Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is "Innovation" dying in the MMO genre

Lets think about this. Where can MMO's go now. How can an MMO be "innovated" past the original mechanics.
Tabula Rasa tried with using non skill based shooting. AoC tried with wild swing combat and realtime combo mashers.
But, the rest of those games still have kill 10 x quests, go here to get this book, take a message to this guy, etc.

I got started on this when I read about Jumpgate today on Kotaku.

As stated on the report...

What Needs Improvement?
It's STILL an MMO: A fetch-quest in space is the same as a fetch-quest in Azeroth; kill so many X, and bring me this many Y. I understand there's a need for basic monotonous quests to grind with in order to upgrade ships, characters, mounts, etc. But couldn't the "why I need you to bring me rat-butts" expository text be more interesting? Maybe then I'll actually read it before clicking through it with that glazed look in my eye.

And so, it goes. And guess what...the rest of this years offerings are all the same thing.

So, I have to ask, am I comfortable with these meager options. Are you?
Yes, we still all play these games. No matter how much I wanted to give up on them, I still went back. But, I at least made a conscious decision to make sure something was different.
So, are the little changes enough to keep this genre going? What could the developer possibly change to bring about the next wave of MMO's that are unique?
FPS's on consoles have done it...but slowly. RTS's, well still the same with some small innovations (or are they changes now because innovation requires more massive changes...ARGH!)

Anyways, it looks like I am not alone in thinking maybe a total sea change is not possible...
Elder Game has a post about "Innovation or History?" Where he calls out Tobold (who is also discussing this issue)...

"He (Tobold)seems pleased that the developers of both Darkfall and Age of Conan tried to do something new with combat, but notes that the lack of targeting in Darkfall especially doesn’t do the game any real favors because it is too easy to exploit."

He then goes on to say..

"But now that Age of Conan and Darkfall are doing it, untargeted combat is considered “innovation”."

Is it? Or just a minor change to a same old mechanic. All I know is thanks to AoC's semi-real time combat system, I cannot go back to the old ways, no matter how much I try. Was this enough of a change in the genre to motivate other companies to follow suit and try to change the Press 1, Refresh, Press 2, Refresh combat?

And if they do, is that not an innovation of the genre? I guess maybe we need to state these are just evolutions.

Maybe the genre cannot innovate...maybe it does not know how.


brenda said...

Spellborn also changes this up. But I don't think it is the wave of the future.

Like the other games mentioned, combat becomes far faster and more frantic, but it's still just a way to empty the health bar of your target.

The question is, how difficult do you want it to be to empty your enemy's health bar?

What if there WERE no health bar? That's the kind of question that could change MMO combat, not whether or not it's real time, or auto target lock, or whatever.

Openedge1 said...

And the fact Spellborn, though being "different" in combat, still has a supposed multitude of kill 10 x and fetch quests to make your eyes water.

What could really be considered innovative? Maybe a new genre? (Like World of Darkness or Secret World with their Horror Survival bent)...or a change to HOW questing is done based on challenges and not how many critters you can kill for XP. Maybe a system of "accomplishments" to equal a level.

Not sure...

Aisha Ko said...

Great topic! I know that you've focused on combat mechanics, but I'd like to see more innovation in larger-scale game design.

With Darkfall coming out this week, the word 'sandbox' is being thrown around alot. But like many discussions of Darkfall, people are ignoring what that word can mean for great mmo design.

I'll admit I'm a huge fan of Eve. But what I love about the game is the ways people can approach it. Sure, tons of people just do missions, or mine, or go out to 0.0 to pvp. But there are some great corps in that game that really are INNOVATIVE.

There's the whole secondary market of IPO's, bonds and banks. While people can point to the scams, there are honest people looking to provide a meta-service. There are drug dealers who do the hard work of manufacturing drugs, smuggling it past the NPC customs agents, making deals with individuals, corps, and alliances.

I want a game where I can honestly ask myself, "What do you want to do?" The answer I come up with ought to be possible in a good mmo .. it may not be easy or profitable .. but a good idea contributes to the vitality of the community.

Scott said...

My idea of a sandbox is there's so much to do that I have to really think about what I want to do.

Unfortunately most MMO sandboxes have been empty shells of games with very little to do and I'm supposed to "bring my own fun." Sorry, but the point of me shelling out dollars is that I'm buying some fun. If I'm bringing my own fun, then I should get paid for it.

