It dawned on me this weekend that MMO games suck for a while, and then find their spots and excel. Duh, I know, and it’s not exactly like this is the first time I’ve thought about this, but recent expansions and launched have made this more clear than ever for me. The exceptions to this are UO and WoW. Seriously though I have a point here, hopefully I can explain it adequately (ha, sad attempt to avoid the flame comments)
LoTRO had a great launch, in that the game actually worked. Yet while it worked, it really had no identity. I mean it was kind of like WoW, but not exactly, and the ‘not exactly’ parts were mostly negative. Unresponsive combat, massive hardware demands, gaps in content, etc. It was not until a few patches/months later that LoTRO really put itself together and became what it is today, a solid PvE game that’s not WoW for a lot of good reasons. It uses it’s IP as a strength, it has a very solid following, and it’s a very ‘relaxed’ MMO. It has found its place, it embraces that place, and it really delivers on its promises. It works for its ‘niche’, and I’m using niche as a compliment and not as a backhanded way of saying “you have a small subscriber base”.
Same goes for EQ2. EQ2 started without a real identity, other than the fact that it was EQ but not really. It was also devastated by the fact that WoW came out at the same time, and its level of quality back in 2004 was unheard of in MMO land, making EQ2 look like a relic in the first months of its release. But now EQ2 has a healthy player base, and continues to add content that is clearly appealing to that base. (at least according to Tipa, but Tipa really knows EQ2, so who am I to argue) It’s a PvE game that distinguishes itself from both WoW and LoTRO.
EVE was a disaster at launch. I mean it was an Anarchy Online-scale disaster. But CCP stuck with it, and today it’s the only older MMO that is still growing, and at a good clip at that. It has its market, caters to it, and rarely strays from its goals. It also continues to improve after all these years, with each patch and expansion really adding depth and options for players. It’s also the only really successful Sci-fi MMO, the only MMO were all players are on one giant server, the only MMO with an economy that is something more than pure grind vs inflation, and a host of other ‘unique’ traits to the MMO space.
I’m bias when I say UO got worse because of my utter hate for Trammel. It has been pointed out countless times, Trammies helped UO increase its player base bla bla bla. Tram changed UO, taking it away from a virtual world and into “it’s just a game” territory. We will never know if UO could have continued to grow like EVE had it stuck to its PvP roots, rather than trying to be an EQ-too game. EVE shows us that the theory that all MMO games peak and then decline is false, and it’s unfortunate that we will never know if UO could have followed a similar path. Much like EVE today, UO pre-tram had a lot going for it (crafting, economy, low item dependence, player determined territory control), and it was a lot more than just the sensationalized player-killing. (which similar to EVE, is often talked about, but rarely actually seen)
WoW in 2004 was a much different game than it is today, and not just from a technical standpoint. In 2004 the focus of the game was leveling and exploring Azeroth, with very strong connections to the lore established in previous Warcraft games. The pace was much slower, the races and factions were far more unique, and the world had a more ‘traditional’ fantasy MMO feel to it. It still had humor and all that, but it was not as ‘mainstream’ as WoW is today. It was not until Blizzard began to patch in only high-level content that it became rather clear what the true focus of the game was, and at around that time the feelings of “the real game starts at cap” started to creep up. Today this is painfully obvious with the completely forgotten 1-60 content, the speed leveling, and the overall focus of activity once a player hits the level cap. Clearly it works for many, but IMO it hurts WoW from what it was in 2004-5. WoW was not always an e-sport/purple chase.
All of this random rambling because of Warhammer Online, and it’s current state. I think Warhammer is going through the now traditional MMO cycle of trying to find itself, focusing on its strengths, and learning who the player base for it is. Like LoTRO, it had a solid launch, has its unique features, and still has a bit too much WoW-likeness to it. Even in the early months however, Mythic is moving WAR towards its (hopefully) inevitable place as DAoC 2.0, a mass market PvP game. Not quite EVE PvP, not quite WoW hand-holding, but some nice place in the middle. Too bad we can’t fast forward and skip the awkward growing pains. At least everyone playing now will be able to make a future “back in my WAR days, we walked uphill both ways to a Keep siege” blog post…