The Game Archaeologist: Were sequels ever a good idea for MMOs?

    
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The Game Archaeologist: Were sequels ever a good idea for MMOs?

From movies to books to video games, sequels (and all related spin-offs) are a common sight when a property is sufficiently successful enough. Even some not-so-great creations might get a follow-up or two, prompting much discussion over whether or not the makers should have stopped when they were barely ahead.

In the history of MMORPGs, there have been many more sequels than you might even realize, dating all the way back to MUD1 and its spawn, MUD2. Some of these died in development, some fizzled, and some ended up eclipsing their forebear. But here’s the question that I’ve been pondering as I look over the years: Were sequels ever a good idea for these types of games?

After much thought, I can’t come to an easy conclusion about this, but at least we can discuss it here today. So let’s tackle the pros and cons of making sequels, prequels, and side-quels for MMORPGs.

Sequel Pros: Bringing the concept to the next generation

Games age, and some age better than others. When a title gets really creaky or has fundamental design issues that can’t be patched up, then it might be time to start over with a more modern look and design scheme. Many MMO “sequels” are, in fact, an improved version of the original game that took what worked and added more to it. Recent looter shooters like Destiny 2 and The Division 2 are modern examples of this, but you can look back to old days to find several of these as well.

But what I think is even more important here is drawing in a new generation of players. Some people won’t touch a game that’s more than a few years old on principle (or preference). There’s a concern that older online games might only have a few years left, too, so it’s better to hitch your wagon to something fresh out of the gate and hope it endures. I’m not anti-old games — my favorite MMORPG is 13 years old, after all — but I recognize that there’s great marketing potential in bringing in more gamers with a current release.

Sequel Cons: Diluting your core audience

Asheron’s Call 2 is such an interesting case study of both how to do a sequel — and how not to. Turbine did a sufficiently good job in creating an MMO that still existed in the same game universe yet offered a different visuals, play styles, and setting. Yet the existing Asheron’s Call community felt fractured by its release, and the “newness” of AC2 wasn’t enough to draw in crowds of uninitiated fans. In the end, the sequel only served to dilute the core AC audience… who wandered back to where the critical mass existed.

OUCH

Sequel Pros: Building upon an established foundation

MMOs are a risky business, so any advantage when making one is to be grabbed if possible. Some do this by hitching on to a big developer name or studio, others latch on to a popular IP, and still others build upon an established game that’s already proven itself and built a substantial playerbase.

It’s not a dumb idea. Players were more than willing to make the leap to Guild Wars 2 after spending many thrilling years in the first game and seeing how ArenaNet operated. The general (but not universal) feeling was that it was time to move on to a new and improved iteration of the game, and I think ArenaNet timed it just right so that players made the transition gladly and smoothly.

Sequel Cons: Killed sequels kills fan faith

Even with all of the reasons to create sequels, it doesn’t make their birth a given fact. EA saw the success of Ultima Online and greenlit not one, but two sequels — and then killed not one, but both games before they could release. And how did Daybreak’s fanbase take the cancellation of both Landmark and EverQuest Next? The studio managed to cut an open wound there that has yet to heal. All of this hurts the confidence of the community and most likely serves to drive them away from their current game because they don’t see the studio preparing for the future.

Sequel pros: Becoming relevant again

Becoming irrelevant to the gaming scene is a death blow to an MMORPG. It’s so vital for a game to make waves and get back in the headlines to signal that it is alive, it has a future, and it is where the fun is happening. There are many ways for an existing MMO to do this, to be sure, but there’s nothing like a well-publicized sequel to serve as a big shot in the arm for a franchise. Final Fantasy XIV saw this happen twice, first with its launch, and then with its relaunch. And while that’s a messy and multifaceted example, it’s hard to argue that by the time A Realm Reborn happened, players were ignorant of this game and what it offered. FFXIV’s profile was visible from a long way away in a way that FFXI never had.

Sequel cons: Settled players

One of the aspects of MMORPGs that makes these games rather special is that players can be in them for a very long time — many years, if not decades. And while the attraction of a shiny sequel is alluring, each player has to weigh that against all of the achievements and acquisitions that he or she has accomplished in the first game. If the player is not willing to part with all that, then even the best-looking sequel is going to struggle to argue for the switch.

