What I Want (from “New” MMOs)

Blaugust 7th

To put it bluntly, I want something new.

And not just 1 new thing. I want 90% of what I experience to be new. New doesn’t mean giving me a new coat of paint. It means using something other than paint altogether.

When I reflect on my MMO history I’ve noticed that every time I lose interest in them is when I realize that their features are too much like what I loved about WoW. The thing is, I don’t want to play WoW. It’s difficult to appreciate game features that you feel have been done already, and done in a way that you already love. Moving to a new game means seeking new experiences. And you can’t have a new experience by doing the same thing.

There’s a valid point to be made that in MMOs, players are the dynamic factor that keeps things fresh. That’s true, but let’s ask ourselves: How do people behave in your super market? Is it different from how they behave in the supermarket in the next town over? How about at diners: do people not behave the same way from restaurant to restaurant? And driving: it’s slightly different in Canada than in the USA, but mostly it’s the same experience isn’t it? While people can make the same old things have a different feel, it won’t make the experience of doing those things feel new. It’s like eating red gumballs versus green gumballs. It’s still a gumball, just with new color and slightly tangier.

When I say I want a new MMO, I mean it in the most basic sense of the word. New. Something I haven’t seen or something I haven’t tried. Some may say “that’s impossible! Nothing is completely new!” and I’d say I’m not asking the impossible. I’m asking for the basics not the extremes, and the word “impossible” is an extreme. Let’s take for example a wind turbine, those gigantic fans towering over the Earth which are used to generate wind energy. There’s a similar looking device in my bedroom. It spins just the same, has the same basic visual design, but these two items perform completely different functions and operate on different energy. It’s true that the design principles are the same, but the execution is radically different. The wind farms are something genuinely new. They’ve taken an old concept and created something new in this sense. I want something new from MMOs.

As the years pass I’m starting to believe that this “something new” won’t come. The industry at large is better at copying than it is at creating. Such is the nature of a capitalist economy. But that doesn’t mean that something new is impossible. I plan to still play MMOs when I’m 70 so there’s still time for me to experience something new. I just wish upcoming MMOs were actually bringing something fresh for players instead of mixing the gumballs in with the chocolate drops, or adding Canadian roads to American intersections, or forcing the fan in my room to run on wind energy. If you think these examples sound bizarre, this is how I experience so-called “new” MMOs, which tend to be frankensteins composed of varying pieces of older games. I don’t think these games are awful for trying. I just don’t find them interesting enough to buy them or lay down roots in them.

Widstar is a game I think was rather fun, but not enough to spend $60 on and recently there was discussion about players like me, who think the game is good, but who can’t be bothered to play it. Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World were MMOs I heavily anticipated and I wound up playing neither, though I at least bought the latter. Warlords of Draenor is, oddly, more appealing to me than Elder Scrolls or Wildstar, even though they’re probably better. My foundational MMOs are Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft, though. So experiences that feel too similar to those make me rather default to those games for my MMO cravings than to these “new” ones. I suspect that’s somewhat the same for all of us on some level. So when will we get an MMO which really brings something new? We won’t even see it coming, tbh. Oh, I’m sure there’s still plenty of joy in the current batch of MMOs. I don’t discount their value, fun factor, or cool features. Those are all true and I respect what they do.

I just want something new.

Scree Tags: #blaugust #mmorpg #gamedesign

14 thoughts on “What I Want (from “New” MMOs)

  1. I was going to recommend The Secret World, which I feel is a great departure from the traditional content design methodology, but if you want to get really out there maybe you should try playing some Realm of the Mad God.

    • I tried that a while back I think, when it first came out. I think I’m just kinda “meh” on MMOs these days. I’m sure at least half of it is the fact that I’m different, but the other half is that my games have stayed the same. And that’s highly unusual since the developers are aging the same as I am. So I don’t find that games are aging or at least they’re not aging well. No one thinks the dirty old man gawking at teenage girls is a charmer, or fun or anything good. Games that don’t age feel like creepy old men. I’d rather play with my old toys I think 🙂

  2. I hear you. I’m currently stuck in a cycle of wanting something old over something new. I mostly just want smaller MMO experiences, not the grandiose attempts to capture the next three years of my life out of the box. Most new MMOs feel like the way DC Comics is trying to make movies now: an inorganic feeling catch-up to their already well-established and beloved rival.

    • The other night you said something to me that resonated with my own gaming habits recently. You said you were trying to focus on just one or two interesting games at a time and I think this is the key to enjoying games the way we used to. I know I’ve said it before, but I feel bombarded by the tsunami of video games that we get these days — and most of them are affordable. The 3-monther MMO cycle is related to this fact. Players don’t take their time and really love their games any more. We’re all hopping from title to title looking for thrills and I think this impacts our desire to “lay down roots”.

