Continuing from my previous column, I’m going to be running through the second decade of graphical MMORPG launches and picking the best title to debut in any given year. From doing the first decade, I know that this thought exercise isn’t always fair; some years have several great contenders, while others see one mediocre one rise due to a lack of competition.
Still, it’s kind of fun to look back at MMO history and to see which game was really the best of that year. And if you ever felt sore that a particular title got overlooked, well, consider this a retroactive awards ceremony of some sort.
Let’s dive right in where we left off with 2007!
When Radical Heights launched, I was inspired to put together a whole Perfect Ten about why trend-chasing doesn’t work for online games. Obviously, my chief focus was on games that wind up being developed at a rushed pace to cash in on trends and then run face-first into problems with chasing momentary trends, which… you know, you can just read the article; it’s linked right there. But it also prompted a follow-up question by longtime reader Sally Bowls asking why, with all of these issues, why the same rules don’t apply to MMOs.
The answer? Well, there isn’t one answer. There are three answers, all of which are part of the same set of considerations. For one thing, there’s the difference of development time and depth. For another, there’s the time before grinding. And last but not least, well… they do apply, really. But let’s take this piece by piece to talk about why trend-chasing for MMOs doesn’t quite provoke the same immediate reactions as it does for, say, MOBAs.
Making a list of the “biggest” MMOs currently running is always an exercise in frustration. It’s easy to put a few things on the list – no one’s going to argue with placing World of Warcraft on such a list, for example – but then everything else always gets mired in opinions and controversy, and endless cycles of “why isn’t this game I love on there while another game I don’t like is there?!” I speak from experience.
Still, on our list of the healthiest MMOs at the moment, we’ve got only three licensed games: Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Those are by no means the only entries on the licensed game list, of course, but there does seem to be something of a dearth of those. And perhaps that’s more understandable than it seems. For all that we talk about how one setting or another would be perfect for an MMO, there are some unique troubles you inevitably run into when you get into the licensed MMO shuffle.
When it comes to notable years in the MMORPG genre’s history, 2008 stands out as one of the most significant. World of Warcraft’s debut onto the scene in 2004 caused an upheaval in ways far too numerous to go into detail here. Suffice to say that its overwhelming popularity drew the attention of game designers who looked at the staggering numbers of players and found themselves envious of the potential to grab a slice of that money pie.
Many projects went into high gear following WoW’s launch, with plenty of them trying to copy the formula and structure that Blizzard established in the hopes of making it at least partially as big as that game. So-called WoW clones began to pepper the market and there was a sense that gamers were ready to move on from World of Warcraft to the next generation of MMOs. In many players’ minds, this would be either 2008’s Age of Conan or Warhammer Online, two big-budget MMOs with strong IPs that carried a lot of the weight of expectation.
Little did anyone realize that 2008 represented a bubble that was about to burst on the industry and the WoW clones that followed — including Warhammer Online. Today, we’re going to take a look at “bears, bears, bears,” the high hopes of Mythic Entertainment, and how WAR became a casaulty on its own battlefield.
Look down — and it’ll be the last thing you’ll ever see! That’s because fury and death arrive in the form of short character races in MMORPGs. Even if they hit below the belt, their music is sweet to the ears! In this episode of Battle Bards, the crew take on themes from Gnomes, Halflings, Dwarves, and other short races in MMOs.
Battle Bards is a bi-weekly podcast that alternates between examining a single MMO’s soundtrack and exploring music tracks revolving around a theme. MOP’s Justin co-hosts with bloggers Steff and Syl. The cast is available on iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, and Player.FM.
Listen to Episode 120: Short stuff (or download it) now:
I have vague memories of ArenaNet talking about Guild Wars 2 taverns prior to its launch and how these spaces would be more than window dressing. Maybe that was a dream or something, but I’ve always respected the effort to make one of the most iconic of RPG locations — the tavern meeting place — more useful and engaging. Warhammer Online, too, was touting tavern brawls that would take place as public events.
We’re so conditioned to run in and out of such places that unless we are roleplaying for some reason, chances are we never stay for more than a few seconds. And that’s kind of a shame, because I like the idea of players spending some time in bars unwinding. I heard a myth of a dead MMO that used to put such an emphasis on this, but it was probably all bunk.
What could MMO taverns do to get you to stick around? Would you hang out for minigames, gambling, special events, or special buffs?
Video games have always been a remarkably insular field; that’s the nature of development. Someone produces Super Mario Bros, and a few years later Sonic the Hedgehog sounds like a really good idea for some reason. But then you have games like The Great Giana Sisters, games that don’t try to just copy parts of what made the inspiration good but just copy the whole thing with one or two changes.
For normal video games, this can work out decently; a game that just doesn’t get much traction still sells some copies, hopefully. Just because Croc wasn’t Spyro didn’t mean that no one bought the former. But for online games, these trend-chasing games are almost always dramatic failures that litter the landscape. Why is that? Well, there are pretty good reasons, and today seems like a good time to talk about that.
With the insane success — both in terms of popularity and finances — that Dota and League of Legends spawned, you can easily understand why game studios latched onto the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) as a relatively quick cash grab. After all, with players providing the ongoing content (through PvP matches), developers were freed up to focus on balance tweaks and churning out new skins and characters to sell.
In a relatively short span of time, the market became flooded with many imitators that sought to grab that slice of the profitable pie. And while some, such as Hi-Rez’s SMITE, have endured, many games discovered the one key danger with this approach: If you could not generate and sustain a large, active playerbase, you were as good as dead. A critical mass was needed, and when it was not achieved, games started folding up left and right.
