The season of lists and awards is upon us, folks. It's the time of year when we all look back at the months past and pick out the good and the bad from it all. Awards will be given out left and right as critics and fans alike pick their favorite things from the year that was. Call me cynical, but I'm more concerned about what 2010 brings than what 2009 brought. I'm generally not a downer kind of guy, but looking back at the rise and fall of some AAA titles in the past two years, I'm inclined to think that 2010 had better bring a few key elements to a crowded MMO table. Here then is what I want, nay expect, from MMOGs in 2010:
#5 NEW WAYS TO PAY
The marketplace for the fifteen dollar-a-month subscription is getting awfully crowded. I would tend to suspect that most gamers only really keep one active subscription at a time. And even if many hold two to three at a time, a new game still has to be good enough to warrant a player dropping their progress, friends, and hard work. So as more games come in, unless the market is widened once more by a game that introduces many new millions to the genre, I don't see how the $15 model can be sustained by all of them. But when I see games like DDO bravely and successfully entering the free-to-play arena, I'm heartened with the prospect of other games following suit. Global Agenda and The Agency are both using a "Freemium" model when they debut in 2010, and something tells me such a decision will net them quite a few more sales than simply adopting the standard monthly subscription.
#4 STABLE LAUNCHES
When I think of Launch Day in the MMOG world, I think of waiting in line at the store at midnight to buy the retail copy, staying up late to install a massive program, and joining the throng of players who are just as eager as I am to finally explore the world we've been longing to see. However more often than not the reality of launch day has involved long lines to log into the servers, frequent downtimes, and lag that makes me want to break my G15 over my head. I'm not an expert in server architecture, but surely there has to be some sort of running dialogue in the IT world that says "Do this, and don't do this, when you expect several hundred concurrent users." I want to spend the day off from work I took to play your game actually playing, not waiting.
Surely the genre's evolving, and as it does we are seeing more and more innovation. But one thing that I'd love to see an end to is the "Kill Ten Rats" sort of quest. I understand it fulfills a basic need of disguised grinding. And honestly, I don't really mind the now cliché quest objective. But what I'd like to see is a developer who can further disguise the grind by making the objective less obvious. Why not develop more quests that involve some greater end being achieved, and to do so the players must fight through their "Ten Rats". This way I can be engaged with obtaining some relic, rescuing some hapless victim, flipping a switch, navigating a maze, or really anything that doesn't have me simply watching a counter on my quest tracker.
#2 MORE DIVERSITY
Can anyone off hand count the number of games out there that involve typical fantasy motifs? It seems for every Ryzom, there are about a hundred games with swords and shields... oh wait, even the oddly detailed Ryzom has those. My point is that I think we can all agree Fantasy has been done and done to the point where it's rather difficult to do it in a compelling and new way. 2010 brings a slew of Sci-Fi games to the mix, an espionage game, and a third option for players who love heroes in tights. If all games hit their proposed releases in the coming year, there should prove to be a lot more unique settings to adventure in. Now we just have to hope they play well.
#1 LESS HYPE
2008 and 2009 brought the promise of four big releases. Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, Champions Online, and Aion all promised to be the next big thing. And quality gaming experiences though they may or may not be, the amount of hype we were jacked up on due to marketing and perhaps the hope of something greater than the reigning MMO King left many with a sour taste in their mouths after a couple of months beyond the launch date. When a company reports nearly a million copies sold only to announce a bit later they retained just around a quarter-million subscribers, it tells me the hype level was a little too high. Though I guess the real culprits here are the gamers themselves. Perhaps we should be a little more cynical towards "The Next Big Thing" during the New Year.