WildStar Online may wind up solving a problem that’s plagued MMOs for years. In 1996, Richard Bartle wrote a lengthy article entitled 'Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds Spades: Players Who Suits MUDS'. For those of you who are too young to remember, there was a world before Warcraft. And it didn't have pictures. At best, it had crude ASCII drawings in various primary colors. This world was fairly expansive and like modern MMOS, it had different flavors. On the more mechanical side of spectrum, there were text-based Multi User Dungeons that played a lot like modern MMOs. There were levels to be gained, people to be killed, items to acquire and things to be done. In some ways, they were considerably more imaginative and open-ended compared to the games of today. Because they weren't restricted by visuals, they could make dwarves into dragons and paint wings on unsuspecting gnomes.
On the more social side of things, there were MUSHes, MUXes and MOOs. Those were havens for role-playing and fledgling Mary Sues. You thought Black Mageweave was bad? You haven't seen nothing yet. (Or, well read nothing, if you want to be politically correct about it but we're digressing.)
To get back on track, the article basically originated from the fervent discussion of what may be the penultimate question, 'What do people want out of a MUD?' Heck, what do people want out of any game that allows for interaction and competition with others? The question was sufficiently complex that it took the parties involved approximately a year to complete their debate. Approximately 30 people expounded on the topic before certain conclusions were made. People generally enjoy four major things:
Does that sound familiar to you? If you've read interviews and commentary about WildStar, it should. Carbine Studios follows a similar philosophy. In their upcoming science-fiction MMO, players can expect to be labeled by their Player Paths as well as their respective classes. To recap quickly for those who haven't heard of this, WildStar is built on a 'layer' system. Instead of merely choosing their favored profession, players will also be able to indicate their personal psychology.
Are you the obsessive-compulsive type who require every achievement fulfilled and every pet acquired? Go Scientist. Do you enjoy rampaging across the barren countryside and staining the virgin-white snow with innocent blood? Be a Soldier. Do you feel this explicit need to climb tall mountains and clear buildings in a single bound? Play DCUO. Or play the Explorer. Whichever captures your fancy more. Finally, if you're the sort who enjoys sitting in town, the Settler may be your best bet.
In short, WildStar sounds like it may have the potential to be the ideal game, the sort of title that anyone and everyone will be able to enjoy. After all, it won't just cater to your tastes; the experience will mold itself to your very archetype.
I know this is where I should be jumping for joy and forgoing natural functions for the next morsel of information but I can't help but feel worried. How will this balance? More importantly, however, is such a binary approach completely appropriate? What if I'm a Soldier with a predilection for wall Jumping? Should I be excluded from those activities? How do you form a world that meshes well when activities are completely disparate?
Perfection is not possible.
You can call me pessimistic if you like but that's where I stand. To me, World of Warcraft worked because it was so open-ended. You could choose to spend your time harvesting pets. You could be a hardcore raider, a princess-in-disguise lounging in the Silvermoon City bar. There is no restriction. More than a few people have lamented how easy World of Warcraft has become but I can see the wisdom in that. Catering to the lowest common denominator, if you want to put it tactlessly, means opening the doors to a greater quantity of players.
And this is where I get off my soap box but I'd like to know an answer from our readers. How much do you value being a special snowflake? Would you prefer a game that allows you to do what you will or an experience stream-lined to your tastes? Are players only one sort of archetype or can they be more?