In today’s Perfect Ten, we’re going to look at a dozen MOBAs that tried and failed to make it. Perhaps they serve as cautionary lessons to other studios seeking to mimic League of Legends’ format, but we somehow doubt that the era of the MOBA is over just yet.
When we moved over here to Massively Overpowered, some of us transplanted our long-running columns to the new space. I perhaps felt most devastated that I was going to lose all of the Game Archaeologist articles that I had painstakingly researched over the years. So my mission with this space became two-fold: to rescue and update my older columns while continuing to add more articles to this series on classic MMOs and proto-MMOs.
I’ve been pleased with the results so far because TGA is a series that I really don’t want to see vanish. As MMORPG fans, we should consider it important to remember and learn about these older titles and to expand our knowledge past the more popular and well-known games of yesteryear.
Now that we have quite a catalogue of Game Archaeologist columns, I thought it would be helpful to end the year by gifting this handy guide to you that organizes and compiles our continuing look at the history of the genre. Enjoy!
The significance of Vanguard’s development, release, long-running drama, second chance, and eventual closure should be of great interest not just to game historians but to everyone who plays MMOs, period. What happened with this game caused a huge fallout in the industry, and we are still feeling some of its effects even today.
As our own Bree once put it in her blog, “Vanguard’s implosion was a big deal at the time and marked the beginning of the post-World of Warcraft destruction of the industry that hobbled Age of Conan and Warhammer Online a few years later.”
While the crash and burn of Vanguard was a very well-known tale several years ago, I’m wondering if today there might be many who are quite unfamiliar with what happened to this unassuming title back around 2007. Let me put on my old fogey glasses and we shall begin!
MOP reader Sally Bowls is on a roll with the good questions lately! She lobbed us one this past weekend that seems a good follow-up to a comment thread discussion about the problems inherent in unregulated three-way factional PvP/RvR (and how a game like Camelot Unchained will regulate it). By way of example, she noted that a certain MMO griefer famously argued in favor of strategy that basically made the opponent not want to log in, using tactics like creating timesinks and hassles in a sandbox. “Should the dominant faction on a RvRvR server ‘camp’ the smallest to try to drive them off?” she wondered.
“If it’s about fair PvP, then that is anathema. But if you see the game as being about your faction being at war with other factions, then not doing your utmost to win that war is incompetence. Neither is bad design per se, just a conflict in understanding of the goals. And will Camelot Unchained really be RvR, doing everything legal for your realm to win? Or will it be about PvP battles, with the RvR rhetoric being more marketing fluff than von Clausewitz and Machiavelli? If camping a mine hurts your kill/death ratio but makes the opponent weaker due to hassles or crafting, is that winning or losing? Is an RvR game really about realms vs. realms or is it just another BG?”
I’ve pitched Sally’s comments to the team for consideration in this week’s Massively Overthinking. Is RvR just a more carebear-friendly way to market FFA PvP? Do you play RvR or factional PvP to win or to have fun, and how does that differ from a more open FFA sandbox? How would you design three-way factional PvP to keep people from quitting and stop griefing before it starts?
Over the weekend, the studio behind crowdfunded RvR MMORPG Camelot Unchained released a hefty chunk of its ongoing beta one document, revealing extensive insight into the way the game’s social systems will be laid out. Parts of those social systems will look familiar to MMO players, such as groups (Warbands), guilds (Orders), and raids (Battlegroups). But there are more layers to contend with, including perma-groups or mini-guilds (Permanent Warbands), as well as project-oriented raids (Campaigns), all designed in the service of an ambitious RvR-centered MMO that makes space for soloers and small guilds by not over- or under-privileging the largest teams in the genre. That’s the goal, anyway!
CU boss and MMORPG veteran developer Mark Jacobs, whom many of you know personally thanks to his ubiquity in our comments section, gamely answered about a thousand of my questions over the weekend, which we’ve compiled into an absurdly long interview about how to properly smush together all these groups into a social system sandwich that makes everybody happy. There’s even a Star Trek quote and a bonus question about Warhammer Online’s development and CU’s budget at the end!
I strongly urge you to check out the original doc first, as the interview assumes knowledge of the basic terminology and structure of the game. Fair warning: While Camelot Unchained’s document is almost 6000 words, this interview itself is close to 4000. You put Jacobs in a virtual room with me and my questions go on forever, and damn if he doesn’t answer them exhaustively. It’s a whopper, but it’s worth reading for a glimpse into what could be the future of MMO community planning.
This particular part of September is loaded with MMORPG and MMO birthdays. In addition to ArcheAge, whose corgipocalypse we’ve been covering already, and Ultima Online, doomed to ding 20 by Monday, there are a few more we’ve not mentioned yet. Let’s remedy that!
is turning eight today, and it’s putting on a pretty sweet party
, plus a different one in the EU
. US players can look forward to bonus experience, cake, and Kroemede’s Revenge; through the weekend in the EU, expect a Cake Hunt, in-game boots, gifts, and temporary mounts, plus an event about poppys. I don’t know, it’s Aion
, man, just go with it. We’ll be streaming some of the US festivities on Saturday, so stay tuned!
Fallen Earth also turns eight today, though you won’t find any hoopla on the official site, where there’s been no news since last year. MOP’s Justin judged it in maintenance mode as of at least this past summer. It’s OK, Fallen Earth. We’ll have a slice of cake in your honor.