2008 sure looks a lot like 2004 in MMO land.

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?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Age of Conan, Combat Systems, Dark Age of Camelot, EQ2, EVE Online, Housing, MMO design, PvP, Rant, RvR, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to 2008 sure looks a lot like 2004 in MMO land.

  1. Tipa says:

    WoW is just the best of the first gen 3D MMOs. It wasn’t a second generation by any means — just a better consolidation of the state of the art at the time. WoW is actually the best MMORPG of 1999.

    When you’re dealing with a game mechanic that is nearly a decade old — what do you really expect from it, anyway? Why do you expect anything more than what it is? It’s a melange of DAoC, Asheron’s Call and EverQuest, the three games it drew from. It’s not even copying from WAR. It’s still copying from DAoC.

    It’s legit to compare WAR to WoW and other first gen games because it is still itself a first gen MMO with ideas and tropes from almost a decade ago.

    EQ2 and LotRO are, likewise, just warmed over first generation games.

    City of Heroes, EVE Online, Wizard 101 and others that I haven’t played — these are the second generation MMOs. It’s useful to see what they took from the first gen MMOs and what they felt didn’t work, and that’s the comparison you should be making (and did, with EVE).

    Is there really any point in discussing where newer first gen MMOs stole their ideas from? All the first gens are just eating each other and always will. It’s unfortunate that WAR was made as what seems to be from an outsider’s point of view, an action-oriented first gen MMO, as it’s fate is now tied to a ten year old game mechanic, when it could have broken free and done something new and enduring.

  2. Sara Pickell says:

    I was going to post my thoughts, but frankly Tipa said it better.

    All I look forward to, is the point when MMOs decide they want to be games again.

  3. Graktar says:

    Like you said, the best way to make a statement is to vote with your wallet, but sadly I don’t think people will. Too many people ARE sheep when it comes to MMOs, especially WoW. There are people out there who will, with a straight face, tell you that daily quests are the greatest innovation in an MMO ever. /facepalm

    I think what readers might be missing is that this isn’t a complaint about WoW being a 1st gen MMO and doing 1st gen type things, this is a complaint about the richest and possibly most talented MMO development house in the world putting in the minimal amount of effort in everything they do. They’re phoning it in, and have been for years. Wrath of the Lich King is TBC 2.0, which in turn was the level 50-60 game 2.0. They’re not ADDING anything to the game with each expansion that’s different from what was in the game before. EQ2 has a tiny user base in comparison and thus a far slimmer budget and less clout to lure in talented developers, yet they put out expansions faster, AND their expansions add more to the game. Whereas WoW, the market giant, with vast potential and resources, just pokes along giving us more of the same.

    It’s hard not to be disappointed as a gamer and consumer when you see Blizzard’s vast potential being frittered away in the quest for easy money. To use Syncaine’s analogy of operating systems, Wrath of the Lich King is Windows 98.

  4. p@tsh@t says:

    I’m with Grak on this one. I’m having a very hard time deciding whether I will go to Lich King.

    The main reason is that WAR is not doing enough to keep me. We used to wait for YEARS in eager anticipation of a Blizzard release (and were subsequently rewarded). After seeing TBC, and the continued stop gap, piecemeal holding actions, I’m utterly underenthused for Lich King.

    January 17, 2006 was the day Blizz jumped the shark. I dare them to prove me wrong and sincerely hope they do.

  5. Hudson says:

    They wont. What do you think Lich King is? It is TBC, only with some crappy cosmetic changes and a hastily thrown in “hero class”.

    Gear reset, 10 more levels, more 5 mans…find raiding guild, rinse repeat

  6. Leala says:

    Blizzard isn’t creating WotLK for you or any of the other people who are sick of WoW and aren’t playing it anymore. They are making it for the tons and tons of people like me who still enjoy the game for what it is. Its as simple as that and I’m glad for it.

  7. Jick says:

    Seriously?

    Roll a Blood Elf. Play it through to level 20. Then tell me that The Burning Crusade didn’t make the game any better.

    Compare the experience of playing through Hellfire Peninsula to the experience of playing through Stranglethorn Vale. Just the same or worse? Seriously?

