26 Sep 2011

MMOs: Heading in Three Directions

One of the allegations I often hear thrown at the MMO genre is that it’s become stale and generic, with newer games rushing out to mimic the most common or popular features instead of innovating and looking at new ways to progress the genre.

Over the weekend a group of us headed out to the Eurogamer Expo to have a look at the latest developments in MMO gaming. Although a couple of titles such as RIFT and World of Tanks had been out for some time, we also got the chance to take a look at three upcoming games: End of Nations, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2.

Through the presentations I saw and the discussions I had with developers, one thing became quickly apparent – all three games have a different focus in how they hope to appeal to MMO gamers. It’s clear that the days of identikit MMOs are numbered, with each of these games hoping to push the genre in a different direction.

Kicking off with Star Wars: The Old Republic it’s been clear for a long time that the focus for this game is in the story and narrative presented to players. This was reinforced at the Bioware developer session, when the two doctors emphasised that their focus for all their games is on delivering a good quality story. With the sheer quantity of recorded audio and the “Knights of the Old Republic” parentage, the direction for SWTOR is unsurprising.

On the flipside, Guild Wars 2 is aiming for a strong social experience, providing players with the ability to play together quickly and easily. Features such as being able to join multiple guilds allow players to affiliate themselves with many different circles of friends. The dynamic grouping tool is also interesting – if players work together to complete an objective they don’t even need to be in the same group to get a reward from it.

Finally there was End of Nations, an MMORTS being put together by RIFT-makers Trion. With this game the focus is around strategy, allowing players to team up to form teams that have an overall strategy of play. Instead of a player selecting a race or faction and having access to all the units that faction has. you’re restricted to a loadout of ten units. By forcing players to make hard choices and form plans together, the theory is that they bond through a shared strategy.

In the end, it’s likely that all three of these games will do well at launch, but I’m interested in which focus will generate long-term appeal. Whether a solid story, an all-embracing social game or deep layers of strategy will keep players in the game is currently uncertain.

I’ll be writing more about the expo over the coming week. If you’re interested in hearing more about how we all got on at the Eurogamer Expo, check out our companion podcast Obscurecast over the next couple of weeks.

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11 Responses to MMOs: Heading in Three Directions

  1. Mynsc says:

    I don’t see the story approach having success in the long term. MMOs and singleplayer RPGs have way less things in common than what Bioware seems to think.

    As far as I can tell, their plan is to have the story as the main focus of the game and then add around it the old used up mechanics like raids and standard battlegrounds. While this will probably help them achieve moderate success, I really doubt it will place SW:TOR in a commanding position over the next few years post-launch.

    I can’t talk about End of Nations since I haven’t read up on the game that much, but GW2’s approach is way more wise than SW:TOR’s. I really do see it as the dominant game in the years to come, together with WoW of course.
    Mynsc recently posted..Top 5 Titan clues so far.My Profile

    • Rollmeister says:

      It’s actually not a bad strategy, if you think about it. All they need to do is get you involved enough to invest heavily in a character, then you will stay for a long period of time. If you consider WoW, the reason lots of people don’t leave, or go back, is because of the amount of time and effort they’ve put into their characters. Personally, it won’t hold for me, but I can see it being very successful. If people associate with their character, they will keep playing!

  2. Oestrus says:

    I think one thing that needs to be considered more, regarding MMO’s, is the definition of a game doing “well” and what “well” means. Like someone said on a podcast that I was guest hosting on last night, World of Warcraft is an anomaly. Any game that is able to even accomplish a portion of what World of Warcraft has could be considered a success. I think it would be unrealistic to hold any new game that comes out to such a high standard, in terms of revenue and sheer amount of subscribers.

    Hopefully, these three games (and even others) are given the chance to make mistakes and learn from them and are not judged purely in comparison to World of Warcraft. I think a game can do “well” in a number of ways.
    Oestrus recently posted..OutpouringMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      Indeed. I was asked today what game would kill WoW. I said that none would, that it would just fade away by degrees.

      I think that although Warcraft set a benchmark, it’ll no longer be the yardstick by which others are judged. Instead, it’ll be a look at if games are profitable long term, are they growing or shrinking and so on.

