Opinion Piece by Salamander Ham
When we look at the landscape of role playing games online we see a clear and obvious move away from the traditional MMORPG.
What we see developed now is smaller minimmos (mini mmos meaning servers holding much smaller populations)
The old style MMORPG with multiple hundreds (or thousands) of players per server have not been developed for the more classic fan in many years.
Before WOW the genre was very niche within gaming which was itself fairly niche. Even Everquest’s large numbers and it’s media coverage could not be used to predict what was to come in 2004.
As the early 2000’s started to roll on we saw a quick turn in technology and a turn in thinking about the embracing of games.
As this happened a shift started to happen and mainstream gamers were suddenly becoming more open to the idea of a virtual world. Something that only RPG fans really cared about previously.
There have been a number of successful launches since 2004 of course. Games like Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy 14, Black Desert, Guild Wars, Rift and Lord of the Rings Online.
The issue is none of them could or have captured the imagination of the launch of WOW.
We can guess and theorize for years (and probably will) but no one really knows why WOW caught on the way it did. To this day it remains one of the top games in the world not just as MMORPG but in all games played.
So what does that say about the genre? We have seen the onslaught of clones that came out since it released and none were on the same level nor could they challenge for the crown.
The market has since purged itself of many games in the MMORPG genre though to no surprise, most of the classics have remained. Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Anarchy Online, Meridian 59 all remain and you can play to this day. (sadly the Salamander’s favorite, Asheron’s Call, did not survive)
As we see MMORPGs developed today we see games like Star Citizen, Ashes of Creation and New World with fairly large budgets (Ashes at least $30 million to Star Citizen’s astonishing $300+ million and counting)
The jury is still out on what those games will provide the genre and it’s fans. We have seen over and over again that having a budget does not always lead to success. Just look at the rocky journey Amazon’s New World has taken. The genre was born out of indie developers building a game around a virtual world. What we have seen since 2004ish is developers building a world around a game. There in lies the problem if you ask me.
What role playing game fans want is a virtual world to get lost in. To inhabit.
What we have gotten is a backdrop not a world. When you look at what makes a virtual world successful it is not easy to pinpoint. Yet when we see clearly what a virtual world isn’t.
Even games like Everquest 2 or World of Warcraft have moved to a more static development. Casualizing their creations.
What we need is a return to the virtual world. Build the world first and build systems around that world. Allow those systems to work off the world. Create a weather system that interacts with the world’s physics. Allow crafting to be broken down to smaller detailed levels to allow for the creation of modifiers. Personalizing the creation system.
Have every living thing in the world have it’s own A.I. system. Create an ecology. Allow for deforestation and create new professions like tree planting to help balance nature and ensure future tree growth for crafting wooden items and arrows and homes.
On the mention of homes, we can do real world housing in the world. Allow for terraforming. Allow players to build into a mountain or in an underground bunker.
The mobs need to fight with tactics and allow them to group up and adventure as well. Let the player see that they are not the only ones living in this world. The world is a place teaming with life and energy.
Above all what needs to be created to draw people in and keep them is a world that is dynamic. I don’t just mean like in WAR public quests or Guild Wars 2 system or even the old Asheron’s Call DM logging on and controlling a monster and attacking settlements. We need all of that of course but we also need to see the world be dynamic. Create a role playing game online that requires no actual players to go along it’s way.
If we do this players will want to play in it. Players will be in awe of this magic world that seems ‘alive’ because in a way it needs to be. That was the secret sauce in all the old MMORPGs that started the genre.
For their time they were the closest thing we had ever seen to the pen and paper worlds brought to life. Since the 2000’s we have seen them get further and further away from that idea.
The genre needs a reboot. A reimagining. Let’s build a world to live in again. With technology where it is at, the most advanced it has ever been, it is crazy to see that the genre of online role playing games has actually grown into avatar games with static backdrops and less feature rich then those before them.
One area where we may see a breakthrough for the genre is in the advancement of VR. Of course we are not there yet but with technology like VR, Quantum, Artificial Intelligence advancements, Ray Tracing we are starting to see that technology is rapidly reaching places we once only dreamed. Add to that the great work being done with Unity and UE and we are starting to see a glimpse of what could be possible if a group of passionate people wanted to create an MMORPG for future generations.
The future holds promise but in the present we are faced with classic games to replay and new games that not only do not advance the genre but take steps back in trying to.
Until the day when we get to jack in and enter a virtual world that feels real, I will be playing the same old games I have always played.
For the Horde.
Salamander Ham out.