    You can’t fundamentally change a game that people have been playing for years. The absolute best way to piss your customers off is to take their toys away from them. The best way to keep customers is to refine and improve the existing experience — to give them something new without freaking them out. This is what Blizzard does. They don’t do it quickly enough to satisfy everybody, but they do it consistently enough to keep millions and millions of people happy.

    Here’s what I wish people would acknowledge: The fact that you’re tired of WoW doesn’t make it a bad game. And the fact that Blizzard has a lot of money doesn’t make them a bad company.

    Also, the fact that I disagree doesn’t make me a fanboy. I doubt anybody will grant me that, though.

  8. Bonedead says:

    I agree Syncaine, WAR is so much better than WoW.

    Well said!

    :p

  9. Brast says:

    In truth, I do see the bloggersphere having a role in pushing innovation in MMO’s. This is important to the development of the industry. I find the stance of Syncaine and some of the commenters here rather extreme though. The notion that 11 million people are merely sheep who do what Blizzard tells them and THEY are the truly knowledgeable ones who sees the true devil is absurd.

    The free market will not decide which game is the most innovative. It doesn’t in any other business either. I don’t think Blizzard cares about innovation. The free market decides which games appeal to enough people for them to pay money to play it. If a game is incredibly innovative but fails to convince people to pay money, it loses. Blizzard has convinced more people than any other game in MMO history that WoW is entertainment worth $15/month. They have made enough changes and adjustments since 2004 to increase their subscription base and this is really all that matters.

    WoW will not always be king, but no one should ever expect it to be dramatically different than it is now. 10 more levels and a hero class will not last forever and nor should it. There will be new games that come along and build on its success, grow big and powerful, elicit disdain from some of its customers because of the success, and thus the cycle continues.

    The top dog position always draws critique and cynicism. Blizzard is simply developing their game based on what they think is best. Customers do indeed vote with their pocketbooks and voted to make WoW an extremely successful MMO. Because you disagree with these votes does not mean you get to discount them all as “sheep”.

  10. syncaine says:

    Too many people are getting hung up on the word ‘innovation’ and somewhat missing the point. I don’t expect or want Blizzard to NGE WoW.

    All I want is the best PvE game on the market, in a margin relative to 4 year, $500 million.

    Look at some people’s expectations for WotLK, a month or two of fun leveling content and seeing the changes Bliz makes. 1-2 months? Come on, 1-2 months of content that took 1.5 years to make from a company with basically an unlimited budget?

  11. tenfoldhate says:

    Great post and a host of great responses. I think Blizzard has been resting on their laurels and gotten fat and lazy (metaphorically, if not literally) for some time now. Maybe I’m naive, but I think a game (MMO or otherwise) should have a clear vision and be just as much an artistic effort as it is one to rope consumer dollars.

    Sure, in the real world, there needs to be a healthy balance of the two and making money generally trumps “art”, but that doesn’t mean the artistic side of a game–or more accurately, the creator’s “vision”–need totally be negated.

    WoW’s highly stylized look gave Azeroth a distinctive tone like no other game to that point. It’s PvE focus was clear, and they did it better than anyone else at the time. When BGs were introduced, the fun factor was upped for those of us who wanted to take a break from grinding and found the prospect of a raiding game monotonous or inaccessible. But the game still felt cohesive.

    Then came the time to please everybody and any cohesion went out the window. We need to appease the raiders, so let’s pepper everything with MORE 40 man dungeons. Hold on, we need to keep small guilds happy, so lets create some 20 mans. Oh wait, 85% of our player base is casual, so let’s give them more 5-10 mans.

    Crap, the PvPers are getting antsy at all we’re doing for the PvEers. Let’s throw in some world PvP. Oops, no one cares because the world PvP is in no way integrated with the rest of the game and the goals we’ve trained our players to have. Ok, how about arenas to keep ’em quiet? They want new classes? Bah. Let’s just give each faction access to the other faction’s class making everything seem so much more generic.

    Bottom line is, you can’t please everybody without losing your identity. WoW is not a bad game. I think many of us just wish they’d have used the creativity they originally used to make a spectacular game–coupled with the resources they had from their success–to push things in an even more exciting direction rather than reskinning status quo lazy work.

