1997 all over again?

Whether it’s at MMOCrunch, over at Keen’s site, or even here, a lot of people are expressing interest and excitement over the possibility of a more “open world” MMO. This confused me initially, considering WoW and other linear-world games are today’s popular choices (EVE aside, as usual). And then I realized most of today’s MMO players never played an MMO pre-2004. They never saw UO in its true form. They never experienced Asheron’s Call in its prime. They have a very tough time going from the land of rainbows to getting ganked in Darkfall. They log in to EVE and try to figure out the fastest way to get to the ‘end game’.

And just like I was beyond excited about the possibility of playing a multiplayer Ultima game that never ended in 1997, they today are excited to play a multiplayer Skyrim that never ends. And they should be; virtual worlds are, IMO of course, the absolute peak in gaming. The rush you can get from them dwarfs any moment you can have in a solo player game, online or off.

What I’m curious to see is if player’s wallets talk as loudly tomorrow as their words do on blogs and forums today.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Asheron's Call, Darkfall Online, EVE Online, Mass Media, MMO design, Rant, Ultima Online. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to 1997 all over again?

  1. bhagpuss says:

    How did we get here from there, though? Weren’t most of the steps away from open world gameplay taken because of the dissatisfaction expressed by players of those games and the readiness of those players to move eagerly towards each refinement that reduced the worldliness?

    Which isn’t at all to say that we can’t have open-world MMOs. Just that what a successful mass-market open-world MMO in the second decade of the 21st century might look like might not be something that someone raised on and content with the open-world MMOs of the last decade of the 20th century would find to their taste.

    Short version: often when you get what you wished for you find you didn’t want it after all.

    • SynCaine says:

      Weak-willed or inexperienced devs and “give me now” motivated gamers are a bad combo. WoW being a perfect-storm poptart did not help either.

      It took a long time, but we are finally seeing the results of caving in (WoW dying) and sticking (or returning) to what works (EVE recovering, rapidly). Whether this continues or not, well, that’s the wait-and-see part.

    • Rammstein says:

      “Weren’t most of the steps away from open world gameplay taken because of the dissatisfaction expressed by players of those games and the readiness of those players to move eagerly towards each refinement that reduced the worldliness?”

      I don’t think so. I would trace the pattern thusly:

      We start with open world MMO’s. They are difficult and niche. EQ invents the raiding game. Wow takes the raiding game and adds on the sRPGMMO game. This is the killer combo, the sRPGMMO game attracts newbies and the raidgame provides the endgame alternative to open worlds. So far, these aren’t incremental leaps taken in response to dissatisfaction in open world MMO’s at all, these are new alternatives.

      Now starts incremental steps, with endless wow-expansions and wow-clones, a slow endless decline. Why does the decline start now? The sRPGMMO decline is obvious, didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that any given individual would eventually get tired of that, without some serious new storyline/game play mechanics, and even then some people would move past it. The question is, why does the raidgame grow old? People are constantly arguing about dances, gear levels, new rotations, whatever. That is missing the point. The raidgame functions as a limited virtual world for new raiders, with new rules and a new social framework. This virtual world is about 95% social and 5% rule based, and so the people arguing about the 5% are wasting their breath. Once you’ve learned how that virtual social world functions, you’ve learned it. I was in a top 100 guild in vanilla, and pretty much no one from there still raids.

      As a side note, this reminds me of Tobolds “6 year burnout” theory about why Cata dropped sub numbers so drastically. My new theory is that many raiders burned out on raiding by the end of BC, but that they continued to play casually in WOTLK, kinda carrying people through raids. Cata made it so you had to be serious about raiding again, and people just didn’t want to do that. They thought they did perhaps, but events have told a different story.

      Long digression over…so the point is that the replacement of open world MMO’s with fixed-path MMO’s was sudden and complete, but that certain remnants of the worldly MMO’s was left in the themeparks as a matter of unthinking convention, to be slowly replaced as players realized that they were useless and inconvenient remnants of an abandoned gamestyle.

      As to where it will lead…well the default position is to expect a long cycle, including 2 or more phases, to begin. The same cyclic nature that we find in basically every other social phenomenon, from movies, clothing and music, to education, politics and macroeconomics.

