As we watch a crowd of independent MMO developers make their dream games, watch them strive to make something unique, and watch them struggle to get the damn things out the door, I wonder. Will one of these strongminded studios bring about a new MMO golden age?
There’s a forum thread here on the site about how there are no games to look forward to in the foreseeable future. I think that’s hogwash. Yes, I just totally used that word and meant it seriously. I’m getting old, so sue me. But it’s true: there are plenty of games to be watching and waiting for these days. The big difference with now as compared to a few years ago is that the MMOs on deck are nowhere near as high profile as the AAA titles we’ve received since 2004.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
We’re witness to a crossroads for the MMOG. As Richard keenly pointed out yesterday, we’re on our way into a new generation of MMO, but we don’t really know what form it’s going to take. If WoW and its theme park kindred were the 2nd Generation, the most obvious “third generation” of MMOs seems to point toward the multitude of sandbox-style MMOs in development. One look at the success of a game like ARK in Early Access, or Rust, or even good l’ DayZ can tell you that player-driven experiences over scripted content seem to be “in” for online games. Could the first game to give us a truly “Massive” world with thousands of players and that kind of player freedom be a hit?
So my question is, which of the games being made right now will be a hit? Simple statistics dictates that at least one will set a trend (though the cynic in me says this doesn’t have to be the case), and I’m left wondering which of the new games it’ll be. The most obvious answer to me is Crowfall. It’s the highest profile indie MMO in development, and if I’m being honest: it’s the one that has the looks to make people think it’s a Triple-A game.
Call me shallow, but there’s a simple truth when it comes to games reaching critical mass: they need to look good. Now there are exceptions to the rule. Minecraft, Kerbal Space Program, and Goat Simulator certainly didn’t raise the bar graphically. But I have a feeling that MMO gamers are generally more discerning. It’s purely opinion, but I tend to think that since we’re supposed to suspend a certain level of disbelief to “live” in an MMO’s world, said world needs a solid art direction behind it. Looking at the video of the Confessor in action below is enough to make me say, “Yeah, that looks like they actually spent money on art.” And that’s crucially important in these games.
But Crowfall will also rely heavily on PVP for its special sauce. Despite the biggest games in the world being PVP-only (League of Legends, DotA, etc), I’m of the mind that most (not all) MMO gamers really just want to go adventuring with other people in diverse and interesting worlds that give them something to discover. This is part of the reason I think Trove has been such a success for Trion. PVP is still in the planning stages there, and yet people love the game because it rekindles the idea of joining people in exploration of new worlds.
Crowfall has this sort of potential because of its procedurally generated worlds, while still giving players a place to call home in the Eternal Kingdoms. Again, this has already proven to be successful in Trove with Hub Worlds and Club Worlds. There will be PVE, but ArtCraft is betting a lot on the idea that players can and will appreciate open PVP if it’s done right.
There may be loads of things still up in the air about Crowfall, but the team behind it seems to be hitting all the right notes to create a new kind of MMORPG. There are dozens of indie MMOs in the making right now, and several of them are really promising (Chronicles of Elyria, Shards, Shroud). But if there’s one game I think could potentially set new trends or become “the new hotness”, it’s probably Crowfall.
I could be completely wrong. After all, you’re reading the words of a guy who claimed EQ Next would make you poop yourself and now it’s got us all constipated. So I could be and probably will be wrong. But one thing’s for sure, I’m happy to wait and see how it all shakes out. For the first time in a few years, there’s no clear “Hype Train Engineer” for the MMO genre, and that’s OK. Soon enough, some game will emerge to lead the pack and we’ll be right there arguing about its merit I’m sure.