The more things change…

Which list is longer: The differences between LotRO, WAR, and Aion, or the similarities between UO, EQ1, and AC1?

It’s a rhetorical question of course, but highlights a point I was getting at yesterday, and relates to a post over at Don’t Fear the Mutant that I commented on. How is it that the first ‘real’ MMOs were all so distinct, so varied, and still ‘worked’, while the last wave of ‘big’ MMOs are so similar you can easy highlight their ‘unique’ points with a short list that is likely to be more marketing hype than actual substance?

WoW is of course the root of this evil, yet ultimately it comes down to the current player base and how they voice what they want. For every player done with the solo-quest faceroll shiny chase, there are ten others happily handing over $45 to get more of the same, or waiting in line to spend $25 to re-skin their in-game pony. Not that this is anything new to gaming mind you; EA has been happily collecting $50-$60 from millions of people each year to update NFL rosters, while Capcom will give you a sweet deal on four more characters for a re-release of Street Fighter, but it disappointing that it’s now happening to the MMO genre.

Somehow I don’t remember many people thinking these games were going to be copies of each other back in the late 90s / early 2000, with Madden-like ‘selling points’ attached to this years version of WoW.

Chuck-o-the-day: Every night before going to sleep, the Boogey Man checks under his bed for Chuck Norris.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Aion, Asheron's Call, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Rant, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to The more things change…

  1. Twan says:

    The first ‘real’ MMOs were all so distinct, so varied, and still ‘worked’ because the market was a lot smaller and that market viewed and took it as a badge of honor how hard/grindy/focus driven those 1st MMO’s were.

  2. sid67 says:

    Here’s a theory:

    It’s not solo questing that people like but the experience of getting sign posts to big xp and equipment rewards.

    In other words, they like the “ding” and the equipping part and questing just happens to offer the shortest and most easily understood route to getting those things.

    Questing behavior certainly seems to support this idea. Most players don’t do quests that “aren’t worth the effort” or are “below level”. Most players don’t read the quest text. Players don’t like to “work hard” when questing.

    And universally, most people agree that the best quests are the most memorable ones where a story gets told in your actions. Whether it is you leading a charge of troops or some other “event” driven quest.

    So even here, it’s not “quests” that people like but the event that takes place during the quest.

    As WAR proved, if you provide an alternate way to get more XP and more gear from doing something else (Scenarios) then people will do those instead.

    Point being, I think we all agree the direction that we want MMOs to take is away from solo quests and towards group activities. Group dungeons. Group quests. Group events. Group PvP.

    The solution, as always, is to make that experience feel more rewarding than the solo experience.

    • SynCaine says:

      I’m not sure focusing on the reward is the key, but more about that on Monday.

    • Dril says:

      To problem with grouping now is that a certain culture has developed in WoW for levelling in that, with heirlooms and the like, the quickest way to level up is to do dungeons, but the problem is that it’s basically created a situation where you’re soloing within a group. In fact, replace the players in dungeon groups with NPCs and there would basically be no change.

      Ultimately I think WoW’s most revolutionary feature will be its downfall: the dungeon finder simply isn’t a feasible way to interface with people anymore, and since people will eventually quit, it means that people aren’t making new friends, and hence they have no social reason to play the game so they’ll quit.

      • Anne says:

        Pretty much pinned down what I thought ever since hearing about the feature.

        I saw what happened with cross-server battlegrounds, and knew this thing would make it worse. Everyone remembers the great time with server only battlegrounds, but no one ever remembers anything after that. Community is a huge aspect of each game, just have a look at the Wii.

        • sid67 says:

          Of course, this is a problem that is unique to WoW because it allows players from multiple servers to participate in the same group.

          Compare that to EVE or any other game where all players share the same world and the problem with such a tool is significantly mitigated.

  3. Snafzg says:

    Here are a few ideas:

    Smaller market — There were fewer studios competing for fewer players. There were fewer benchmarks for success. Distinctiveness is easy on a three colour wheel. Start blending those primary colours and its harder to differentiate.

