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Paragus Rants

Rants, reviews, and interviews from an MMO veteran and guild leader.

Author: Paragus1

Rant: MMO Insanity

Posted by Paragus1 Wednesday March 31 2010 at 8:01AM
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Rant: MMO Insanity

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.  It doesn't take a genius to take a step back and see how this can easily be applied the MMO developers, as well as those of us who follow and play the games.  I believe that when you take a look at the genre over the course of the last 5 years or so, that a definite pattern can be seen that shows a series of events that loop over and over again.  The outcome of this cycle seems to leave both developers and gamers surprised and burned, and for whatever reason both seem to try the same thing again hoping that somehow this time will be different.  This my friends is MMO Insanity, and it's time to stop the madness.

Last week I had a lengthy vent conversation with some younger people who expressed to me their excitement about Star Wars: The Old Republic, and how their expectations were through the roof.  It's definitely not an uncommon sentiment on a lot of the forums these days.  As I look at the front page of, SWTOR is the most popular game in development and over the last month is the most looked at game on the site.  When I asked to have them explain to me why they were so excited, I was given a list of reasons that matches up with what I read on the forums here on a given day, but also fit perfectly into the cycle of MMO insanity.

Now let me preface this going forward that for the purpose of this article, I will be using SW:TOR as an example because at the time of me writing this, it is the big "AAA" MMO that seems to have everyone talking.  It is not my intent to slam that game because frankly none of us have played it.  It is my intent to try to show from an objective point of view how what we see today fits into the cycle of MMO insanity.

The IP

One of the biggest lures to the game is the fact that it is Star Wars.  Most of us are nerds here, so its safe to say that Star Wars probably has a high favorability rating with people in these parts.  Growing up, I was a fan of the tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, Conan the Barbarian, Matrix movies, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek (not really), etc.  The fact of the matter is that despite no matter how much I was fond of any of these worlds, they translated into MMORPGs that frankly sucked ass.  More often than not, we find ourselves playing the same game over and over again, even using the same exact button mashing combat system, but with a different theme (park).

What is even more frightening to me is the thought that despite this, developers are still trying to do the same thing with every random IP they can get their hands on.  I remember reading a few months back about the prospects of a Twilight MMO, a Dragonball Z MMO, a Warhammer 40K MMO, maybe Harry Potter, where does it end?  It doesn't end because developers know that there are those among us who will be blinded by our passion for the IP and not notice how shallow or linear the game behind it really is.  Even if you end up quitting in the first few months, they succeeded at the cash grab for the initial sales.

Think about for it a minute.  All of the above IPs had the rights snatched up by someone for the sole purpose of selling an MMO to you by capitalizing on your fondness to them.  If you get these IP-based MMOs and remove that lore, more often than not your stuck with a game that is over-instanced, extremely linear, has shallow gameplay, and button-mashing thoughtless combat. Ironically these features can be found in pretty much all the MMOs people refer to as being "AAA".

The Developer

One of the most common defenses for having unrealistically high expectation for the next "AAA" MMO is because it's being made by company "ABC", and they made this other great MMO that I loved!  I've been in this genre since around 1997, so maybe its just me, but how many of the "AAA" companies have released more than one highly successful MMO? If anything, we should know by now that past performance does not guarantee future results.

I remember when Warhammer was coming out and everyone was praising Mythic for making another RvR MMORPG all these years after DAOC.  Ah, good old DAOC, often considered as one of the better PvP MMOs to have come out.  Then along comes Warhammer, based off an IP that we all loved from the tabletop games.  How could it possibly go wrong being made by the same people who brought us DAOC?  Without going over all the specifics, I think it's safe to say that this one turned out to be ass when they took everything that was good about DAOC and left it out of WAR.

I remember Everquest, everyone loved Everquest back in the day!  Many years passed and we found out that the people who helped make Everquest formed a new company and were going to make a new MMO after all these years.  Brad McQuaid told us about his vision for his upcoming game Vanguard, although the source of the vision was never confirmed.  Somehow I don't think it included all of the employees being herded out into the parking lot and fired as the game went down the toilet.