  12. Herc says:

    @leala
    Ty took the words out of my mouth.

    I’ll take the 1-2 months of content for $15-30 bucks tyvm. If it gets old and I’m not into raiding anymore then I’ll just cancel no harm done. Did I get what I wanted to experience/see after cancelling? yup.

    Yes I know with Blizzard’s resources they could add an expansion a little bit faster than their pace atm. Blizzard isn’t just looking to please jaded veteran mmo players they are also serving other customers with different playstyles/needs/preferences and apparently those customers who are still playing the game who likes how it is right now(wow longest sentence ever). Keep this in mind. I don’t give a crap if Kaplan is making himself stupid on an interview or Blizz’s business model is not “up-to-standard”. That’s their problem let me me kill 10 rats mmmkk?

    Gear reset, grind , grind, grind, rinse repeat … welcome to MMOs. It’s not just WOW, tell me what MMO that hasnt done that in one form or another. What you had enough? Look for another MMO that suits your grinding needs or stop playing MMOs in general You can always stop/leave.

    Will I play wow and never quit playing? Hell no! We will all leave the game(WOW or WAR) one way or another, but I’ll enjoy it while I have the time.

    If your not having fun on what your doing STOP if you like more of the same for heaven’s sake go ahead.

  13. Yeebo says:

    Even compared to EQ II and LoTRO, WoW is currently looking a bit stale on a pure PvE front. Both are arguably superior PvE games. The turnaround of EQ II is especially remarkable considering what an outdated game it was (compared to WoW) at launch. WoW has a more hardcore endgame than either of those, but that’s more of a flaw then a feature as far as I’m concerned.

    On the PvP front, WoW never even equaled DAoC, much less DAoC 2.0. And to say that WoW is ripping off DAoC is a bit naive. Blizzard’s current “refocus on their core game” never would have happened if WAR had not launched and been successful.

  14. syncaine says:

    Here is the thing, EQ1 had grinding right? And at the time, it was some great grinding (lots of people played it and liked it)

    Then WoW came out, and it had grinding too (because all MMOs are just long grinds, with different flavors. We, as MMO gamers, come for the flavors. We know and love that it’s going to be a grind, and if you don’t, the MMO genre is just not for you) but the WoW grind was more fun than the EQ1 grind due to quest and better organized PvE (among a host of other factors)

    But now it’s 2008, and we still have the same thing in terms of PvE. WAR has 2004 PvE (plus PQs, but your mileage will vary on their impact based on social factors), WoW has 2004 PvE, EVE has 2004 PvE. It works in EVE and WAR because PvE is not the point, it’s just a means. But WoW is a PvE game, regardless of what Blizzard wants to tell us about going back to the ‘core’ of Horde vs Alliance (because at no point, ever, was that the core of the game, unless you count pre-alpha talk of WoW and it’s design docs), and for a PvE-focused game, it’s still stuck in 2004.

    If Blizzard had made the improvements it made in 2004 to EQ1 to WoW in 2008, I would still be playing. Part of me loves PvE content, it’s what made me love WoW in 2004, and I would gladly pay for both WoW and WAR to get both types of game, PvE and PvP.

    Perhaps I’m delusional that an MMO should keep changing and remain interesting close to 5 years after release. Perhaps WoW will never be more than 2004 PvE with bits thrown in every 1.5 years. But my point is, don’t you think it could be so much more? WoW has a HUGE churn rate, and I mean stupid huge. If we got 2004-era improvements to the basic model, don’t you think more people would be willing to hang around and keep paying? Will it take a major hit to Blizzards 4mil+ accounts in the US/EU to usher that in?

  15. Tipa says:

    Remember, even after WoW came out, EQ — the original one — didn’t stop innovating. It added monster missions, LDoN (one group semi-random dungeons with an objective, great loot and great xp), shrouds (a way to play a different, monster character of a different level and class than your own while still receiving xp and loot on your regular character). It’s now adding hire-able NPCs that join your group. It’s ALSO gone back and redesigned a lot of its old dungeons and world areas to have higher level, completely graphically redone graphics, loot and monsters.

