If you were given a budget of $500 million, a proven veteran dev team, a stable and established engine, 4+ years, and the worlds largest feedback group; what kind of MMO could you make?
Would your list of highlights include 5v5 PvP combat using PvE rules? Additional tiers of raiding using recycled boss tactics? One new PvP map, plus a failed remake of an existing map? A single zone remake, with all other non-endgame content untouched? One attempt at a world event (that failed), and the introduction of daily quests, an ‘innovation’ that has yet to be picked up by other MMOs?
My recent angst towards Blizzard has little to do with WoW itself, as it’s a great MMO, and far more to do with the fact that WoW is no better (and some could easily argue worst) than it was in 2004. In 2004 WoW turned MMO gaming on its head and made everything else on the market look ancient by comparison. EQ2 seemed like a relic compared to WoW in 2004; it was a buggy, unplayable mess. EVE Online was a massive failure at launch, seeming arcane and inaccessible. Pre-2004 MMOs were clearly ‘the gen before WoW’ games, given a pass because ‘that’s just how it was in the old days of MMOs’. But now it’s 2008, and EQ2 is alive and greatly improved, packed with new content outside of the traditional ‘grind quests’ formula that fans are eating up (and posting giant pictures of (joke, relax)). EVE has grown into the largest single server world, is a completely different beast than the tradition ‘quest and grind’ MMO, and has had some of the most memorable moments in MMO history, not to mention being one of the best looking games out. And we have WoW, which will soon see a bump up to 80, a resetting of raid gear, and the long promised but now not-so-hero class. Same broken economy, same grind-it-out crafting, no housing, same graphics engine, etc. Yes the details are being changed, class skill x is being turned into y, etc, but what real game-changing bullet point features are we getting, or have gotten?
Blizzard is more than capable of so much more. Look how quickly they’ve begun adding features after WAR’s successful release. You can bet your house that WoW is getting PQs soon. The Deathknight’s Tortuge-like start anyone? But it’s 2008, why are we only seeing these changes now? This is the MMO market, and we expect our MMOs to evolve and provide content continually, that’s why we pay our $15 a month, right?
I look at Blizzard in the same way I look at Microsoft right now, dealing with Vista compared to Apple and OSX. Windows has been a POS for years, but until Apple started actually gaining market share, MS never did a thing, and now we have this great Vista scramble. Blizzard played it super safe, only giving WoW customers tiny crumbs of content for 4 years, and is just now starting to scramble and improve WoW. And like MS, the additions to WoW are very ‘MacOS’ looking changes. You have the biggest and best supported dev team in the market, and the best you can do is cull features from the competition?
My hope is that like MS, Blizzard will see a hit to their business for playing it so safe and ignoring the customer base. Until players stand up and make a statement (with their wallets) that we won’t accept paying $15 for the same game since 2004, and $45 for +10 to level grind every 1.5 years, why do we expect any new developer to really go out and take a risk. 11 million accounts tell them MMO gamers are sheep, happily grinding daily quests and raid tiers, licking up the scraps you toss them every 6-12 months. And like MS, if the only changes we see being made are to copy features to lure customers back, we have only ourselves to blame for the state of MMO gaming.
And before you make a ‘but WAR is just like WoW too’ comments, realize this is not about how great WAR is. I’ll leave that to opinion and other posts. In my personal opinion, WAR is DAoC 2.0, and will be more so once some of WAR’s issues are sorted out (nerfed scenarios). Whether you see DAoC 2.0 as a good thing or not comes down to again opinion. WAR won’t do much for you if you don’t enjoy PvP, but if you do, it’s hard to argue WAR has not delivered on that front. But again, this post is not a WAR vs WoW post, but rather my view of MMO gaming since 2004, and what the clear and overwhelming market leader has done with it. Lets try to focus the discussion on that, and leave the WAR flames for the other posts, okay?