I remember Asheron's Call, probably one of my favorite all time MMORPGs.  Turbine was years ahead of its time in terms of the world, character development, monthly patches, and events.  Years later we hear Turbine is finally going to make a sequel, Asheron's Call 2.  There's no way they could screw that up right? After all they had Asheron's Call 1, all they needed was to update the graphics a bit and they'd have a winner.  Asheron's Call 2 has been long dead and somehow the original is still online and operational.

Without going on all day, history shows us that most of these companies turn out to be one-hit wonders.  Past performance does not guarantee future results.  It is for this reason I look at a game like FFXIV and SW:TOR with skepticism.  FFXI to me was one of the best PvE MMOs ever created, but the pattern speak for themselves and history shows we can't give anyone a free pass.  SW:TOR will have EA stamped on the box, which is enough to make me squirm before going any further (even if its next to Bioware).  Again for whatever reason, having one of these big name companies stamped on your box somehow makes your game "AAA".

The Cost

Anyone else notice that the next big thing seems to cost a lot more to make than the previous big thing? I remember hearing about how expensive WoW cost initially to make, hearing later that it was dwarfed in comparison to the initial costs to make Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, and now hearing SW:TOR could be upwards of 150 Million.  Does anyone else find it ironic that the game that spent the least amount of money initially of those listed above turned out to be the most successful?  Could it be that there is not a correlation between dollars spent and final quality?!  Who would have thought such madness, the world must be upside-down!

As the budgets for making these games goes up, it has to become even harder for them to make the game profitable from a business vantage point.  The cost to buy the box or client for an MMO has pretty much been the same over the last 5 years or so ($50), and the subscription fee seems to universally be about the same as it was years ago ($15), so how do they expect to pay for this?

The answer is hype. EA stated that they are hoping for 2 million subscribers for SW:TOR, but think they will need over 1 million to reach the break-even point.  In order to rope in that many people, they don't need us drinking the kool-aid, they need us chugging it. It's going to be their job to spend the next year trying to appeal to your love of Star Wars, show you all kinds of fancy trailers, and crank that hype machine to overkill.  But hey, this kind of budget is what we expect from what is considered to be a "AAA" MMO.

The "AAA" Myth

What exactly makes a game "AAA"?  When you think about all the games being heralded as "AAA" in the recent years, many of them go hand-in-hand with bombing in the market.  There is always the huge initial surge of sales, and usually at the 60 or 90 day mark, 70% or more of the people have jumped ship. This to me sends up a red flag whenever I hear someone throw around those 3 letters to sell me on the quality of the game.  We have accepted this as the norm today for all MMOs because we have been stuck in the cycle of MMO insanity for so long.

The entire "AAA" is a myth to me at this point.  As I look back at the cycle of what are supposed to be big reputable companies, spending tons of money, milking famous IPs, I can't help but think we need to stop the madness.  There is nothing wrong with being excited about an upcoming MMO and wishing it the best, but sip the kool-aid slowly before you chug it.  MMORPGs are on of the fastest growing genres in PC gaming, and as customers we need to let them know that our money needs to be earned based on the merits of the game, not the IP, whose behind it, or the amount of cash being thrown around.  If you chug the cool-aid every time you see it, they will keep selling us the same uninspired generic garbage with a different name on the box, and this genre will continue on its death-spiral into mediocrity.

Co-Leader of Inquisition

arcanist writes: money, money, Wed Mar 31 2010 9:26AM Report
astoria writes: The new device is desirable.,2862/ Wed Mar 31 2010 9:41AM Report
japo writes:

"Back in the day", UO was UO, AC was AC, and EQ was EQ.  They were all very different from eachother and they were all successful in their own unique way.

Now, every game tries to compete with WoW and be WoW.  All thegames are trying to be the same thing.,  When they try something "new", it last for a few months but then gets patched out in a futile effort of trying to get more of WoW's player base.

I give kudos to Fallen Earth and Mortal Online for trying something very different.  SO far, they've stuck with their "vision".  Vanguard slipped away from it long long ago.

Wed Mar 31 2010 10:04AM Report
Paragus1 writes:

Japo, I completey agree.   There are a lot of game that have not faired so well for walking off the beaten path, but they do deserve credit for coming up with their own ideas and not trying to ride the coattails of someone else's intellectual property.