MapleStory 2 was, from my perspective, a great sequel. It was colorful, it was charming, it greatly expanded on the graphics and gameplay options. And it failed, I think in great part to the long-settled MapleStory community being unwilling to uproot and leave what they knew and loved. It might have been one thing if the studio forced everyone to move via a shutdown (which is not a great plan, but it’s one that has been employed in the past), but the first MapleStory was doing just fine and getting plenty of updates. The sequel, therefore, had to rely more on drawing in a completely new audience, and that was a harder sell based on its quirky design that made it look more like a kids’ game than something for a wider audience.

No conclusion here

And so I continue to bandy back and forth the virtues of expending time, money, and developer resources to create sequels. As a gamer, I’d certainly love to see many of my favorite MMOs get awesome follow-ups, but as a historian, I know that a hit sequel isn’t assured — if it happens at all. Are they a good idea? Sometimes. Depends. But I can say that studios aren’t racing out to pump them out as fast as they did a decade or so ago.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.

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Anton Mochalin

In case of Guild Wars the sequel was the best idea ever.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

There are more than quite a few who would disagree with that. At least as far as how Anet handled the situation.

In the case of both EQ games, they built upon the typical tropes of the MMO and dedicated time and resources to continue to develop and improve both games. Heck, parts of EQ received a fresh coat of paint in just the last year, and continues to receive content updates.

Anet built the anti-MMOers MMO with the original, then basically went cookie cutter with the sequel, dropping nearly everything that made the original unique and popular. Then they stopped development on the original, except for a couple of guys who finally took it upon themselves to give some love to the game. Unfortunately, both of them are no longer with Anet any further.

As popular as GW2 may be, it is still an inferior game to the original and pretty much the textbook definition on how not to do MMO sequels.

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Kay

it is still an inferior game to the original and pretty much the textbook definition on how not to do MMO sequels.

There are more than quite a few who would disagree with that.

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Bruno Brito

They can’t be compared. GW1 and GW2 have absolutely nothing in common. GW2 is a better modern MMO. GW1 is a waaaaay better versatile character builder with a way superior PvP.make of that what you will. Anton is a fan of GW2, and i’m willing to bet he didn’t play GW1 at it’s peak ( which is understandable, i didn’t either ).

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Fenrir Wolf

That is not a very popular perspective on Guild Wars 2, but it is certainly a very Ascalonian one! Honestly, the original Guild Wars was never that great. There, I said it. The writing was drab, dismal, and uninspired for the most part, Nightfall and Eye of the North occasionally had their moments but they were generally just very tropey nonsense.

Prophecies was the biggest perpetrator by hardcore embracing terms like “twee” and “po-faced.” It was staid, dull, and unimaginative. The only good parts about Prophecies were the charr and Glint, which ArenaNet is all too well aware of hence how Guild Wars 2 turned out. Plus, I didn’t really enjoy playing a bunch of genocidal very white Nazis who had the foul habit of skinning their enemies to wear their hides.

There’s a reason no one actually likes the Ascalonians today. Except for the Ascalonians. It’s a low bar but the Elonians were always the best of the bunch.

I honestly don’t understand what was so great about Guild Wars 1. Sure, the combat was pretty okay—granted—albeit not as polished, nuanced, or fun as what we have in contemporary GW2, but what else? What was so gripping about that game? Was it just that Prophecies really pressed some ethnic supremacy buttons a bit too hard?

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Bruno Brito

I think it depends on the sequel.

Both EQ2 and GW2 are great games on their own rights, but i don’t even consider them sequels. Other than using the names and lore, the gameplay is completely different.

And gutting features that the former games had is a slap in the face. GW2 PvP is mediocre garbage compared to GW1.

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bobfish

Has there been a true sequel in this genre?

Guild Wars 2, Everquest 2, Lineage 2, Final Fantasy XIV – all provide a different game experience to their prequels, so they could coexist if the developer was interested in it.

Phantasy Star Online 2 – this probably comes the closest to being a proper sequel, but it is more a reboot on new platforms.

I don’t think you can replace an MMO, not within a reasonable timeframe. Guild Wars 2 is the only one that hard dropped the prequel, and I believe most people think that was a mistake.

