers.
And only now do you sit and think – it’s all just been one big humongous time sink!
But through eternal night the twinkling of starlight
So very far away - maybe it's only yesterday.
In the year nineteen hundred ninety five
If the playerbase is still alive
If MMO’s can survive,
they may find…..
(It's a weird time I guess. LOL)