MMO history, that Bartle guy, and why WoW2 won’t blow your mind.

It seems we had a busy weekend in the MMO blog world, fueled by an interview with Richard Bartle done by Michael Zenke over at Massively. As with anything remotely interesting posted on the internet these days, the responses to the interview, and the multitude of blog posts related to it, range from the ‘you’re an idiot stfu’ to ‘exactly what I was thinking’.

The real headline grabbing line of the interview is the comment “I’ve already played Warhammer. It was called World of Warcraft“, which when taken out of context or misinterpreted is all the internet needs to jump on the nerd rage bandwagon. When clarified (Bartle was talking about the setting itself), he is actually only 50% correct. Originally WoW was indeed the Warhammer setting without the official license (they lost that at some point in development), but only until Blizzard started putting their unique spin on the world. The Warhammer IP is lacking such gems as pretty evil elves, noble aliens that are descendents of the super evil alien guys, and a world where everyone (aside from said super evil aliens) is a good guy, just misunderstood. Even the undead are good guy freedom fighters, yay! It might be a world, but outside of a magic arena, there is very little war being crafted.

Bastardized lore bitching aside, Bartle does bring up an interesting point to someone who has been in the MMO scene since Neverwinter Nights; MMOs really are fairly similar now. Think about it, when Ultima Online came out, it was totally new. So new that the term MMO was a few years off, and everyone was a damn noob just logging on and wandering around (and getting PK’ed). Then came EverQuest, and how many people looked at EQ and said ‘eh, it’s UO with elves, who cares’? Right, no one. What you did hear was ‘EQ is carebear land, gtfo newbie’. Which was accurate, EQ was carebear land compared to UO, but more importantly, EQ was radically different than UO in almost every single way. While UO catered to the explorer and the killer, EQ was designed for the achiever and socializer. The final piece of the original ‘big three’ was Asheron’s Call. When AC came out, was it considered ‘EQ in a random setting’? Again, no. And AC had its own charm and gameplay that was again different than UO or EQ. The original ‘big three’ where all successful in their own way, and offered gamers at the time three unique choices in setting, gameplay, and overall game design philosophy.

Fast forward to 2004 and World of Warcraft, and you start hearing talk of ‘a more polished EQ’. Sure the setting was different, WoW brought a huge host of design changes that later became MMO standards, and above all it was a damn fun game, but it was not the radical change that UO/EQ/AC were when compared to each other. WoW followed the EQ formula, gave it a bigger budget, and polished it until it was done.

Finally, we have Age of Conan and soon Warhammer Online, two major games that from day one were being billed as ‘WoW but with feature x’. Which is not exactly a bad thing in terms of good MMO gaming from a pure fan perspective (readers know I’m dying to play WAR), but it does say something about the current trend in MMO gaming, and what the future might hold. With budgets as big as they are today, and with so much at stake financially, perhaps the days of great innovation are gone, and the best we can hope for in a triple A title going forward is the EQ formula + twist x. Look at any major trend that blew up, be it shooter games (Doom), sports games (Madden), or racing games (Need for Speed, Grand Turismo), and what do we see? Madden (insert current year), the same game as last year but with one new gimmick. Is it really that shocking that MMO gaming, which officially became ‘kind of a big deal’, has followed the same pattern of success?

Innovation is still alive and well, but you won’t find it in games with millions of subscribers. You will find it in games like EVE, A Tale in the Desert, Shadowbane, and countless other ‘niche’ games. And has history has shown us time and time again, the niche will be culled; the best features harvested out, and ‘polished’ for the release of WoW2. And like you, I’ll be there day one, like a good little fanboi, dying to get into beta.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Age of Conan, Console Gaming, EVE Online, MMO design, Perma-death, PvP, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to MMO history, that Bartle guy, and why WoW2 won’t blow your mind.

  1. Rog says:

    You know, I’m not a huge fan, I think Richard Bartle has plenty of opinions that people could bash on, but this one in particular, I completely see where he’s coming from.

    As much as the mass-market tends to trickle out refinements of what came before, the revolutions do come now and then. Everquest was a revolution over Ultima Online and oddly, it’ll take something like UO again to shake EQ’s foundations that all these other games have been built upon.

    He’s right, it ~is~ sad to see these games progress so little in the past decade.

    What’s even more disappointing to me is the way the bloggers and fans took it as an insult, like their way of life was being threatened. He refused to differentiate between similar games, so what? They constantly talk about revolutionary changes with each new game, but do they really want it?

    What’s wrong with questioning the grind, the preset classes (with corresponding balance game), the inflationary money-sink economies, the timers and the overly stretched content?

    We’re paying monthly aren’t we? We shower accolades for content that’s trickled out at a snail’s pace compared to the profit made. Why don’t we get the features most requested instead? Where’s the deep and involving economy or crafting? How about the vast worlds to cater to the explorer majority (A fact first pointed out by.. you guessed it, Richard Bartle. He is pretty observant really)?

    So many of the features of the EQ model to me are designed to disguise what’s lacking. Don’t get me wrong, I love these games, but what’s wrong with asking for more of what we really want?

  2. syncaine says:

    I also think Bartle makes himself an easy target with his phrasing. Clearly the guy never went to a PR class, but is that really so wrong? Do we need EVERYONE to give us PR-filtered responses to everything?

  3. sid67 says:

    It’s not really Bartle, but the reaction he provokes that I find unsettling. I actually agree with Bartles’s sentiment about MMO stagnation, but I get irritated by all the Bartle = MMO God crap and how a few quotes out of context start a dozen internet wars. It’s hardly new or insightful stuff he is contributing to the discussion of where MMOs are headed. However, because he says it, it’s suddenly newsworthy. Who really gives a rip if Bartle thinks WAR is like WoW?

    As for the topic of innovation – well, I think EVOLUTION is its own form of Innovation. If a game is too radically different from its roots, then it ceases to be a game in the same genre or category. That’s not a bad thing, but if you happen to like games in that genre – you may or may not want to play something with a radically different gameplay.

    The important thing for that genre is that each successive generation improve upon what came before it. Blizzard understood that when it created WoW and the evolutionary steps they took are quite innovative even if they aren’t entirely new concepts. However, that was in 2004. In 4 years, WoW has not really contributed to further evolution of the genre and MMO fans are suffering for it. Hopefully, WAR makes that next evolutionary leap and learns from the mistakes of WoW.

  4. Talyn says:

    Why Bartle is always equated as being “Dr. MMO” is quite beyond me considering all he’s done is talks on the subject. Dr. MUD? Fine, I’ll give him that title, but other than EQ1 the only thing in common with MUD’s has been sticking with the underlying DikuMUD formula.

    Innovation? We whine in our forums, blogs and podcasts for innovation. Something truly new, unique, different, earth-breaking… Hold up. Take a look in the mirror. Do we really? We sure don’t put our money where our mouths are, because it’s only the same ol’ same ol’ games that get the subscriptions, discussions and hype. Every single game that took a risk and gave us something totally new, totally different, totally innovative is merely surviving rather than thriving. DDO, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea… Out of all the non-standard MMO’s out there, EVE is the only one that gets attention, and that’s because of its cult-like following more than anything else.

  5. Pingback: Da Newz - June 26 « Waaagh! A Warhammer Online Blog

Comments are closed.