Celebrating 12 years of themepark hate

My enjoyment of virtual worlds goes back to Ultima Online, in large part because I loved the sRPG Ultima games, growing up on Ultima V and always being jealous of a friend who had a PC and had Ultima VI on it. The very basic idea of having an RPG like Ultima, but having it never end, plus getting to play it with others, was a dream scenario for me. And the hype was real, UO was exactly what I imagined it to be, and all was good.

Then came EverQuest, and the birth of my themepark hatred (I’m oldschool like that). Imagining what the MMO space would look like today had EQ1 never been released is, frankly, depressing.

UO was changed drastically with Trammel. I was not happy about that change, and around that time moved on to Asheron’s Call – Darktide. AC-DT was pretty damn great, if less worldly/sandbox than UO (not to mention it did not use the Ultima IP, which again, I loved). After AC-DT came Dark Age of Camelot, another stand-out PvP MMO that, much like AC, was more themepark than UO but still not on the EQ1 level.

2004 comes and, being a fan of Warcraft as an RTS, I jump in on WoW. I was the officer of a very established, successful raiding guild. We have a great time, make some very solid friendships with people that I still talk to today, and enjoy ourselves. Then WoW (slowly at first) began to change, and our guild broke and we all move on.

For a while there I was mad at WoW itself for changing. I liked the original version, I had fun with it. I was not done having fun with it when Blizzard canceled the party, much like I was not done with UO when Trammel arrived, or with DAoC when ToA arrived.

But today I don’t care what happens to WoW itself. I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that WoW is what it is, and no amount of changes short of a total 180 are going to return the game to the state I enjoyed. Again, I’m good with that. Power to the sparkle pony crowd, knock yourselves out.

Today my dislike for WoW is much like my original dislike for EQ1; the influence those games had/have on other titles. Much like I doubt Trammel would have happened had EQ1 never been released, I have my doubts whether something like WAR would have been as flawed had WoW never existed. Would Rift be as generic, and with 1.2, as dumbed down had WoW not set the standard and precedence? My guess is no.

Add in the all-but-scientifically-confirmed WoW tourist phenomenon, Blizzard’s RMT approach, their “innovate by copy/paste” design practice, Bobby being a gamer-hating clueless user car salesmen, etc, and there really is plenty to dislike about WoW beyond whether current heroics are super hard or that the leveling game may or may not be faceroll easy.

Oh, and that whole “expand the audience” angle is BS if you ask me. When a small studio can make EVE/DF, and a big one can make WAR/AoC, I’m not all that sold on this “big money = big win” theory. Toss in that the bigger an MMO gets, the seemingly worse its community gets, and yea, I’m cool with JUST playing along with 100k others. I also don’t see WoW/Farmville outpacing the world in terms of quality, content delivery, or player benefits thanks to those 11.4/100m players.

What I find comical however is those who rage against WoW, or LotRO, or any other established title, and keep crying for those 180 changes like they might actually happen. Or, for that matter, like they would even make those titles better games today. Worldly housing is not going to make WoW a better game, its flaws are much deeper than that, and honestly, the 11.4m playing today don’t even want that. They want more sparkle ponies, and they will get more sparkle ponies. Or whatever is even more ‘accessible’ than $25 ponies to further “broaden the audience”.

I’d love to throw out a counter-example of a game focusing harder on it’s core rather than trying to expand, but I can’t name even one. (EVE is close, but EVE has just been doing what it does since day one, so that’s more a case of business as usual rather than an anti-Trammel/ToA)

On somewhat of a similar note, I’m always amused at people hating on something like DarkFall, with all its 5-50k subs (depending on which fan/hater you ask). DarkFall, short of getting 100x more subs, is never going to influence your themepark. WoW will never get reverse-Trammel’ed because DarkFall exists. Full loot FFA PvP is not coming to Azeroth, don’t worry. The next ten AAA MMO titles won’t be DarkFall clones with “insert not that important change here”.

At least, not for another 7 years, when WoW dies and EVE hits 10m subs. Then you can rant about how it sucks that your carebear title was just made inaccessible because the last safe PvE zone was made FFA PvP with perma-death, and your only themepark MMO option left is some 2D flash title made by a guy in his basement.

I’ll shed a tear for you then, but I’m not holding my breath on it happening.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Age of Conan, Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, Darkfall Online, EQ2, EVE Online, Inquisition Clan, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Random, Rant, Rift, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Celebrating 12 years of themepark hate

  1. Gilded says:

    I think the thing that really worries me is the effect SWTOR could have if it is successful.

    • SynCaine says:

      I agree, but find it borderline impossible that SW is going to do well long-term. If it does not sell multi-millions and 75% of the players leave after a month or two, I’ll be shocked.

