Massively Overthinking: Which MMORPG should have never been made?

    
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This could be a gruesome topic, but it popped into my head after GIbiz published an article with advice for game developers from Melbourne Games. It’s called Australian devs’ advice to students: Specialise, and kill your darlings, and it grabbed my attention right off. Were developers really going to tell students or recent graduates to give up on their early projects if they don’t pan out quickly? Yep.

“It breaks my heart when I see teams sometimes four years on, having seen them in their final year, still working on getting the same game out the door. They could have killed it off and used the experience to come up with something way better, but they were just emotionally connected to that project and couldn’t let it go.”

Turning that back on the MMO genre, I started wondering about MMO projects that shouldn’t have been made, or should’ve been canceled a lot sooner, and what amazing projects we might have gotten had the developers, well, killed their darlings – not just for their sake but for ours, and for the genre’s. Let’s discuss just that for this week’s Overthinking.

Oh jeez.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Darkfall 2. Not a ton changed. It was originally an expansion, but the team made it into a sequel for a game that was, what, 2 years old? I was a veteran of the first game and gave the sequel a good try.

Asheron’s Call 2 gets flack for not being the original turned 2.0, but it still added a lot of features that felt revolutionary at the time. Things that made World of Warcraft mainstream. But DF2? That felt like an expansion wipe that broke a lot of old features. It divided the player base and felt like it killed the company. The fact that multiple groups are resurrecting the original DF and not the sequel really speaks volumes.

…in a distant second would be Animal Crossing Pocket. Not an MMO, but the main series had fun, easy going multi-player for creative and social types. Nintendo made the series’ mobile entry into a gachapon centered game of timers collector. Fans didn’t need that, and neither did the series.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I can always tell by Thursday morning when I’ve asked a really rough question in Overthinking because most of the writers are hiding under their virtual desks trying to avoid answering it! So it is with this one, and as I try to answer it myself, I see why. It’s not fun trying to be super pragmatic about it. Killing your darlings is hard, and telling other people they should have killed their darlings – when in fact you kinda like those darlings – is unpleasant.

The first example that bubbles up in my mind is actually more the indie scene rather than the corporate scene – the megacorps have no darlings and axe games without sentimentality. But I’ve said before on the podcast that I often wish some of the Star Wars Galaxies emulators would stop making yet another server for 200 people and instead consolidate into one or two really huge ones. I suppose over time, that happens naturally, but all of the effort that went into those other 20 or 30 servers is wasted.

Similarly, I see a lot of people argue this about the City of Heroes spiritual successor games. The three that are still in serious contention for a launch someday don’t see themselves as competitors, but they are, and sometimes I have the same consolidation wish. I don’t think they’re as different as they believe they are. I think keeping the pack together matters more – that banding all of us together would produce a better game with better chances of releasing fully and succeeding. But it’s far too late to go back now.

I bear many side-eyes for games that get do-overs and re-releases that don’t need it, that are overt attempts to shift into different markets, sometimes at the expense of their existing players. Secret World Legends and Defiance 2050 are coming to mind.

From a purely selfish perspective, I’m glad all of these games get made. Even the ones that are truly bad have something to offer, even if it’s nothing more than a warning that future developers might heed. But for the sake of the devs’ health and careers, I hope they bail when the time is right.

Boys and girls in cars, dogs and cats on lawns - from up here I can see them all.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): As much as I hate Blizzard for canning Project Titan and instead cranking out Overwatch (just think what kind of amazing superheroic MMO Blizzard could have released!), I have to ultimately concede that they clearly made the right decision from a financial standpoint and a gaming one. There’s also the story of Final Fantasy XIV effectively taking its 1.0 dog behind the wood shed. So there’s certainly precedence for these decisions ultimately leading to great things.

The advice to kill your darlings can often be much more gnarly than it seems when you consider MMOs, though. Particularly if you’re in so deep that reeling back would be tantamount to giving up or sacrilege (Star Citizen) or because you’re beholden to some investor’s board (insert any major MMO here, really). Additionally, one of the best parts of MMO and online multiplayer games is their ability to build on top of and expand outward from its foundation, eventually evolving into something that is better than where it started out.

So I guess that ultimately leads to my conclusion: try to grow and build on what you’ve got first. Adapt, evolve, develop, much like Worlds Adrift or Legends of Aria have. And if that doesn’t work, there’s no shame in hitting that reset button. I’m looking at you, Bless Online.

Your turn!

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Vaeris
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Vaeris

I’d have to say WoW. I would like to have seen how MMORPGs developed without it influencing as it did. WoW funnel (and erased) creativity, all but killing the pve sandbox world building philosophy and causing CEO/CFO/etc. and share holders to demand games be like WoW because “that’s gonna make us millions!”

