Rebuilding the genre on SW:TOR’s ashes

I get the feeling that people misunderstand me when I say that I hope SW:TOR is the death of the AAA themepark MMO. I’m not saying the genre would be better if people did not spend 300m to make an MMO game. I’m not saying that spending 300m to make a themepark is wrong. I’m not saying spending 300m to make Darkfall would be right.

Ok that last part I am sorta saying, but more on that in a bit.

Here is what I do know. I do know that spending 300m to clone WoW does not work. Or rather, I know giving BioWare 300m (or 80, or 500, depending on the report) to clone WoW is a waste of money/time/effort. I also know giving Trion 50m to clone WoW is meh. I know giving Mythic any amount of money to clone WoW is doomed. I know that Turbine is one step away from directly selling you the One Ring if it helps save LotRO from shutting down. And finally, I know giving SOE anything is bound to have it hacked, stolen, and made into something you can’t download anyway.

What I, or anyone else for that matter, don’t know is what would happen if you gave someone not trying to clone WoW 50m. Or 300m.

I know that if you have CCP focused, they produce greatness. I know that when they try to go too mainstream and attempt to sell you jeans or vampires, they get into a lot of trouble. And finally, I know they are at least smart enough to realize it and correct that course.

We have at least one example of an MMO that has stuck to its core, and 8 years later it’s as alive as it’s ever been, and the future is looking brighter than most in the genre. It’s not F2P. It’s not “oh that old dated game”. And it’s not “just naturally seeing burnout like every game always sees” (Sorry Raph).

And look, if you are someone who is actually interested in living in a virtual world that evolves but always retains that thing that originally attracted you, how could you not look at EVE and be amazed and wishing that was the case with your favorite MMO? (If you are someone who intentionally jumps from MMO to MMO every 3 months, a bus can’t hit you fast enough. No offense but fuck off.)

What we also know is that when you give someone like Aventurine a bit of money, they release an MMO that has amazing combat (best in the genre IMO), produces some amazing moments, and is rough around the edges (to put it nicely). It’s also a game lacking in a lot of areas. The economy sucks. Crafting is meh compared to the genre norm, but sucks compared to EVE. It was buggy. It sucks that the population is low. Lack of updates. I could go on.

The point is, that even with extremely limited resources, Aventurine still produced an MMO that did a lot more for the genre than SW does, unless you count teaching the world that voice acting is a complete waste in the MMO space, but I’d say EQ2 already did that in 2004.

Furthermore, who is to say that with 50m, someone, be it Aventurine or otherwise, can’t make a version of Darkfall that not only appeals to its current audience, but also others? If Excel Online can get 400k people to play 8 years after release, are you really going to argue against the fact that Fantasy Excel Online would have no chance at 500k+?

We don’t know because, thanks to WoW being what it is, all of the big money has been spent futile chasing that pipedream. That’s why SW:TOR is so significant. It’s the biggest, most expensive copy/paste attempt yet, and when (not if) it fails in spectacular fashion, one would hope the beancounters will wake up and try something else. The world can’t possibly be stupid enough to throw even more cash down that hole, can it? Because make no mistake about it, it is a hole. It’s NOT working. No one has come even close to what EQ1 did, let alone WoW.

And for all of you non-EVE/DF/sandbox players, for those who only really know WoW and its redheaded stepkids, how do you know you only like what WoW offers? Yes, you don’t like EVE because it’s Excel Online. And you don’t like Darkfall because it’s PvP-only. And you don’t like ATitD because it’s crafting-only. And Wurn is dated, etc.

What if someone spent 50m to produce something of Rift’s quality, but with a world and mechanics that were closer to UO than EQ? That the dev team had a plan deeper than “repeat WoW, but with this tweak”? That the community was more than just the die-hard oldschool UO people (if you believe that myth)?

Could you, just maybe, find a game that had more than a few months of solo content to offer you? Could you, possibly, get into something that got its social hooks into you along with its gameplay? Something that, 6 months in, was just getting started rather than scrambling to tack grind on?

