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.
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
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.