It's like how the movie industry tries to make a movie based on a video game or anime, and completely massacres it.   Have you seen the newest Hollywood attempt at Street Fighter or Dragonball?   They are abominations of cinema.   I feel like the MMO industry is in a lot of way mimicing Hollywood by butchering movie and book IPs.   Just like in Hollywood, the most expensive movie to make is not always the best.

Wed Mar 31 2010 10:38AM Report
Saorlan writes:

Sometimes its the money that make the panni go away but then hey ho who knows if the west is around the corner eh?

i mean surely it must be just das cooken herberger is um de eker?

Wed Mar 31 2010 10:58AM Report
Wycliffe writes:

I agree for the most part that IPs are used to mask generic, shallow MMO gameplay but for SWTOR there is one major difference; KOTOR is a proven game series already and not a completely new adaptation of the IP. I am looking forward to playing a multiplayer version of the KOTOR game that blew me away years ago. My biggest concern is the game will grow stale in endgame, but with its promised 200hr campaign it should be well worth the box price. I imagine my habits with this game will mirror how I approach WoW, play when there is new content and i'm on downtime from whatever sandbox MMO is my main game at the time.

Wed Mar 31 2010 11:31AM Report
Valyn213 writes:

Agree 100% with the comments made by Japo.  Everyone tries to be WoW.  Even if someone managed to copy WoW perfectly, and even improve a couple things, most people STILL WILL NOT MOVE.  They, and myself, have a lot invested into WoW.  I won't leave WoW for a WoW clone.  Right now, about the only thing I would leave WoW for is a non-ship based game that has EVE's freedom/economy/leveling system/etc.  Personally I'm hoping thats what Dust is, but I doubt it since it will be on consoles. 

Warhammer had some great ideas.  But implemented the rest of the game poorly.  Problem, for them, was that most of those good ideas were folded into WoW.  But at least WAR advanced the genre a little bit, more than most of these failed MMO's (especially all these free foreign 'MMOs').

I do think that SW:TOR has some things that will save it from the abomination that most of these MMO's are.  It's not a WoW killer, but you don't have to be to be successful.  Bioware knows their strengths, they know how to tell a great story.  It seems minor, but having 100% of the include voice over's shows that they know this strength of theirs.  Whether that, the IP, and the non-fantasy setting will be enough, who knows.

Wed Mar 31 2010 11:38AM Report
Evasia writes:

Well very good article and i agree 100% with all you said.

But im affraid this will keep going for few years more when SWTOR is released, believe next big game will be hyped and all follow that one.

I dare say that when SWTOR totally fail and some NEW developer comes with new IP and big name(bethesda?) shortly after they all go for that game and follow hype thats just nature of this massive beast it won't chance.

Wed Mar 31 2010 12:21PM Report
nate1980 writes:

I think you have it wrong Paragus. Many of us don't fall victim to hype, and look forward to a game for legitamate reasons. Nor are we blind to the fact that they may use a "MMORPG" combat type system (no surprise there, it is a MMO after all).

You slam some games, talking like they weren't good, just because they didn't wrack up a million subs. Turbine did make good games after their first one, such as DDO, which was too niche for its own good, and LoTRO, which many people like. The people who made EQ also made a good game with Vanguard. It just didn't gain popularity due to mismanagement and high system requirements. Same can be said about EQ2. Super high system requirements, but now that those graphics are average now, the game is doing well.

You have a point with WAR, but no one was wrong to think that it'd be good because DAoC was good. They were both based on RvR type gameplay, and truthfully WAR RvR is fun for a time.

So it's not MMO insanity, it's good reasoning and logic. Bioware is an excellent company and has not yet released a bad game. They've also explained to us what we can expect from the game, and it sounds pretty awesome (all voice over missions, you choices influence your story progression, sounds fun to me). Most of us would also feel confident about Blizzard's next MMORPG as well. Would you fault us for that and call us insane? I'd hope not, because what we're doing is what any reasonable person believes. Companies with a good name and a good background should be expected to make a good game. No insanity about it.

That doesn't mean we won't be let down, but the genre, peoples interests, and timing is much more complex than you're leading us to believe. Some of these games that you think are failures are failures due to reasons that are more about outside game stuff than inside game stuff, such as mismanagement and bad timing of the release.

