Well, 2014 is almost over. It has been a year full of…stuff. Overall, the gaming industry as a whole was pretty disappointing. It seems like the biggest moments of the year are underscored by horrible launches, broken games, greedy publishers, and lazy developers. There were plenty of bright spots, no doubt, but overall it’s hard to argue that the year wasn’t disappointing.
Interestingly enough, you can point a finger at both existing MMOs failing to really blow anyone away, as well as new MMOs failing to be the revolutions they were promised to be. Instead of looking at specific things we want to see happen for existing and upcoming games, this list instead focuses on general trends within the industry and how this genre can make a bigger impact.
5) Stable Game Launches
Yeah, yeah, MMOs are always going to have less than ideal launches. It’s not as easy as walking to your local retailer of choice, buying a disc, and plopping it in your machine. Even if that is what you chose to do, there are patches, network issues, lag, connection concerns, server overloads, and a billion other things that always seem to go wrong during launch month.
Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point that it seems like games aren’t even ready to play these days until at least a month after the official “launch” date. Everything from ArcheAge, Elder Scrolls Online, and Warlords of Draenor had launch woes in some shape or form. Some were worse than others, but the fact remains that we have yet to reach the era of stable game launches. Will that begin in 2015? Probably not, but we can at least hope.
4) Focus on Content
The secret sauce that keeps you logging in to your favorite MMO isn’t that flashy new feature, or the new armor skins they released, it’s the content. Having engaging and entertaining things to do in a game is more important than anything else. What we would love to see, is a refocusing for game developers to be less about the sizzle, and more about the steak.
We’ll take fewer features for better quests, or less grinding for bigger zones. If my options for progression consist of playing the same things that have been available since the game launched over two years ago (looking at your Guild Wars 2) then there’s a problem. Keep releasing new and fun content – that’s how you keep people playing your game.
3) Deliver on Promises
It seems like, more than anything, 2014 was the year of broken promises for the industry. Whether it be the still absent TESO console version, Destiny feeling more like an MMO, Shadow of Revan making The Old Republic worth playing again, or any of the other various promises we were hoping to see fulfilled, everything fell short.
WildStar was far from the dominant new subscription game it was supposed to be and even the existing MMOs out there failed to deliver. Hopefully in 2015 Landmark will grow into its own and finally get out from behind Next’s shadow and (fingers crossed here) we will finally get to see and play something definitive in regards to EverQuest Next itself. There are lots of big things possibly coming next year, so hopefully, more than anything, developers can at least deliver on the things that they’ve promised to deliver – that would already be a huge improvement.
2) Avoid Gimmicks
The word “gimmick” is so hard to define. What one person considers a gimmick, another person might consider a revolution in game design. I know I’ve been on the latter side of that situation a few times myself, but overall, shallow gimmicks are pretty easy to spot. For example: not every game has to be the “next great sandbox” and it’s a trend that just isn’t sustainable.
Furthermore, the obsession with “action” combat, Kill 10 Rats questing, and more open “sandbox” design are all trends that are, in most cases, moving the industry backwards. Instead of promoting buzz words and shallow gimmicks to draw in players, I would rather see developers invest resources into creating something actually unique. Hints of greatness have been experienced across the genre. What works in World of Warcraft may not work in Guild Wars 2, and what works in The Elder Scrolls Online probably won’t work in WildStar. Developers should take a step back and try to focus on what could make their games better – not what could better sell their games.
1) Bring Back Adventure
This List about things we miss from old-school MMOs does a great job of expanding upon the points I want to make here and it’s worth the read. It all boils down to the fact that MMOs in today’s market are all about accessibility; they’re so focused on being approachable and easy to pick up and play in fact, that they lose what made them so special to begin with. Maybe part of that is due to the fact that the MMO isn’t a new concept anymore, maybe it’s that gamers aren’t as proactive and interested in self-discovery, or maybe it’s just “better game design”. Whatever it is, I feel like the sense of adventure is lost in most modern MMOs.
Games like Guild Wars 2 have done a good job of rewarding you for your exploration and intrigue, and games like ArcheAge have given you good reasons to embark on grand adventures within the game itself. If you go a step further and look at stuff like Minecraft, or Trove, and even Darkfall, we can see hints of “player-made journeys” but so much of that is due to creativity on the part of the player, rather than designed diversions by the developers. Let us explore things that seem to be out of reach. Hide caves and treasure chests in areas they shouldn’t be, require us to explore areas on our own without the guidance of our interface. Think outside the box. That’s what MMOs need right now – creativity and originality – not the same old themepark and sandbox game designs.
I had some harsh words about 2014 to say, but all-in-all, I’ve enjoyed much of what I played. Although, most of my highlights from the year have been enjoyed alone, in singleplayer games, rather than online in virtual worlds with my friends, I can’t help but love my favorite genre unconditionally. Maybe the industry is undergoing another shift, or maybe it was just an off year for online gaming, but either way 2015 is shaping up to be a great one no matter how you look at it.
What are the things that you want most from MMOs in 2015?