    Smaller studios — DAOC was built by a 30-person dev team. WAR was built by how many? At least 5 to 10 times that is my guess. Fewer cogs leads to easier management and sticking to original vision. There’s a reason people hate committees because they take forever to do anything and the end result is usually a horrible compromise of the original vision that it ends up pleasing noone.

    Smaller expectations — Everyone had smaller expectations from the investors to the developers to the players. This led to players being happier with that they got and…

    Smaller budgets — It just makes sense. In today’s market, money is hard to come by so you really have to pitch your product to the point of the unattainable. Undelivered expectations and huge budgets sink a game very quickly. How many games get released too early? Why? Investor/market pressure. What’s the result? A crappy game that doesn’t deliver.

    Bigger cojones — In general people had bigger cojones back in the day. They would experiment with new ideas because the market was untapped. New ideas = scared investors these days. Investors only like risky ventures that pay off. Good luck with that in this market.

    • sid67 says:

      And sometimes it’s just easier to copy an idea than it is to try to and come with something new and innovative.

      You know it works, so why not borrow it? And then at some point you’ve just borrowed too much.

      I quoted Picasso a while back on my blog when he said “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

      The difference being that when an artist steals something — they internalize it and make it their own. It becomes part of them and how they do things. And it gets changed to fit with their vision.

      When you copy or borrow, well.. it just looks like a cheap imitation.

      Did WoW steal from EQ? Absolutely. They didn’t copy it. They stole the ideas and made them their own.

      Whereas, some of the more notable failures in recent memory merely “copied” WoW.

      • SynCaine says:

        And I’m in no way saying don’t learn anything from previous titles, or even ‘steal’ an idea and incorporate it into your game. But in order to do the above, you have to at some point actually do something different, and THEN add the above. I feel most of today’s MMOs, especially the AAA ones, START at WoW and tack on stuff, which leaves the ‘core’ game the same with just other stuff added (that may or may not work).

  4. Wilhelm2451 says:

    There were such small expectations for those first three. I think the targeted user base for all three games combined was well under 100,000 users.

    And then first UO and then EQ blew past their targets almost immediately upon launch. Expectations and benchmarks for success then changed. 50K was no longer a win, 500K was the mark.

    But that doesn’t mean you cannot make a good game and profit with 20-50K users. But there has to be a lot of self-discipline involved, you have to decide who your core audience is and stick to that. You can’t go adding battle grounds and flying mounts out of the blue because WoW has them.

  5. Jordan says:

    quick answer: in general, the masses are lazy.

  6. heinm says:

    So far if you’ve watch the MMO market, you can see a slow change to more action-based MMOs. I think developers are slowly trying to change away from the WoW model as they understand that making a WoW clone =/= 11.5 million subs.

    Games like TERA, Vindictus, Dungeon Fighter Online, etc are trying to introduce more action/skill-based gameplay. While games like SWTOR want to introduce an MMO focused on the storyline and GW2 on a persistent world (in an instanced world). Things are definitively moving away from the WoW-model and many developers appears to finally be thinking for themselves instead of thinking about what does WoW do? Some new sandbox MMORPGs on their way too.

    Give the MMO market 3-4 years to adapt and we’ll be in a new “generation” of MMORPGs.

  7. rulez says:

    If you are blaming the customer, you are doing it wrong. IRL example: Fast/Big/Shiny/Badass/Whatever cars that are bad for the environment sell good as long as there are no competitive alternatives, and it’s not up to the customer to research, design and produce those alternatives.

  8. Zensun says:

    Back in the day, we didn’t log in to an MMO for the first time expecting to know how to play it – we expected, even reveled in, the learning process.

    The first two MMOs I played couldn’t have been more different – Lineage and EQ. I played in the Mac beta for both. This was before I understood the difference (or even the acronyms) PvP and PvE, and I signed up on a PvP Lineage server. I quickly learned to run away whenever I found another player running towards me!

