For those that don’t know, MMO stands for Massively Multiplayer Online. For the most part, it refers to a video game played in a persistent world, housed on a server somewhere, that dozens, hundreds, thousands of people log in and out of and interact with the world and each other. They can be fantasy, sci-fi, horror, you name it. With combat and crafting and world building and everything else they can think to add in to keep people spending money.
And for the most part, they all suck.
I’ve been playing these types of games nearly since the beginning. I was not a MUDer (I’m not explaining that one, look it up). I didn’t play Ultima Online. But I did log in on day one of Everquest, the game that is pretty much agreed upon to be the beginning of the modern MMO revolution. I could list my pedigree of other MMOs played, but that could be an entire blog post in and of itself. Suffice it to say, if you’ve heard of it, I’ve probably played it. And many that you haven’t, too. I’ve beta tested many of them as well, and been invited to beta test more that I didn’t bother to log in.
I’m no longer a “hardcore gamer”. (Another term you can look up if necessary.) I used to be, but I grew up. I do believe that life choice, like that of athletes, is one for the young. I have responsibilities and passions outside the world of ones and zeros these days and I like them. I still like my forays into imaginary worlds where I can do and be something and someone else, but I like to come back home too.
Now you know where I’m coming from. To the heart of the matter!
MMOs, as I said, suck. They didn’t used to. They used to be challenging, creative and immersive. They aren’t anymore. Publishers and developers have pandered to the lowest common denominator for too long. It has made them money, in the short run, but is now beginning its long, dark slide into oblivion. I have a theory on why. But you probably guessed that. It’s a multi-part theory, but from the title of the post, you probably guessed that too. So, Part 1:
MMOs are too easy.
Oh yeah, way too easy. Games like World of Warcraft have popularized the “Theme Park” style of MMO where you might as well be following those stretchy barriers through the Pirates of the Caribbean, oohing and ahhing as you pass by the pretty sights, occasionally swinging your sword or casting a spell, (my metaphor is wandering) while steadily gaining levels until you reach the cap. Exploration is discouraged, please stay off the grass, keep moving forward.
This appeals to many, because with very little effort they quickly get shiny new weapons and armor with huge shoulderpads and fancy hats. Plus fancy spells and powers that make pretty lights as things (unimportant who or what these things are) shudder and die. Its low-risk, low-effort, seemingly high-reward that makes you the center of attention. The entire world has been waiting for you to come along and save it (on a pre-determined path). Pay no attention to the guy behind you waiting for you to move on so he can save the damsel. Or the guy in front of you who just saved the damsel that will inexplicably be imperiled again just in time for you to save her. All of that is unimportant. Just keep moving forward.
If this is so appealing, why is it failing? The publishers and developers have created an unsustainable product cycle. They can not create as fast as the players can consume. They get outpaced, the players get annoyed, they drop the game. If the game company doesn’t innovate, give them something genuinely new, they can’t hang on to the players. But wait, it can’t be too new! If it’s too new and different, the fickle player base will complain because they now have to think and learn new things and they drop the game claiming it has been ruined.
That’s what happens when you create a product for the bottom. You get the bottom. The bottom isn’t something you want controlling your income. But it was easy and it made you money, for about a decade. Now things are turning ugly. Surprise, surprise.