I’m sure you remember this commercial…Avery Brooks (AKA Captain Benjamin Sisko, Deep Space Nine) is complaining that we were promised flying cars by the next millennium, blah blah. If you enjoy reading a lot of science fiction (the older good stuff!), then by all rights we should have flying cars by now as well as a lot of other cool things. At least the PC is pretty powerful and we have the lovely Internet.
But not only are we missing the flying cars, we don’t have a kick ass Lunar base, man hasn’t set foot on Mars yet, and we certainly can’t teleport ourselves around. The virtual reality craze of the real early 90s was too soon, and fizzled out before computers and VR hardware had matured to a point to really be useful for much beyond making people motion sick and giving them eye strain.
The promise of VR and augmented reality (You have GOT to read “Dreampark” by Larry Niven) is still loaded with potential and could have a huge impact on entertainment, but we are not likely to see anything remotely worthy of interest in that field for another 20 years unless someone gets off their asses and throws money at some smart engineers and designers with a mandate to redefine immersive entertainment and bankrupt the likes of EA and Disney (Google anyone?).
Anyway, back to my topic. As far as I am concerned (and to answer the question of what I think about the industry), Online games are in a period of growth on the global scale (from a monetary perspective) but are also stagnating. So much so that I feel like we are beginning to deteriorate into a phase of decline that will require something absolutely amazing to reverse the direction of. Not only that, but the Western online games industry is in pretty sad shape while the Eastern sector is leading in growth, innovation, and creativity. In a mere handful of years, Asian developers will dominate the MMOG industry while all the “big boys” in North America and Europe will be scratching their heads wondering what the hell happened while they are filing their bankruptcy papers.There are several things I want to cover in this post, and I have cool topic names for each (ha-ha):
1) Market Alienation
2) Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
3) Mediocre Saturation
4) What happened to the RPG in MMORPG
6) Game Training
For some strange and bizarre reason, many developers and publishers do their best to alienate vast demographic segments of consumers.
Nerf is a good example. How many times have you started playing some new and interesting MMO, invested hours and hours into your character, and then the devs decide to “nerf” the character class and make everything you have accomplished pretty damn useless, not to mention kill the fun factor. This bait and switch really irritates me. They SHOULD have gotten their game design hammered out BEFORE they started developing the game, and they should have playtested the hell out of it before letting people in. You can’t set up expectations, wait for people to invest their time and money, and then just weaken a class (or something) simply because it might be more powerful than something else. Why is it when things get “balanced” after the fact, it always ends up weakening something, instead of making the other things more powerful?
The OMGWTF is similar to the nerf, but occurs on a much grander scale. I am not going to spend anytime writing anything about this here, except to give one good example. Star Wars Galaxies. Ask any player about the new changes, and you will see what I mean. Not to mention the fact that you will get to witness a gamer gnash their teeth and wail for about an hour as they rant and foam at the mouth.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Most MMO developers and publishers really don’t know what they are doing, and I suspect they are winging it the entire time. MMOs must be considered a service and NOT a product. Further, once you take a MMO live, you can’t just ignore it, the community, or maintaining and growing it. The horror stories of gamers getting screwed by developers and publishers, treated like chattel on the way to the slaughterhouse, or just plain abused by arrogant and egocentric game masters, developers, moderators, and so forth have become legendary. The next time you are in a room with MMO gamers, I dare you to say something like “Wow, I just had the best customer service experience at [insert MMO name here].” I bet that you will immediately be made fun of, and everyone will think that you can’t possibly be a gamer or know what you are talking about, because we all know that customer service in the MMO sector is complete crap (with very few exceptions).
PC Games are dead, long live the PC
Some idiot somewhere declared that PC games were going nowhere and the future was console games. This started a chain reaction…Microsoft jumped on the console bandwagon, and retailers everywhere started shrinking shelf space for PC games and increasing shelf space for all the consoles. As a result, PC game sales declined, console sales increased. Of course, this is arguable to some degree when you look at actual sales numbers over the past few years, but the fact remains that this has all created the perception that PC games are on the decline.
Take a look at game industry job listings. How many of them require experience on one or more published console games?
What is the big deal about consoles anyway? Why do consoles try to be PCs? Consoles are great for casual games and awesome for party entertainment…but PC games dominate when it comes to depth, sophistication, and online play. Yeah, I said online play. Sure you can plug in a broadband connection and a mic into your pretty little console and play with your friends. But seriously, you just can’t beat a PC with a keyboard for the real online games…MMOs.
