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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