Tag Archives: MMORPG

The Last Days of the MMORPG

Only now, at what feels like the conclusion of more than a decade of Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Gaming am I starting to get a sense of how strange and grand these games really are. Watching their inexorable decline makes me think of the elves of Middle Earth preparing for their journey west. In some ways, I feel like we never really understood their mysteries.

Wow. So geeky.Shipples

I’m not saying we don’t understand how these games work. Quite the contrary. Creating “the one chosen hero” and then grinding levels while making friends with all the other chosen heroes is old hat.

I mean to say that where these games fit in our lives is still an evolving question. A question that gaming companies have lost quite of bit a money attempting to answer.

One of the most interesting modern examples is where The Elder Scrolls Online comes in. With a rumored budget of $200,000,000 (sometimes you need to write out all the zeroes) the game is quite possibly the last attempt a game studio will make at a AAA MMORPG. During TESO beta testing before the April launch, I gave  the game a whirl. After my excursions in the newest iteration of Tamriel, I was left with one question. Will this be the biggest gaming disaster of 2014?

More importantly, is this the last roar of the genre?

Yes, there will still be other MMOs in one form or another, but I don’t think they’ll be massive the way we’ve understood it. At its height, World of Warcraft had somewhere between 10 and 12 million subscribers paying them $15 a month. That’s a truly insane amount of money. So much regular cash, in fact, that WoW spawned satellite industries. At one point, thanks to resource farming, WoW gold was worth more in US dollars than the Mexican peso. Even today it has a better exchange rate than some world currencies.

And since that wild, and completely unforeseen success, challenger after challenger after challenger has attempted to be the “WoW killer.” But in the 10 years that WoW has dominated the market not a single game has come close to topping it’s player base.

The cards are stacked against TESO.

I had the opportunity to give the game a try, and I think I walked away with some valuable lessons. In theory this game could operate a lot like Skyrim, but with other players. The graphics are almost on par with Skyrim and, to the game’s credit, it is quite beautiful. And at the end of the day, Skyrim is a whole lot like a single-player MMO. You get quests from individual NPCs  and then you go out and complete them. So you should get all the stuff you loved with Skyrim while enjoying the company of many other players.

And I think Zenimax is playing it that way. The voice cast for the game is positively ridiculous for any game, much less an MMO.

I mean, come on! John Cleese? Kate Beckinsale? Those are some serious guns for MMO dialogue, which we can expect only a portion of the players to get if they are faction specific.

But TESO still feels like an MMO. And all the MMOs since WoW have had one key problem: they are all basically WoW. Having button bars on the bottom of the screen and grinding quests through different zones is something we’ve seen before. It feels like the same game I’ve played before, with a different skin. As a matter of fact, most MMOs I’ve played, with the exception of EVE, have felt like variations on the same game.

And that’s really what I’m getting at. I’m not looking to snipe TESO. Honestly, I haven’t even kept track of the game’s success since its launch. But I do wonder if this massive investment in cash signifies a change in the dynamic.

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An Open Letter To Bethesda About Elder Scrolls Online

Dear Bethesda,

I’m worried about you.

For some reason you bought into the great MMO myth and now travel a road littered with the broken bodies of game developers. It wasn’t that long ago that 38 Studios imploded while trying to fund an MMO. And how about Star Wars: The Old Republic? It was supposed to be huge less than a year ago, and now it’s going free to play.

It feels like a new flavor is out every other month. Do you remember when Tera was the next big thing? Is anyone even playing The Secret World? I’m just saying they got Ali Larter (or a reasonable facsimile) to be on their cover. Meanwhile, Lord Of The Rings Online and Warhammer Online are waiting in the wings for anyone who wants cliched fantasy gaming.

Here’s what I’m getting at. I love you. We all do. Your immersive Elder Scrolls and Fallout games have taken many an hour that should have been devoted to earning money or just generally trying to better my life. That’s why you need to know that an MMO is a risky proposition, and you’re probably doing it wrong.

We keep saying that the MMO bubble has burst. Lagging sales in even World Of Warcraft are a sign that the MMO market is saturated, and that we need a better game.

I’ve been checking out your Elder Scrolls Online page, and it doesn’t look great. And remember how the reception for your E3 preview went? Yeah, you’ve got some stuff here and there that makes me think of Skyrim, but you can’t win me over with pretty dressing. Halo 4 is coming out soon and your shit needs to be tight.

I’m not even sure this letter is going to the right place. Zenimax Online is developing your product for you and, as far as I can tell, none of those folks have ever actually worked on an Elder Scrolls game before.

And they maybe don’t have a lot of fresh ideas either.

I noticed they’re going with the factions-as-determined-by-race idea. WoW really did pioneer this with their Horde/Alliance motif, but it’s dated. Distilling the most stereotypical features of your races while plugging them into unlikely alliances to fight each other and a common enemy has been done. It’s how every MMO with PvP factions operates.

And it feels like the safe choice. It worked for WoW, so you hope it works for you. But the safe choice won’t save you. It couldn’t save f###ing Star Wars!

