The Soapbox: Facing an industry of change

Right now I believe that we are on a threshold of change in the MMO industry, and it feels a little uncertain and a lot scary.

While there are MMOs being made and developed as you read this, it seems as though there are less of the traditional big-budget titles with highly recognizable IPs and more indie projects that are operating outside of the normal paradigm. We have games that are funded entirely through fan support. We have spiritual successors instead of sequels. We have MMOs that are also single-player titles. We have devs over here jumping on the Minecraft wagon, devs over there trying to get a piece of the League of Legends phenomenon, and devs designing for a specific audience rather than a general one.

The tech and development process is in flux as well. Oculus Rift? Will that be the next wave of how we interface with MMOs or a passing fad? What about early access, with its trend of allowing players to come in and play while the game is being built around them? We’re in an era where beta is launch, alpha is beta, and pre-alpha is the new normal.

It’s enough to boggle the mind.

I’m enough of a traditionalist that I do wish that we could go back to how the system used to be — only without the post-World of Warcraft stagnation. But I’m enough of a realist too to recognize that change is and has always been a key part of our industry.

When you step back and look at the history of MMOs, dating all of the way back to the MUDs in the early 1980s, you’ll see an industry where the only predictable trend was unpredictability. Business models have changed, from charging by the hour to by the month and then to the myriad free and freemium options that propogate our field. Technology has advanced as well, allowing ever-greater groups of players to congregate and moving from text to 2-D sprites to lush 3-D graphics. At one point in history, socializing was a key part of online gaming; at another, it is all about raiding and player-killing.

In fact, the reason for my traditionalist streak is rooted in the fact that a bulk of my MMO experience has existed in the post-WoW era when everything has settled down to attempt to emulate the industry leader rather than strike out in experimental (and riskier) directions. It’s what I’ve known, and maybe I’m at a disadvantage to those who played far before World of Warcraft and knew an industry where MMOs varied wildly from title to title.

And while I fear change, I also welcome it. After all, we’ve been crying out for the industry to tear itself out of this rut and get to trying new things again, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing happening (along with dusting off old ideas and bringing them up to date). Just the other day I was having a discussion on change with a friend, and I noted that while it can sometimes be painful to get out of your comfort zone to learn or try something new, you can also find your life enriched by the experience.

My greatest hope is that as the industry groans and shifts through these changes, it will bring a fresh, vibrant future that will rejuvenate our love for MMOs in a way we haven’t felt in a long time — and in a way we haven’t experienced ever.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Code of Conduct | Edit Your Profile | Commenting FAQ | Badge Reclamation | Badge Key

LEAVE A COMMENT

169 Comments on "The Soapbox: Facing an industry of change"

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Tsiya
Guest
Tsiya

Blizzard time =/= real time rofl

StrumFruit
Guest
StrumFruit

Syntho I don’t think Justin is suggesting that Blizz/WoW should change, or that they are to blame. Rather, the industry has stagnated in it’s attempt to ride WoW’s wave of success by copying it. WoW is only the catalyst for the negative change to the industry, and you can’t lay blame at it’s feet just for being popular. In my opinion it lies with the decision makers of other studios (and perhaps in some cases the attitudes and tendencies of MMO players themselves) for electing to take shelter within their own fear of offering something original.

Syntho
Guest
Syntho

Many people moan that WOW ruined the genre: I don’t agree. They took ideas from everquest they added their own idea and made it ORIGINAL.  it’s not WOW that has to change is the others that should offer something DIFFERENT. 
Ps: why did you choose live yet, instead of the more common discuss? It’s just a matter of interest.

Syntho
Guest
Syntho

ANCN TarAndfeathers

samruck
Guest
samruck

Icnoevil Blizzaard killed the P2P pay model.

HEXENWOLF
Guest
HEXENWOLF

Golden_Girl Rayko I agree. I’ve grown weary of systems which reward only those that participate in large groups. I’m tired of the drama that inevitably infiltrates every guild. I’ve seen and heard enough to last me a lifetime. Many people think “MMO” means that you must be constantly interacting with other individuals in order to participate in the highest form of end game. Whereas myself, and many others, think “MMO” simply means there are other people living in the same persistent game world. 

