During a bit of random internet wandering, clicking from one site to another, I stumbled upon an old post made by Scott Jennings (aka Lum the Mad) that is eerily similar to my very first blog post. Granted, his piece is far more details and overall… well better, so boo to that. On the plus side, my mind during one blogging session worked in a similar manner to Lum back in 2004. So yay for that… right?
Far more interesting however is that what Lum talked about in 2004 is still being talked about in 2007, just like it was first talked about when UO-R was released. For some reason, a segment of the MMO community still longs for a gaming experience similar to that of ‘oldschool’ UO. It’s like some ancient gaming itch we can’t scratch, continually reminding us of what we once had.
Lum’s stance on the issue was very clear back in 2004, saying the following:
But, for Surly Bob and the other “old school evil players” nostalgic for the glory days of Ultima Online – it won’t happen again. Ever. That moment in time was unique – and it’s gone.
Is he right; is it really impossible for the world that existed in 1998 to ever appear in a game again? Lum’s main point is that without the sheep, the wolves have nothing to hunt, and that since now the sheep have choices in what games they play, they won’t hang around in a world full of wolves.
While I certainly think that line of thinking is very valid, and choice has no doubt enabled many players to leave more ‘pvp friendly’ games for something a little safer, I’m not sure it’s a be all end all answer. I still believe a balance can be reached between the sides, allowing some pk/pvp, while supporting the ‘carebears’ a bit more than UO did, which is to say not at all.
Consider a game like EVE Online, which in 0.0 space has rules very similar to 1999 UO, basically allowing griefing, pk’ing, ganking, etc. However, unlike UO, EVE also has Empire Space, which has far stricter rules and penalties for random pk’ing. EVE also has a complex and rewarding mining/crafting system, one that a player can specialize in exclusively and be very successful. No more ‘go grind rats so you can craft better stuff later’ junk here. Of course, there is a catch; the best ore is found in 0.0 space, so if you get really serious about crafting, you will need 0.0 access, or pay for the ore on the market. Either way, the risk goes up at the highest levels, but so do the profits. It’s that lure of profits and economic power that keeps the ‘sheep’ of EVE playing, even when they have run-ins with PvP pilots. Add in a diplomacy layer, which allows Industrial Corps to pay Merc Corps to protect them, and once again EVE has created a way for players to govern themselves and figure out a solution to a problem, without hard-coding in Trammel (UO’s no pvp carebear side).
So EVE has shown us that in the right context, sheep and wolves CAN exist in the same game world. The trick seems to be not to favor one faction over the other, and provide means for both sides to be successful without being completely separated. If the balance shifts more towards one side or the other, both sides will suffer as a result of a population decrease. Keep both sides happy, while still interacting, and you get the deep layers of a game like EVE. The job if keeping that balance is certainly a difficult task, and some developers might seek the easy way out (see: Horde Paladins), but for those that do stick to their ideals, the reward is out there in the form of a rabid fan base that sticks with your game far beyond the few months it takes to reach the level cap, or jump ship when ‘the next big thing’ is released.
Furthermore, it’s entirely possible that the MMO market is now big enough to support an all pvp game like Shadowbane, which it was not back in 2004 (lets ignore that SB itself was not very good). The overall player base has grown, and with that growth come players with a large variety of play styles. You no longer need a game that will be the jack of all trades, offering pvp, pve, crafting, etc. A developer can now focus on one major aspect, and if the execution is there, they will have a successful game with a loyal fan base. Will it be an 8 million giant like WoW? Not likely; but with 150-250k subscribers over the course of a few years, a company can still turn a tidy profit while providing a needed service to a segment of the overall MMO market, furthering its growth and the expansion of new ideas.
That type of growth could lead to a very healthy cycle, with new ideas coming in at a regular pace. Otherwise, we find ourselves in the current cycle; with each new game being a clone+1 of the previous game, and eventually the fan base will grow tired and bored of that rat race.