One of the lazier strawmen in MMO blogging land is to dismiss the success of an older MMO by stating that fewer people play it today. I’m sure you have read some version of “If UO did so many things right, why aren’t more people playing it today?” on one blog or another. The overall ‘why’ is a pretty complex topic that I won’t fully get into today, but what I do want to talk about is the fact that MMOs can get worse.
Time is one factor. As the months and years go by, a game ages. Visuals that at release looked great might not be so hot anymore. A feature that was special at release might be common in most games a few years later. You don’t have the newest, hottest feature. Etc, etc.
All of the above however doesn’t have to happen in an MMO. You can upgrade your visuals. You can patch in new features. You can introduce whatever the newest technology trend is (super servers for example). Just because WoW today looks like a game from 2005, or EQ2 looks like something from 1999, doesn’t mean that’s just how things go. EVE today looks like a game released in 2014, and its technical backend is still miles ahead of everyone else. UO did an engine update. So did DDO. Plenty of other examples exist. That’s a major selling point of the genre after all; you aren’t just buying a game as-is today, you are buying into a service that will evolve and improve as time goes on.
Yet while the intent of every update is to make an MMO better, not all do so. Of course famous examples like UO’s Trammel, SWG’s NGE, or DoAC’s ToA are well known and deservedly hated, but all MMOs have had some update that has driven someone away. Now most updates are positive, but even if a change brings or retains more people than it drives away, someone somewhere is going to hate that you did X instead of Y.
And sometimes an MMO does just get worse due to updates. How many half-decent MMOs have become complete dreck because of a F2P switch? Remember when LotRO was all about staying true to the lore, or when loading screens weren’t an opportunity to spam with you a cash-shop ad? When EVE forced you into the captains quarters? Etc, etc.
So yes, even if I did love what UO was in 97, that doesn’t mean that the 2014 version with elves, ninjas, and god knows what else is a game I want to play. Due to updates, the passing of time, and a multitude of other factors, in 2014 I’m not playing UO. That doesn’t change the fact that 1997 UO did a lot of things better than MMOs today, including 2014 UO, and that today’s devs could still learn a lot from it, or other once-successful MMOs.
And hopefully, they learn the right lessons, and make the right update, to actually make there MMO better with each update. Seems to be a rare thing these days.
I had a brief exchange with a Massively commenter regarding this very topic only a few hours ago. I said I’d jump on any old school MMO that came out, and he told me to go play EQ which is now F2P. That’s nice, except that EQ in 2014 is not old school. I was playing EQ on Al’Kabor (eqmac), which very much WAS old school, until it was closed.
Yeah, this is why I cannot get back into EverQuest, yet the moment SOE offered up something that was at least trying to be old school, the Fippy Darkpaw server, I jumped right on and played for a few months… until SOE got hacked and was offline for a couple weeks. That broke the rhythm of play and I was out again. But for a while it was a complete nostalgia blast.
I had so much fun when that went live. I even did a 24 hour camp at the cyclops isles in order to ding max level! I loved it so much for a while, then quit once raiding started.
It was years ago, but that was probably the last time i had genuine fun with an MMO… A friggin “classic ruled” mmo from the late 20th century.
Equivalence theory of game design 101, using Syncaine’s last two articles as axioms:
Problem 1) Prove that updates can make an MMO worse: A game studio just released a garbage truck simulator. QED.
Problem 2) Explain why a game studio just released a garbage truck simulator: they were trying to automate shitty updates to MMOs and ended up with a garbage truck simulator instead. Instead of delivering virtual garbage to your door, it takes it away.
Problem 3) Why hasn’t a studio added vampires and werewolves to the garbage truck simulator to create a stinky yet appealing piece of vaporware to market on kickstarter? Solution: Hurry up and create it yourself.
The thing is UO is better then most if not all of today’s mmos. But 8-bit graphics just don’t do it anymore. But really if some of the mmos coming out were more like uo and less like wow games would be much better
This isn’t a comment about MMOs in particular, but I’ve always felt that the “old games” were simply better games because they needed to rely on gameplay over graphics to sell games.
For me, the decline started with those first “multimedia” games, i.e the puzzle walk throughs with snippets of movie quality animations. Zero gameplay but never before seen graphics because they played on CDs nearly the same storage capacity add your hard drive.