It would have been interesting to see games instead be influenced by guided by UO and SWG(pre NGE) in their push to recreate ecosystems with players assuming a myriad of roles. Those games weren’t designed to be “won”but instead to be played on and on. At least that’s how they felt.

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Alex Malone

SWTOR

On a personal level, I just think the game wasn’t worth making at all. It is a terrible game! First, its not even a proper MMO (it’s impossible to have a massively multiplayer experience due to population caps). Second, the combat is ridiculously mundane and easy. Third, the story content is 99% garbage, only the class stories are interesting but even they don’t match up to the quality of a single player RPG.

However, to keep more on topic, there are some very good reasons why it should never have been made. EA and Bioware, as companies, were simply not capable of developing an MMO. Both companies lack the knowledge and insight of the genre to be able to develop a proper MMO that could also be successful, so the game was doomed from the start. This is most clearly evidenced by their focus on story (experiencing a story is inherantly single player and always breaks down when extended to multiplayer) and their shockingly bad choice of game engine.

The game also caused the shutdown of SWG and tied up the license, preventing the possibility of any other Star Wars MMOs being developed. I don’t mind EAWare developing a bad game, sucks for them but I don’t have to play it. However, by simply existing it prevents the possibility of a good SW MMO being made any time soon, and I can’t forgive that.

Then, there’s the money aspect. SWTOR was, initially, a financial failure. Within 6 months of launch, the game was on target to be a failure and had already dropped below the break even point. EA had to massively cut back on future development (preventing the game from getting better) and change their business model to suck as much money out of players as possible just to get their money back.

Think what they could have done with that money instead! Rather than blow $250m on a shit MMO, Bioware could have made a single player RPG that could have competed with GTA5 and RDR2 in terms of quality and scale. Could you imagine what it would feel like to run around as a jedi in a world the size and quality of GTA5?! They could have still had an online component (pod races, jedi duels, space fights etc) and made a ton of money.

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PhoenixDfire

I can’t believe I’m going to say this being a Star Wars fan and the fact that KOTOR is one of my favourite games ever. However it has to be SWTOR. I preferred to have a MMO set in the classic era, even though there arn’t supposed to be Jedi. SOE and Lucasfilm only have themselves to for the destruction of SWG. I was hoping that SWTOR would have something similar to jump to lightspeed but it was not to be.

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ordegar

Two come to mind for me:

The Matrix Online should have been so so so much better but somehow got the green light.

Star Trek Online was super rushed; they made that game in like 6 months or something equally ridiculous, though I think that was due to contracts for the IP. Still, it should have been trashed for something better.

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Ben Stone

ESO for constantly pulling me in with its pretty graphics and then making me regret it with its dull gameplay.

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Rottenrotny

Haha, right?

I even somehow ended up with physical collector’s editions and when I look at them on my shelf I think to myself “Why did I buy this?”

kjempff
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kjempff

Kill your darlings to me mostly refer to details, more than entire projects. The reason it applies to early projects, is that it takes years to actually truly understand this as a developer, and during that time you dug yourself into a hole of denials.
Another way to put it fail fast, whic sound negative but what it actually mean is don’t get attached to your idea about how some specific thing should operate/look, because it is rarely the best way, and you need to accept that to be truly willing to change what is needed – Sometimes it is details, sometimes it is scrapping the whole idea.
So the idea of fail fast is being efficient(fast) at failing and correcting, because that will be what your work as a game developer is all about – now AND in 20 years.
Being experienced does not mean your ideas are perfect, but that you are a much more efficient failer because you see a fails much earlier. The pitfall is when an experienced game developer becomes too confident in their own abilities, they can (very suddenly too) ignore that they still fail and need to fail to stay good; And then they get out of touch..unfortunately at this point, they may be leading a big game project. The good experienced game developers stay humble, allways, everyday; it is not an easy path to walk when you start feeling successful, but it is the only way.

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donvweel

I would say World of Warcraft, it really distored the whole gaming landscape. Too many games tried to copy their success, and it shadowed other games and they withered in that shade. WoW was a tasty MMO but in a velveeta kind of way.

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Frankimer

Firefall, you can almost say it never really came out. I remember meeting the guys at the first PAX they showed it and it looked great. I think I finally gave up after the second “Rebrand”. I’m amazed that Mark Kern seems to be attempting the entire thing again.

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Goettel

Of those I wasted time/money on: Tabula Rasa & Mortal Online.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Agreed with those that said Shroud of Avatar. This is embarassment of the genre not only because its a garbage, but also because it was made by creator of Ultima ONline.

Another one that wasnt mentioned: Mortal Online. Played it during launch and it was one of the worst MMOs Ive ever seen.