    When I first logged in to these, I didn’t understand about character progression and wasn’t bothered with advancing quickly to get the next ability. I took it relatively slow and explored and learned. For me, at least and unfortunately, I know that mind set is unlikely to happen again.

    • SynCaine says:

      I agree, and this is why some aspects of UO/EQ1 and perhaps beyond can never be reproduced; we will never have a world full of total MMO noobs, but I don’t see why that fact leads us to “Every MMO must have solo quests with ‘epic’ rewards, etc etc”.

      World full of noobs or not, UO, EQ1, and AC1 are still VASTLY different games when compared to each other, and especially when compared to LotRO/WAR/Aion.

  9. Sean says:

    The systems of most modern, Western, triple A MMOs are more similar than they were in the past but I don’t see that as anything more than a side effect of a maturing industry. The games of yore you cited were breaking new ground, sort of, by giving the text based interactions of MUDs a graphical representation. They all were open worlds that relied heavily on emergent PvP and PvE to fill in the content that, as a reality of team/budget sizes, they could not provide themselves. In that nascent world of graphical MMOs, it was easy to be different: merely existing was almost enough.

    Then WoW came along and turned what was a niche even by late 90s/early 2000s standards into something that was at least noticeable by the mainstream. And Blizzard did it by writing their own development check, spending tens of millions filling in the content previous studios had left for the players to create. That was different for the time, a new take on the virtual world that was a little less open, a little more guided, and a lot more approachable (relatively speaking).

    Blizzard found systems, UI design, etc that worked for a larger MMO audience and game designers have learnt these lessons well (too well in your estimation). LOTRO and its ilk do, or perhaps more appropriately did, enjoy subscription numbers that dwarfed any of the nascent MMOs save EQ at its height. People have voted with their wallets that certain parts of the “WoW formula” are genre defining, in the same way Gears of War ushered in an era of 3rd person, cover based shooters. What’s pernicious about studios exploring different environments, narratives, and gameplay systems while still retaining some of the familiar elements Blizzard spent five years iterating on for WoW, and another five in the live game?

    I started with “most modern, Western, triple A MMOs” because once you get outside of that very narrow segment of the market, you’ll find a tremendous amount of variety that makes UO/EQ/DAOC look like carbon copies with +3d or +PvP added. The mainstream MMOs are, well, mainstream but not at the expense of a huge and growing market of unique MMO experiences. The market for MMOs is certainly different now than it was but I think the principle difference is size. When you have 10 to perhaps 100 times as many people playing these types of games, maybe there is room for both the metaphorical summer action flick and the indie documentary.

  10. Regalx says:

    First of all I want to thank you for even allowing a comments section so that other players can give feedback to your articles, as some bloggers post information as fact with readers unable to make corrections. I respect this blog is not like that.
    However, it seems that you have some sort of issue with spreading misinformation about other games outside your genre, as both an MMO player and a fighting game player, I can attest that your Capcom example is completely off base. Capcom has never charged players for additional characters in their fighting game.
    If you want me to elaborate I’m more than willing to, but if you’re purposefully using trolling tactics to draw more attention to yourself, then I will just dismiss your blog entirely, and be on way.
    I apologize for making such a bold a statement, but I have been reading comments from your other blogs and apparently I’m not the first person to call you out on false claims on specific games you have been citing in your blog, but hopefully I will be the last.

    If you are Not claiming the Capcom statement, or any other other game statements as fact but only your personal (and uninformed) opinion then I apologize for this post.

    • SynCaine says:

      Capcom never sold character, really now? What would you call SF2:CE, SF2:Turbo, SF4:CE?

      • Regalx says:

        Okay this is your statement, that I’m refuting
        ” EA has been happily collecting $50-$60 from millions of people each year to update NFL rosters, while Capcom will give you a sweet deal on four more characters for a re-release of Street Fighter, but it disappointing that it’s now happening to the MMO genre.”
        I can’t vouch for Madden, but I do know MMOs, and I do know fighting games. So let me explain what is wrong with your Capcom comment. If you are comparing modern MMOs that charge monthly fees, or microtransactions for customers to play their game against SFII, your comparison makes no sense at all.

