MMO games have a long lifespan. Last week I talked about putting them out of their misery. This week I wanted to talk about their resurrection. Ever been on a raid and said, “need rez plz?” Of course, we all have. So, what does resurrection mean for an MMO game? There are several ways the industry has handled this in the past and some new ways on the horizon. I’ll go through three different ideas that we have seen or will see and how they impact the MMO industry as a whole. Lastly, I want to list out some games that seriously need a resurrection.
The first example is THE SEQUEL!! The movie industry has limped by on sequels over the last ten years almost, perhaps even longer to drive kids into the theaters over the summer. Back in the 1940s and 1950s there were no sequels being made. Movies like Aliens and Lethal Weapon 2 proved sequels could make big money in the 1980s and let’s not forget Star Wars, these films made major cash and in some ways were better than their predecessors. Then again, sequels also produced six or seven Police Academy movies.
Have MMO sequels had a similar impact? Love it or hate it, my opinion is that Everquest 2 was pure arrogance on SOE’s part. While Everquest was riding high in the early days of MMOs someone got the idea that a sequel to it would do just as well. All the time you spent grinding in Everquest and building your character was now going to be replaced by a bigger and better game. This basically took any wind out of Everquest’s sails as far as keeping a player base goes and is the perfect example of a franchise cannibalizing itself…nom nom nom. The, if you build it they will come, theory did not work on EQ2. The more we see the market now the more games that cater to certain types of players are doing well, while others are failing by trying to be too much. If you have a game that is running well with a core group of players why start over with a sequel? Are any players flocking back to EQ2 any time soon; I’d like to see the numbers.
Guild Wars 2 is now on the horizon and from what we have seen is looking very good. Readers here on the site have it at No. 1 on the list. While Guild Wars definitely was an MMO in my book, some people may argue, but Guild Wars 2 looks to offer a different experience to players. The same way that Guild Wars expansions did, each one was a game in and of itself. There was no monthly subscription and the game continues to this day. Will a sequel end Guild Wars or has the player base shrunk to the point that it is time for a new experience? Hopefully NCSoft will take a long look at the lessons they learned with Lineage 1 and 2 and apply them to Guild Wars 2. I have hope, and NCSoft does have that franchise as a model let’s see how it works out.
Stepping away from the sequel idea to boost a game, let’s look at the next resurrection model, the facelift. Or in Cataclysm’s case the face apocalypse. Blizzard is changing their entire game with Cataclysm. The old world as we knew it in 2004 and 2005 World of Warcraft is going bye bye and will be replaced by a whole new look. This theory of resurrection gives players a whole new reason to start new characters, explore the old world become a new and even play a new race. Will this work for WoW or will it upset the current player base and turn the game on its ear? Well, I think Blizzard is smart enough not to upset their current player base. However, I wish they would take some more risks with characters. Giving mages to Orcs and Paladins to Tauren is okay I guess, but it does not go far enough for me. I know class balance is next to impossible in MMOs, but I wish Blizzard would take the leap and give us more classes. Imagine a Necromancer or a Monk class. Okay, I know I am getting a little Diablo here, but think about it. WoW does need a face lift I agree with that, but don’t just botox it by making the old look young again for a short time. Give us the full cut job. New classes would rock in WoW, in five years they have made one new class. Five years! The dual spec system has made Hunters, Mages, Warlocks, and Rogues a dime a dozen and Blizzard is not helping those classes at all by giving them more utility. Your Blizzard for goodness sake, you have more money then most countries, your conventions sell out in eight minutes…take some risks with your expansions. People will still play.
So now that we have looked at two ways of resurrecting MMOs, the sequel and the face lift. Let’s talk about games that sorely need a resurrection. First on my list is Dark Age of Camelot. I know Warhammer tried to be a lot of things. The game had brilliant new ideas like public quests, guild advancement, and the Tome of Knowledge. Yet as far as PvP goes the two faction system just tipped the game to one side too much. Dark Age of Camelot had three factions. If any one side was strong on the server the other two sides, while still enemies, would balance out and take them down. Sure you can argue this point all you want, but I am speaking of experience when playing Midgard and fighting Hibernia, most times when the Albions came over the hill, we dropped our fight and turned against our common foe.
This idea of three factions in an MMO was the pure genius of Dark Age of Camelot. With an IP so rich in races and factions as Warhammer it is too bad Mythic never made the three faction leap with the game. I know I talk about WoW a lot in my column, well it is mostly because right now I play WoW. In getting personal here, would I leave WoW for Dark Age of Camelot 2 with a three faction awesome PvP system, in a heart beat. If EA wanted to revitalize Mythic’s status in MMOs, then resurrect Dark Age of Camelot 2.
The other game that I feel is surely in need of a resurrection is not so much a game, but a genre. That is the martial arts genre. There are a lot of Eastern kung fu and martial arts games out there. While fun to the Asian audience they do not translate over here as well. Perhaps this trend has cause Western studios to shy away from martial arts games. However, I think a martial arts MMO that appeals to the Western mindset of martial arts would rock if it was done well. Imagine a fantasy Eastern world with Monks, Ninjas, Samurai, Drunken Masters, clans, factions, lore, man it is awesome just thinking about it. Martial Arts games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat made the leap from Eastern to Western and were hugely popular. I don’t think any studio has really taken a crack at the martial arts genre in a western thinking sense. If done correctly it could be awesome.
In closing I truly do not have the answer as to how to resurrect an MMO. There are some ways that have failed and some that might succeed. In the short years of development that we have seen in MMOs we are only in the second decade. We have a long way to go. Games that get sequels or facelifts may thrive or limp on depending on how they play more than anything else. As long as developers consider their current players before anything else and communicate well with their fans, then sequels or face lifts are a good thing. Gamers like challenges, we like things that drive us. Sometimes you have to take risks with your players, but make sure it is done in a good way, not by alienating them, but by making them feel like they are part of the world you have built, even if you build it twice.