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Hrothmund's random ramblings.

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Author: Hrothmund

Thinking outside the box.

Posted by Hrothmund Monday January 14 2008 at 5:18PM
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I know there are creative writers and developers out there with exciting concepts of game mechanics and intellectual properties we can only dream of playing at the moment. The question is, where are they? Has WoW pushed the MMO community to a point where the only ideas that actually gain funding and go into production are titles that offer something that has been done before but claim to do a better job of it. Sure, there are some games out there that offer a few quirks here and there, but I've yet to find a product that is truly original and at the same time appealing.

Let's make this clear; World of Warcraft is a great game and huge a success, I do not put the blame on Blizzard in any way for killing the creativity in MMO design. The fact is, that once something becomes as established as WoW, if you come up with a concept that mirrors the original but offers the consumers a somewhat altered and unique end product, it is much easier to get your project approved and funded than a game that pays no resemblance to the current market leader.

I truly hope that there is some crazy developer out there with a solid idea for a sandbox game that would actually have mass appeal, yet be so original there would be no comparing it to past titles. Yes, I recognize that hundreds of MMOs have been released, many of them(especially the crazy Asian ones) being quite original, making it hard for anyone to come up with a truly imaginative idea. However many of the 'truly original' Asian MMOs have plainly been too weird to play for me. The game that would send shivers down my back then, would have to then be a true master-piece, a new avant-garde trend setter amongst the worn-out MMO titles.

Mission impossible, you might think. I've actually been putting my neglected brain cells to work on this one, and have come up with a few ideas that I think could improve the genre.

  • Most MMORPG IPs are either high fantasy, scifi or a mixture of the two. Why not create a world that is as much make-believe as it is realistic and gritty? I would love to play in Film Noir setting, for example. I'd definitely buy a well implemented game set in a toned down version fo the Gears of War or Blade Runner universe. I think comic books and well-written thrillers could provide MMO designers with fresh ideas and a street-wise edge that would be popular amongst many.
  • To be truly immersive, MMOs could learn a little bit from Hollywood. To establish true immersion, the IP needs to be believable, without any major discrepancies and to not include the plague of current MMOs, different design styles for content. There is nothing that breaks your involvement in the game world more than stepping into an expansion area and clearly noticing the difference in the artistic style and overall mood of the setting. What MMO design teams could need then, would be a producer type brand-manager figure, who would make sure the lore and game world are presented in an uniform manner.
  • What I also crave in the current MMO offering are involving and fun time sinks. I know gambling is a no-no for developers that don't want an 'M' rating, but this does not bar minigames and twitch based secondary trade skills, like real-time dancing or sports in general. What I want is more truly casual content, think Wii here,  for killing time.
  • Character progression, that's a tough nut to crack. I would want a steeper power curve for abilities and skills, at least in the visual department. Somehow using the same ability I used to kill level 1 rats and bunnies in the starting area to take down the hardest raid boss in a given game does not appeal to me. Again, yes this is a pain for the devs, but more content is needed here in my opinion.
  • True NPC interaction. Let's say you portray a filthy and parasite ridden bum in rags, why don't the NPCs react to your repulsive appearance? Most likely you will be allowed into the hall of the most respected rulers wearing your potato sack, or level 1 squire's leather armor. I know this is a nightmare to implement, but I hope that in a few years we will get there with more and more powerful computers and a better network infrastructure that will make truly interactive worlds possible.


So there we have it, I could go on and on with demands like the ones above, but what I'm really hoping for is that there is already a development team out there with a like-minded production counterpart that thinks somewhere along the same lines as myself. One can always hope, can one not?

Athelan writes:

Good ideas are easy. Solutions are the hard part. A lot of dev teams would LOVE to spend time on a lot of these features but some of them are just expensive and time intensive nuts to crack. Whether its original or not everything has to go through some sort of cost analysis as to how many people are going to use it vs how much it costs to do. I will make a probably completely ignorant and wrong statement of opinion here but I think some investment companies want to see people try to re-create WoW but in reality WoW has opened the door far enough that there is finally space for a lot more variety and creativity in the online space. Which to me, means we ARE going to see some more varied games in development but it is going to be up the consumers to prove they can be commercially successful.

