Tuesday, August 5, 2014 | 45The massively multiplayer online game genre, if that is even a thing, never had a chance. It has long been dead, and we’re still standing around its corpse, poking at it with sticks. We’re anxiously awaiting the next vestige of something we all once loved, to dribble out of its bloated carcass and ultimately disappoint us. What’s really sick is that we know a giant pile of garbage is headed straight for us, but we’re all too busy making Richard Garriott and Notch richer to move out of the way.
In the mid to late 90s when Raph Koster, Brad McQuaid, and the rest of those dorks were living in their parents basement, smoking weed, and not having sex - extremely backwards things were happening. The most advanced systems that would ever occupy massively multiplayer games were being developed and implemented by said dorks. It’s like an adolescent hitting adulthood before puberty; it makes no goddamn sense.
See, most of the time games of a particular genre grow in complexity over time. If you compare DOOM to Battlefield 4 or Call of Duty, there’s no denying that the latter titles have evolved quite a bit from their predecessors. Even if you take the graphics and sound away, we didn’t have features like iron sights or destructible terrain when DOOM was conceived. AI was much simpler, physics were non-existent, real-time multiplayer was not a thing. The FPS genre had time to mature, evolve, and required who knows how many iterations to figure things out. Maybe Call of Duty and Battlefield aren’t your ideal games, but at least they are progress.
MMOs don’t exhibit any of that. Take away the veneer from World of Warcraft, and you have a game which takes a gigantic leap backwards from its predecessors. Sure World of Warcraft looks better, plays better, and has all the bells and whistles a modern day game engine should - but it is an extremely basic game at its core. Where did features like open world housing, localized economies, territory control and deep crafting systems disappear to? This genre is so messed up that Everquest, the game WoW most resembles, had to dumb itself down and make itself more like Warcraft to survive.
"The Genre is half baked." - not Dave ChappelleGiven the development lifecycle of your typical MMO, there has been no room for iterative improvement. Star Wars Galaxies and Shadowbane were the last MMOs with major publishers that really did things differently, and weren’t gigantic heaps of shit (Shadowbane was extremely buggy but still exhibited innovation). Ultima Online released in 1997. World of Warcraft set the model for success in 2004 and killed any need to continue innovating. MMOs peaked way too early. Some recent titles borrowing on old systems are doing new things - like Darkfall, Mortal and WURM - but they’re also extremely niche games with proportionately small audiences.
I suppose this is a pretty common trend we’ve been experiencing across all genres of games, but then again most are much simpler than the MMO genre, so the impact isn’t as noticeable. Some are experiencing their renaissance and, others not so much. I know one thing though - don’t expect any innovation to come crawling out of this pile any time soon.