      • Torcano says:

        Problem with tobolds theory is that he for some reason believes he represents the average wow player. When in fact the vast majority never played anywhere near 6 years.

        It’s an incredibly self involved viewpoint that only shows how warped his perception is.

        “I burned out after playing 6 years, therefore everyone did”

        Wtf?

        Virtually none of the people leaving wow when tobold did were playing even a couple years prior.

    • Coeur-de-fer says:

      Raph Koster touches on this briefly in a recent interview with RPG fanatic.

      http://www.raphkoster.com/2011/10/27/rpg-fanatic-interviews-me/

      Particularly with UO, the freedom they gave players allowed for various – often unforeseen – abuses. He cites the Trinsic siege/furniture barricade. Their solution was to implement the ability to destroy furniture. Other developers opted to prevent similar problems by denying players the ability to place objects in the world altogether (if your MMO is set in space, you luck out; scale and freedom of movement along all three axes makes this particular issue much less of a concern). It’s a lot easier to railroad players into “proper” modes of play when their options are limited. Finding solutions for troublesome emergent behavior is considerably more difficult, and seemingly thankless, at least as far as subscription dollars are concerned.

  2. Nils says:

    It’s difficult to transform The Elder Scrolls (or any open-world single-player RPG) into a MMORPG. Bethesda has even said recently that they will not do this.

    The main problem is that MMORPGs turn out to be about the player, while single-player games can be about the world. In TES my character is only a vehicle to explore the world. It doesn’t stay like that in MMORPGs. In MMORPGs my character becomes what the game is about. I want to optimize him. Ever tried to optimize your character in Skyrim? Bethesda doesn’t even really fight it because it’s just not that important.

    Ever since I played TES:Arena I wanted a MMO for this kind of game. My first one was original WoW and it was bad, but the best around by far. Blizzard then started to turn the game into arcade style …

    • Loire says:

      I have to disagree wholeheartedly. An MMO is supposed to be the epitome of world exploration. Ultima, early SWG and EVE are all perfect examples of this.

      The reason we don’t see open world MMO’s is because asian grinders and raid based games are (for whatever reason) the most popular. These games are based on character progression and not world building or exploration thus the prevalence.

      • Torcano says:

        Nope. MMO is supposed to be about the people filling the world, hence the naming convention of MM.

        If you just want to explore world, why would other players even matter at all? It’s virtually a scientific fact that having mor players takes focus further from world.

        Mmos are about the worlds people, the community, that’s the point.

        If you want a world to explore and you’ve been trying mmos, you have been wasting your time and missing out on truly great worlds.

        Compare fallout and elder scrolls to…any MMO. There is no comparison for either the worlds and the people in them. The former have far superior worlds and the latter have the communities that make them MMOs.

        Pretty much, putting massive amounts of players into a world ruins it as an immersive world to explore, this seems incredibly obvious to me.

  3. Azuriel says:

    Honestly, I’m not sure there is much overlap. As you mention, there are already open-world options available – if they want open worlds, why isn’t EVE (etc) seeing the same 1 million player spikes that Rift and Warhammer received in the first month(s)? What are they waiting on?

    I can also see a critical difference between an MMO sandbox and a single-player sandbox. In an MMO, the focus is always other people; Man Vs Man. If I play Fallout or Oblivion (no Skyrim yet), it feels much more Man Vs Nature. And I don’t know how a developer would be able to hit that tone correctly while still squeezing the MMO community in.

    • sabbel says:

      cause flying in your little ship is not for everyone… why should i pay for eve when i can play elite? sorry for my ignorance… never played eve cause… i have elite/X/whatever.

    • Rammstein says:

      Your question — “As you mention, there are already open-world options available – if they want open worlds, why isn’t EVE (etc) seeing the same 1 million player spikes that Rift and Warhammer received in the first month(s)? What are they waiting on?”

      The answer to your question — “In an MMO, the focus is always other people; Man Vs Man. If I play Fallout or Oblivion (no Skyrim yet), it feels much more Man Vs Nature. And I don’t know how a developer would be able to hit that tone correctly while still squeezing the MMO community in.”

