I had written a rather lengthy rant about the state of the industry and all of the things that just drive me to insanity, particularly design problems, mishandled operations, stupid funding deals, etc. etc. etc. After I wrote it and had some time to sleep on it, I decided that 2008 is a new year, and thus full of promise and potential. I’d rather set the tone with some optimism and deal with the scurvy side of the industry later in the year…
So having said that, what are you looking forward to this year? What gets you excited? Marketing slather aside, is there a particular title coming out in 2008 (or still in development) that just gets your juices going?
For me personally, I don’t see much that just has me sitting on the edge of my seat. The thing that really has my attention right now, is Flash CS3 and Actionscript 3.0. Forget everything you think you know about Flash and take a look again. It isn’t just “something for animating vector graphics” anymore. Flash 9 / AS 3 is pretty damned powerful and when you combine it with something like SmartFox to handle the server side of things, you can suddenly do some really awesome multiplayer games…including MMORPGs. Sure, they may not have the same level of highly immersive graphics as what you would expect from another WoW or something, but there is a lot of power in the new Flash.
One of the things I’ve been complaining about for years is the infatuation that developers have with pushing the graphics envelope while ignoring other areas like GAMEPLAY, artificial intelligence, original content, and so forth. As a platform Flash is now extremely robust and gives designers a chance to focus on those pieces that have been overlooked, without having to try to figure out how to deal with or program full real-time 3D environments. Anyway, just take a look at the kick ass games that are showing up on kongregate.com, there are a lot of really cool games showing up there. From a larger scale, take a look at Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, and so forth. Flash baby!
While this is going to result in a burst in the casual game sector, in addition to a lot of people learning to make games on their own (it really IS accessible to the mass market now), I think that several things will happen. The first, is a return to gameplay. When you turn back the clock ten to twenty years ago and start looking at early arcade games, or even titles on older platforms (nintendo, sega, etc.) the graphics were horrid compared to today’s titles, but the GAMEPLAY was damned fun and interesting. There are dozens of titles from the “old days” that still influence today’s games (albeit to a lesser degree), but are still worth playing (if you can get past the low res graphics. For me, Monkey Island, Wasteland, Neuromancer, Conflict, Harpoon, Maniac Mansion, Covert Action, Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, Scorched Earth, and many many more sucked up many hours and days of time for me growing up. These days, I have a hard time finding anything with any depth or originality.
My point is that casual games have an opportunity to bring back an emphasis on story, gameplay, and innovation. Budgets are smaller, games can be made with very small teams (1-10 people), the mass market can learn and develop games on their own with a reasonably low learning curve, etc. This means that experimentation has less risk, and due to the accessibility of the platform (and the rising tide of individually developed and independent casual games) people are forced to be original and innovative to rise above the crowd.
The result of this is more mass market exposure, more people learning to make games and getting into the industry (fresh blood untainted by so-called “game design degrees” or developer factories like EA). This in turn will have a long term impact on MMORPG development (casual or otherwise).
I still think the overall MMORPG market is still in its infancy and has an incredible amount of potential to grow, innovate, and change how we find immersive entertainment, but I think that there needs to be a back to basics period where we look back and pay attention to gameplay, story, and innovation…like we had in the good ole days. Failing that, we will keep getting more generic clones (and not the funny ones from Paranoia).
I’m looking forward to 2008 very much. Last year was a bust on so many levels. Everything feels different for 2008 already though. Let’s make this an awesome year, and let’s see some killer cool games. Comment here and let me know what you think and what you are looking forward to. Just limit it to online games (mmo or otherwise).
See you next level.