Thursday, February 18, 2010

MMORPGs: The Evolutionary Dead End

Brian "Psychochild" Green, in a thoughtful post (MMOs Change Over Time) on his blog, asks the question: Do you enjoy your favorite MMORPG more or less because of the changes that have been applied to it?

Unhappily, my MMORPG experiences since EQ have led me to precisely the opposite conclusion: as a gamer, I’m just not interested in playing any of these games any more because my perception is that they have ceased to change in any meaningful way.

I find it terrifically frustrating to consider the fact that these games, as forms of virtual worlds, could be about anything... and yet the best that their designers today can do is to copy the mechanics that have become conventions of the genre. I recently helped beta test an online game based on a well-known IP, and I was shocked to see that many of the mechanics, far from being designed fresh to fit the IP, were not merely copied from existing MMORPGs -- they were actually called by exactly the same names: root, buff, aggro. But this game’s designers are not alone in seeming to believe that these arbitrary mechanics have become non-negotiable requirements that simply have to be copied wholesale into the core design. So does everyone else.

Even at the next level up, every MMORPG designer seems obsessively fixated on delivering only one kind of entertainment experience: kill mobs and take their stuff. Ask today’s typical MMORPG player to define “MMORPG,” and that’s how they’ll describe the whole genre: combat and loot.

Change? What change?

When I see game after game aping their predecessors (while ads proclaim them to be “revolutionary”), and then think about the possibilities of MMORPG play that are bounded only by human imagination... yes. It’s infuriating.

Why are so many designers willing to put up with such limits to creative expression?

Why are so many gamers willing to tolerate such an unnecessary lack of choice in entertainment experiences?

From my perspective, the problem with MMORPGs is not that there is too much change -- it’s that the genre has already gone into creative rigor mortis long before its time. Whatever changes we perceive are merely various stages of decay and rot.

At this point I’m about ready to declare that monolithic MMORPGs are the shambling dead, and that social games on networks like FaceBook will soon rule the Earth as our new overlords.

Is there any cause to think I’m wrong in that forecast? Is there any hope for the MMORPG?

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