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!
Last week, we reported on an emerging lawsuit lodged over the new Westworld mobile game. Bethsoft is suing Behaviour Interactive and Warner Bros. over what it characterizes as copyright theft from Fallout Shelter. Behaviour (you know it from MMO Eternal Crusade) developed Fallout Shelter for Bethsoft and stands accused of reusing its design, actual code (complete with identical bugs), and “substantially similar gameplay” for Westworld for Warner Bros., entirely without permission. Bethsoft claims Behaviour and WB breached their contract, misappropriated trade secrets, infringed on copyrights, and unfairly competed with it in relation to the two games; it demands that the court put a halt to distribution of the Westworld game and award Bethesda appropriate damages.
Warner Bros. isn’t rolling over for this. The media conglom told GamesIndustry.biz that Bethsoft’s claims are unsubstantiated and untrue – that WB never asked Behaviour to re-use Fallout Shelter’s code, and that Behaviour didn’t do it anyway.
A trio of companies known best to our audience for their MMOs are gearing up for a big court battle in the streets of Sweetwater.
Bethsoft is apparently suing Behaviour Interactive and Warner Bros. over alleged copyright theft in the brand-new Westworld mobile game. You’ll recall Behaviour from its development of MMO Eternal Crusade, and of course Bethsoft owns Fallout – it’s Fallout Shelter that Bethsoft believes was “ripped off” here.
Bethsoft says Behaviour and WB breached their contract, misappropriated trade secrets, infringed on copyrights, and unfairly competed with it in relation to the two games. Apparently, Behaviour developed Fallout Shelter for Bethsoft and stands accused of reusing its design, actual code (complete with identical bugs), and “substantially similar gameplay” for Westworld for Warner Bros., entirely without permission.
At the beginning of June, we covered The Elder Scrolls Online’s implementation of spyware program Red Shell, which is designed to track specific information about players and PCs logging into the client, like where on the globe they live. At the time, as fury blazed across Reddit, ZeniMax’s Matt Firor apologized for Red Shell, saying the company was “experimenting” with it and didn’t intend to patch it into the live build, and therefore it would be patched back out.
As it turns out, there are plenty of other games with Red Shell, or parts of Red Shell lingering. Redditor Alexspeed75 has been keeping track of games accused of running the spyware. Most notable on the list for our readers is Funcom; while the studio removed the Red Shell code from Conan Exiles in May following player complaints, players still found parts of it in The Secret World as of last week. That, Funcom has told Redditors, was an error, as it patched out the code last year.
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:
If all goes well, later this year we will finally be treated to an actual Harry Potter MMORPG in the form of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. While that will be a mobile ARG in the vein of Pokemon Go, it will still be a big step into the online space that MMO fans have been craving for nearly two decades now.
Obviously, Harry Potter continues to be a mammoth franchise for J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., and Electronic Arts, which has handled the video game license over the years. While there have been single-player Harry Potter titles, especially on consoles, no MMORPG emerged even at the height of the IP craze that swallowed up Star Trek, Star Wars, Warhammer, and more. So why not?
The truth is that Harry Potter Online almost did happen. Its brief existence and development isn’t too well-known, even today, but the wasted potential has always tantalized me with what could have been. Using a time-turner, we will go back to the late 1990s today and peek in on a possible future that came to fruition.
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.
The last time we heard from the team behind Eternal Crusade, there were some vague plans of stuff to be done about a battle royale mode and ambiguities with the game’s lead designer. Now, though, there is an update in the works and it should probably be out later this month. The notification of same mentions multiple times that the developers are learning to work with a smaller team, which carries other implications, but the important point is that there will be an update with a fair amount of content.
The update might include a new game mode of an undisclosed nature and will include multiple new maps and items. There will also be a balance pass for combat across the board, especially to improve vehicle health and bolter damage. A new campaign series is also in the works, along with a reorganization of the game’s existing DLC to be easier to purchase and understand for new converts. It doesn’t mention a date, but the signs of life alone should be good news for the fans.
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.