        The SFII series is over 10 years old, how could you claim Capcom was ripping off their customers when the technology of downloadable content to update their games compared to MMOs, didn’t even exist yet?
        Even then the series never just “added 4 new characters” they always added a host of features that made the game deeper and more competitive to play. The only thing that didn’t change was the graphics, hence why it was still called SFII, Capcom never falsely advertised their game by stating it was something that it was not.

        Now if you are stating that Super Street Fighter 4 (SSF4) is more of the same compared to SF4, there’s something you need to understand about Fighting Games in general. Fighting games are actually a lot closer to Chess now then PvP in MMOs. To be a professional at this game requires years of studying tactics, and building skill to compete against thousands of skilled opponents internationally.

        If you need the full list of changes of additions to SSF4, (hint: not just 4 characters) you can check out any Gamespot review along with it’s 9.0 rating. A quick summary is that SSF4 is really Capcom’s largest update to the series EVER. Keep in mind SFII’s gaming lifespan was over 10 years. With all the new online modes (tournament mode was FREE DLC), new characters, plus new abilities and rebalancing for old characters, the sheer depth of this game is as close to Chess in Fighting Game form as Capcom has ever gotten.
        If you don’t believe me I can link you to interviews of players that Make A Living playing SSF4 professionally who can explain differences even better than I can.

        • SynCaine says:

          Look, if when you owned SF2, you went out and paid full price for SF2:CE, SF2:Turbo, SF:NC, and finally SSF2:Turbo, and thought you got a great deal on all of then, congrats.

          I saw those as reselling the basic game with minor updates, and while you might follow the pro circuit for fighting games, 99% of those who buy a fighting game don’t, so tiny balance tweaks on the ultra-highend don’t really ‘count’.

        • Regalx says:

          You don’t need to be a pro, or ultra-high end player to enjoy the content. You just need not to be a total scrub, hence the game’s high user score at Gamespot.
          As noted earlier there was no other way to update through dlc ten years ago, so each version is a stand-alone game.
          When I say stand-alone, I mean mean even with the release of SSF4, people still play the old SFII: Super Turbo version in inside and outside of tournaments (check youtube).
          I’m glad that I was able to clear this misunderstanding up for you, and your readers. :)

  11. thehamster says:

    Basically, Blizz has always been good at making games fun, and they got the formula right with WoW. The lore, story line, intuitive mechanics, and character progression really draws new people in.

    Blizzard really succeeded in giving different types of players different options. You can level by grinding, PVP’ing, questing, or doing dungeons. When you hit level cap, you can still advance your character by doing casual stuff like BG’s, heroics, and PuG raids. Or you can advance your character through hardmode raids or Arena for the hardcore group. This variability is where most other MMO’s fail. When you get burned out of raiding or arena in WoW, you can do something entirely different that is laid back and easy, yet still make progress. What do you do in Darkfall when you get sick of world pvp?

    Often times hardcore MMO players get burned out. In WoW, you can still play the game casually. In many other MMO’s, you can’t really do much if you get restricted to an hour of game time every night.

    WoW also gives new players (or old players that stopped playing for a bit) the ability to catch up and compete with the better players without spending 6 months grinding just you can “start having fun.” This also GREATLY increases the fun of WoW by making alts quite worthwhile. You can get your alt geared up and start having fun played the game in an entirely different manner.

    It seems like most of the recently released MMO’s don’t understand that players want options. They don’t want to only be able to do hardcore things, nor only be able to do casual stuff. Furthermore, they don’t understand that many players frequently alternate b/w being hardcore and casual.

  12. Defconquell says:

    Second the hamster, well said. My gf and I played WoW together and the best part about it was the variety of questing, world pvp, raids, and battlegrounds.

    Of course, they killed a lot of the fun for us with WoLK, but up til that we had a blast playing together.

    I’m hoping that Guild Wars 2 will be all that and a bag o’chips. Cause she ain’t gotta play EVE lol.

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