Your lore is getting sloppy too. I noticed that the Khajiit are now proud, hardy warriors at the front lines of their faction. Anyone who’s ever played any Elder Scrolls game knows they are all sneak thieves and merchants! All of them. If you are playing a Khajiit in Skyrim (as I chose to do), all your cousins are assholes, and you’re fantastic with a bow.

To someone reading this letter, they might think that cutting corners on the lore doesn’t matter. It’s totally straight geekery anyway! Who cares!?

But you and I know better. We know that you’re cheating on your own artistic integrity because you need the symmetry to create another cliched PvP dynamic.

But you can’t win here. We buy your games because of the immersive RPG experience and the desire to have a devastating impact on our digital environment. You can’t bring us that with the old-hat MMO pony every other developer has carted out.

To be sure, there are a few sparks of potential. You’re doing combat without cool-downs, which is probably going to make it feel more like Skyrim, but come on! You’re telling me the emphasis is on dodging and parrying? Skyrim/Fallout has two strategies: Either trade blows until one of you is dead or run and shoot.

And the Mega-server thing could be pretty cool too, but given how many people we can actually expect to play the game we may not care. Star Wars: TOR has well under a million players, and it has been one of the most successful MMO’s of the last few years. I guess that’s speculation though.

Here’s what it comes down to. I play your games because I can create a character story. Not to grind. Not to run the same dungeon over and over again. Where is my story in this? Why should I play this over any other giant calculator with cleavage-y elves?

So please, for all your fans out there, turn away from this path. And if you can’t do that, since you’ve invested millions of dollars and promised a game to the world, try to make it all new. Changing a few of the standard MMO options will not make this a success.


Every RPG Fan Ever

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A Better Class of MMO [Rocking the Boat]

John wrote an article yesterday about his disappointment with the current World of Warcraft. I agree with all of his points, but I thought I would take it a step further and talk about the kind of MMO I would want to play. As I was thinking about it, I came up with this formula.

Mass Effect’s character creation + Skyrim’s open world and skills + Minecraft’s building and crafting + EVE’s approach to PvP and economy + Some other stuff + World of Warcraft  = A game that I would throw all my money at for a chance to play.

Curt Schilling, if you’re reading this, and this was what Project Copernicus was going to be,  I am sad for you.

Mass Effect’s Character Creation:

Besides being very customizable, Mass Effect has you answer some basic questions about your character. I’d love to see this affect the game in different ways. I also hope that it would encourage a little more role playing from the people playing the game. I miss having roleplaying in MMORPGs. Large scale RPing would be amazing.

Image: PC Mag.com

Skyrim’s Skill System

Skyrim has a rich, open world for you to explore. Put this into an MMORPG and make it even bigger. Let me pick my own skills rather than be shoehorned into a class. Maybe instead of being a warrior, I want to be a simple woodcutter and carpenter (this ties into my next point). I don’t mind a framework that I could work from, but I hate being forced into one of three roles with my class. Instead, I want to play the game my way, unbalanced or not.

Minecraft’s Building and Crafting:

Azeroth has a problem. Everything is only related to war and making war. You can only build things that have to do with war. I, however, want to stake out claims on land. Build some buildings. Mine some stone. Cut down and replant some trees. Pick herbs and make potions/medicines for various effects. I don’t want to just be a warrior destroying things; I want to be able to create.  And this just doesn’t go for building either.

I want to be able to make my own weapons and armor. I want them to be customizable, I want them to look the way I want. And give them the effects that I’ve learned. I want to sell them and be awesome. This brings me to…

EVE’s Economy and PvP:

A player driven-economy. Let people buy and sell anything and everything. Let people found their own towns, corporations, cities, guilds. Let the player’s recruit new people and send them out on missions.  Yes, this could lead to imbalance. I don’t care. I have no problems living in an unbalanced world. Factions will rise and fall. People will band together and people will betray each other.

Imagine having to hire a high-level body guard. He’d watch your back. Go out and assassinate rivals for you. And you paid him a set amount of money per month… so long as he stayed above a certain level.

Yes, did I mention? PvP and death have consequences. They don’t have to be big consequences, but a small loss of XP and dropping everything on you is fair, in my opinion. We played MUDs like that for a long time… and instead of whining about it, we decided to get better. To play sneakier. To be aware of our surroundings. This would also force you to manage your resources well. Put your money in banks… and other safe havens…. but you might want to buy insurance… since banks can be robbed and safes can be broken into. It all depends on how the players decide to build things. It could be magnificent.

Want to be a dark lord? Do it.

Other Stuff:

I like the idea of capturing random mobs and drafting them into a faction’s army. You could then send this army to attack other factions. The army limit would be based on the cumulative power level of the mobs, and the size of the faction you run. This could replace high level content/dungeons/instances with what is essentially a strategy war game. Coordinate your NPC mobs with the PCs in your faction. Take over your opponents city. Rebuild it in your image.


I’m not worried about game balance here… I think the free game market (with certain restrictions) could actually balance out play. Things could get ugly for you… but things could also be awesome. You could run a faction. You could lose everything.

Or you could just build a house in a town or in the middle of nowhere, and just farm, log, or frolic in the grasses.

You get to play your way. With hundreds of others.

Where can I deposit my money to play this?

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