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... But Then They Changed What It Was

Jon Wood Posted:
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I used to be with it, but then they changed what "it" was. Now, what I'm with isn't it, and what's "it" seems weird and scary to me. - Abe "Grandpa" Simpson.

2010 will mark my 30th year on this planet, and depending on who you ask and who's reading this, that's either going to be met with wonder at how old I am (get a real job grandpa, move aside for someone younger), or thoughts that I have no right to be complaining (I'd give my good knee to be 30 again).

Personally, I'm choosing to approach this milestone in a contemplative mood and it's gotten me thinking. I actually sat down recently with friends and discussed things that "kids today" would never know, or have never known. That, I fear, is the first sign that you're getting older. When you start to really notice (and worse start talking about) how different the world is today from "when I grew up," you just know that what "it" is has changed. You're just not in the demographic the world revolves around anymore.

That, I think, is part of the reason that many of us old MMORPG players are having trouble finding a new virtual world to call home. We're dissatisfied with just about every new MMORPG release, describing them with words like shallow and linear, accusing them of not being "real" MMOs, and just being generally cranky when the game that's been hyped up for the last few years, that we hope might be our new game, simply isn't. Generally speaking, we're the ones that complain when a game is F2P (damn item shops), or when a game is heavily instanced (what am I paying a fee for?), or when a game is too soloable (how is this an MMO?), or when a game doesn't have enough options, or a game is too easy, etc.

Now, in all of the complaining that we're seeing recently, there is a large and vocal part of the crowd that feels that these changes are happening because developers and publishers have given up on trying to make games and are instead trying to make a profit. I submit though that businesses looking to turn a profit is nothing new to the world of games. Do people honestly believe that Mythic, as a company, was any less concerned with making money when they released Dark Age of Camelot than they were when they released Warhammer? How about SOE? Did they develop pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies out of some kind of dedication to the art while the NGE was brought in to make money? No. Pre-NGE was designed to make money. It didn't so they tried the NGE (with limited success). With very few exceptions, contemporary game making has been about money.

The point that I'm trying to make is that it isn't that game developers, studios or publishers are trying to cram their own personal ideas about how MMOs should be made down our throats, the gamers (or at least current market research) are doing that. The motives behind game development haven't changed, the customer base has. It used to be that the way to make money making an MMO was to create a sandbox-style experience, the kind of game that today's "complainers" are clamoring for. That just isn't the case anymore. The generation that has come up behind us, as a whole, is looking for a different kind of gaming experience and unfortunately, catering to their whims and wants is more profitable than catering to ours.

I could spend all day pointing fingers about how this happened, and why this happened, but the sad truth is that there are more of them spending their money on games than there are of us. In "the old days," there was a much smaller audience of people looking to play MMOs. That smaller audience created an average gamer who was more "hardcore," wanted a challenging, open concept world in which to play and make their own adventures. As the market has widened, the average shifted to a more casual style of gamer that was more inclined toward a theme park experience than a sandbox.

Fortunately, there will always be companies and developers who look at the old target audience and see at least a small profit to be had. As long as there are a sufficient number of players who want the old kind of game, there will be smaller studios whose profits don't need to be quite so large making games for us. I'm afraid though that our days in the sun with AAA studios and publishers are over. They belong to the new folks now.

In the end, it really comes down to the fact that what "it" is has changed and now what "it" is seems weird and scary to us.


Jon Wood