Maybe if that was a reality, you wouldn’t need to keep looking into the future, hoping that ‘the next one’ is going to last a little bit longer. That you would leave not when the ‘Game Over’ screen came up, but when you decided it was time for a break. And when you returned, in a month, a year, or five, the core game that you loved was still there, only expanded with a whole bunch of cool stuff as well. And when you did come back, familiar names were there to welcome you back.



(GW2 Jesus-MMO note: Assuming GW2 really is significantly different from current-day WoW, and assuming GW2 really is an MMO in the ‘oldschool’ sense, GW2 being successful, along with SW:TOR burning, may indeed be that ‘trigger’ event, moving us out of WoW’s faded shadow and into a strange new realm of money being spend on producing actual MMO games.)

Edit: Screw 3-6 months, BioWare is attempting to kill SW now! 80-500m can’t buy you a single glance at the history of ANY PvP MMO? I mean come on; this is 100% amateur hour on the grandest stage. It’s your 1.1 update and you DESTROY the game like this? And then to cap it off, your response is that you are “investigating the POTENTIAL issues”? We all knew this was BioWare’s first MMO. Is this the first time anyone on that team has ever done ANYTHING, including playing for an EG-minute, related to an MMO?

Just shut it down already.

Actually no, keep it online for another month, I’m waiting for 1.2 with more anticipation than I have for anything not called DF2.0.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Age of Conan, Darkfall Online, EQ2, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Rant, Rift, SW:TOR, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to Rebuilding the genre on SW:TOR’s ashes

  1. Ravious says:

    What’s the “oldschool sense”? As far as I’ve seen every design of GW2 is getting people to play together instead of tunnel-visioned.

    Does that meet that req?

  2. Rebecca says:

    I actually really liked some of the premises behind Darkfall’s crafting. Notably the fact that your skills actually mattered, and better skills meant producing better items. The real flaw, imo, was their gathering system, and the fact that all banks were linked. Make gathering in towns more difficult or even impossible, and unlink the banks, and that would have created a ton more interest in my mind.

    When you build a nullsec outpost or a titan in EVE, it’s a massive operation involving several freighter escort ops. Especially with last year’s (much needed) jump bridge nerf, moving things in dangerous space is the most exciting boredom you can experience. Knowing that at any single red in a system could be the cyno ship for a hot drop fleet just waiting to blast the shit out of your station stuff or your titan minerals.

    I was hoping – in Darkfall – to see a wagon packed with rare ores being transported from town to town, escorted by a small army of players. Instead, they just dump them in the hole one place, and pull them back out in another. Very unexciting.

  3. Nils says:

    I am not very hopeful when it comes to GW2. They do a few things differently (e.g. no tanks, no unit frames) and they have great art it seems. But it doesn’t seem to be a virtual world, either. For example, they have personal stories.

    Now, the dynamic events, in theory, could be grand. But I have a difficult time figuring out how exactly they are going to make a big difference.

    So there’s hope; but not much. If you are crazy you can believe in Titan. ;)

    • Ravious says:

      The problem with theme-parks, IMHO, is they segment people. It’s not an issue of “rail” per se; it’s that leaving the rails is painful. Having played GW2 at demos, I liken it to a zoo. There are exhibits to see. It’s not so much a sandbox. But, you can easily share the experience of the exhibits with every player nearby.

      They’ve also said you can level your whole character just playing the RvR-like World v. World… /shrug, I’ll be interested to see what you and Syncaine think when it launches. That’s for sure.

    • Nils says:

      In other words, instead of moving towards player-generated content, GW2 tries to change a few things which are very, very difficult to change and not certain to even be worth it (holy trinity, unit frames) in my opinion. It’s going to very, very interesting to see what exactly they do and if it works, though.

      • saucelah says:

        That’s exactly how I feel. It will be interesting to see what happens with it, whether or not it’s the next great thing is another question entirely.

        Even if it’s just a better on rails theme park then recent offerings, it will possibly move the theme park off of the WoW cloning trend, and that’s not a bad thing.

        I’ll be buying a box. And given I won’t have to keep paying to keep playing, I’ll be checking in on it regularly just to see what’s happening with it.

        On the other hand, you can bet if I had bought a box of SWTOR, I’d have cancelled this morning and would be waiting a few months before parting with anything to check it out again.

      • Wyrmrider says:

        “Sandbox vs. theme park” isn’t really the angle GW2 is pushing. They’re pushing “social vs. solo.”

        The leveling mechanics in WoW-likes are actively anti-social. Everyone in the group needs to have talked to the quest-giver NPC, needs to be on the same quest step, needs to be in the same phase. If you can establish *and maintain* synchronization, you’re rewarded with: reduced XP/money/loot per player. Competition for resource nodes. Painful bottlenecks on collection-type quests.

        In GW2 “quest steps” (dynamic event states) belong to the world, not to the player, so there’s no concept of being in or out of sync with someone else. (Not even due to a big level difference, there’s sidekicking.) If you see someone fighting and you want to help them, you just go help them. Everyone gets full XP/money/loot. Everyone gets to gather from resource nodes. There are no collection bottlenecks, because the toothless-rat teeth quota also belongs to the event and not the player. Play with others and you’re rewarded with: cross-profession skill combos. Greatly increased survivability (everyone can revive each other). Access to “boss” level events.

        Of course, I’m mostly in it for the WvWvW.

        And the unit frames thing. Super-excited about the unit frames.

        • saucelah says:

          Yeah, what really attracts me to Guild Wars 2 is not that it will be a virtual world, but it appears, at least as far as anyone can see anything right now, that instead of asking what about WoW made it successful and then copying, they are asking what about WoW sucked even though it was successful and then evolving.

          I’m not against theme parks, and I enjoy them occasionally for what they are. I am against reiterating the same park over and over and over and over and perpetuating the flaws of the copied design.

        • Nils says:

          So you effectively have the style progression I ask for for a long time now, instead of a power progression: you gain more abilities as you play, but not really more power (except for the fact that more abilities naturally make you a bit more powerful). I hope they do it in an immersive way and not with downscaling your character and stuff. But anyway that’s a good thing.

          At least there’s an AAA MMO that’s not cloning WoW. That alone is enough nowadays to be enthused ..

    • Roq says:

      The rationale behind having a personal story rather than intertwining story into the content as in other MMOs is again to encourage more social gaming. You never need to do story content at any particular stage (or at all) to progress:

      In GW2 your personal story is entirely optional and doesn’t make your character more powerful, so you can just ignore it if you wish. Also, unlike SWTOR, the game world won’t get cluttered up with all those redded out instances for other classes that are irrelevant to you.

  4. bhagpuss says:

    Some of that I agree with, but I don’t buy the either/or part. I’m guessing there is absolutely no technical or financial reason that you can’t have a UO with 2012 graphics and I can’t have an EQ with 2012 graphics. I’m guessing they could be made for a reasonable figure and if they were made there’s a good chance they’d be sufficiently commercially successful to be profitable and stay in business and we’d have the virtual worlds we want to live in for a good, long time.

    So why aren’t they getting made? It did not take the 1997 – 1999 equivalent of $300m to make UO or EQ. Nothing like. It should not take that kind of money to make a modern equivalent. For the $50m Trion spent on Rift they could have made either the game you want or the game I want but they didn’t. UO got made, EQ got made, DAOC got made the way they were because the people who made them wanted to play a game like that and there wasn’t one around. I doubt Rift got made because the people who made it wanted more than anything to play a game like Rift.

    Huge, established game companies are not going to do that. Not unless some individuals within them are able to subvert the system to make a game that they want to play. It’s apparent that there are people in the MMO blogosphere who want to play games like that but it’s a lot less evident that there are people like that working in the parts of the industry that could make it happen.

    I would guess that most of the people that work there who used to want to make games like that have either already made games like that are now done with making games like that, or have tried to make games like that, failed and spent their career capital. The younger, more motivated, less burned-out people who still have games they want to see made because they want to play them did not play UO in 1997 or EQ in 1999. The games they want to make may not be the games we want to play.

    It’s called getting older. The world doesn’t stop and wait for us. I just hope that some of the next generation of MMO makers just happen to want to make some games for themselves that turn out to work for us as well.

    • saucelah says:

      Publishers often force designers to design games they don’t want to design, even to the point of subverting games in mid-design and making them something they are not.

      My point is just that the lack of a certain style of product is not an indication of a lack of people that want to create or use that product.

  5. Carson says:

    Frankly, I’d be excited just to see a polished AAA themepark that tried to come up with its own original mechanics for character development, customization, combat, crafting, etc.

    Even if it’s not a virtual world, not horizontal progression, not completely free skill-based character advancement, not player-generated content and a player-driven economy.

    It’s so depressing that even dreaming up something other than “select a race; select a class; gain levels by combat which involves targetting an enemy, attacking, and using abilities on cooldown; spend a talent point each level; pick two crafting professions from a set of ten or so; advance them by making crap nobody wants from fixed recipes; collecting gear which is distinguished by level requirement and common/rare/epic quality” seems to be beyond the big-budget themeparks.

  6. Gank says:

    Sh**t, you could give Mythic 10 bucks to get a couple cups of coffee and they’d f**k that up, who’d give them millions lol.

    • Roq says:

      WAR would probably have been a pretty good PvP game if they had stuck to the original design (no levels!) and got to finish it. What they did release smacks of the influence of the suits at EA wanting them to turn it into a WoW clone. No doubt the reason that SWTOR is so lacking in innovation is the same.

  7. loire says:

    “(If you are someone who intentionally jumps from MMO to MMO every 3 months, a bus can’t hit you fast enough. No offense but fuck off.)”

    Not empty-quoting.

  8. sleepysam says:

    Maybe 38 Studios will do it?

    • Ahtchu says:

      Don’t hold your breath. They’re organized like any other ‘industry-minded’ company. Signed with EA et al.
      It would take a current player (aka ‘has presence) in the gaming scene not presently tied up with any MMORPG dealings to render the genre justice. Valve comes to mind.

    • saucelah says:

      I think I speak for most New Englanders when I say that if Curt Schilling had just disappeared after the 2004 World Series, we’d remember him a hell of a lot more fondly.

      • SynCaine says:

        Oh no way, I love Curt. He is radio gold whenever he is on.

        • saucelah says:

          Yeah, I do miss him calling WEEI to explain to the sports DJs why they’re wrong while driving his kids home from school and making himself sound like a complete ass, but I’d remember him more positively if he hadn’t. Heh.

  9. Red says:

    Just saw on Massively a blog post about death in Pathfinder Online. If only this game didn’t give off this tremendous “vapourware, derp” feeling, I’d say it would be an interesting compromise, based of the little they disclosed.

  10. Sullas says:

    I don’t quite hear the SW:TOR deathrattle in Bioware’s failure to balance faction numbers on Ilum – which is all that really happened. $300m (or w/e) is a lot, but doesn’t quite buy omniscience and infallibility.

    It does make me wonder what exactly are some reasonable goalposts, or success criteria here. As in, what metrics – subs, expansions, revenue/profit, whatever – would be required to consider TOR a commercial success a year from launch. As it stands, it’s easy to celebrate every misstep by Bioware as unacceptably devastating.

    On the bright side, since my friends and I will continue munching on that broken, moron-fodder, genre-fertiliser paste considerably beyond the three month mark, I don’t need to get hit by a bus.

  11. Azuriel says:

    We have at least one example of an MMO that has stuck to its core, and 8 years later it’s as alive as it’s ever been, and the future is looking brighter than most in the genre.

    We have a single exception: EVE. That’s it, right?

    Your post is inspired. You had me going all the way until I hit that sentence. And I actually agree with the rest of it too; let’s have some goddamn innovation, let’s have a novel experience that reshapes the landscape and redefines the language. We can disagree with the voice-acting and 4th pillar bits, but sure, in principal I’m fine with those being introduced in a non-themepark experience.

    What I keep coming back to though, is the potential iPod/iPhone/iPad (nightmare) scenario. Is it tablets people are wanting, or is it just iPads? Was it Apple that showed people something they never knew they wanted… or was it something else? Something more primal like “newness” or that crazy heyday feeling of unique technology made accessible? It’s a potential nightmare scenario because… what if people don’t like themeparks or sandboxes at all? What if they just like WoW & EVE (and the Asians with Aion, etc)? What if they are not in love with the medium, but simply in love with the specific game?

    Each day I am finding it more difficult to believe these other games like Darkfall or Warhammer or whatever failed because of X or Y misstep. Skyrim sold 10+ million boxes, Minecraft sold 4+ million, and yet we aren’t seeing any real spillover into other MMO sandboxes. Is there really an untapped desire to sandbox (or themepark)? Or is there simply untapped desire for quality-made, mechanically fun games?

    If it’s the latter, MMO fans could be in trouble should they grow weary of their one, safe exception. We’re going on 8 years without a break-out success, and the next very well may not be in a direction anyone likes (e.g. worse than WoW).

    • spinks says:

      The success of Skyrim has given me more hope for future sandbox/simulation type games than I’ve had for a long time. And I should make some time to try Wurm Online at some point.

      But what I’m really waiting for is a sandbox game that can build on some of the Tale in the Desert ideas and give players some more choices about what role they choose to play, including non-combat/ political roles. I know I’ll get yelled at but I’d really like more RP potential in my gameworlds too. I remember in DaoC we had players organising grand markets, balls, theatrical events — it wasn’t for everyone but it made the game ‘pop’.

    • saucelah says:

      I don’t have an answer, of course, and I just expended all my energy to think responding to someone on my own blog. But unlike the last time I read your comments here, I find this one to be valid and potentially fascinating.

      But I’d think that if it were just a love for a specific game, that anything that successfully copied that game would do well also. Perhaps the sub-model prevents that, however.

    • Nils says:

      Well, over the last 8 years there hasn’t actually been a single sandboxy-like tripe-A game. Darkfall certainly wasn’t ;). So, honestly, nobody can know how successful such a game would be.
      All we can do is guess based on past games, a gut feeling and common sense.

    • SynCaine says:

      I’d argue it’s easier to go from Skyrim to WoW than DF. Which is kinda my point. Skyrim and DF share a lot of similar design items, but in terms of polish and, well, cash spent to make it ‘work’, Skyrim is very WoW-like in that way. I’d like so see what happens when you even out the cash portion. I think I’d work.

  12. Gesh says:

    “The world can’t possibly be stupid enough to throw even more cash down that hole, can it?”

    But of course it can, dude, don’t underestimate stupidity. I’m not even sarcastic here. I think finally I understand your rabid attacks at SWTOR and I agree with you (besides trolling your audience is rather amusing).

    But I call bullshit on this: “If Excel Online can get 400k people to play 8 years after release”. Cmon, the real active people playing are like < 60k and you know it. This is the peak concurency and most of the players have more than 1 account. Even when different groups of people are logged during the peak time, active subs would be < 100k. Is this enough to sustain Eve/CCP – fuck yeah, more power to them. Mine account is inactive, but if they fix factional warfare, I'll be back. See you there.

  13. says:

    Upon further reading, I reiterate. Pathfinder Online has potential, if it ever becomes an actual game, if the developers stick to their idea. An awful lot of unsettling ifs, I suppose, but here’s an excerpt that picked my interest:

    “I Can’t Stand The Idea That My Stuff Gets Taken Or Lost

    Yup, I hear ya. Luckily, there are umpteen dozen themepark MMOs for you where you don’t have to worry about it. We already know how those games develop: They have a big spike, a maximum level of success, then a collapse followed by server consolidation and a starvation of future development investment due to a failure to “compete” with World of Warcraft. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is one of the definitions of insanity.”

    Seems to go in hand with your feelings on mmos, syncaine.

    • SynCaine says:

      Yea Pathfinder is on my radar, although I’m too old (MMO years) to start getting excited about a project that early in development. When beta time comes around I’ll certainly give it a shot though.

      • Carson says:

        Yeah at this stage of development, the most any game is going to get from me is being added to my “prick up my ears if I hear its title mentioned in a news article or blog post” list. Seems to be some decent pedigree amongst the senior people at the company, though.

  14. Antivyris says:

    Honestly, they’ve been recycling the MMO since EQ. The only real thing WoW did different than anyone else was basing the MMO off an IP that was from a company that people expected to do great things. They also have done a very good job at making thelmselves mainstream.

    However, there’s the issue. These new MMO’s since WoW are trying to Mainstream themselves FIRST instead of making a good game and using marketing to draw in the mainstream. Vanilla was not mainstream, BC was somewhat, and Wrath was almost completely. I think the next big thing we’re going to see will be indy in all honesty.

    I forsee an Indy mmo that does things no one every thought of, and in turn sparks an actual major company to either absorb and improve it, or try to copy and possibly succeed. It’s all possible with Hero Engine being free, I know I myself am personally working on trying to create an mmo from scratch with unconventional thinking.

  15. Paragus says:

    Dude! If you give Bioware money instead of cancelling after the free month because you cleared the content already, they will make you a founder and give you a medal!

  16. khoram says:

    It looks like Pathfinder Online might be the game you’re describing. Modest budget, phased availability (they will only allow X amount of people in at a time, apparently), mostly sandboxy, 2.5 years til characters reach the “pinnacle” of their class (and it looks to be based on real-time advancement like Eve, so no amount of 24-7 play will get people there faster I guess?), player-built cities and armies, bounty system for griefers, full on pvp outside of “civilization”, PCs as full time crafters, etc. I hope they pull it off.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Have a look at
    Seems to me you’ll like it there.

    • SynCaine says:

      I have. It’s just too rough, technically, for me right now. And the art style just does nothing for me.

      Another solid example of good ideas, decent execution, and a simple lack of funding holding a game down.

  18. Solf says:

    Well, this is probably pointless — this post being ‘old news’ by the interwebz standards and all, but anyway…

    You know, for all your [somewhat justified imo] comments about what is lacking in the current breed of AAA MMORPGs, I can’t help but think that you have a blind spot the size of a moon.

    And this spot is about “why would person log into the game / continue subscription”. You see, you know very well why *you* would log in / continue subscription. Although based on the fact that you did abandon DF I’m not even 100% certain that it is all that certain that you understand even that (more on that later).

    You seem to advocate the idea that people should log into the game for the community (friends, guildies) / pvp goals (combat, area control) / house-building goals (build up ‘your’ place). And that certainly does cover a big segment of population.

    However take, for example, me (or, I am sure, quite a few other people — quite possibly even far more than those in ‘your’ segment). Take for example Eve. Frankly, I don’t see “carving a chunk of 0.0 for myself” as a goal worth logging in for. Leaving aside the fact that it would be probably practically impossible for me to do so — more important reason would be what I would want this for? To get into PvP fights over that same piece of ‘property’? Why? If I wanted to get into PvP fights — why wouldn’t I play Counter-Strike or whatever in which the actual gameplay is fun (as opposed to Excel-online)? I cannot answer that question for myself. I know quite a few people can — and they play Eve. However I can’t — and so I don’t (although I did try, I have pilot with several million SPs to her name). There’s simply nothing for me in Eve other than “fly a bigger ship” — and there’s no point in that either really after you can do “level 4″s solo — there’s no other apparent goal to strive for in Eve (if you, like me, consider owning piece of virtual estate pretty meaningless).

    For me (!!! this is important — for me — not for everyone) — the ‘traditional’ PvE MMO (in TBC-WoW style) has much more appeal. It sets the goal — beat the final boss — that is difficult (for the amount of effort I’m willing to put into the game), that I can work towards and see progress (get better gear, get better at execution), and that is fun (for me, not for everyone) to work towards for. For me, WotLK and Cataclysm destroyed that last ‘fun’ part — by making everything outside raids mind-numbingly easy it destroyed my motivation to log into the game other than for raiding — which eventually destroys the motivation to log at all. Also as much as I disagree with Hard Modes in general, those in Cataclysm work for me more or less since you’re still trying to find the optimal solution to the fight with new twists (unlike WotLK where you fought with hands deliberately tied behind your back).

    So, in summary, what I’m saying here is that what YOU consider to be an “ideal” MMORPG might not be nearly as successful financially as traditional “failed” MMOs (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if SWTOR will be financial success (more earned than lost) even if it crashes and burns otherwise) — simply because not everyone wants to play MMORPG for the same reasons as you do. For example, your “ideal” MMORPG is unlikely to get my subscription whereas WoW did for several years, SWTOR does now, and Eve only got a few months out of me because I didn’t see any goal worth pursuing.

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