I don’t have to be a part of a guild to go grocery shopping. I don’t have to talk to the people I see while I’m dropping fruits and vegetables into my cart – even though we all entered this phase of our particular Kroger instance together. Socialization in MMOs is as far as it gets from organic. It’s like saying, “Well, everyone here has brown hair. So, we thought you’d all work really well together on this team building exercise.” Say what? Whatever happened to meeting people as individuals and seeing if we have anything in common first? I’d far rather experience end-game content with a small group of people that I have fun hanging out with, than a large group of mostly nameless, faceless misfits.

When socializing becomes a choice in an MMO like it is in the real world – I’ll probably want to participate more.

Jersey C
Guest
Jersey C

I guess I’m late to the party, but I had to make my first post here somewhere… I’m so happy this site is finally live, grats everyone :-)

This is an interesting topic. I think it’s about time we see some new, fresh ideas in the MMO-verse. Changes to game design is in my opinion more important to us players than changes in technology, studio structure and payment models. Although particularly the latter can heavily influence game design, and I’ve got my opinions on that matter too, I’ll let that rest for now and focus my attention on game design.

What I’d like to see is more games that focus on horizontal progression instead of the tired, old vertical treadmill. Games where you unlock more options of how you want to play instead of just increasing your character’s raw power each time you gain a level or get a new piece of gear. Games that allow you to easily respec, inviting you to explore those new options. Where experimenting with new builds and tactics will reward you for being creative, by making you able to overcome tougher challenges.

Heck, let’s drop levels altogether and make the power curve for gear as flat as possible. New skills and gear shouldn’t be inherently better than what you already have, just different or better suited for a particular build. This could be a major selling point, especially as the game ages, because new players don’t have to spend weeks or months levelling up before they can play with veterans. It would probably also appeal to people who are interested in playing in a virtual world without having 20-30 or more hours to dedicate to gaming each week.

Speaking about virtual worlds, I want a game that gives me a deep and immersive world to explore. A world that feels “lived-in” and more dynamic than your standard themepark. Something that feels like a place where my character could actually live. Sure, I like a good pre-written story, but I love to find my own path and discover my own stories too. In other words, I hope we will see more games going for a sandpark design. Without free-for-all open world PvP, please.

It’s not like I don’t want any challenge in my gameplay, because I really do! I want some parts of the world to be really dangerous, where traveling with friends will increase your chances of survival but far from guarantee it. And I also want areas that feel more safe and relaxed. And I want everything in between. Let me decide how tough a challenge I want by deciding where in the world I play.

Now, let’s throw in crafting that’s a bit more interesting than “click button and wait for progress bar to fill”, a game economy that matters, some non-combat activities that encourages social play and a setting that invites to “casual roleplaying” as I would call it; when talking and behaving like your character in the game world and setting feels more natural than discussing real-world politics or sports or whatnot.

Am I asking too much? Maybe. But I can dream, can’t I?

Now, I suspect that the AAA industry isn’t yet ready to place their bets on something like this. It would probably be considered pretty risky by big companies, so chances are that such a game will first come from an indie studio. But if a new game aims to become a true WoW-killer, then the way to do it is not to copy WoW but instead, I think, to do something radically different.

ANCN
Guest
ANCN

TarAndfeathers name 1 theme park that has maintained a good population after 3 months that isn’t ESO (popular ip)

Rzar
Guest
Rzar

As a Pre-WoW MMORPG (Keep the R in MMORPG) player I am exited by all these choices.  Not all of them are wow clones.  Take GW2 for instance.  It has a very good lvling / combat system with story telling.  I am excited about EQ:N.  I love the computer modeling they are trying to implement for mobs instead of just mindless spawning.  So ok maybe EQ:N is going to fail now, but the idea of computer modeling shaping the world is intriguing.    

The future is bright.  Oculus Rift, or whatever is first to be the major VR platform will change gaming.  Not to use a pun, but VR will be a game changer.  I know we have been saying that since the 90’s but it seems that technology is catching up.  I am very excited to see what this will add to MMORPGs.

seventhbeacon
Guest
seventhbeacon

TarAndfeathers I get that.  Yeah, they said right up front this was not a game for everybody. They aren’t going for mass appeal and believe they can make a game tightly catered to the PvP niche crowd.  It’s not like there are many out there for that, including action physics… I started playing Tera and I really like the feel of physics in that game.

I think the difference in all these in-development PvP games is going to be just how well they play.