      It’s almost like, if some people, I don’t know who, had been writing articles about PVE sandboxes, to fulfill the huge PVE audience out there and their growing desire for a sandbox game–who could that be?

      The PVE raid game is one attempt at reaching a man. vs. nature feel. One could even describe the decline of the raid game as people feeling like it was no longer man. vs. nature, but man vs. man, as fighting the raid bosses became old hat and filling the raid group became the primary challenge, you lose that feel.

      There are games out there trying to come up with new ways to achieve that tone. None of them has fully succeeded yet, but do you doubt that one will?

      • SynCaine says:

        Man vs Nature is part of it, yes, but the bigger selling point IMO would be Group of Men vs Nature. The social hook is critical, because even when you personally are less motivated to do something, your buddies get you involved, and you end up having fun and finding new goals. It’s like Skyrim leading you around and showing you new side quests, but on crack and ‘forever’.

        Plus failure is much easier to deal with, because now you failed as a group, and as a group can come back and solve the problem. That itself builds stronger ties and makes whatever you are doing seem more worthwhile.

      • Azuriel says:

        There are games out there trying to come up with new ways to achieve that tone. None of them has fully succeeded yet, but do you doubt that one will?

        Yes, I doubt that they will because I believe the tones are fundamentally different. Skyrim (et tal) isn’t Skyrim anymore when you add people; it’s something else entirely. The whole allure of Man vs Nature is precisely the lack of social elements. The moment you take that Discovery show Man Vs Wild and add more people to it is the same moment you basically end up with Survivor.

        I have never seen raiding as Group of Men Vs Nature. Perhaps it would be different raiding with IRL friends, but my experience has always been Man Vs Man in overcoming interpersonal conflict, drama, etc, in the pursuit of a common goal. I also wouldn’t consider raid bosses to be “Nature,” but that’s neither here nor there.

        • SynCaine says:

          Group vs Nature SHOULD be, in part, a challenge because of the fact it’s not just you. If it fails to do that, then it’s just WoW.

          The biggest difference between this and PvP is that the challenge the group is attempting won’t wait until server up to fight you, won’t abuse broken mechanics, and won’t find where you live IRL and cut the power to your house just at the right time. And when you lose, you won’t get 30 pages of insults, just like when you win, the enemy won’t unsub.

  4. steelhunt says:

    At this point, it would be a good idea to dust off Richard Bartle’s “Why Virtual Worlds are Designed By Newbies – No, Really!” article:

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2157/soapbox_why_virtual_worlds_are_.php

    • Rammstein says:

      That article is just an incomplete version of the points I presented above. The tendency for players to want familiarity and make bad short/long term compromises degrades the genre, until it’s so bad that everyone jumps to a new model. Hence, cyclic trends, as we see in pretty much every social feature of the real world, and would fully expect to see in the virtual world as well. (familiarity and bad short/long compromises being of course just as common in the real world as virtual worlds., although in some areas there are other prime movers) When the jump to a new paradigm is made, that design is done by disenchanted veterans, not newbies. So, virtual worlds are designed by veterans, and then eroded by newbies, as a more accurate description.

      • coppertopper says:

        “That article is just an incomplete version of the points I presented above.”

        lol what? so you completed Dr.Bartle’s thoughts for him and made it your own? there is a word for that…

  5. Randomessa says:

    This just overlooks the fact that there is a difference between wanting a wide PvE space versus a space in which players can act upon other players. If the AI in Skyrim is so good as to make people believe they are in a world, why can’t it be translated into an online space?

    I want to work cooperatively with others in such a world, not have other players empowered to screw with me. Give players such a world and i’m sure they’ll vote with their wallets. Not a WoW-like majority, but many nonetheless (not a mere niche).

    • SynCaine says:

      In Skyrim, it’s not the AI though, it’s the scripting. The actual AI is about as ‘smart’ as an MMO mob (thank you for blocking yet another tunnel companion!).

      Scripting is one-off, takes more dev time, and is easier to ‘trick’ the more open-ended the situation.

      I just don’t think it would translate well into the MMO space, but works great in an sRPG like Skyrim (unless you play to exploit the script, and then complain that the script broke after you exploited it…)

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