  3. Longasc says:

    The tight knit communities and guilds of EQ and UO seem to be a thing of the past. They are still there but the mainstream is different nowadays.

    My observation shows it’s either gaming clans that play game after game together or playing with buddies and nobody else or virtually alone, the common solo player. This is also why many dungeons and raids have become so “casualized”, they are made so that also groups of strangers can cooperate and win.

    GW2 and its multi-guild system seems to cater to rather loose and casual ties and I wonder if this will hit a nerve. The difficulty of the game and the “event” system seems low and the dungeons have the by now usual “normal” and “hard” modes. A group that did Naxxramas before WotLK was more hindered by real life constraints than the super low difficulty of the new Naxx entry raid in WotLK.

    I think key to WoW’s success was bringing in the solo gamers and non-gamers who didn’t play a MMO before and turning them into gamers. Plus the secret recipe, the success of WoW is despite all the many things they did right and are praised for still a bit a miracle or anomaly as one commentor just said above.
    SWTOR has a better chance to drag in new players than GW2 due to the name and franchise but will it have the cultural impact and success that WoW had?

    I personally think the ever same DIKU MUD is not going to do it, so I hope for GW2. The story tacked on top of SWTOR is such a strong single player approach that its success would basically show that MMOs in the sense of cooperation and maybe even the near extinct roleplaying are for a minority and the bulk is indeed rather solo players waiting for content served to them.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I have my own feeling of Star Wars. People will play it for a few months, but then they’ll move on once the content is finished. And the only other game in town is Guild Wars 2.

      I think that the multiple social groups will work in the game’s favour – you can be in your hardcore raiding guild but still group up and play with your friends, or affiliate yourself with a roleplay guild. In many respects it means players aren’t forced to make a social choice, which is great. You’ll still get close knit cultural groups, but you’ll also have a ton of smaller subgroups around it.

  4. Promcheg says:

    Actually, what we are missing lately, are sandbox games. Not in the term, what they do not provide a guidance to players. But in the term, what they do allow players to play the game the way they like it and with whom/against they like it. Games which gives you needed tools to fight with and against other players, games which creates a reason for such a fight. I am not talking about some direct rewards (like abstract points), but more subtle one. Like fighting for control over parts of the game world itself and it’s resources. And not only in the small part of a virtual world, but literally everywhere.

    All those sterile worlds with no conflicts, or artificial separation in 2 “opposing” factions, where people forced to work together with others who they often literally despise. Yes, sometimes you meet people in your faction, who you not only do not understand, but also learned to “hate”, because of their agenda/interests you do not share, but still you have to rely on them to have fun from a game. (latest example Aion). And no, it is not a harsh sentiment. We are talking about interaction with other human beings here, so “hate” even softened by a fact being only in virtual world, still is something very natural and real.

    So no, i do not agree with the author. There is no social aspect in GW2, since huge part of possible social interaction -conflicts- isn’t possible at all. Same as it is with SWtoR, which is completely ignoring the premise -conflicts between good and evil- and forcing any interaction between them into sterile environment of an arena. Just imagine how cool it would be if you start a game not as a part of a sith/jedi faction, but earn you alignment by interaction with other players and your actions inside the game world itself. Don’t know anything about “End of Nations”, so will not comment on it.

    And honestly, a different approach in the way players do progress in the game, do not make those games very different. It’s just a technicality.

    • Gazimoff says:

      That’s a really interesting point. A lot of time, conflict is seen in a negative way. You’re looking at it from a different angle, where conflict is part of developing your character. It’s not something I’ve seen a good example of outside Eve, but it’s a very interesting concept.

      Maybe what we need is a heavy Dark-souls style game where life is harsh and brutal, where there are no factions outside player-made guilds and alliances, and where anyone can attack anyone. It would be grim and bloody, but I bet there’s a ton of veteran players who would jump for it.

  5. Jamin says:

    Hmm.. Very interesting.

    In fact, I’m glad to see MMO’s developing enough to move away from the ‘safe-zone’ as I like to call it. This ‘zone’ is just relying on already existing layouts and concepts i.e. WoW.

    Looking forward to seeing what will come out on top!

    – Jamin