Most Typical Member

Prototype theory holds that we conceptualize through categories in which some members are more central than others. If I ask you to name a piece of furniture, you are quite likely to come back with “chair,” “table,” or “sofa”; if you immediately thought “armoire” or “ottoman,” you are weird; if you went with “Charles, or Susan if it’s a girl,” you are very weird. If you asked an American for the best example of a bird, the most bird-like bird around, you will get far more robins than penguins and almost no emus.

The usual concept of a western MMO seems clearly descended from DikuMUD, through EQ and terminating in WoW. I would tend to insert DAoC in there, sometimes described as “EQ without the parts that suck,” but I may be atypical. Perhaps I am uncreative, but I do not see much more room for the Diku model to evolve. It has reached its full flower in WoW. You can have refinements and variations (-raids, +PvP, +story, -classes, +Tolkien, -fantasy, +F2P), to say nothing of lousy clones, but it will take something massive to change the view of the most typical member. There is a lot of room (and money) in WoW’s orbit, but if you do not want to be (seen as) conceptually subordinate, you need to head a good distance away.

We have some less typical members, most notably EVE Online. You all know how I love to pull out “here is how City of Heroes solved that problem,” or how I mix a dozen niche games into my bloviations. These can be annoying in the MMO blogosphere when commenters contribute them independently, not in the sense of “here is an alternate way of implementing that” but rather “your entire argument is invalid because it does not apply to my game (or playstyle).” It is as if you were complaining about birds pooing on your car, only to have a passerby disdainfully remark that there are not any penguins in the area and they could not have flown over your car anyway. Well, no, that is not what I meant by “birds,” but thank you for contributing.

The archetypal example may not be displaced by a better example. I describe Torchlight as out-Diabloing Diablo (for the single-player experience), rather than referring to Diablo as an early example of a Torchlight-style game. (I think of Diablo II as the most typical member there; is that what most of us mean by “Diablo”?) Amusingly, the “most typical member” need not have ever existed. You probably picture some central tendency of a robin rather than a particular bird you once saw. You may think of Dracula as your most typical vampire, but while he never sparkled, he could walk in sunlight; see also Igor and brain-eating zombies. Because Halloween is coming.

: Zubon

11 thoughts on “Most Typical Member”

  1. I agree that the DIKU has evolved as far as it could. WoW’s basic design has become almost synonymous with the term MMORPG. Not necessarily a good thing, it spawned a flood of clones that could not hold a candle.

    The problem seems more to be to come up with something else & players accepting the new system. And actually daring to do that.

    Someone once told me DIKU is like the wheel. Oh my. Then I will apparently have to wait several thousand years for alternatives to become more popular, if ever.

  2. I’m honestly baffled that more MMO devs don’t play in the blue ocean spaces. It seems like smart business to me.

    MMORPGs have vast untapped potential, methinketh, and MMOs as a larger genre even more. Odd, I think, that so many are content to play in the typical spaces.

  3. It isn’t limited to MMOs. How can you innovate FPS? The last huge one was limiting you to two weapons and a recharging shield.

    Tesh mentions the blue ocean, but the Wii showed the failure of that. Wii Sports=WoW. Everything else failed, really. And the mood is copying Wii sports, not innovating.

    I don’t know what the future will be. I think we are just going to see more net games and less MMOs. Why bother making a MMO when a bad PS3 game like Vindictus can add a cash shop and make more money?

    1. In fairness, everything I’ve tried other than Wii Sports that used the Wiimote kind of sucked. :p More gimmicky than innovative so far.

  4. Zubon, recently your posts have had this “resigned, matter-of-fact” aura to them. I think that kind of reflects the market in general. Sounds like you’ve seen more than you ever wanted to of MMO cloning and the diminishing returns of what the industry is producing.

    I think the necessary changes (or more like total reevaluation) to MMOs will happen in a smaller game first, probably not in a major “blockbuster” title. Then the concept will be copied and spread. So I’m excited to see what will happen in the next few years. Stale as it may be there will come a time for massive change.

    Also your name means “pants” in Japanese.

      1. “What shall we do when we have no pants?”

        Ah, the age old question of the philosophers.

  5. I think Blizzard guaranteed their domination of the DIKU MMO market in more ways than we seem to examine. We always focus on the refinement and simplification of all the rough edged masterpieces that preceded it, and I agree that they’ve pushed the model further than anyone, but they also set a new standard for the development cost of a Triple-A title. Ever since, most new MMO’s have come with such a ludicrous budget that there is no way they could stay financially afloat by copying (or even slightly improving) the WoW model.

    Thus devs are left in a situation where they already have to spend a tremendous amount of money to just match the current successful model, so any venturing into the unknown would just add to that cost and increase the impact of (seemingly inevitable) failure.

    From our perspective it seems like such an easy choice to try something new, but the business reality -both in development cost and in risk of stepping away from a proven model- is not so cut and dry. At the end of the day it boils down to the bottomline.

    Honestly, our community’s best bet is to start a massive open source community project like wikipedia with the goal of building an MMO for and by the players. Sounds naive, I know, but I’m sure the idea of Wikipedia sounded unbelievable when it was proposed.

  6. There’s innovation and there’s iteration. If the DikuMUD MMO has evolved as far as as it can, perhaps we can forget about worrying whether new MMOs are innovative and focus on whether they are good.

    I’m always interested in innovation, but I’m also more than happy to get additional high-quality versions of things I already know I like.

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