Each year I go to E3 and each year I am dismayed in various ways. I used to harbour resentment at the vast expense in creating noise and spectacle for essentially two important clients; the Walmart buyers, and the press, but I’ve relaxed on that front. If you need to throw $5M away to impress these important folks, so be it. In past years I would roll my eyes at yet more beat-em-ups or platformers or other expensive console games that all looked the same, of which only a few would have a snowball’s chance of success. Whatebbs. I confidently expect the console and retail business to be completely disrupted over the next ten years, to the point of anihilation or complete transformation for the dinosaurs walking the halls of E3.
This year I had a somewhat new experience; that of seeing 10+ brand-new MMORPGs that were all pretty much indistinguishable from one another. Each one of these projects has a budget of $10M+. Each one has incredible graphics with a swanky engine. The characters are beautifully modelled, high-fantasy and often anthropomorphic. Yes, Tiger-Man, you look very cool with that battleaxe. Each one has the same user interface of incomprehensible panels of tiny text and flaming icons. Although I’m sure they are all designed by smart folks to have their own intricate and unique details, each has apparently the same basic gameplay, down to the same ‘-20′ bling bling hit points that pop up over the poor hapless goblin/frogluk/lionwing/krog/alien lizard thing as you pummel it into glittering transluscent fade-away.
This is madness. For all their high production values, I feel that none of these new games looked as good as WoW. All the fanboys were still crowded around Burning Crusade. Maybe the overspill and churn from a 2.5M subscriber business (discounting Chinese subscribers, that are worth ~10% of US/EU/Korea) is worth scrapping over, but is it auspicious and wise to all bring exactly the same weapon to the fight?
I went through my requisite couple of years addiction to goblin-whacking on Essex MUD in 1982, and I’ve never managed to get excited about levelling much in the modern age of MMOs. Perhaps I am missing out. Perhaps I don’t understand the beauty and distinctiveness of each of these games — I will readily admit that I’m not as immersed in these games as I could be. But I maintain that this level of investment in what appears to be me-too design is foolish. Even Webzen’s WIKI, which looks kawaii and fun, is all about wacking clowns with swords.
Please, if you can get the check for $XX Million to make an gigantic MMO, do something different. Perhaps it’s not possible; often it seems that only fantasy games succeed, but at least you’ll be able to say that you tried. You might just hit it big and reach outside of the existing, heavily-exposed and saturated demographic to find a nice juicy new audience just ready to experience MMO fun.
There’s a thousand flowers still to bloom in the MMO space. Let us please start planting something other than whack-a-goblin RPGs.