Disclaimer: The Devil's Advocate is a place where the MMO-Loving world can go to hear the unpopular opinion. Please note that this article does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MMORPG.com, columnist Drew Wood, or any of the game companies that may be discussed. The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.
An MMOFPS cannot rival the persistence, size or fun of an MMORPG. The casual nature of the FPS will never blend well with the open world persistence of an RPG and is thus handcuffed by its own genre. The games suffer in terms of quality, presentation and replayability by a lack of customization.
On the contrary.
The MMOFPS genre is continuing to grow every day. While ambition seems to be higher than output on some days, many forthcoming games have the ability to rival the same sort of massive-elements that many MMORPGs use to great effect. But let's start with the shooter as a genre. We all know the big boys of the genre, at least if you pay attention to the video game world outside of the MMO industry. Call of Duty has blown up in the last few years, when 4 dropped and Modern Warfare was born. The game garnered nothing short of a hardcore following, so badly so that I can't pop into Black Ops multiplayer without consistently getting my ass handed to me by these players who play for 8 or 9 hours a day and don't venture to other games. That's hardcore MMO player territory. We've seen in the last few years a trend for shooters to stray away from the casual, contained story, into a greater emphasis on multiplayer that keeps players returning over, and over again. Heck, off the bat, I'd almost be embarassed to admit the amount of time I've invested in Battlefield 2142 (yes, I liked it) and even Brink since its release back in May. The hardcore player is no longer limited to just the MMO. I understand the argument, though and these FPS games, Modern Warfare, Battlefield, they don't have the persistent world that is so inherently MMO.
Sony Online Entertainment is hoping to put an end to that claim. Sure, Planetside 2 is still neck-deep in production (which comes with a heavy stack of time, I'm sure), but Planetside 2 aims to be the biggest MMOFPS of all time. Right off the bat, the team, lead by Creative Director Matt Higby is talking about “massive warfare”, which, while sort of a buzz-term, was explained as being thousands of players, with no instancing, in an entirely open world. With the focus on territory control, the team has expressed that every inch of the map is going to be contestable and controllable. No, it doesn't have housing, or some of the other major MMO staples, but those are elements that lend themselves to RPGs and not FPS games in the first place. The massive nature of Planetside 2 is fulfilling the basic needs to make it an MMO.
In their talks at Fan Faire, Matt Higby and John Smedly touched on the elements of Planetside 2 that will add to its MMO title. A greater emphasis will be placed on community through the use of the game's “Outfits” (guilds, for all you RPG types), wherein the outfit leader will be called upon to not only lead his/her troops, but also create and maintain quests in real-time with the action as it unfolds on the battlefield. Communication amongst your troops becomes key. Smedly spoke of an EVE Online-like economy persisting throughout the game and even hinted at the resource management elements of the game serving the role of a much bigger investment into said economy. Planetside 2 is even going to include elements of crafting, as the resource management not only makes as a major motivation for territory control and the ability to shortcut skills, but it will also add the ability to upgrade and customize weaponry, which sounds to me a heck of a lot like a direct cousin of crafting.
Other massive First-Person and Third-Person shooters are coming down the pipeline as well, so it's not like Planetside 2 is the only example. Bill Murphy's impressions of Hedone from Acony Games at E3 is just one example of just how much potential there is out there for the MMOFPS genre. Coming down the pipe, you're also looking at Tribes: Ascend (and Universe more so) from Hi-Rez Studios and Firefall from Red 5 Studios and, looking farther down the line, you have Trion's Defiance, CCP's Dust 514 and a slew of F2P, browser-based games that seem to want to capitalize on the genre's as-of-yet underuse. Even Prime Battle for Dominus from Pitchblack Games will have more than enough shooter elements to it to consider it more than just your typical, run of the mill MMORPG. The desire to expand the genre is ripe in the industry and more and more game companies are stepping forward to fulfill that need that has been left by so many failed games in the past.
Customization is something that's becoming more prevalent, not only in MMOFPS games, but in FPS games in general. While the level of customization in, say, Brink is greater than many FPS games, it does still leave a little to be desired, but games like Hedone are going to be branching that out as well with vanity items available as drops and as purchasable content in the in-game store.
It's safe to say that what we've seen out of Planetside 2 so far promises everything we could possibly want out of the MMOFPS genre. It would be unrealistic to think that features that serve as icing on the cake in an MMORPG, such as housing, would find a home in an MMOFPS. The FPS needs to continue to grow and establish itself, but with time, will rival the content, replayability and depth of an MMORPG. The games that are right on the horizon of release are a testament to that.