How do we solve Kill Ten Rats quests? Or Fetch quests? I keep hearing how awesome Fallout 3 is but guess what? Aside from starting out slow and boring me to tears, I've been doing Fetch and Kill Ten Rats. The Kotaku article complained about the text being boring so he just clicked through. That's common in every MMO I've played, except LOTRO. I find the quest text there entertaining so I read it even if I don't really care about the NPC's life or drama or whatever. However, as well-written as I think they might be, they're only good the first time. Repeating them with an alt = click through.

I can't help but make a funny look when the same players who complain about KTR quests are the ones who'd just rather go out and kill a few hundred rats on their own. So? Do it. Joe NPC is just offering some additional compensation for the first ten...

Openedge1 said...

Good points Aisha
I disagree on Darkfall as it just seems to be a step back, and UN-innovates the genre. But, EvE really brought a new concept into the gameplay, too bad it already is getting it's own clone (Jumpgate).
The thought of the more open world syystem could be an innovator though.
Brenda has also mentioned this. User created content may be key.
Imagine for example one player wants materials to make a shield. Then that player could post on a bulletin board in the local town how they wish to have an adventurer gather these mats...
As players compete to get these mats, they get the XP from kills, and then who ever turns in the items first gets the big reward..

Stuff like that..kinda like our own D&D game where anyone can be a dungeon master...lol.

Ah well. For now, 2009 is going to be a stale year..wonder what is down the road?

Anonymous said...

As Eric@Elder Game says, innovation in itself does equal fun.
Many newer MMOs tackle combat mechanics in a different way, but that does not mean that the game itself will be a success or much more fun.

The question if MMO game companies can innovate is not so much an issue as "can they bring refreshing and interesting games to existing _and_ new audiences"?

Openedge1 said...


And there is the rub. How do you bring in NEW players while satisfying old players?
It is a tough road ahead, as most of the original conventions have been played out for MMO vets (in my opinion).
Of course, I like a certain style of game, and as long as that style is fun, I will always come back...but it needs to have something that I have NOT done before...
Do others agree? Or will you play another game that is exactly like the old game?

Scott said...

Just to clarify, JGE (and JGC before it) is *not* an EVE clone, it's more a Freelancer/Privateer clone only massively multiplayer. Apples and Oranges to EVE's gameplay.

I don't know that a blanket "innovation" (meaning "the genre" as a whole moves with each single innovation, at which point it's standard not innovative) is needed as much as I'd like studios to just make their own individual games. Practically every MMO plays the same. WASD to move, TAB to lock onto a target, press/click hotbars for combat. Move icons around a grid for inventory management. That's why I'm pretty much done with the whole thing. I'm not chasing every new shiny anymore; AoC and especially WAR broke me of that. I've chosen LOTRO as my official traditional DikuMMO and while I may tour others occasionally, I have turned in my MMO Hopper badge. There's just no point when I'm just doing the exact same thing every damned time.

Tesh said...

Battleforge looks interesting on the RTS front.

Puzzle Quest was a very fun mishmash of genres, and PQ: Galactrix looks to be even better.

I tend to think that MMO innovation will have to start taking some radical steps, all the way from the baseline assumptions about business models to the assumption that combat and levels (the DIKU DNA) is the core of an MMO. We've seen a lot of "meeee too" game design from those who covet Blizzard's balance sheet, but precious little in the way of carving out a new niche.

I'm actually not interested in making an MMO to steal WoW's lunch, so I'm not interested in copying their methodology. I want to find new people and those who would rather not play WoW. I think that's the only way to expand the genre and build a business in WoW's shadow.

jeff said...

IMO well start to see innovation when all the F2P mmos coming out mimic the subscription based ones so well that gamers will no longer feel obligated to pay Sony and Blizzard $15/mo.

Openedge1 said...


That my friend is a good comment...
Hope it happens quickly

Tesh said...

Runes of Magic is off to a decent start, if Saylah is any indication.

jeff said...

Yes Runes does look good! And Wizard 101 sounds great. I can attest to Atlantica online bringing some cool play to the table. And look how many people signed up for AoC and WAR - there still is a huge audience for the old and familiar.

Openedge - "It is a tough road ahead, as most of the original conventions have been played out for MMO vets (in my opinion)."

Thats a very good point. Still I imagine if someone came out with something that offered the immersion of Lotro, the crafting of EQ2, the PvP of WAR, the charm and humor of WoW - it would generate a huge audience (i'd be one), all w/o really changing the EQ/mud mechanic.

So since there is money to be made , I doubt the big guys will venture too far from the formula. That leaves it up to the little guys. Go go indy devs!

Openedge1 said...

the immersion of Lotro

Uh sorry, LOTRO has NO IMMERSION...so as long as the game adds immersion unlike LOTRO...then I will be happy.