Friday, June 27, 2008

What is the next trend in MMO development?

We all know that this year's offering of new MMOs have all had a heavier PvP focus then earlier games. This was due to several factors, but the rising popularity of "fair" PvP systems like World of Warcraft's battlegrounds probably had a influence. Now before I get anyone saying how unbalanced the battlegrounds and arenas really are, look at previous MMOs. They mostly had strict penalties for losing and had no sort of organization for balancing sides. Human beings are usually smart enough to avoid fighting unless they believe they have the advantage and this translated into PvP combat.

Thus for the longest time PvP stayed in the realm of niche games as it was seen as an activity for only greifers and gankers. However, this year's games seem determined to make PvP accessible to the casual player and are succeeding. Still that begs the question what's next for the evolution of MMOs? In my opinion I think its time to break the stranglehold that fantasy has on the MMO genre, but are developers willing to take the risk? We've seen some nice breakaway attempts in sci-fi over the years, but nothing that could beat even classic EverQuest in subscription numbers.

The truth of the matter is that MMO design has been heavily influenced by the two most successful games in the genre's history. The first five years saw Everquest dominate the western market with almost 500k subscribers and then hand the torch off to World of Warcraft. It's interesting to note that the best performing non-fantasy games; EVE and COH came out in the time period between this hand off. One has to wonder if World of Warcraft hadn't been as successful if we would have seen more non-fantasy games?

Whatever influence the success of WoW has on game studios, it looks we are finally getting some new non-fantasy blood. Next year we have a line-up of at least four sci-fi/superhero games with maybe some surprises yet to be announced. The most well known and complete of the new games are Stargate Worlds and Champions Online which might come out in the first half of 2009, but you know MMO release dates. The next three I want to mention are Huxley, DC Universe, and Jumpgate Evolution. We know considerably less details on these games, but there's at least enough activity that we can be assured they're not vaporware.

Even further in the future we have the rumored Star Trek and Knights of the Old Republic Online. Both games haven't officially been announced yet, but crazy fans have tracked enough hints and rumors on the Internet that the games are most likely real. We'll be seeing more non-fantasy games in the next few years then we've seen over the entire history of MMO genre. Developers have finally realized that sticking with the same type of generic fantasy setting is creating a "King of the Mountain" effect. The most well established fantasy MMO seems to have an advantage over any new game in the same setting. I'm not a big believer in the WoW clone theory, but there is a reason why most players return to WoW after trying out a new game.

Therefore based on what I've been seeing I'm inclined to think that breaking out of the fantasy setting will be the next big trend in MMOs. I'll be even further convinced if Blizzard announces a new MMO this weekend and its not fantasy based.

3 comments:

Zelmor said...

Maybe it is not the generic fantasy setting developers should try breaking away from, but the old targeting-skill using combat, focusing on a more FPS/TPS like no-targeting and friendly fire capable mechanic. I, personally, await more information on Darkfall, as the mechanics amentioned above are on the list the developers would like to achieve. We'll see. Also, the EVE-style "losing everything you had on board" death is something that would really put a mean to play the crafting-trading game in Darkfall, as they plan to make death drop all your items and inventory, lootable by anyone, including nearby humanoid monsters. Sounds more intuitive and revolutionary to me than all arr wee arr and public quest blabla mythic representatives burp into the ears of fanboys.

Openedge1 said...

@zelmor

We have seen there is a clamor for the more FPS/action based MMO (AoC's combat is a step in the right direction...not perfect but definitely more fun that the standard fare)
Huxley is suppose to follow this format. Think Halo/Unreal MMO. Just wish it would progress beyond alpha. Huxley has been mentioned since the release of the Xbox 360.
Darkfall also sounds like a winner. Just wish it would stop feeling like vaporware.
Luckily I read this from May 23rd
Darkfall Update
At least we may actually see some progress this year....maybe.
But, if the current games are any indicator, we may see stale gameplay for many years to come.
With people not willing to support the differences of AoC, and WAR looking like a WoW clone with DAoC goodness thrown in.
I just do not see much hope...
(PS: I REALLY want SG Worlds to succeed, but if every other IP based MMO is any indication, they will probably play it safe, and call it a day...boo!)

Relmstein said...

On the sci-fi shooter front if you want to take a look at a unique game check out Blackstar. It's a MMO shooter that switches back and forth between avatar and space ship combat.

NCSoft recently dropped out of publishing it, but that was mostly because of their own budget problems. All signs point to the studio finding another publisher and moving forward with the game.