Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lack of Innovation in MMORPG Design

In the world of massively multiplayer games, one thing is becoming clear: There are too many of them. Worse yet, the genre is stagnating instead of innovating as developers routinely copy successful formulas from other games. Considering how EverQuest is one the most popular and successful massively multiplayer online role playing games, it is going to be the most widely imitated. We can already see the impact this has had in the games we play today.
The Problem:
It’s far easier and less risky to just copy someone else’s successful idea than to think up your own. In an industry where games aren’t considered viable unless they have thousands of players, large game companies aren’t going to bother with things like “creativity” or “innovation”. As a result, we’re stuck with hundreds of new EverQuest clones (some by very reputable companies) instead of a truly unique gaming experience. Apparently, smaller companies don’t have this problem. Creative games like “Second Life” and “A Tale in the Desert” are truly unique. However, they are targeted to a much smaller market than the mainstream games and unfortunately go largely unnoticed by the gaming population.
The Ghost of Christmas Future:
Similar things have happened to the game industry in the past and the results weren’t pretty. In the late seventies and early eighties everyone was hooked on Atari fever. The Atari 2600 sold more games than any home console ever (and that record still stands.) This was great for Atari, but bad for industry because as soon as Atari’s success started leaking into large corporations more interested in a quick buck than a quality game, things started to take a turn for the worse. Those large corporations didn’t know anything about creativity or fun and instead relied upon the successes of other game designs to create their own (absolutely horrible) iteration. All of a sudden, you couldn’t buy a good game for Atari because there weren’t any. Every game was either a knock off of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, or... Pac-Man. The plague that was started by a stark lack of creativity reached its apex in 1983 when mothers, fathers, sons and daughters all stopped buying games – for any console. The result was a massive and stunning video game market crash which took Intellivision, Coleco, and countless others to their premature graves. Atari survived, but a only as shadow of its former self. This can happen to massively multiplayer games too. How many more years will people continue to play EverQuest? Sure, game companies might name it something else. They might change the visuals, sounds, and quests… but you will still be playing EverQuest.
The Solution:
Before the massively multiplayer market becomes one giant EverQuest amoeba, some things need to change. For one, developers need to stop cannibalizing each others’ ideas and think up their own completely original solution. Another aspect that would speed up the recovery would be a completely new and original game (if there any out there) that was also widely commercially successful. Of course, this would just start a new cycle of knock offs, but at least for a time it would be as interesting and engaging as the early massively multiplayer days were -- When a game was truly an original work of art. EverQuest, Asheron’s Call or Ultima Online anyone?
No matter what game you decide to play you can always find the means to enhance your gaming experience at VanGogh's Power-Gamers RPG Vault.

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