In a sign of the apocalypse, Keen is playing Darkfall again (100% joking, everyone should be playing Darkfall (unless they are playing EVE)), which brings about the old “I’m playing Darkfall until the minute something better comes along” comment we often hear. Darkfall sucks, but it sucks the least amongst fantasy sandbox games (insert Democracy quote here).
Now one could say this is because no one has really bothered to make a quality fantasy sandbox, and so Darkfall is only alive (for three years…) until someone bothers. Sure Mortal Online and Xyson have come out (do we count Fallen Earth here? No, ok), Wurm and ATitD are still out, but shhh. The moment someone bothers DF is dead!
Another popular comment to make here is that fantasy sandbox MMOs are niche and not an area worth pursuing. Yup, only Sci-Fi Excel sandbox MMOs can get 400k subs after 8 years (most successful MMO not called WoW, no big deal), and a fantasy equivalent has no chance. Niche yo. The big money is in themeparks, as clearly demonstrated by… well that one game use to make a lot of money! Ignore that all the other AAA themeparks to come out after are now in the F2P minors selling you the One Ring or wings. They ships (and maybe sold) a million boxes, and only cost about 10 or 1000 times the cost of DF/EVE to make. Success like you read about (in the PR release, telling you that a day after going F2P, F2P-based sales are up 100%. No wai! Still waiting on the follow-up PR release telling me how growth has continued…)
Of course maybe, just maybe, the reason Darkfall is still online, a sub game, with its original servers still up (all two), is because it’s good at what it does, and that what it does is not nearly as easy to get right as people think? Naw, that can’t be it, right? That maybe the fundamental ideas behind the game, ones Aventurine copy/pasted from UO rather than EQ (if you want to do the whole ‘EQ was the original themepark’ thing), work a bit better at this whole “MMO retention” thing the sub model and the genre was built on? Crazy talk.
When I wrote that the genre is finally emerging from the dark ages, part of that is the ability for developers, those talented and those working for EA or SOE, to finally be given the chance to produce something that is not DoA. Post-WotLK WoW is trash, and no matter how talented the dev team, being tasked to copy trash is still going to result in trash. It might have a cool soul system attached, it might have a great fantasy IP, or it might be fully voiced, but at the end of the day you built off of trash, and no amount of good ideas or tweaks is going to change that foundation.
And so now, finally, after 7 or so years of repeating the same mistake and seeing the genre come to a grinding halt in terms of innovation (CCP aside, of course), we are starting to see signs that real MMOs might start getting made again. Be they in the indy space (Pathfinder) or the ‘AAA’ space (GW2), finally the core is not being built on the solo-hero trashheap that everyone was convinced worked so well if you only did X or spent Y.
So hopefully in 2012 or 2013, we do see a game or three that comes out and is that “better than DF” MMO. Maybe then AV won’t have the luxury of not updating the game for A YEAR! Maybe finally as much effort/resources will be put into refining that formula rather than racing to the bottom of the ‘accessible’ failheap, and we end up deciding which MMO to play on merit rather than buying a box and praying the content lasts until the next one ships.
It’s happened before, after all, but not many were paying attention (or had internet) back then.