Mon Jan 14 2008 5:28PM Report
Hrothmund writes:

I agree with you, I work in the software business myself, and I'm fully aware of the cost and time constraints that gover what the development team can and can not do. The challenge for developers and production teams now is to find the perfect balance between the two. Sadly for the end customer, a title has yet to emerge that offers a drastically different, but impressive, polished and immersive game play experience to WoW.

Mon Jan 14 2008 5:37PM Report
Caractacus writes:

I just want an MMO that's less of a game and more of a sandbox.  Give me a world with basic predefined physical laws,  but let me do the rest.  Let me figure out how to build a wagon or a trebuchet with that tree I just cut down.  Throw me out in the middle of the woods and leave it up to me and the other players to build a city and decide how we govern ourselves.  I know that there are only about 5 people (including myself) who would find this kind of game fun,  but it would be pretty much the last game I'd ever need to buy.

Tue Jan 15 2008 12:06AM Report
PhatWOP writes:

Ok, let me begin by saying I find your frustrations wholy grounded and reasonable, however, you answered your own questions.

Why doesn't a new game come with these expansive features you list - Money, plain and simple. I don't mean it would cost to much to implement, I mean you would never recover the funds. Lets examine the above posts.

You want a different setting, not traditional fantasy of Sci-fi. Ok, I don't have statistics for Digital games, but for PnP games, as of about 2 years ago, the d20 market consisted of only 5% of games outside of those two genres (and it should be noted that fantasy was around 80%). Why? Lack of creativity? Hardly, these are some of the most creative writers on the planet, working in a medium where their imagination comes to life on the page and is not limited by graphical constraints, download speeds or code limitations. The market was like that because that is what th emarket would bear. To put it more simply, all the others outside of that genre had failed.

Next, you request a litany of features, and I am with you. I would love to se many of these things implemented into games, but yet again, you specifically mention that each would cost additional time and you know the old saying that time = money.

Let's perform a thought experiement. You have 50 million dollars to invest in a game. This represents your entire investment budget for the year and if you don't see a return on that you could very well end up in bankrupcy or at the very least, see your business disolved. Now. Two programmers come to you. One has an idea for a revolutionary gritty near future game. He has some incredible ideas for features across platforms (all new and untested), incredible non-linear storyline (read:tough learning curve) and tons of fun in-game distractions (read: code that doesn't actually contribute to the main plot or action of the game). The other has an established IP that has already proved a marketing force. Its fantasy but has some small unique twist (plant people instead olf elves or some such thing), the game will be very linear and level based but easy for new players to get into and have a good time. He has a good presentation of benchmarks the game will offer and the amount of time it should take players to reach each of those benchmarks, based on that he can almost guarantee that you will see a return on your money.

Who would you invest with?

The issue gripping MMO's currently is not unlike the problem in hollywood only far more severe. The real budgets go to the proven formulas (Most WIll Smith movies, romantic comdies, or romantic comidies staring Will Smith), where as those that want to be original and know they will appeal to a smaller audience must get by with small funding. We as a player base need to accept if we want more unique features, we will be dealing with "indie" titles that do not have all the main stuff we have come to expect in games (like indie movies not always having big budget scores or top notch acting/dialogue). Over time, if the market proves stable (Read:five or so years from now), venture capitalists will start seeking out those nitches and you will see a few games developed that fit your niche requests because you will the customer no on has reached yet. For now though, formulas that work are what we get.

Tue Jan 15 2008 8:07AM Report
soulwynd writes:

Oh give me a break, Most of these games takes years to develop,  independent developers (read single programmer) can and do things like this on their spare charge without charging a coin. We just need someone with insight to put everything together in a good game.

Tue Jan 15 2008 9:13AM Report
telebreth writes:

Playing MMOs right now is likened to smoking cigarettes.

There are many Cigarette Companies out there boasting better flavor, reduced toxins, with or without menthol whatever it might be...however all the BS are still smoking an average cigarette. There really is no difference except maybe for your tastebuds. MOST are the same rehashed inventions. Most are just addictive as the other brands even if they are generic versions.

WoW is the "Marlboro Man" of the MMORPG Industry and who knows...I find it hard to believe that any MMO could really do it better, Im looking for a Camel Brand MMORPG myself :)

Mon Apr 14 2008 4:50PM Report
sdozer writes:

The next generation of MMOs gets better and better. I don't see a lack of creativity.

Mon Jun 16 2008 9:53PM Report writes:
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