      But yes, hyper-solo focused being the new ‘it’ in the genre could actually be worse than the hyper-easy of WoW. Scary.

      • Angry Gamer says:

        I sense much anger in this one.. :)

        welcome to the anger management club…

        Having someone such as yourself say that you believe SWTOR being successful is impossible. IS in fact a contrary indicator.

        I mean this in the nicest of ways (or angriest if you prefer). You ARE an early adopter of MMO games. You have been on the forefront of these games for some time and what you like you like. As products mature and add features you are not as interested in the hand holding nature of the evolved products.

        I giggled when I saw your rant… It reminded me of a unix admin back in the day railing against this new thing in sunOS called a “GUI”. He said “I don’t like where this is going”, it’s getting too easy for the juniors to come in an muck up my servers!!! Every admin should use the hard Character line interface and LIKE IT!

        Of course we know how Graphical User Interfaces kinda “took over”. But I don’t begrudge you one bit wanting to stay in the early less carebear stages of the technology adoption curve.

        Perhaps that is why all my efforts to get some actionable technically constructive dialog going with bloggers is proving to be less productive. Ultimately MMO bloggers as a group may be early adopters who will NEVER have opinions similar to the mass market early and late majorities…

        Oh well I’ll keep at it.

        • SynCaine says:

          Analogy fail.

          EQ was to UO what Twitter was to email. A simpler version, not a better one. In no way was EQ outright better like a GUI over command prompts.

          Remove the great outlier, and what do the top MMOs look like? If themeparks are the outright better version of MMOs, why is it the only game still growing and is at the top (or near it) in subs after 7 years is a sandbox? Why is it that themeparks have had more $100m+ failures? Or, quite simply, why is it only one themepark seem to attract all those casuals that supposedly love this stuff?

        • Dril says:

          LOTRO? Still growing, still a themepark.

          Of course, “growing” depends on how you look at it. If WoW made having a second account fairly necessary if you wanted to have fun at the middle/high-end of the game, sold game time for gold and slashed the price of the second account, methinks the number of people playing would increase again. Substantially.

          But why gloss over details like that when we can hold up EVE as a brilliant example of MMO-dom and sandboxness (when, in fact, it has serious and sever flaws that limit it significantly.)

        • SynCaine says:

          F2P LotRO? That shining example. Haha, you can’t be serious.

  2. I don’t think Funcom counts as a big studio when you are throwing AoC in there with WAR, but don’t let me get in the way of your rant.

    No bids on your PvE Sandbox MMO design yet?

    • SynCaine says:

      It’s under negotiation.

      (And didn’t AoC cost $50m+ to make?)

      • You might be right. But how much of that was slated for the XBox 360 version of the game?

        I just mentally balk at putting EA and Funcom in the same bucket, but if you just draw a circle around the Mythic group I guess it is about the same.

  3. Dink says:

    You’re starting to sound like that old guy. “Darn kids, get off my lawn.” The only thing that is going to kill WoW is WoW2. You’ll be in line like the rest of us.

  4. Nils says:

    I agree with the spirit of what you say ;)

  5. Rast says:

    To be honest I think the themepark craze that WoW started is finally coming to a close. Activity charts (which are the only reliable 3rd party information) have shown WoW trending downward in the US and EU since 2008, recently the best Blizzard’s spindoctors could come up with is that they’ve ‘only’ lost 600K subs. Hell even Tobold quit, now there’s nobody decent left to argue with in the blogosphere.

    What’s going with Rift right now is what makes me think that themeparks in general and not just WoW in particular are coming to an end (at least in a major way). Watching Rift is like watching a time-lapse of the last seven years of WoW, and it seems the more Trion does the more they push away their fans who don’t have enough invested to feel it’s worth dealing it.

    What is interesting is EvE. It’s older than WoW, it’s huge when you take WoW of the equation, and despite being old as dirt (in internet years) and having a hardcore pvp focus that scares the bears away it’s still doing better than ever. This makes me think the next ‘big’ MMO will be more like EvE than WoW – one server, sandbox-driven gameplay, no fixed group sizes for anything, group roles that can be defined along more than one dimension, etc.

