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The Free Zone: And Now for Something Completely Different

By Richard Aihoshi on November 09, 2009 | Columns | Comments

And Now for Something Completely Different

In case you don't know, today's column heading is the title of a movie made up of skits from the famed British TV series, Monty Python, which stood out from other comedic properties of its time because it simply wasn't like them. Instead, it was quirky and highly unconventional, which meant it wasn't everyone's cup of tea. However, for those who found it appealing, it was exceptionally enjoyable, not just mildly entertaining. As a result, if you became a fan, you tended to remain one for a long time, even until the present day, which is more than three decades later.

In the context of MMOGs, I can't help but wish we'd see more Monty Pythons. After all, how often do we see games that differ to a similar degree? There are certainly some out there. As it happens, they tend to be in the free to play sector, which flies directly in the faces of those who like to say it includes nothing but clones. But that's a bit of a digression. My real point is that I want more choices that are unusual.

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From a thematic standpoint, although I certainly have nothing against fantasy, it does seem over-weighted. Sure, we have plenty of variations, but when we strip things down to the basics, a fireball is a fireball is a fireball. What I'd far prefer to see is developer undertake much more exploration into other genres. And I don't just mean science fiction; even though there are still many popular properties that could potentially be adapted into compelling virtual worlds, I'm primarily referring to other possible categories.

A huge one that comes to mind immediately is history. It's not difficult to find titles based on the Three Kingdoms period in China. Actually, there are quite a few more in the market there than just the imports we see here. We can easily understand that this is so because we know they're created by companies primarily aiming at the enormous domestic audience. What's more difficult to explain is why all the similarly rich possibilities from other regions and cultures remain barely touched upon if not completely ignored.

In this respect, let's look beyond the two that may be the most obvious, ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, since there are some games built on these themes - just not as many as Three Kingdoms. For instance, right here in North America, we have the wild west and the native civilizations. Within either or both together, it's pretty easy to come up with concepts that could be turned into MMOGs. This can also be said about the American Revolution and the Civil War.

The industrial revolution era is a geographically broader western option. Shifting our gaze back toward the Far East, is it difficult to envision a game set in feudal Japan? In addition, if we look toward other parts of the globe, the possibilities seem almost endless - tribal Africa, the Persian Empire, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Stone Age, the Napoleonic period... Indeed, we could probably find fertile ground by picking any distinctive society or major conflict. In the latter area, World War II is a highly under-utilized a time and theme, especially when I consider the wealth of literature, movies, television and yes, non-MMO games associated with it.

Actually, when I think about these media, they immediately yield various other concepts that are popular in them. One example is vampires and their bitter, centuries-long blood feud with the lycans. Another is the world of secret agents and espionage, a third the realm of police and crime fighters in general. All of these and more must have substantially greater potential than developers have realized so far.

And what about music and dance? It strikes me that both are easily popular enough to support many more MMOGs than just the relatively small number currently available. As well, my gut tells me it has to be possible to come up with some kind of play mechanic other than tapping keys in time to tunes. Admittedly, I have nothing concrete to suggest, but then, I've never claimed to possess a sufficient level of imagination to be a game designer.

The last major area I'll mention is one I've brought up before, sports. I'm convinced there's a huge potential market that can be tapped far more than we've seen. The possibilities include more than just playing soccer, basketball, football, baseball, etc., but also building and managing teams. If we think a bit outside the box, how about a game where we can focus our characters to specialize in one or cross-train them so they're not quite as good at a larger number? I do know of one project in this vein, so I'm not claiming credit for coming up with it.

Any other thoughts on MMOGs you'd like to see that would be different?

The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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