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Did we give up on the “next-gen” MMO?

Think back with me a couple of years. Do you remember hearing this term? “Next-Gen,” a phrase that even to the ear rings of progression and advancement. The first time I heard it used was in relation to Vanguard. People were excited, because it set out to push the industry into another era of MMORPGs.

Yet, after that, the cries for a “next-gen” MMO seemed to fade. You’d hear the term used now and again, usually on job applications from big game studios. But players seemed to have given up the ghost. Now, there’s little talk of generations at all, except to reference how archaic games like Everquest were.

I see the industry now as being in a point of stagnation. That’s not to say that the games being produced and played around the world aren’t a lot of fun. They are, and we find ourselves here talking about them, when so many other things clamor for our attention.

But, look at the features list of most major games and you’ll see what really amounts to a deck of cards. Each game has its own hand, combining features x, y, and z in their own order. In WAR, it’s RvR and a low numbered PvE. In WoW, you have a Full House of raiding, battlegrounds, and fluff content. LotRO adds instanced story quests into the mix, EVE and STO space.

The point is, the current generation seems to be taking the same cards and reshuffling them to give us different flavors of the same deck. Even the new games coming out, like SWTOR, aren’t adding a whole lot that’s really new. They’re just stacking the deck.

So what happened? We’ve moved from aspirations of true advancement, taking the industry to new places, to being content with the slowest of progressions, waiting years in between even modicums of what the “us” of two, three years ago would have accepted as movement. It’s slow, a progressive mutation similar to what Gordon talked about, except what’s mutating isn’t any one game, but, rather, the glossy sheen of each card we’ve come to know in the last years.

Our last big hope for next-gen?

Our last big hope for next-gen?

The truth is, I think we’ve scared off the people who would’ve brought us the changes we so desperately used to desire. The failures of the risk takers, (failures we were unwilling to accept on whole when WoW and EQ2 and LotRO were always an option) showed the investors that innovation is an equal to loss. You don’t take risks in the MMO world, unless someone else took it first. And then, my friends, we find ourselves with a purple ace of spades instead of black.

I don’t bring this up to tear the MMO industry down. The games that have come and gone have served their purpose and are gone for a reason. But, it’s such a dynamic shift in our fundamental philosophy of what an MMORPG is

Blizzards next-gen MMO?

Blizzard's next-gen MMO?

and can be that it bears some reflection. Without risk, there’s no reward. The paradox, unfortunately, is that for most investors, development risk is no reward. And where do we go from there?

The people doing things different are the little indie companies like Aventurine and Icarus Studios. These are the guys that will take the baby steps into changing what it is an MMO can accomplish.

That is, unless Blizzard does it first.

Because they’re the only company with a big enough safety net to take the risks necessary to make investors feel safe again. Their next MMO very well may meet what we would’ve considered “next-gen” more than any of the games that have come out since the release of World of Warcraft.

Simply because, they can where other people can’t.

As it stands now, the slow progression of MMOs is leading towards accessibility and in-and-out game play. If that’s the case, the “next-gen” may well be the decline of the classical MMO.

Sad? Maybe. But, the truth is, either way there’s going to be a lot of fun to be had. Our expectations may have changed in the realm of development but surely not fun. Right?

And as long as games are being made that are entertaining, noteworthy, and suck me in whenever I feel like being sucked in, I’ll still be an MMO player.

It makes me wonder though, how many other things have changed that we don’t even think about? We know there’s more than this and I’m interested to reflect on the changing face of our community more as the years go on.

Happy Monday!

4 comments

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  1. Blue Kae

    I think the gaming industry is now in a similar position to the movie industry. AAA games and movies are so expensive that the companies that produce them are no longer willing to take any major risks. It is the independent developers and film makers who are still free to experiment, and any successes are sure to get picked up by the major players in expansions/sequels.

  2. We Fly Spitfires

    Blue Kae used an analogy I’m quite fond off (MMORPG development = Hollywood) and I totally agree with him. The issue is that because WoW made so much money, companies assume that it’s the only recipe for success and thus don’t want to try new things out. They no longer want to take big risks on developments (mutations) but would rather just mate together existing ideas into a more-or-less duplicate product.

    I think until companies realise that WoW was success because it was good – not because of any particular combination of events – they won’t want to experiment.

    Personally I’m sad that we lost a lot of the large scale vision and ambition that the MMO industry had a few years ago.

  3. heartlessgamer

    1. Blizzard has that large safety net because they haven’t taken risks up to this point. Example: Starcraft Ghost was going to be a risk and they knew it probably wasn’t going to work out, so they shelved it.

    2. WoW is really the last Blizzard game that had any of the original Blizzard masterminds involved, so it will be interesting to see what they do going forward. Especially with Activision involved.

    3. Generations don’t just fall into place with a single game. It takes many games and many incremental improvements, most of which no one ever talks about. Just chart from EQ/UO to WoW and you will see a ton of games that lead up to WoW. However, the ONLY games people talk about are WoW and EQ, ignoring the plethora of games that truly lead to WoW.

    4. Yes, a lot of people have given up on the “next gen” MMOG because they don’t have the patience to wait out the slow process of improvement. As in #3, they want to ignore the steps it takes to get there and just want the next big game to hit.

  4. Jake N.

    I believe that some MMOs have tried to move to the next generation, take for example the combat of Age of Conan. But the problem, i believe, lies on the countless releases of MMOs that don’t give anything new other than they own IP/story. Designers play it safe, because they are businesses ordering them.

    From what i read the renowned Blizzard’s new MMO is going to take some risks, but by aiming for the casual audience i think they won’t deliver mind blowing experience.

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