  6. Senorvandal says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve written, but you have to admit that even though the original EQ can be considered a themepark, what the game was for oh up until Velious (the second expansion) is far different from what’s it become. The EQ I remember was tough, frowned upon stupidity by killing you repeatedly and with the exception of a few classes (damn druids) required you to group to get anything done. There was no hand holding, especially not on quests and on top of that the game only got harder, not just I need 39 extra people to pass this raid dungeon harder, but more vague with the information and trapping you in the middle of a dungeon where it’s nearly impossible to get your corpse with out 10 friends if you die like a moron hard. It forced you to really think out your actions before blindly running into the fray and running back to your corpse two mins. later like nothing happened. EQ was a dangerous world and the designers always wanted you to remember that. I’m not sure what helped propel EQ to become the success that it was (it’s been a long time) but it sure as hell wasn’t the ease of gameplay. It’s a valid point that other MMOs both already released and those pending at the time saw EQ’s success as a the good model to build a world around, but I think as these competitors tried to attract larger and larger numbers of players is where the MMO industry began to dumb itself down to the lowest common denominator, bringing the future of EQ, WoW and all other themepark like MMOs and to an extent all MMOs with it.

  7. bhagpuss says:

    Senorvandal covered most of what I was going to say. I’m not quite sure why you have such a down on EQ (did you ever even play it?) but if you define early EQ as a “theme park” then your idea of a theme park must be Westworld after the robots went rogue.

    I also don’t get what it was about DAOC that makes you think it was less of a theme park than EQ. I played EQ from late 1999 and DAOC from launch. The PvE gameplay in DAOC was virtually identical to EQ. Only it was slower, less imaginative and duller.

    A lot of this comes down to very small differences in taste, anyway. If you showed gameplay footage of EQ, DAOC, WoW, and Darkfall to a roomful of people who had no interest in video games or rpgs I bet they’d be hard pushed to tell you what the difference between them was. They are all much more alike than they are different.

    • SynCaine says:

      A themepark is not a themepark/sandbox because it’s hard. Sure, the PvE in EQ1 was hard compared to WoW, but that does not change the fact that it was still a carebear land of PvE’ers all roaming around safely from zone to zone, focused more on their character/group than the virtual world as a whole. That themeparks today are embarrassingly easy and closer to a single player game is why people have trouble seeing EQ1 as a themepark, but it most definitely was.

      The end-goal in EQ1 was to cap out and gear up (for most). The goal in UO was to establish yourself and your guild in the world. The goal in AC-DT was to establish dominance as a PvP guild. In DAoC it was to push your realm ahead of the other two. Their not at all similar.

      • bhagpuss says:

        That’s fair enough on the difference between an MMO with PvP/RvR and one without, but the way I play there isn’t really that much difference.

        I think you’re much more interested in what other players do than I am. The “game” part of MMOs also largely passes me by, although I get drawn into it more nowadays than I did back then.

        I’m generally more interested in observing how NPCs and mobs interact than in anything players might do. I certainly think of the NPCs/Mobs as more “real” than other player-characters (although I often think of PCs as just slightly odd NPCs anyway). The NPCs, mobs and our characters are the ones who really live there, after all – we players are, at best, observers.

        • SynCaine says:

          “You’re not like the other boys” (forget the movie)

        • Senorvandal says:

          One last thing about EQ actually that i forgot to mention in my earlier post. EQ actually had free for all loot on death servers at launch, this didn’t make it a sandbox or anything like Darkfall for that matter, but there was the option not to be a “carebear” server. Not all servers were PvE. In fact if i remember correctly there were also faction specific PvP servers, Good (Humans, Elves, Dwarves), Neutral Races (Wood Elves, Halflings etc.) & Evil Races (Dark Elves, Ogres etc.) were all fighting against one another and it was probably one of the earliest forms of RvR.

        • SynCaine says:

          Indeed EQ did have those server, but those servers were still balanced around a PvE game at heart. There is a reason no ‘major’ PvP guilds originated in EQ1.

        • Torcano says:

          Could you even begin to explain why you play mmos at all?

          If you care so much more about npcs and yourself… There are tons of RPGs that would fit you infinitely better.

          If I care so much about npcs I would probably play games that actually have interesting or well thought out / developed / complex / etc npcs.

          Mmos are the worst for this among RPGs, by far. You could be enjoying actual virtual worlds of your own with actual “living” npcs who you know, do more than stand around.

          And whether you prefer open world or quests…the immersion and story will be far superior.

          Mmos as I personally see them are RPGs with npcs replaced by other players. Then again it’s rare this is even executed in today’s themepark world. But at least even those who are into themeparks have some degree of desire to play with other people.

          It’s just so puzzling

      • Angry Gamer says:

        I would say that EQ1, UO, AC-DT, DAoC are extremely similar games of the same game genre offering nearly identical MMO play. The massive differences you point out are trivial features implemented to keep max level players distracted and continue playing until new content is made.

        So in essence you are saying that four door sedans are not at all similar because they different features that keep people driving.