      Just to give an example, players who stuck it out with Ninja Gaiden came to love that game through a process that: 1) was made possible by how prohibitively expensive a game cartridge was, 2) there weren’t as many games released annually,and 3) games were intentionally lengthened by developers to compensate for 1 and 2. So while that game was crazy hard and far too punishing, it managed to have more loyal and dedicated fans than some new games have today.

      I think MMOs are existing in this new reality where players simply can’t dedicate themselves and stick around. That make any sense at all?

      • It makes a lot of sense. I don’t get into MMOs like I used to because there’s always a few more games around the corner that’ll soak up my time again. Worse, many new games have co-opted a lot of the classic features of MMOs, so it can sometimes feel like I am doing the same thing twice. Plus, with Steam the way it is, I will have a backlog for the rest of my life.

        Really tough for a new MMO to stand out above all that noise!

  3. Welcome to the club. I’ll go as far as to at least try the MMOs out there that might be just as similar as my first loves (Everquest games), but I haven’t had the feeling of wanting to set down roots either. I suppose I felt the same way about WoW as well (though I did play it for a few months) because I really loved EQ2 and it is very similar to WoW (people will hate on this comment, but it’s rather accurate, EQ2 just ended up less popular). Playing the same old thing again and again gets old.

  4. I’m honestly not having this problem with modern MMOs. But then I started playing MMOs a fair bit earlier (Lineage, Ragnarok, Legend of MIR, etc.), so to me World of Warcraft was every bit the copycat MMO that games like Lord of the Rings Online and Warhammer Online were. So I’ve learned to appreciate the little things. Perhaps that might be why I see quite a few ‘different’ MMOs where you don’t?

    I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2 since launch and it doesn’t really play anything like WoW or its ilk. Aside from the minor things (no trinity, active combat, world vs world, megaservers) it’s also not nearly the linear themepark that WoW and its ilk offer, even if it is merely a more open, freeform, kind of themepark MMO. Definitely not a game for everyone, but it does have plenty of things to do for most types of players (save the WoW-style ‘end-game’ crowd) and a scale to its environments and encounters that few MMOs even dare to approach. And despite all the things there are to do it never feels like there’s any pressure to play: because there’s no endless stat-treadmill (nor any sub fee, obviously).

    Then there’s games like Star Trek Online with its awesome space combat system, almost CCG-like duty officer system, and 2nd major free expansion on the way. The Secret World which is far more story-driven than anything since Guild Wars 1 and has a skill system quite like that game too – albeit a tad less complex. Landmark which is all about crafting – although I haven’t actually played it myself. PlanetSide 2, obviously. Not to forget Marvel Heroes and Path of Exile, these Diablo-esque top-down action MMORPGs. Marvel Heroes even has a decent storyline and great use of physics. Defiance and FireFall are somewhat different from the WoW mold as well, albeit not particularly well executed. Tabula Rasa was a better – and more unique – game than either of them.

    That being said, yeah LotRO, WAR, TESO, Wildstar, SWTOR, RIFT, etc. were mostly the same game in a slightly altered suit. That doesn’t mean they’re the only experiences out there though. Even Age of Conan was quite a different experience, but it simply wasn’t polished at all past the first area. Supposedly it’s better now, but I haven’t actually checked.

    And of course there are a fair few rather different semi-MMOs in development. Think of games like Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen, Destiny, The Division, etc.

    Granted it would be cool to return to the age of innovative MMOs, well before WoW’s time. To have developers make truly innovative games like 10SIX (persistent PvP MMOFPS/RTS/RPG), Shattered Galaxy (MMORTS/RPG), Mankind (persistent MMORTS galaxy), Jumpgate, EVE Online, Anarchy Online, Neocron, Planetside, Ultima Online, etc. Sadly most truly unique concepts have already been tackled before, and the last fully innovative game in the MMO genre failed miserably: Chronicles of Spellborn.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I overall agree with the thrust of what you’re saying. It’s like I mentioned in the blog: I think all of us feel the way I do about our first MMOs. As you say, WoW was the copycat for you, which means you probably felt it did more copying than innovating and in some ways you may even feel that your first MMOs were better.

      I’ve played a significant number of MMOs too, like most people who read game blogs 😀 I got my start with Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft, but I tried EQ2 and I thought it was pretty damn cool. I didn’t stick around because I was a WoW subscriber and that would remain true of all MMOs I tried through 2009: WoW was my main game.I played DDO, Warhammer Online, Tabula Rasa was a love of mine, I was really sad to see it go away. I played the original Guild Wars, Runscape, Age of Conan, Vanguard Saga of Heroes, Allods Online, and I still subscribe to EVE Online once a year (usually for a few months). I tried SWTOR and The Secret World where I thought the lore and questing were fantastic. The only new one I haven’t tried is Elder Scrolls and I swear I never will. That game looks positively boring. Wildstar is quite fun and I’m excited about it’s future but right now I don’t want to play it. I won’t say any of these games were terrible, because I don’t honestly think so. I liked all of them in some way. But none of them really capture me the way SWG and WoW did. Those two games felt like worlds to me. I haven’t played an MMO in a long while that felt like a virtual world. Most try to feel like themeparks and they succeed all too well.