Wed Mar 31 2010 12:58PM Report
Paragus1 writes:

The Old Republic may turn out to be a good game, I'm not here to say one way or the other because it's still a year away and hardly anyone has played it.  I do think that you need to look at the gameplay and remove the Star Wars lore from the equation if you want to be fair about seeing the merits of the game.

I also don't believe success is directly related to the number of sucribers, but long term retention speaks volumes about how customers rate your game.   Vanguard completely nose dived after release, and the game had to be sold off to keep it going.  Regardless of where it is now, the game had massive hype leading up to launch and exploded on take off.  EQ2 is a decent game, but it is a WoW clone especially now in light of them trying to add battlegrounds.  DDO wasn't forced to go free to play because it was an amazing game.   Turbine still charges a monthy fee for decade old Asheron's Call, but DDO was forced to go free because it frankly wasn't worth paying for to the avergage gamer.

The company's track record being solid, especially in the case of Bioware is a good thing.  As I pointed out, all of the above companies has great track records before they dumped all of their money into what turned out to be shallow IP-based MMOs.

Wed Mar 31 2010 2:10PM Report
BelegStrongbow writes:

I kinda agree with Nate while I am looking past his points to get at Paragus's core idea.   


I think what Paragus is getting at is our MMO developers are not being creative.  They are stealing the same combat, the same quests, the same experience and systems from a previously successful MMO but just adding a different THEME.  I think we can all agree on that core idea. 


I praise this article for trying to push developers to be out of the box but the MAIN factor here is Publishers.   Publishers don't want to spend Millions on an experimental game design.  Publishers want super popular IP's like Harry Potter with cult followings and they want to RUSH these IP's out into a finished product quickly.   New game designs take lots of time to tweak and develop.  Publishers wont buy it.  


Compare the new Star Trek online which took a mere 2 years to develop.  Its a Theme,  a MOD of Champions.  Secret World is an AoC MOD just different Theme.  These games took almost just as much time to develop as triple A console titles.  Now compare those titles to Darkfall Online which has been in development since 2003 or longer.  Darkfall is a completely new and fresh MMO outside the box.  Publishers dont want to pay for a game that takes 8 years or so to launch.

Wed Mar 31 2010 2:23PM Report
BelegStrongbow writes:

I think what people should really be looking at instead of SWTOR is Final Fantasy 14.  That is a game the developers have been putting many years into developing and it is fresh with new systems and gameplay.   

Wed Mar 31 2010 2:26PM Report
jango1337 writes:

I wonder who paragus was talking about :P

Wed Mar 31 2010 2:29PM Report
Autarch writes:

Paragus has just rehashed something that has been discussed to it's bitter end. Nothing new here.

Wed Mar 31 2010 4:49PM Report
Nepentheia writes:

Well, hell, when you look at the excruciatingly mediocre crap being spewed out by the movie industry--specifically their brainlocking on remakes and reboots of already existing movies (, it can certainly elicit a sense of an even more dismal "no-hope-for-the-future" for the MMO industry when it comes to that terrifying risk-taking concept of  *gasp, god forbid...*  originality.  >.<

Fri Apr 02 2010 8:15PM Report
SuperXero89 writes:

Coming from a serious Darkfall player this is amusing article, but I think we need to take a look at what made games such as Warhammer Online and Age of Conan largely fail from a business standpoint -- all of which can be summed up by some terrible design decisions that, in the end, made their newest games just not that much fun in addition to a myriad of technical issues that in some ways have not been fixed to this day. 

For another perspective, consider the fact that companies like Funcom, Mythic, and Turbine largely made their reputations by producing one game where each happened to be a tremendous success.  Bioware, on the other hand, is a company who has been around for a decade, and in that timespan, can we say they have ever released one bad game?

I think it's legitimate to be skeptical of hype surrounding games produced by companies that are largely unproven such as Mythic, Funcom, and at one time Turbine, but when we look back through the history of games produced by companies such as Bethesda and Bioware, I think they're a bit more deserving of our faith.