        EQ1 and DAOC are similar
        EQ1 and Guitar Hero are “not at all similar”

        • SynCaine says:

          Either you never played UO back in the day, are trolling, or you have a massively different definition of the word ‘similar’.

        • Saucelah says:

          It’s a level of comparison kind of thing. If we throw WoW and Eve out there with Guitar Hero and ask people to pick the two that are similar, they’re not picking Guitar Hero.

          However, if the three choices are WoW, Guitar Hero, and backgammon, no one will pick backgammon. If we replace Guitar Hero with yogurt — I think you get the idea.

        • Torcano says:

          Either you are an utterly
          hopeless moron or a pathetic strawman troll, or some monstrous combination of both… In any case your statements are laughable failsauce; any sane person who knew even a little about mmos and with any desire to discuss rationally and in context would find them ridiculous and embarassing.

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  9. bonedead says:

    SWGEmu for life!

  10. Jordan says:

    Syncaine, i agree with your philosophy for the most part. I hate the easy theme-park MMOs of today. I’m old school, started with the Realm and then went to EQ. I’m one of the few people who actually like mmorpgs but yet have never played WoW…ever. I could see what the gameplay was going to be like and knew it would never appeal to me, plus i hated the cartoon graphics.

    Having said that, couldn’t disagree with you more about original EQ. To call that a themepark and lump it in with the true themepark games of today just doesn’t work, unless your definition of themepark means any PvE game.

    It was hard. It didn’t lead you by a string from easy quest/leveling spot to the next easy quest/leveling spot, making sure everyone felt like they “won” the game very time they logged in. That’s what i think of when someone says “themepark”, at least in the genre we know today. That’s the opposite of what EQ was outside of the overall PvE aspect of the game.

    If you made a mistake, you more often than not died. And death hurt. It was a wide-open world though. You could go to so many different places, play the game in so many different ways. Hell i know people that basically traded as a profession and spent most of their play-time doing that vs adventuring (until the damn automated bazaar came along).

    Don’t get the EQ hate at all, unless like i said you just have a hatred for PvE.

  11. I was going to write a post wondering at what point we can really start calling things “themeparks,” but then apathy hit and I went back to just commenting.

    SynCaine uses themepark to mean “not a sandbox.” But as Bhagpuss aptly pointed out, if day 1 EQ is a themepark, then we’re really stretching the term wildly. (Westworld reference was most excellent!)

    Plus, EQ was a direct copy of Diku MUDs in general, and TorilMUD specifically, taking them into a 3D realm. So you have to consider PvE MUDs themeparks as well, and you can curse Richard Bartle as the father of themeparks I suppose.

    And the DikuMUDs were really an attempt to move D&D like mechanics to the computer, so D&D, a co-op PvE environment, becomes the source of themeparks.

    So where should the themepark hate really begin?

    • SynCaine says:

      Post for Monday I guess. I really did not expect this many people to be confused at the sandbox/themepark UO/EQ1 differences. Interesting.

      • I get what you were going for, EQ is clearly on the “other” path from the games you enjoyed like UO, EVE, and DF. And it clearly leads to WoW and the way things stand today.

        It is, for me, merely a nitpick about terminology. The word “themepark” carries enough generally accepted meaning on its own that it is tough to accept the term applied to the rather unforgiving nature of day one EQ. And once you apply it to EQ, then how do you stop there?

        • SynCaine says:

          I don’t relate difficulty with sandbox/themepark. EQ1 was a brutally hard themepark, something like ATitD is a pretty tame sandbox. It’s more about the ultimate goal, and about the player mentality of reaching that goal.

      • Torcano says:

        Well to be honest it is somewhat
        shocking the sheer number of people that seem confused by this.

        When taken in the context of the whole post, your previous writings, and history it’s very obvious what you meant.

        Clearly themepark does not mean wow clone, which I think these people take it as. Wow is the evolution of Eq…come on people doesn’t that make the eq=themepark thing obvious?

        But the biggest problem is people are taking their game being called themepark as an insult. Hence the eq people debating it. Fanboys unite!

    • Mesar says:

      Bartle’s MUD1 was not a themepark.

      The major way of gaining xp in MUD1 was to dump items into the Swamp and take them out of the game. Combat was only one method of solving problems, and frequently the sub-optimum strategy. Player killing was allowed and PK victims where xp penalized.

      End-game didn’t consist of a gear treadmill, you could actually “win” the game and get on with your life or become one of the game administrators.

      Bartle’s MUD was far more World than Game, though I’m not sure it fits into the sandbox category either.

  12. Nils says:

    I wrote about sandboxes and sand some time ago.

    • SynCaine says:

      You skirt around the edge of what separates a sandbox from a themepark, but you never get there (IMO of course). You’ll see Monday.

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