Looking forward to 2008

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.

7 thoughts on “Looking forward to 2008”

  1. I’m looking forward to a year of strang funding moves, bizzare aquisitions, and the small scale/garage/micro developer gaining an avenue for funding. I think the little guy is going to gobble up some market share this year, and I’m excited for that.

    I’m hoping 2008 brings more micro-transaction gaming ( big surprise there eh? ), that the free-to-play pay-for-stuff model will finally crack the North American market in something other than online socializing sites and Magic the Gathering.

    I am also deeply hoping that the North American obsession with ‘Innovation’ will finally fade away and die the death it so needs to die, and that we can all get back to the basics of building fun games. I’m pretty sure ‘Innovation’ is killing the games industry, or at least the over emphasis on being something ‘new’ rather than being something ‘good’.

    And, staring into my crystal ball, I see me continuing to play NES games with my favourite Mac ROM emulators, and staying 8-bit in a 128-bit world.

    :)

  2. hehe, my definition of “innovation” is “quit making the same things over and over and do something new”.

    Just because something is good, doesnt mean it is fun…

  3. yes, the problem with innovation can be that just being new isn’t always fun.. but it’s also true that we won’t know if something new is fun until someone trys it.
    it’s a rather double edged sword.
    however, innovation is as much the lifeblood of the industry as repetition is. with no innovation we wouldn’t even have a base for the conversation, considering the innovations in gameplay since the days of pong, followed by zork, followed by king’s quest, and so on down the line until we arrive at the point where 9 million plus people are infatuated with a game that millions more have either found distateful, gotten tired of, or just had to miss out on because they were busy paying for any of the hundreds of other MMOs. not to mention those who skip mmos entirely because they believe that they should be able to play anytime, with or without the internet, for a single payment, for as long as they have hardware that still works, and find their entertainment in one of the other thousands of games released every year.

    on topic: I’m looking forward (but not overly hopeful for) to a new genre of gaming, something beyond the MMO(rpg), the FPS, the RTS or the action/platformer fields. it’s getting harder to find it, but i’m of the opinion that someplace there is virgin gameplay territory and i hope someone finds some of it soon.

    i also have (almost certainly futile) hopes that pc game designers will stop designing games with the cutting edge PCs housing bleeding egde video cards in mind as the “average” platform of their products. my processor/mobo is 4 years old now, but my video card is only about a year and a half old and my motherboard ram is maxed out at 2 gigs.. CoX runs well until i’ve got 50k+ particles, a party of 8 PC and a mob of 10~15 enemies on screen on medium-high visuals, and Half-Life 2 can chop a bit on medium settings in high traffic scenes.. but Overlord is unplayable even at rock bottom settings, Bioshock frequently sees under 5 frames a second at minimal settings and i don’t even want to think about the next wave of FPS game engines. that’s getting a bit out of hand when i look at the low entry costs and long lifecycles of my console games. if blizzard, NCsoft and gang really want to up their market share, they’d do well to get WoW, CoX, Guild Wars, etc, etc dropped onto the ps3 and 360.

    and lastly, i’d like to see a certain change in the mindset
    behind “micro-transaction” games.. since one of my main problems with these games is the retention of “it’s data on our servers, so you don’t really own it and if you try to sell it for real cash, we’ll take it all, then ban and/or sue you” mindsets from non-“pay by item” games.. WOTC has been very good about that with Magic online, allowing modo card resellers to follow the real world secondary card market almost exactly in form and function, and most of the korean-developed MMOs with digital items should take a cue from that. if you charge me $25 for a digital cape or helmet or what-have-you, which i then outlevel, replace, or stop needing because i quit playing your game, then i feel i should have every right on earth to throw it on ebay and get some of my investment back (probably not all of it, and unless the game maker stopped selling new instances of the item, certainly not any profit), in the same way i could sell a used dvd or game. but that full rant is for a different subject entirely.

  4. I look at Habbo Hotel and just think, daaaaaaamn. A friend of mine tried making a something very similar to Habbo back in 2002 as a school project in Flash but just couldn’t get everything working properly because he was only one person and Flash wasn’t as advanced as it is today. Eventually, he pushed it to the side for other projects. Even though he’s doing pretty well for himself as the owner of a web design studio in Toronto, Canada, having been the first to put out something like Habbo would have shot him to (pardon the cliche) fame and fortune pretty quickly.

    He started getting pretty annoyed and frustrated with the web portability and database/PHP integration around the times of MX and eventually gave up on Flash altogether. I wonder of CS3 will allow Flash to be functional on the web aside from mini animations and games again. If so, he may give it another try, but to me at least, Flash is a thing of the past. Ruby on Rails and Ajax is where it’s at IMO.

  5. I am tired of playing D&D online. (I don’t mean DDO :) ) But I was thinking after reading some crazy comparison of WoW to D&D, that you can’t compare them they are different. D&D is all about leveling, and a GM to create content just for you, and you play mostly fair because it’s your friends. WoW is about people at the end of the level cap trying to do things together. Then it hit me: so many games are nothing but D&D put online, and failing because the models are so different. The problem of the “endgame” and the “earlygame” is prevalent in so many games. And maybe the reason for that is everyone is trying to shoehorn D&D into some online creation. Is D&D best recreated in something like NWN with its player created modules and no persistent world? And should MMOs follow a different model entirely?

    I’ve been reading Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge (recommended by Tipa) and find how gaming is treated there fascinating. Not the contact lenses that let you see different realities, but rather the idea that 1. everyone is a gamer, games are part of everyday life, and many tasks such as research projects are turned into games so much that people don’t even call them games 2. people form “affiliations” to accomplish tasks and these can involve money flowing throughout the affiliation 3. microtransactions everywhere and it’s easy to set them up for your own content 4. everyone is a content creator and many tools are easily available, and frameworks abound to play in 5. multiple frameworks and reference points to create any reality you want, and along with that multiple realities 6. there are more structured games and realities too such as semi-virtual amusement parks, but they also abide by the above 7. it’s “hardcore” though, what’s bad when it gets to that point is there’s no escape it’s life. One of the protagonists is a kid who feels like a loser in real life, and also in games.

    anyway … I’m not sure that had anything to do with the post. I thought it did.

  6. User created content in MMOs. I think someone is going to take a risk this year with this. There have been rumors about FFXI maybe having user created dungeons. I really hope one of the big companies goes for broke on this.

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