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Franklin Adams

Man, I remember how excited I was when UO’s sequels were announced, and how bitter I was when EA cancelled them, and closed Origin Systems at the same time as cancelling one of them. Outside of MMOs, Wing Commander was the first moderately difficult game I ever beat, so Origin Systems (and Westwood for other games) are probably the two EA development houses I miss the most, while I do still have a soft spot for Tiburon because they’re from my hometown and I’ve known a lot of people who start their careers there, and every now and then in the past they get to do something that isn’t Madden or FIFA (like Soviet Strike and Nuclear Strike many years ago), it sucks to know that the only reason they exist is to print money for the beancounters at EA HQ and that they closed both Origin and Westwood for bullshit penny pinching reasons.

Anyway ranting about EA being EA aside, If I recall correctly, one of the two sequels for UO had Todd McFarlane doing design work for the monsters, and had a blended fantasy/steampunk/dieselpunk story and setting and the development artwork looked really cool, while they wound up using some of it in an expansion around when I moved over to an emulated server my friends all played on right before I joined the Army.

The premise for the other one was also kind of cool because it was going to be in an entirely new world created by the Avatar at the end of Ultima IX and not Sosaria or shards of the Gem at all.

It kind of pissed me off even thinking about it, but oh well. There’s a lesson here though children, never ever trust EA.

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Jack Pipsam

I think multiple strands of the same game are interesting, if it be like WoW Classic/WoW.
Or I suppose RuneScape being the golden child with at one point all three different versions of the game available to play with Classic, Old School and the newest 3.

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Skor

EQ 2 was one of the greatest games ever made. So, there’s that.

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Bruno Brito

Yet, got bashed by a terrible launch, godawful pc requirements and WoW.

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Haxton

FFXI was stupid popular when it came out. Then WoW happened.

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Java Jawa

I think since we are entering an age where some of the core pillars of the mmo community are pushing 10+, 15+ years old, there’s gonna come a time where no matter how fond we maybe of them the tech is ultimately going to limit development too much.

May not be a bad idea to simply have a new game of the same name and shutter the old while giving something to the accounts of the players who made some significant progress in the original.

Maintaining and development for multiple games of the same name has got to cost a lot of $$$$.

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NeoWolf

I guess it depends on the context. The notion of a Sequel to something which by its very design is intended to be “persistent” doesn’t really gel.

However technology moves on, graphics get better etc.. and because of engine limitations a revamp isn’t always possible for the existing version so instead we get a sequel.. in those circumstances I’m okay with them, but beyond that, as I say I find the whole notion rather contradictory.

They are pretty rare anyway, not many games have so much success they can afford to revamp what was even outside of MMO’s its only the more successful games that get re-masters.

I will say its about damn time Blizzard do a WoW 2 as WoW has not aged well.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

The easy answer to that question depends on if the sequel succeeds. Then, it’s Yes! If it doesn’t then it’s No! But, the real answer is, It depends on how it’s handled.

I would say that Everquest and Everquest II points to doing it the right way. One is an update to the other and still captures the essence of what makes the original fun to play, but is not a carbon copy. Most importantly, both games continue to be developed on a regular basis. There is new content, bug fixes and back end upgrades that occur in both games, so fans of each still feel like they are getting something in return for their investment.

I would point to Guild Wars as the wrong way to do a sequel. Both are (or at least was in the the case of GW1) successful, and the sequel is not a carbon copy of the original. However, both games are significantly different in how they play, that GW2 might as well have been a completely different game with a different IP. And most importantly again, development on the original stopped once development on the sequel began. That leaves fans of GW1 feeling left out and forgotten. For me, personally, GW1 is and always will be the superior game of the two, and there is no reason that is shouldn’t have continued to receive content updates like the original EQ does.

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aYates

I agree with you from the other side of never really playing GW1 and being confused by GW2 as a new player to the franchise. I think I tried GW1 once a long time ago as someone looking for a game similar to WoW. Tried to jump and…yeah, not for me. Smash-cut, years later tried GW2 and there was so much that I liked about it, but I just didn’t “get” the game’s identity or point, plus what..? No mounts??(I know they added them later..)

Maybe, if they’d called GW2 something else and started fresh, that would’ve helped them have a more concise game concept.

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Bruno Brito

Maybe, if they’d called GW2 something else and started fresh, that would’ve helped them have a more concise game concept.

Maybe but it wouldn’t be a certain shot. New IPs have the Wildstar problem where they need to cater heavily to marketing to sell the IP. GW’s IP is already loved enough. They made use of that.