    And that’s for a very old game with a fraction of Blizzard’s WoW budget and players. Compared to that, what Blizz is doing, or not doing, really, is even less believable.

  16. Yeebo says:

    @Tipa: for once I agree with you 100%. Good point.

  17. Hudson says:

    Nothing will ever beat EQ1 and I stand by that. I’m sorry, but I miss forced grouping and how hard EQ1 was. There I said it, and that’s the way it is for me

  18. NBarnes says:

    I’m pretty sure that you’re expecting the wrong things from the wrong place. Of course Blizzard is totally capable of making more changes and implementing more innovative things in WoW, should they choose to do so.

    They pretty much will never choose to do so. They will never take a radical chance in what is A) their cash cow and B) fundamentally a conservative game in the first place.

    Blizzard openly admits to having a ‘next gen’ MMORPG in the works. I’m pretty sure that’s where you’ll see all the really novel ideas they’ve had since releasing WoW show up. They have an internal outlet for radical new ideas and directions for the MMO genre, they don’t want or need to put them into WoW unless they are very very sure WoW will profit by them.

  19. NBarnes says:

    Or, to put it another way; WoW works. It’s not perfect and it is not, and of course cannot be, all things to all people. But it functions as its meant to and a lot of people like it. Blizzard will not, and debatably should not, make serious changes to WoW at this late date. People who want to play Not-WoW have a lot of options, but WoW is the only source of WoW. With 7 million subscribers, Blizzard certainly won’t want to give away any part of their market monopoly on WoW. Instead, they will try to make some new game to capture some of the non-WoW market.

  20. Melf_Himself says:

    Prediction: Blizzard announces WoW 2.0 in the next couple of years, and it’s exactly the same WoW with better graphics. Blizzard have an awesome business model and there’s no way they’ll ever drop it while people are still shovelling money into them faster than they know what to do with.

    Other game designers will innovate though, they have to. Whether it’s to try and get a piece of the pie (in which case they’ll copy WoW and add feature X)… or whether it’s because they really love games and want to make something that doesn’t force you to grind, a game where you may actually reach the ‘end’, and may actually *gasp* someday stop paying them money.

    The latter sort of developers are what we need to hope for. I’m looking at Guild Wars 2 at the moment, since Guild Wars 1 is a great game and the only thing keeping many people away is that it lacks a persistent world (which Guild Wars 2 will have)… oh and also that it has minimal grind.

    Mental image: Blizzard is Jabba the Hut, up and coming game developers are Luke Skywalker, the bugs in newly released games are that massive monster in Jabba’s little underground pit thing, the money from WoW players are those little crab things that Jabba stuffs himself with, and Han Solo is our enjoyment of games which Jabba has locked away (but Luke is trying to rescue). Deep.

  21. Callan says:

    “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.”

    I don’t understand this – you don’t like that its not changing, from what you currently think is great into something else.

    It can’t be both be great and yet you want it to be different.

  22. Leala says:

    Yeah I have to comment on that point as well Callan. Who in their right mind actually thinks the game was better when it first came out? It is so much better today with all the little changes they’ve made along the way.

  23. Seamus says:

    I have to agree with your sentiment. I play EQ2 every once in a while and boy has that game come a long way and it launched at the same time as WOW, about a month apart I believe.

    EQ2 has had several more expansions, very high quality ones at that and just made the game more enjoyable. The client is still CPU bound and I wish they could dedicate the resources to replace it but otherwise, if you are into PVE I’d say it’s a much better game then WOW.

    Remember that EQ2 came out about the same time as WOW and was, imho, an inferior product and yet in 4 years bringing in much less income they have improved the game much more significantly then WOW. This is one of the things that frustrates me, EQ2 probably pulls in less then one percent of the income WOW does but it has improved so much more then WOW has.

    Do I play WOW? Do I enjoy WOW? Yes to both, but I am much more impressed with EQ2.

