Welcome to Player Versus Player, the column for MMO players who just can’t seem to get along. This week, we’re taking a suggestion from the comments: we’ve lived it, we’ve embraced it, and we’ve rejected it; this week we’re talking about change.
MMO developers seem destined to dream big. Each new game tries to redefine the genre and how we play in it. Every new MMO comes with a list of shiny new features and, if we drama llamas are lucky, a few underhanded jabs at the games they would like to beat. At the same time, the term “three monther” has arisen to describe players rejecting these changes and moving. So which is it, do we want change or don’t we?
Players embrace change: Players want change and will embrace it when it works. When it doesn’t, we’re not responsible for the results.
Players reject change: Players say they want change but are kidding themselves. The proof is in the pudding: players move on.
Representing each, we have:
Bill Murphy (Managing Editor): Bill calls ‘em as he sees ‘em. This time around, he’s says players are asking for something they don’t really want.
Chris Coke (Columnist/Host): Chris believes in the power of change. If players are moving on, he says it’s because the change wasn’t good enough.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Chris: Thanks for taking this on with me, Bill. Change is what this industry is about. When I look back at how things began and compare that to where we are now, millions more players in tow, I’m floored at how much things have changed. Most of us probably wouldn’t have believed it back then. We’ve seen change in action and are reaping the benefits even now (I have a game waiting for me after I’m done!). It honestly makes me excited for what’s still to come.
Bill: I’m an optimist, and I believe we do really want change. But for the purpose of this article, I’m going to point out something that’s also true: we may say we want change all the time. Especially when we’ve been playing a game for a long time, we always say “We want something different!” I’m just not sure we really and truly want that. Look how many different games come and go and people ignore them.
Chris: Players tend to jump from game to game, that much is true. I’m one of them. Rather than blame it misfired ideas, I would argue that it is because we’ve embraced change that we move so much. The market isn’t as small as it was in the EQ days. We like being able to shake things up and to take on new mechanics. I don’t think it’s a rejection of change so much as it is an embrace of new options.
Bill: I’m an optimist, and I believe we do really want change. But for the purpose of this article, I’m going to point out something that’s also true: we may say we want change all the time. Especially when we’ve been playing a game for a long time, we always say “We want something different!” But what winds up happening is that when a player gets the change they’ve been clamoring for they say, “Well this is cool, but why doesn’t it have this feature from that old game I used to play?” Players say they want change, but they’re never quick to embrace it, and what happens is we end up saying we want one thing when instead we’ll happily gobble up the same old thing in a new wrapper if that wrapper is shiny enough. Then those games that do offer something different wind up “failures” and I’m not sure if that’s the developer’s fault, or the players’.
Chris: Players embrace change, the market just hasn’t caught up to them. Is our metric for acceptance if the game has launch-levels of interest in 90 days? I don’t think that’s realistic for an MMO unless they’re radically shifting the paradigm and giving players something they didn’t know they wanted or going with rapid updates. Those are needle in the haystack games, but I’m not sure developers and publishers believe that. Players can love changes and still see layoff reports soon after launch.
Bill: Most MMOs are pretty terrible games. Let’s be honest. Out of the 600-plus listed on our site, only a select few are worth a gamer’s time. So it makes sense then that along the path towards something different, stinkers will come and go. What I think happens to games that do try to shake things up and then “fail” (for the lack of a better word) isn’t that they’re bad games. It’s that those unique things they bring to the table aren’t enough to hide other flaws in content, design, or longevity. There are so many games, as you said, and players’ attention spans are shorter than ever.
Chris: I think we need to look at what’s actually changing. When I think back to World of Warcraft and how it challenged questing and leveling conventions, how it blew the doors off this genre and opened it up to the world, I see change incarnate. Has anything altered so radically in a major MMO since then? That was a fundamental shift in MMO design. The closest we’ve come since then is action-combat which, while fun, kind of works against the whole players communicating thing.
Bill: I agree: the changes are much less noticeable these days. The way WoW changed things wasn’t just in gameplay, but in audience. It’s not the barometer for change, it was the catalyst. What Azeroth did was show millions of players the potential for online worlds and playing together, even if you want to play alone. No other game has done that since then. Instead what we’re finally seeing are games that offer more and more ways to engage in online worlds. Different combat, different types of content, different mechanics... and none of them have really stuck the way Azeroth did. Why? Because while we’ve gotten different things, none of them have resonated in the way WoW did. We may really want different... but what we really want is something incredible and different.
Chris: The last thing I can say, and what I think is most core to this issue, is that things aren’t changing enough. I can see why you believe players are rejecting change. We don’t cling to single games anymore. But I think we can, when the right one comes along. I believe there will be a WoW 2.0 and it won’t be World of Warcraft. Everyone is chasing the mantle in half-measures, going with one small thing here and a big thing there, but what we need is a paradigm shift. We need an EQ to WoW jump. Real change. Everything we hop from game to game for is different icing on the same cake. I’ll leave it at this, Bill: maybe we all just want pie. Just sayin’.
Bill: On this, we agree. Change is happening in the industry. So many games are veering towards online worlds, not just your typical MMOs... look at GTA Online, and watch things like Destiny, The Division, and more. MMOs are broadening and encompassing all sorts of genres. Soon, there really will be an MMO for everyone, even the most diehard Madden NFL fan will have some sort of perpetual online league to play and manage. I don’t think the core MMORPG needs to change. I just think our definition of what an MMORPG can be needs to change.
That’s all from us, folks. Let us know what you think in the comments!
Read more from Chris and Bill: