Clones making clones

Around this time of year, most blog authors will do year-end posts (hopefully I’ll get one up as well, but no promises), and I think a trend we will see this year was that 2013 was pretty blah for the MMO genre, and that 2014 isn’t looking much better. To say the genre has been in a rut of late would be an understatement; the two most ‘successful’ games (in terms of interest, design, and countless other factors) are still WoW and EVE. Those games were released in 2003 and 2004. A decade ago.

Ten years is a long time. It’s long enough that someone who was 15 when WoW was released is now 25 and (hopefully) working. They might even be working at a game studio, perhaps on an MMO. And like Keen posted about here, maybe all they know of an MMO is WoW and its clones.

Furthermore, how many MMO players today have solid experience with an MMO that’s not a WoW clone? I don’t mean they tried something different and left after a month; I mean how many players today have actually made significant progress in non-clone MMOs? Is it a million? Compared to the tens of millions of clone players?

All of the above wouldn’t be a problem if the average clone was somewhat successful, but for the most part they are not, and I don’t get the sense that the average MMO player is happy about the situation either. Again, how many ‘year end blog posts’ are going to be glowing with praise for 2013 and pumped for 2014?

I think the two factors above, clone devs and clone players, are the core problems with the genre; the ‘talent’ to produce something different, interesting, yet still enjoyable and playable is generally lacking. But how do you learn what makes a good MMO? You certainly don’t go to school for it, and what few books exist, how many of them are really relevant? Playing different titles works to an extent, but if you can’t correctly see what works and why in certain titles, it’s only going to take you so far.

The MMO genre is also more difficult than say, making a shooter, because the more things your MMO tries, the more human nature plays into it, and on top of limited knowledge/experience in MMO design, how many developers can correctly analyze what the masses will do with feature X or function Y? If you look around, the answer to that is few, oh so very few.

Finally, as if the above wasn’t difficult enough on its own, players are also the genre’s worst enemy. More and more these days we are seeing people asking for X or Y, because they are sick of clones, yet on day one those clones get gobbled up only to be dropped in a month or three. Worse, players ask for X and Y but don’t understand why what they are asking for is going to doom their game. As inexperienced as the average dev appears, it’s far worse for the average player, and yet far too often we see devs listening to said players to ‘give them what they want’.

The genre is a mess. An ugly, complex, recycled mess. Happy 2014!

Edit: And now the post has a title…

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in MMO design, Rant, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Clones making clones

  1. Steel H says:

    “I was responding to Gevlon’s latest post, but then lost the will to live, deleted my post and came here”. Yeah… Actually it was one of the comments, the one that started with: “I just started playing EVE yesterday after reading Gevlon talking about it for so long and being bored of WoW at this point in the expansion. I’m an experienced MMO player having played all the likes of WoW, RIFT, TERA, GW2, Neverwinter, Final Fantasy etc etc….”

    Then there’s Wildstar. I don’t like the hyper-cartoony style, I don’t like the jumpy action combat, and then I read this:

    “Mike Donatelli, design director for Carbine’s upcoming MMORPG WildStar, isn’t exactly your friendly neighborhood developer. The games community could probably use a bit more folks like him. Back during PAX Prime, he tells me, a casual raider complained about how WildStar seemed designed to keep him from getting top-tier gear without joining a 40-man raiding guild. “Then don’t play,” Donatelli said. “We try to make it open so you dip your toes in and see if you like the game, but sooner or later you’re going to have to commit.”” ( )

    Ok, I’m sold…

    • SynCaine says:

      Wildstar to me could be a wildcard :rimshot:

      On the one hand, yea, the look and feel is terribly blah to me, and the last thing I want to do is hardcore raid again.

      But if the dev team truly does have a “this is our game, don’t like it don’t play” attitude, that goes a long way IMO. Let’s see if that holds up post-release.

  2. motstandet says:

    Yeah, there is a lot of “Me Too” in the video game industry–devs enjoying games that they then replicate–but you can’t believe that the senior people calling the shots are 25 years old. The one person I know who actually works at an MMO studio as a tools developer is 25 and played Lineage 2 as his first MMORPG.

    And then there are plenty of senior designers who have been through the philosophical trenches and have written lengthy essays about virtual worlds who have either embraced the current market (Damion Schubert or checked out because they were spurred by the niche market they were championing (Raph Koster).

    You can’t blame the lack of innovation on the inexperienced. Remember: WoW was made by a bunch of EQ players, a “Me Too” with some quality of life changes.

  3. Yeah, I am one of those people who find myself here at the end of 2013 playing the 9 year old MMO and the 10 year old MMO, while feeling somewhat indifferent towards what we might see in 2014.

    TESO could have something worth seeing if they understand what their franchise really means. Maybe. Signs are not good, but there is a non-zero chance it could happen.

    And EverQuest Next, which in theory will offer up something different, is too far out to think it will matter in 2014. I just hope all those round table questions are a distraction, because they seem to fall into three categories:

    -Trivia that won’t really impact the game
    -Items where you can easily predict the answer in advance, so I guess SOE is asking just to prove a point
    -Things that will matter, so I am not sure you want people on the internet voting on them, design by committee not being the best of plans

  4. john says:

    “The genre is a mess. An ugly, complex, recycled mess. Happy 2014!”

    The whole world is a mess…What happens to MMOs is what is happening to the other types of entertainment…Music, Movies in particular.

    “Worse, players ask for X and Y but don’t understand why what they are asking for is going to doom their game.”

    Like a LFD tools and flying mounts and instant teleports everywhere….yet people abandon games without these “conveniences” way before they realize the difference and why the game is better without them. Gamers now days are too spoiled, is almost impossible to teach them otherwise…And who developer will take the risk to teach the spoiled boy that it needs to work for the cookie, when there are so many giving him the cookie for free?

    And by cookie, I don’t mean the loot and by work I don’t mean the grind. Even a simple thing, as is socializing, talking to people, be nice and work your friendlist to form groups is like you ask kids to climb to everest nowdays

  5. Stormwaltz says:

    The most frustrating thing for me, as a dev who’s been kicking around MMORPGs since 1999, is coming into a new project full of long pent-up ideas on how to make a fun, long-term game, then having them all swept aside by more senior people pooh-poohing them in favor of making the same thing they’ve made before “only better,” or folks coming into the MMO space from other genres full of “I loved WoW, it just needed X!”

    I’m not a genius, but I’ve been there, done that, and I’m long past ready to attempt something new. So are many other rank & file devs I know. But we’re the canaries in the coal mines. We don’t control the purse strings, and we are never the creative directors. We just bang our heads against the walls until we’re let go for not being “team players” or give up fighting city hall.

    The industry is suffering trickle-down mediocrity. I don’t see that changing until these games get vastly cheaper to build, or players get quite a bit less picky about art quality (the overwhelming majority of a modern MMG’s budget goes to art, with VO rising fast).

    • SynCaine says:

      That’s why I’m a bit torn on the whole Kickstarter thing. On the one hand, its a way to cut out the suits and allow someone to actually trying something ‘risky’ (and by risky I mean put common sense and experience together).

      On the other hand, Kickstarter also tends to allow a lot of group-think, and the average MMO player really doesn’t understand what they want, much less how to actually reach it.

      The ultimate goal of course is for one of these titles to hit Minecraft-levels of success and really turn the genre around, or at least open some eyes. I wish I saw a title on the horizon that I could get behind in that regard, but I’m sadly not aware of one at the moment.

  6. Mekhios says:

    Looking back at 2013 the two MMO’s I have played the most were an MMOFPS and an MMORPG. Namely Planetside 2 and EVE Online. Both corresponded with finding a strong outfit and corp to share my MMO experience with in each game.

    I did try a couple of other MMO’s. I even tried FFXIV which I found to be a strange WoW clone and dropped it after a couple of nights play. I also tried some other no-name MMO’s which all seem to follow the GW2/Neverwinter model of F2P cash shop milking.

    I also fired up WoW after a three year absence from that title and levelled a ninja panda to 60 in 5 days. WoW has devolved into a pretty wack-a-mole game.

    I have barely touched Guild Wars 2 this year to my surprise. I have no issue with GW2 but the group I was playing with have mostly abandoned it.

    So yeah my MMO play has been based solely around two very strong but completely different MMO’s.

  7. dynaform says:

    I was brought up on wow so I suppose I only know the clones. I do know specifically what broke wow for me though.
    1) server transfers: an aq geared guild hopped on my new server where the gates had not even been opened. starts breaking down the community
    2) cross realm bg q’s: further community breakdown. you used to know your opponents and have rivalry’s. it turned into a who cares honor farm.
    3) flying mounts: killed world pvp
    4) dungeon finder: killed world everything
    All of these are convenience features that players screamed for.

    MMO I would like to see.
    1) get rid of gear drops completely: have the pve bosses drop recipes that are guild wide for dedicated crafters (they dont need to be in raid) have the mats come from pvp (like armor scraps). Maybe another component from gatherers.
    2) procedural generated random raids. I don’t want to do the same dance 20 times a week.
    3) Non instanced guild housing – keeps. Inside crafters could have access to the learned recipes and also have a storefront for shoppers. The idea of these super small guilds is just retarded and kudos to FFXIV for sticking to their guns on the cost issue.

    Plenty of other wants… I think Camelot Unchained is at least pitching the closest thing to what I’m looking for in an mmo.

    • Rynnik says:

      You should try Darkfall.

      1) All gear is crafted, some of the really low end weapons and stuff drop but pretty much everything you actually use was made by someone. Bosses (such as they are) pretty much drop mats.
      2) There are 4 dungeons in game now (more will come along eventually) and while they don’t change, the newest (hardest) one is pretty cool all on its own and best of all while they are not procedurally generated they aren’t instanced – therefore PvP will find you and players make it so that you aren’t doing the same dance 20 times a week.
      3) Non-instanced guild housing is pretty much what the holding system ends up being. There is no customization unfortunately but they still sound somewhat like what you are thinking of without the storefront aspects.

      The server issues you mention about etc don’t really exist (there are two servers a US and a EU).

      The company isn’t all that great but the game itself makes it worth putting up with them, and things are slowly but surely improving. My wallet vote calls it the best thing out there.

      Anyways, think about checking it out if you haven’t before.

    • Igolbug OWE says:

      Those are the exact same things that killed WoW for me. the Cross realm BG`s basically broke everything. After that there was no community anymore, used to know all my opponents and even have multiple Horde guild vents(I`m Alliance) so that I could taunt, tease, and say goodgame after some well fought battlegrounds.

      Cross Realm BG`s came and I knew nobody I was fiighting and didn`t know anyobyd I was fighting beside unless I formed a premade in which case we just rolled everybody with little effort.

      Then you look at the long run and with cross realm BG`s you don`t need a server balance so now servers are either 100% alliance or 100% horde so that killed any semblance of world pvp there was left.

  8. spinks says:

    I have a gut feel that the interesting stuff going on in the MMOish space is in browsers at the mo. We often look at the progression from MUDs to big client based MMOs and forget that there’s another strand of big multi player strategy games that still has large (well, 1000+ players) and active communities — games like Planetarion (which is astoundingly sitll going), and the dragon breeding game my sister liked, which got kickstarted this year ( — sounds silly? Maybe, but I get much more of a MMO vibe from those things than from most of the current or upcoming ‘graphical MUD’ type games.

  9. Jake says:

    I resubbed wow for a month just to see what was up. Started a warrior with some old heirloom gear I was kicking around. My impressions:
    Wow has great sound. Ever sound my warrior makes sounds like I’m cutting someone up with sharp weapons. Graphics are still great and the fighting is very interactive and fun. PvP is a lot more visual than EvE stare at the overview system and love the clash of arms. Quests are very tight now and satisfying now, but leveling in generally is way to fast even without heirloom gear. Battles don’t feel hard or nearly as satisfying as they used due to the speed and the number of buttons you mash. Worse the game now feels kiddish lacking in distinct feel to it. Everything seems to be a mishmash and now feels cartoonish(Garrosh was ridiculously over the top)

    There’s an early orc quest were you hit the a bunch of lazy peons with a black jack. The original quest the sound the black jack made was like hitting someone with a hammer. It just re-enforced that the orcs were hardcore people who didn’t fuck around. Today’s version of the same quest has a funny donk sound like something out of looney toons. Further quests with this funny non orcish feel to them followed. The game no longer has that edge that came out of warcraft: orcs vs humans.

    I joined a secession of mass invite guilds and I was shocked that there was no chat what so ever going on. I’ve have toons in mass invite guilds since classic wow and some of the most lively were the big mishmash ones with random people chatting about random stuff. I see more talk in single game of TF2 than I saw 50 levels with the warrior. How can you have a community if no one feels like talking?

    The classes have way too many abilities that don’t really add to the playing experience and the abilities are far to homogenized now. Before every class felt very different. Today most class can do every little role and it makes the class less interesting and distinct. The old rock/paper/scissors PvP model is quite dead. I really miss trying to overcome my class’s limitations to beat that one class that should own me.

    The lack of difficulty in leveling was horrible. You didn’t have the time to get to know the zone. There was almost no PvP and probably no guild chat because no one was grinding. They’ve made the game a lot more active in button pressing, but I think that’s taken away from the actual community.

    Want to make a successful MMO? Copy classic wow and make it hard enough to be satisfying but easy enough that a very casual player can muddle through it with enough time. Add large sandbox elements around spontaneous world PvP and have people fight over PvE objectives. Have hardcore raiding for minor gear upgrades but mostly for people to be able to brag about the epic stuff they’ve killed. And for gods sake, no PvP gear. Dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s an instant I win button if someone happens to have it.

    • john says:

      “Have hardcore raiding for minor gear upgrades”

      In Vanilla the difference between a blue dungeon geared player and an epic geared raider was huge…raiders in T2 could one shot people for ease. Yet the game was very successful. I don’t think that cutting out the hardcore raiding is the way to go.

      Also you have joined a mass guild that invite people automatically with an addon in order to have guild perks e.t.c. and you were expecting a social activity? Like I am entering in a toilet and complain because there are no flowers to smell. Social activity cannot be earned by just entering a big guild…you need to work together with others to accomplish difficult tasks/goals in order a community bond together…

      I know where you are coming from and what you want, but the game you described in your last paragraph will not get you there.

      • Jake says:

        I was in 5 or 6 mass invite guilds in Classic wow, BC, and wrath. Guild chat was non stop fun. Just people having a good time while they grind or do this or that. You didn’t need to be in an uber guild in order for people to be social. I’m not sure what killed the community, but it’s dead Jim.

        I think you misunderstand, I don’t want to nerf raiding, I just reduce the gear advantage. In classic wow people thought you where awesome for raiding because of the bosses you’d worked so hard to kill. The gear was a visible sign of your accomplishment. The huge differences in gear level on the epics items necessitated that massive gear inflation and short leveling curve of BC, which was a mistake.

        I know a lot of guys including myself who quit playing for a while once they became completely unstoppable due to gear. Killing mages and warlocks with the crossbow of smiting on a single multistory was in AV was fun for a while, but ultimately empty. I had more fun when I was in blues with a few epics.

  10. Vlonk says:

    MMOs take forever to make.

    The financial investment calls of the coming MMOs where made probably over 5 years ago, long before the Tortanic.

    If you want to see the MMO of tomorrow look at the world a few years back and look forward from there.

    With that setup I feel bad for the near future, but hopeful for the coming years.

    StarWars failing as an MMO/WoW-Clone? Dont expect anyone to pump their money into WoW-Clones anymore…

    I think the BIG financial success of the “Day-Z/Don’t Starve/survival” design-space showed a wide-reaching market and interest in limited resource economies.

    Especially the “persistence” of your Day-Z character compared with the lethality of the world was a wonderful thing.

    An MMO can do all that so much better with bigger playing fields and the potential of wide reaching social interaction.

    Readers of this blog know this and love that very thing, yet see little appreciation of their tastes in the products on the market.

    Maybe now there are some wealthy financial investors who can overlook the mediocre success of the niche-marketed and underfunded Wurms and Darkfalls and throw some serious cash at a project that has a different thesis at its core (ups and downs) compared to the wow model (eternal rise of power/no threat of loss).

    Maybe finally someone understands that EvE can only compete with WoW in the same market because they share opposite fundamental designs?

    I mean, escapism and feel-good themeparkery is a wonderful sales pitch for WoW, but competition is strong as well with gamers and can sell, too, as 2013 clearly showed.

    If only we would know how to monetize this big limited resource market without focusing too much on PvP…

    @Syncaine: Maybe pitch that wonderful PVE MMO thesis of yours to some business bobbleheads? In my opinion you nailed it down quite perfectly!

    Maybe 2014 something big in the MMO genre starts? Maybe it already lurks in the shadows of a NDA?

    We can sure hope : )

    • john says:

      If eve is the exact opposite of wow and it does not compete with it, then how many EVE mmo’s can be at the same time and be successful?Because as far as I know, EVE is the only one out there and maybe Darkfall that share players with EVE with mostly people who maintain sub on both games.

      I don’t think the game you think will be successful have enough players to support more MMOs like this. What we don’t have on the market now, is a PVE Sandbox MMO, and ESO gone for a gw2/wow clone instead(while TES IP would be the best for a pve sandbox). Everquest say that it will be a pve sandbox, but it starts as f2p…if they don’t trust their game why should I?

      • Vlonk says:

        Have you looked at the numbers that Arma II and the Day-Z standalone have pushed in the last 12 months? A 2009 sim-shooter tops of Steamsales for months in 2012/2013 because of a mod.

        Last time a mod got so popular was with Counter-Strike and HL1 and that – also – marked a paradigm shift in the industry because a lot of money was thrown at the concept in the wake.

        There is a huge amount of people who would play a MMO if it where filled with zombies and made surviving the main goal.

        A lot of finance bobbleheads look at this right now.

        The tragedy in the making that is TESO got its money before the Tortanic left the harbor.

        The mantra “don’t fly with something you cannot afford to lose” can never be seen in comparison with a wow-alike, because it is the opposite design principle.

        The design-space of loss and attrition allows to break the endless “powerup! spiral of epicness”. The whole world of rogue-likes in the Indi space exploit the heck out of those principles right now because the industry cant catch up to that so fast.

        EvE cannot be “more” successfull because at it’s core it is not a mainstream or twitch game, it has insane layers of complexity a really bad new player experience for most new players and CCP stripped themselves financially VERY thin lately. They gonna fly, but they ain’t risin’.

        As much as I want Darkfall to succeed at the end of the day the team behind it lacks the financial backing to guarantee updates/upgrades and there is no god-like gamedesigner entity on their team that can compete with the competing teams.

  11. Esben says:

    To be fair most things are recycled these days. I mean have you seen a movie lately? :p We’re up to spider man what? 10?

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