      And this is one thing EVE still has on all of them and the reason I still love that game.

      • I think that’s probably the reason why I’m actually still playing Guild Wars 2. To me it feels like a world, because it’s constantly changing. With their living world setup of new content every 2 weeks there’s constantly new things to do and new sights to see. I don’t think I’ve ever played a theme park MMO that changed quite so often, even if its merely in small ways.

        The likes of EVE and Perpetuum change every day of course, but I’ve tried both repeatedly and never managed to stick around. The concept is great, but something about the execution always pulls me out eventually. That’s why I hope either Elite: Dangerous or Star Citizen (or both) succeed to some extent. A well executed take on the concept of a sandbox MMO would be excellent, but EVE Online isn’t quite there and those games show a fair bit more promise imo.

  5. Curious, even if it was new, do you expect that feeling to last?

    I mean, sure there a nuances that you might not see, but overall that shinyness wears off quick. And I know this sounds off, but Steam and digital distribution are my main culprits. I can play any game, at any time today. My library is FULL of new, and distinct games. Not sure how an MMO can compete with FTL, Limbo, Two Brothers, XCOM, Starving and a dozen other games I paid less than the box price of an MMO, combined.

    • Yes, I expect it to last as long as it does. I still play Eve and Civ 5. Those also aren’t new, but they have managed to remain unique enough that I still play them. No other games really give me the same experience.

      It’s not about the shininess. I just havent found any new MMOs all that appealing. They all feel like pieces of old games with some new gimmick that never quite catches me.

      I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy my backlog was to play. I’ve seen libraries where 50% or more was unplayed games. I only had 22%, and most of those were actually played (those are usually games I have DRM free and arent installed on Steam so their play isnt tracked). I’ve got hundreds of games, but Ive played them all 🙂

  6. It depends in what sense you’re comparing each game. I found a lot of people claiming Guild Wars 2 was totally different to what had come before because of the lack of a trinity, and yet it didn’t feel that different when I tried it myself. I consider most of the MMORPGs I play to be quite different. I can understand why people wouldn’t agree, but it depends on which features you’re looking at. The Secret World to me felt really different with its theme, character progression and quest structure. The Knights of The Old Republic felt different in that it focussed more on story, contained dialogue and choices. For the first time ever I was hooked on an MMORPG for story as well as levelling up. In terms of gameplay though it wasn’t that different at all. EVE is different with its focus on ships and offline skill training. The original Guild Wars felt more challenging than the others and I have probably enjoyed this one the most. I just love collecting up the skills and the fact that you had to design builds carefully because you were limited on how many you could take out with you. People like Lord Of The Rings Online because of its setting and references to Tolkien. Another MMORPG that I play is Tibia, which upon leaving the start tutorial area completely opens up. It has no end game or level cap and to me feels very different to all the others (even if in theme it isn’t.) I have a friend who loves Wildstar and thinks it is really different because of its theme, but after I tried it for a short period myself I couldn’t say I really agree. While it looks like a solid game, it seems a bit expensive.

    I think MMORPGs have evolved a bit over time, but they are so expensive to build that many just don’t want to take the risk of completely scrapping ideas that have been developed previously. It kind of makes sense for ideas to evolve and develop (learning from previous experiences) rather than to start from scratch. With WOW being so successful as well its sort of driven the direction these games take. It’s not always bad. I like Rift not because it’s anything special, but because it takes a lot of my favourite aspects from other MMOs and implements them really well. I’m also happy to start lots of new MMOs (so long as I can afford it) because I enjoy developing new characters from level 0. The other issue with MMOs is that they tend to get better with age so long as the community remains strong. New ones tend not to be able to compete on features, which is an argument for sticking with what we already have.

    I get what you mean though, it would be nice to see more MMOs trying to break the mould to a greater degree, but at the same time I don’t want the genre to lose what drew me to it in the first place. Perhaps there needs to be more MMOs that aren’t necessarily RPGs; maybe this is what you’re looking for to get that fresh feeling. I’m personally looking forward to ArcheAge at the moment.

    • Im interested to see how ArcheAge does, too. Its open world concept is really interesting and I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

      I dont think the genre will ever lose its earlier influences so Im chomping at the bit for someone to break the mold. I really think it wont be broken until some visionary takes VR where it belongs in terms of gaming experiences. That’s easily 10 more years off though, but thats going to be amazing.

  7. When I read your post, I was wondering why the heck you weren’t giving Guild Wars 2 or Eve Online a try. Those two are as unlike WoW as can be and still recognizably popular MMOs.

    Glad to see in your comments that you -are- at least playing Eve.

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