MMOWTF: Adult MMOGs - Innovation or Gimmick?
Weekly Column by Dan Fotier
The previous incarnation of the 2Moons publisher, Acclaim, was famous for their mature content titles. Having released games like BMX XXX and video game conversions of franchises such as South Park and WWF, they are not newcomers to producing these kinds of titles. Even if this is a new company under an old name, it comes as no shock then that they are very supportive of this venture. The game itself is a conversion of a Korean game called Dekaron which is billed as an extreme action game. It seems like the tempo of the game will be carried over and I can imagine that doing the English voice-overs for the profanity would be one of the many tasks in localizing this to a Western audience.
I'm not sure what the effects of keeping kiddies out of the game will do for this title, but I salute them for their guts either way. I can only wish the 2Moons team luck in their venture to gain a following here, since Korean games aren't really my cup of tea. Perhaps a slash 'em up MMO will be more successful than the more grind oriented conversions of the past, because we definitely don't need another RF Online.
Another title that claims to be pushing the boundaries for more violent content in MMOs is Age of Conan. Based on the stories of Robert Howard (a contemporary of HP Lovecraft) it features combat that will be "bloody, barbaric and brutal" including the ability to decapitate your opponents. The idea sounds great, but after decapitating hundreds of victims I can imagine even that would get stale. I'm happy to see someone looking to advance the boring click and wait system that has become the standard.
Now obviously violence and profanity are nothing new to video games in general, but MMOs that take the adult route are a bit fewer and far between. This mostly due to the fact that unless the adult part of the content somehow enhances the game play, instead of just providing a reason to ban children from the game, then it's not much use other than to alienate potential customers and publishing options.
There could be several different reasons behind a team of developers making the decision to take their game to the adult level: The first that springs to mind is shock value. The original Grand Theft Auto was a mediocre game at best without the mature subject matter, most of which took place only in your mind anyway. I can imagine a team looking to make their name known in the industry might be looking to tap the mythical untouched masses waiting for a truly great adult online game. I stopped believing in the tooth fairy quite recently and a massive adult MMO market is just about as real as far as I'm concerned.
In the case of Age of Conan, I believe that the extreme combat options are probably just an attempt to give the game a grittier feel and less like the EverQuest. Will the game get rated Mature and loose Funcom more fans than they will gain from the license and more graphic game play? Not likely since the average age for gamers is steadily climbing and most people that would be interested in a Conan game would most likely be older than eighteen anyway. They have promised quite a bit and it remains to be seen if they can deliver the goods and bring PvP with purpose into the next generation of MMORPG titles.
Of course, none of this really addresses the central topic about adult content making or breaking a game in the modern era. There all sorts of tricky issues that pop up when you start talking about excluding people under a certain age, one of the biggest is how to tell who is under the age limit. Obviously some form of token age verification would be employed but ultimately that wouldn't be enough to keep a horde of teens from paying and logging in anyway. How responsible would the developers be for policing these underage offenders? Developers today have enough trouble combating exploiters and gold sellers let alone try and figure out if they are too young to play.
If you draw the line at nudity and foul language, what market are you really catering to? Being an American I can say that we are perhaps the most sensitive consumers as far as what we think of as 'adult'. Most of the things that would keep a game off the shelves here in the states would be barely considered mature for some of our European friends; it's just a difference in culture.
In a global marketplace with such a diverse customer base as MMOs you have to try and develop something you can easily use around the world or risk falling into the 'niche of death'. Sure some of the most violent games have been created in the States, but for some reason we are considerably more sensitive to sexual references. A game that wants to avoid crippling controversy and gain a decent sales profile in our part of the world would have to tone down any kind of borderline pornography.
Ultimately though, a game has to be fun to play and have engaging content, adult or otherwise. If the adult content is just a smokescreen for a lack of depth or creativity in the game's design then I doubt it would get any more attention than a roadside freak show. While I don't want the genre to go Nintendo on us, we don't need titles that are empty beyond their extreme settings and features. They don't serve any purpose other than creating another generation of jaded gamers.
Now that I'm off my soapbox you can weigh in on the topic. Don't be shy, wade into the forums and bust some heads extreme gamer style!