Even the idea of SW:ToR hitting 1 million subscribers doesn't seem too far off the mark.  For one, Warhammer had around 800k at its peak due to the fans of the IP and fans of DAoC.  SW:ToR also has some good things going for it.  For one, as has already been stating numerous times, it's Bioware, and all their games sell like hotcakes.  Secondly, Star Wars is probably the most popular IP in modern history.  As long as SW:ToR is resonably polished upon release, I see no reason to think that Bioware couldn't amass close to that number of subscribers if not slightly more or slightly less.


Sat Apr 03 2010 7:35PM Report
Shinami writes:

First off...Businesses Lie...Sure, you are being told a development cost of 150 million, but that is BS and anyone with half a brain knows they want a certain base so they are exxagerating their costs and talking about base...

These companies on singleplayer and multiplayer games make millions and will have enough even if the project falls through.

What is the easiest way to convince people to buy things with hype? Simply tell them your development costs are +50% to +100% of what they really are...and tell people you expect 2 - 3 million people to buy/register when you will settle for 1 million...

Sorry, but businesses DON'T SETTLE for any amount that will not break even....Its simple law...So if they want 1 million and will sell (and if they release for every console + PC as well) 50 million, then they need 50 - 60 million dollars to turn up a profit or break even and hope a $15 fee will give them 15 million every month...Which to me its Racketeering anyway you slice it...

Why? If you pay for Internet Service, Electricity, Computer Parts, Computer Maintanance and Upgrades along with the game, no game should be a Pay to Play game....since YOU ALREADY PAY just be able to play a game..more than you should.

If companies thought about making games more fun, and less about trying to get people into a server so they can collect fees every month, rather than make a REAL GAME, people would be happier.

Sun Apr 04 2010 9:30PM Report
Beermangler writes:

150 million for an instanced your-actions-will-have-ZERO-impact-on-the-world MMO... think about it.. 


Why not spend half and create a dynamic, open world where you kill an NPC and it stays dead! 

Tue Apr 06 2010 2:24AM Report
Quale writes:

Part of the explanation for the lack of innovation in the major title MMORPG dept. Has always been that it's not doable. The technology, knowhow, manpower or timeframe isn't there and if it is, it's too inaccessible to be commercially viable. However, with the numbers flying around lately (eg the production cost of SW:TOR) one really has to start wondering; What could they do with that kind of money if they dared breaking the mold?

Granted, they'd also need talent and leadership. And from what I've seen in the last few years, the solidity in the planning stages hasn't been anything to write home about.

I don't care who's pushing the developers, they need to be able to do some proper analysis before they agree to go for it. They need to grow some balls and take back their artistic integrity, not just look for someone to fund their next 3 years of employment. The best film makers, writers, musicians etc. Didn't gain their status by their ability to let compromises with commercial interests dominate their understanding of quality.

Tue Apr 06 2010 8:03AM Report
Fusion writes:

They all started as an somewhat "indie" company wanting to make a great game and most of them succeeded with their first, then they became the money hungry corporations they are today and their games fail..

Its just sad to see great possibilities ruined by CEOs and other fucknuts wanting another bugatti veyron on their yard only because the red is more of an august color..

Wed Apr 07 2010 10:53AM Report
Yamota writes:

What a nonsensical blog. Specially the part where he deduces that: there is not a correlation between dollars spent and final quality?! Because WoW spent less money than AoC yet made more money.

How can that be possible, obviously then there can not be a correlation between dollars spend and final quality. That is one of the most flawed deductions I have read in a good while.

It is almost funny to hear that the first paragraph stating Einsteins statement about insanity. The reason why so many companies are doing the same thing is because WoW did that and made billions, so they are actually trying to do what WoW did and expect the same result as them which would be the flipside of what Einstein said.

What is happening is ofcourse that there is already a WoW and no matter how hard corps try, a copy is rarely better than the original.

So for quoting a genious you sure is not one yourself.

Fri Apr 09 2010 4:12PM Report
MrBoots writes:

You guys forget one major detail. This is made by Bioware Austin. If you look through their staff, you might recognize 99.9% of them from other defunct Austin companies and mmorpgs. This is not the same Bioware.

Sun Apr 11 2010 5:31PM Report
Evasia writes:

When your casual gamer or dont have such high demands for games and have fun with themeparks that even have repitive gameplay and ez-mode hold hands to end you get replys from NATE.

