Editorial: "MM Oh My Gosh!"
Article by Robert Fitzgerald
What the heck am I talking about ? It's alright, you can say it out loud. The MMO market has become much the same as the empty dance floor. Everyday we are flooded with new and "innovative" ideas with which we can get our grooves on and we don't take the chance. We find ourselves heading to the crowded dance floors of the tried and true titles such as World of Warcraft and Everquest II. While these games offer few new features (server queues are not a feature) and stay the course of time tested formulas. It's like dancing to re-mixes of the same old songs over and over again. Sitting on the fringe are titles that have truly taken a step in a different direction and attempt to offer features never before attempted in MMO's. The life of these titles is shorter than a Dixie Chicks concert in Texas, over before it starts.
“We've come along way baby!” the words of Fatboy Slim say clearly what a lot of MMO gamers are thinking today. We've come along way from the non-graphical interfaces, using our imaginations and simple text commands of early MUDs to the full in your face world of bright colors, high-res graphics and anatomically correct avatars. We've clearly gone beyond the need for imagination and entered the land of emotes, dynamic animations, and sound tracks which exceed even the best motion pictures. The landscape has indeed changed. The question remains, has it changed for the better?
Let's be honest here, I am not saying that every new game that promises innovation deserves your time. Many of the games are nothing more than good intentions never realized. Many of these titles are as obvious as a polka song at a rap concert. Developers have many different ideas of what innovation really means. Its amazing to me how a game feature seen in many other games described in a whole new way instantly becomes next-generation. We often see catch phrases like "Change the world around you", "A truly unique and exciting crafting system", and "Innovative combat system" plastered all over websites for upcoming titles. Generally, these "Super, huge, unique, never before seen features" wind up being nothing more than the same old tired systems with a fresh coat of paint. While developers entice us with exciting game features and descriptions that declare third generation game, next generation game, and cutting edge technology. It is amazing to find, when we give in and purchase these titles, unbearable server queues, worn and weary linear quest lines, click and watch battle systems and generic worlds which possess none of the things we would expect from next generation or the so called third generation games. As if just by saying a game is cutting edge makes it so. When we look deep enough we find a “truely unique crafting system” amounts to nothing more than the new and improved ability to apply colors to your finely crafted weapons and armor. Innovative combat system they say, same click and wait system with the new and improved ability to sporadically interject a super special move. Only our super special moves are better than other games special moves. We have improved character animations so when you swing that sword it really looks like your swinging a sword. Great !! If only I was paying attention during combat, I am sure I would have been impressed. The problem is click and wait combat is boring. I usually take that opportunity to run to the fridge and grab a Bawls energy drink. It's not that these games require so much energy, its that I have a hard time staying awake while the game is doing the work for me. “Change the world around your!” but wait how am I to change a world that is for the most part static. Thats like throwing a stone in to a stagnant pond and saying “See look at the ripples you created, you have changed the pond forever!!” Hey wait, the ripples only lasted a few seconds and now the pond is exactly how it was before I thew my stone. Exactly !! Killing the “Black Dragon of uber Loot Goodness” just to have her respawn five minutes later isn't changing the world, its only temporarily disrupting it.
You want specifics, you want specifics, you can't handle the specifics! Oh, sorry Jack, lets keep this train on the tracks. Let's take a look at World of Warcraft, yes I know we are all tired of hearing about this game and yet I must bring it up one more time. What truly innovative ideas did we find in WoW which couldn't be found in other games at the time of release ( server queues are not innovative)? Cartoon like graphics? Nice but not very innovative. That would be like saying Fords only come in red, but if we make one in black then thats cutting edge, which it's not! Game play mechanics, nope nothing new here. Point and click fighting, linear quests, level treadmills – check, check and check all the standard fare. Why, you may be asking, was the game so hugely popular if there was nothing new and are we doomed to more WoW style games coming down the pike? Well, the popularity of WoW can be explained simply and without the need for a chalk board or visual aids. The World of Warcraft license brought in a whole new breed of gamers, it appealed to those who had never before played an MMO. Its called brand recognition. While Warcraft garnered a percentage of the current MMO population, it also brought in new blood to the MMO gaming gene pool. Thus it is successful because it has appealed to gamers who have low expectations and are more concerned with sight seeing in a familiar land than enjoying a truly innovative game. Are we doomed to the onslaught of more cookie cutter games pouring out of the studios ? It's very possible, but the decision is ours.
I look across the landscape of currently available MMO's and find myself confused. Games which are truly innovative are considered niche market games, those games that cater to a specific type of person, while those games that have stayed the course of the “tried and true” formula are wildly successful across the mainstream market. What we as gamers have to realize is – we are sending the message loud and clear to the money behind MMO's. We are confirming their market studies, data collection, their industry research. We are telling the “money” behind the games we enjoy the same cookie cutter formula. We are more interested in safe than innovative, which is exactly what they ( big money) want to hear. It is our responsibility as gamers to support the innovative and shun the cookie cutter. We have the opportunity to change the face of MMO gaming. Our purchases define what is successful and what is not.
So, the next time your trolling your favorite MMORPG forum and begging the developers for more powerful talents with which to round out your uber warlock, stop and ask the developers for something that would really make a difference in MMO's, like real innovation.
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