    For now I’m playing Warhammer and amazingly my wife is enjoying it, (she is not a big fan of PVP). I played in the Closed beta, on and off for year, and I’m still concerned about what happens at level 40 because of my experience at that level. Testing was very focused, too focused IMO, and didn’t really flesh out the end game. Though its hard not to be optimistic because of the changes I saw over the development of WAR. I feel that in 6 months or so Warhammer will be the alternative to WOW for PVP players and will be a much better game then it is today.

    Callan and Leala: He’s disappointed considering how much other games have improved in the same amount of time given a heck of a lot less money to work with. EQ2 in particular is an excellent game and surpassed WOW’s quality a couple years ago. The biggest strike against it is the fact that the client is cpu bound, oh and its pvp sucks. EQ2 has so much more to offer then WOW for PvE fans.

    Lets put it this way, EQ2 had the ability to get a ‘hair cut’ years ago and its a much better feature then the crappy one Blizz is proving in 3.0. EQ2 had an item preview years ago. EQ2 had housing from the beginning and its tradeskill systems is the best around, some people just play crafters in EQ2. EQ2 is launching its 5th, Fifth, major expansion in the time it’s taken blizzard to release two. And they are all high quality expansions. Additionally EQ2 has released many more free updates. I could go on and on.

  24. Callan says:

    The problem I see is with saying “It’s great…I want it to change”

    You can’t praise the game designers game, while wondering why they wont change. All that praise makes them stick with what they have.

    Worse, even if you complain – if you keep playing all the time/maintain unbroken subscription, it still encourages them to remain static.

  25. Tesh says:

    Callan, of course you can ask companies to get better, even if they are doing well. There are always things to improve, regardless of how good things are at the moment. That Blizzard is content to do as little as possible to maintain subscribers is indicative of a lazy attitude, rather than the “we strive to make the best games” aura that they project.

    Besides, if we didn’t like the game to start with, why bother asking to make it better? If I don’t like a game, I walk away and don’t look back. It’s only when something is good but frustratingly lazy that I get interested enough to press for improvement. There are few things as frustrating to me as wasted potential due to laziness.

    That said, aye, maintaining a subscription out of inertia isn’t the best way to send the message that you want something better. That many people are voting with their wallets and saying “this is good enough for me to pay for it” does mean that Blizzard will ignore the complaints as best as they can. They have our money, after all. At the same time, what impetus do they have for listening to anyone who isn’t a paying customer? They don’t really need to fish for more patrons, as they are riding high on the hog at the moment.

    That’s why I hope that WAR hits them hard in the pocketbook. It would be better if people dropped their subs to really hammer the point home, but since that’s not very likely, market competition is the next best motivator. If Blizzard has to compete for attention, they will be motivated to get even better.

    Of course, what I’d really love is for a free MMO to decimate WoW’s player base. Guild Wars is good, but it didn’t make enough of a dent. Maybe GW2 will make more of a splash. For a free MMO to do it, all the better. It’s all about keeping the big players honest, and producing games that are actually worth the cost, rather than being the only game in town and essentially using monopolistic pricing schemes. I want them to earn those embarrassingly large subscription numbers, not just fall into them because of inertia and competitors’ incompetence.

  26. Tesh says:

    Oh, and sorry for the double post, but to answer the original question, if I were given 4 years and millions of dollars, I’d probably make something like these:

    http://capnjohnsblog.blogspot.com/search/label/MMOs
    (either the squad based WAR or the Harvest Moon Online)

    AND I’d make a game of my own that I’ve written about here:
    http://tishtoshtesh.wordpress.com/2008/09/18/groundhog-day/

  27. Callan says:

    Well, that’s my point – if you really don’t like that it’s not changing, then you have to be prepared to genuinely walk away – not just threaten to do so in order to try and change them. You have to be prepared to walk, even if they just keep doing exactly what they are doing already.

    If it’s not enough of an issue for you to do that, they can figure that out and wont change at all. They see it as the bluff it is. They’ve been calling that bluff for four years.

    If people aren’t going to drop subs to hammer a point home, then market forces aren’t going to change anything because that involves dropping subs as well. It’s hammer or nothing.

    Anyway, if I had four years and millions of dollars I’d probably just buy some part of a third world nation and try and build it into a happier place, as my world building project.

Comments are closed.