The knee-jerk scapegoating of “kids” when it comes to discussing trends in MMO development over the years has reared its ugly head yet again. While changes in development and a wider appeal have happened through the years, there are also many more games available to choose from. It's one thing to dislike a game's features or style, or even express disappointment in development direction, and it's another to sling terms like “WoW kiddies” that merely serve as self-aggrandizement. It's this insistence that is nearly always an exaggeration and serves to poison discussion and encourage stagnation when it comes to MMO players. And it's time to stop.
It's true that certain young audiences are the target of some games, and kids influence their parents' spending power, but we've seen this come up again and again. It started around the time of WoW's release when people began to call out a trend toward features that make games more accommodating as catering or pandering to 'kids' or immature people, or the lazy and unskilled. Insulting other people, and even wishing they were never introduced to the genre in the first place, these are common occurrences.
Insulting others might make you feel better temporarily or more justified in your argument, but this consistent blame game is only reinforcing the perception of stagnation. This “everything is easy-mode” because the WoW players demanded it is not only shortsighted, it's the real immature stance. It's convenient to say. While no one is doubting nor claiming the genre hasn't seen shifts over the years to a wider audience, the sheer number of games out there has also increased, giving players more options. And no, they are not all the same.
This has come to the surface again with the recent reveals about EverQuest Next. The graphics were the subject of many a discussion, but words like “kiddie”, “Disney”, “cartoony”, and similar ones were tossed around. Yet on the other side, the argument that stylized graphics hold up better over time has a valid point. Sure, some people want realism, and that's respectable. But it doesn't mean you need to tear down something that isn't, even if you're personally disappointed. And here's another thing – you can tell a very adult story with colorful, wide-eyed animation and stylized characters. Or you can have something that yes, has a broader appeal, but can often give something slightly different to kids and adults, yet please both.
In the webcomic XKCD, creator Randall Munroe can create emotional situations in comic form using stick figures. Also take Pixar movies as an example. The audience for these is usually all ages, even though the first impression might make you think “kids!”, but there's usually a lot for adults to take away from the experience too. Something like Cars or Planes might be skewed younger, but there's usually something for the grown-ups too. These stories are not superficial, despite the big eyes or heads you might find on the characters. Or maybe they're animals. But it doesn't change that some very adult and sometimes dark things happen in animated films and with characters who are stylized.
Most MMORPGs have way more violence and content that would be at minimum on par with some of the supposed kids' movies out there (Anyone watched The Lion King lately? Or The Hunchback of Notre Dame with its centerpiece song about lust and sin?) One more example. Pixar's Up. I hardly know anyone who didn't just weep at the first few minutes of Up. The characters in Up are highly stylized. Big heads, huge eyes all around, and the protagonist Carl with his big nose and square head. But the opening of that film told a simple, nearly wordless, love story that had its ups and downs and ended in death. Much of the film has widower Carl grieving. I don't know about you, but your average 12 year old will know they just saw a love story take place but doesn't have the life experience to ground that in something present to them, which is a great bit of proof that you can have all the stylized graphics and big heads and huge eyes you want and still captivate and touch people.
Taking this back to EQN and other games, it's often empty words and does nothing to angrily claim something is “for kids”. It's unhelpful at best and immature at worst since it's nothing more than an ego boost gained by putting others down. There's room in this genre for all different tastes, though game development, as a business, may not specifically cater to every single thing a gamer might want. With soaring development costs over the past decade, is it any wonder that many developers are seeking a wider appeal for their games? And with the average gamer's age creeping up and gender parity in gaming overall getting closer, it's simply a snapshot of the modern era. Change happens, and we can't always control that, but we can control how we react to it. Let's act like the adults we claim we are and stop blaming 'the kids'.
Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column. You will also find her at RTSGuru as the site's Associate Editor and news writer. Follow her on Twitter: @c_gonzalez