Repeat this to yourself 100 times. “Consoles are for kiddies, Real men use PCs”. Now, go complain to your favorite retailer about the lack of PC games for sale, and then whine that there just aren’t any good games being made anymore.
The other irritating thing about consoles is that games with a big publisher and big money behind it, gets tons more shelf space…n boxes for each console. Geez. Half the time, the games with the most stock on the shelves are the ones that suck the most, but just happen to have a lot of marketing might behind it because the dumb publisher invested too much in the development of the game. So, we have fewer games to choose from, and success is created by marketing budget, not by merit or quality of the game itself.
I will scream if I see another new MMO announced that is some lame ass variation of another MMO already out there. If someone else has the balls to do another fantasy title with elves, dwarves, and orcs, it better have some real innovative gameplay and one hell of a storyline. Sure it can be done…I firmly believe that most of the MMOs out there are mediocre and if someone makes something GOOD for a change, it will make World of Warcraft look like small potatoes.
For now though, we have a large selection here in the West (you would be amazed to know how many hundred MMOs are being created in Asia), but very few of the existing titles (or newly announced ones in development) really stand out as unique or truly “next generation”.
What happened to the RPG in MMORPG
This is such a huge topic, it will get its own posting as soon as I have time to sit down and write it all out. Might even be a multi-part piece. I mention it here briefly though to give you something to contemplate.
Pick an MMO…
Do you see more out of character (OOC) chat and conversations, or in character (IC) chat? How many game features or functionality is available simply to facilitate or enhance role-playing (no, fifty dance emotes do not count)? How many tools are available in-game to manage player guilds and clans? When you have a problem and a GM or Customer Service rep shows up, do they role-play a bit and whisper to you about your problem to avoid killing the “suspension of disbelief” for your character and other players? Or do they just ask you what the problem is and tell you some scripted response or ask you to email a help ticket? Are there things in the game that just make absolutely no sense whatsoever within the context of the game story?
I am sure you can come up with a lot more questions in this line of thinking…how much role-playing is there really in MMORPGs. Have they simply become glorified hack and slash games with ever growing FPS/PvP elements and less emphasis (or even total lack of inclusion) on the social and role-playing elements?
The fact is that the MMO industry is not growing very fast, and in some cases not at all. When a new game comes out, the majority of players migrate from other MMOs. Nearly all of the marketing for the new title is targeted at existing gamers, very little is spent on appealing to the mass market, or growing the industry. How many “new” gamers have you met in the last six months?
Anyway, it is nearly impossible to get an accurate number of the market size. People have multiple accounts in multiple games, and the marketing/money people tend to count each account as one individual person (including old and inactive accounts).
Start looking around at MMO marketing, news, related blogs, etc. You will find that most of it is targeted at and caters to gamers. Even worse, when something gets airtime on CNN, it is always presented as some strange and wonderful thing that only geeks partake in, like some sort of native mating ritual that is mystical in nature, but is certainly a sign of the future. I get ill when I think about the mass media talking about online games.
This one really gives me the willies, and I don’t mean the good kind. Others have commented on this, and I feel like I should mention it again. The game industry is setting, establishing, and reinforcing expectations with young gamers. In a very short-sighted way, games are increasingly designed for people with very short attention spans. They have less depth and substance; it is assumed that gamers aren’t smart enough for sophistication or complexity; consequences for a variety of actions are minimized (the sting of death is trivial in a lot of games now); risks are diminished and rewards are increased (you too can own the +100 mega sword of death by clicking this button here!); and the list goes on.
Basically, games are being created for 2nd graders. New gamers are getting used to this, and they freak out if you hand them a manual, or say “learning curve”. Again, publishers and developers are completely missing the boat here. I remember when people said that Eve Online had a “really high learning curve” and was destined to flop. “It is too complicated and too niche” they said. Funny how that all worked out eh?
I used to like reading Dr. Seuss books when I was a child. These days I’d rather cuddle up to a real book that sucks me in, makes me think, and blows my mind. I’d bet there are a lot of gamers out there that have gotten fed up with the simple tripe we are getting fed these days, and long for the golden age of games that required a notepad or a journal to get through (how many of you played Myst through the end?).
I want games with complexity, depth, substance, and a rich tapestry of story. I want to interact with the environment and influence things. If the end goal of an MMO is simply to level and collect loot (seriously, name some MMOs that can’t be simplified into that mechanic), then it is missing the point of what an MMO is, or should be.
I’ll write more later. This is a busy week for me, I’m in the process of moving, and my plans for world domination are undergoing a rewrite, so I’ve got that to deal with as well.
Ciao for now.