Dont get me wrong if you see it that way nate good for you but i dont agree with you at all, and you dont understand what paragus is saying.

Ive try 2 weeks lotr even WoW ive played for few months becouse of friends when launched back then, ive played few weeks eq2 beta all those games to me where terible just terible.

And now we keep getting more and more themeparks that are mainly same gameplay and magenics with same quest system and all instance.

I say those mmorpgs starting a failed genre by pushing sandbox deeper into ground and small developers who dare making games way more original then those mass market crap.

There slowly dissapearing.

Worse thing even now happening is its also dumbdown so consoles can also handle mmo's with negative result of bad grafhics and controls complexity.

But offcorse eventually its majority who love themeparks, who make it posible we soon have copy of copy of copy of copy with result boring super easy mode mmo's.

SWTOR will be no exception its already known it will be be super casual and heavy instanced super super themepark:(

Sun Apr 18 2010 5:30AM Report
Inktomi writes:

/bump for pure genius.

Good post, you are right 100% 

I've been playing Warhammer, its one of the most imbalanced games I ever played, but for 16 bucks its flavor of the month.

Sun Apr 18 2010 11:47PM Report
Vasagralem writes:

Agree 100% with what OP said, and with Evasia also. The only way IMO of a real breakthrough from all this madnes is for an indie company (with a somewhat low budgect) to make a new MMo with such a different and original gameplay but thats also appealing to the general public and becomes an instant massive hit, then every other company starts copying this new "fresh" style of game. Its just that this business has become so big and monstrous that publishers and developers dont see it posible to have half a dozen mmos with very different gameplays all being succesful out there.

Mon Apr 19 2010 2:56PM Report
Kyleran writes:

I'll agree with Paragus and some others, this genre already has WOW, and its reached the pinnacle of its design.  For anyone to truly hit the big time again they are going to have to be willing to take some risks and start something new, other wise most will suffer the fate of WAR, AOC and LoTRO.  (unable to sustain over one million subs)

Thu Apr 22 2010 12:47PM Report
BelegStrongbow writes:

Whens the next Blog post Paragus?


Waiting on something new to write?

Thu Apr 29 2010 2:25PM Report
Paragus1 writes:

Pretty much Beleg.   I still play Darkfall but have been a bit more casual the last few weeks.   My guild has been pretty distracted with the Starcraft 2 Beta along with some BC2 on the side.

As far as Darkfall goes, there hasnt been any major changes or feature put in lately outside of the strongboxes and teleport chambers.   I've debated doing another Q&A but would prefer to wait until AV reveals more about what is coming down the line so that there are more topics to focus on instead of blindly fishing around.  They seem to be stepping up their communication so hopefully there will be plenty of fresh topics to cover in the coming weeks.

Fri Apr 30 2010 10:04AM Report
Thanosxp writes:


The best one i've seen here (in,hands down. Gratz man

Wed May 05 2010 11:04AM Report
Torpedo writes:

In a way, I think we "old time" MMO players are biased toward the older games because they were our first MMORPG encounters, which makes us remember them with rosy glasses. Also being the first kind in their genre made it easy for them to feel new, fresh, innovative.


With that said though, I agree that the MMO business the last few years has seen little innovation. Looking at comments like on this article, I think developers shouldn't be afraid of taking more risks by trying innovative ideas, as gamers are starting to cry out for it.


For the unreleased MMO's right now, I have my hopes up for FF 14. What I've read about it, its mechanics seems different enough from the WoW/War/Aion/Late year-2000-mmo-bullshit.

Sat May 08 2010 7:32AM Report
Vagrant_Zero writes:

It's so very funny to go back through and read all these comments and see just how horribley wrong everybody was.

Fri Aug 06 2010 11:18PM Report
kosdeth writes:

Great Rant Paragus! You hit the hammer right on the nail there. Now if we can only find a way for the MMO developers to Comprehend your "MMO Insanity".

keep on ranting

Wed Aug 18 2010 11:53AM Report
Diviciacus writes:

Yep, totally agree with the whole article, well said indeed.

Sat Aug 21 2010 12:00PM Report writes:
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