My comment yesterday about Warhammer 40k looking like WoW in the future was only partly based off the fact that, well, it looks like WoW in the future. The other factor in making that statement was the fact that in today’s market, it seems that if someone is billing an MMO as mass market, they mean WoW clone. The degree of cloning varies (LotRO is far closer than AoC or WAR, but all three look identical to WoW when placed next to EVE for example), but some basics are always there. The game is more or less faceroll easy, it’s difficult to play the game ‘wrong’, and the basic structure is the same PvE/Questhub design we all played in 2004. And no, tacking on some ‘new’ twist or variation of an endgame does not make you special.
Now before I go on, let me just get this out: being a WoW clone is not all bad. LotRO was a fun game, I enjoyed WAR, and I’m liking what I’ve seen so far from AoC. But it also gets terribly boring, the design is amazingly limited when compared to a sandbox-style MMO, and if the difficulty is down near WoW-levels, it’s personally insulting to even log in and have anything be called a ‘challenge’ or an ‘achievement’. Obviously plenty of people love walking over what is in front of them with zero effort, and that’s a profitable market if you can keep them, but it’s not what I’m looking for 90% of the time.
But WoW-cloning is not the ONLY way to make an MMO, and an IP like 40k is just so damn perfect for doing something different. How interesting would it be to play an MMO with 8 races/factions, all at war with each other? How new would it be to play an MMO where instead of a single character, you are in control of a squad, the leader being your ‘main’ but the other members would also be involved and interact (imagine the Dragon Age party system, where things differ slightly based on who you have in your party/squad at the time)? Hell, just change the view/combat to how Darkfall does it (1st person for shooting, close-locked 3rd person for melee) and keep the whole PvE/questhub/instance setup. Just do something beyond !, ding, achievement, epic, faceroll until its over.
And while I would love to lay blame with the developers, let’s be honest, they are just giving people what they want. Tobold today is wondering why there is no loss in PvE games, or why so many think PvP in an MMO can’t work (despite the fact that, you know, it has for 6+ years in EVE and 24/7 in Asia, not to mention since the dawn of computing in other gaming genres), and why only a small ‘elite’ seems to actually enjoy quality PvP. The answer is the same as to why McDonalds is so popular; most people are sheep. Having to think, having to make a decision, and getting possibly negative feedback is scary to them, and the more they can isolate themselves from that, the better. Why do tourists (not the MMO kind) visit a McDonalds in Paris? Because rather than taking a ‘risk’ with something new, they play it safe and ezmode it with something familiar, even if that something familiar is utter garbage when compared to other options.
WoW has done its part here by not only lowering the bar to subterranean levels in terms of the challenge/reward ratio, but also by conditioning so many in terms of how quickly and effortlessly they should expect to progress. You have an entire subset of the MMO gaming population that believes the WoW pace of advancement is ‘just right’, and so anything that takes longer than a weekend to max out in is a ‘huge grind’, and if anything kills you more than once the game is impossible and not worth playing. Launch today without SOMETHING dinging every 10 minutes? You lack ‘content’. That part of the genre is a sad joke when compared to pre-WoW days in terms of what it means to be playing an MMO.
Ultimately what it comes down to is that the MMORPG genre is indeed a niche in gaming, as its simply too difficult, too scary, too different for the sheep of the world to grasp or appreciate. ‘Luckily’, the sheep have the MMO genre to play around with. They can mimic the hobby elements, feel like they are in a virtual world and part of something ‘massive’, all while smashing 1-2-1-3 in their solo instance to save the world for the 4th time that day. It just sucks that 40k is looking like an MMO rather than an MMORPG, but you can’t fault the devs; sheep money is still money.
Chuck-o-the-day: Fire escapes were invented to protect fire from Chuck Norris.