It’s Time To Take These Old MMO Games Out Back And Shoot Them

It’s Time To Take These Old MMO Games Out Back And Shoot Them

From the disappointment over The Elder Scrolls Online to the steep decline in subscriber numbers for Star Wars: Old Republic, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: the time of the traditional MMO is drawing to an end.

It’s not done. There are still 10 million people playing World of Warcraft, for example, and millions more playing titles such as Lord of the Rings Online. But on the whole, it’s a dying genre, a product of a time in gaming that’s come and gone, and upon which we’ll one day look back on and say…boy, aren’t we glad they don’t make games like that anymore.

To be clear: I’ve always hated MMO games. From Everquest, whose addictive tendencies tore apart my one and only online community experience (an X-Wing clan, of all things) to World of Warcraft to everything that came along and tried to beat World of Warcraft, they seemed like the absolute antithesis of everything I found enjoyable in a video game experience.

Veteran designer Warren Spector, whose credits include Deus Ex and System Shock, puts it best when he said in this 2007 interview “I’m one of those people who doesn’t find anything interesting at all in levelling up, finding a +3 sword or paper-dolling a character with a purple cloak. That doesn’t appeal to me in any way as a human being. Put that all together and the play experience of MMOs is on par with roleplaying back in ‘87.”

From cooldowns to instances to collecting 10 of anything, most MMOs were, and still are, chores dressed up in the livery of a fictional universe. Aside from the basics of exploration and the lure of collecting loot and levelling up, there’s been only one thing keeping people playing them, and stopping them from realising there’s little difference between the banality of their daily grind to that of, say, a Farmville player.

That’s the community aspect, and I’ll concede this, if you went down that rabbit hole, I’m sure the social experience was a blast. World of Warcraft has done so well not necessarily because of its mechanics but because of its accessible and enjoyable lore, which keeps people invested in the game’s universe long after the appeal of the gameplay has worn off.

The same goes for EVE Online, a game whose real-world approach to economics and politics means it can be a nasty place to hang out in, but at the same time a fascinating one. Ask an EVE player what keeps them coming back and they won’t say mining or trading, they’ll say its the context those actions are given by EVE’s wonderful fiction.

You can say most MMOs fail because they fail to match the appeal or longevity of those fictions, sure, but I think in 2012 that’s only part of the problem, as even the strongest fiction can eventually wear out its welcome. The more important thing causing this decline, I think, is that people are sick of playing the same damn games over and over again.

Everquest was released in the 20th century. World of Warcraft came out in 2004. Yet when Old Republic, the most expensive MMO of all time, hit shelves in late 2011, it was structured…almost exactly the same as World of Warcraft. Joel’s great post on that game last year sums up my own thoughts on that crushing disappointment: in seven years, and with the most popular fictional universe on planet Earth as a hook, the best BioWare could do was copy WoW?

It’s a sentiment many other people obviously share, because in only a few short months the game’s subscriber base has dropped by around 25%. And while its decline is far from as dramatic, World of Warcraft has also been steadily shedding players over the past year. Other traditional MMO games in recent years have either died off or been forced to adopt a “free to play” model (which admittedly in some cases has been a success for developers!)

And who can blame them? There’s only so many times you can grind, click and level your way through the same basic structure before it gets boring. The reaction to The Elder Scrolls Online’s reveal last week only hammered this home. Going by people’s comments not only here but across the web, it seemed people were very disappointed that such a successful singleplayer RPG would, for its online debut, revert back to tired old design ideas rather than try something new.

They didn’t want to play World of Warcraft with Elder Scrolls skins. They wanted to play an Elder Scrolls game against human beings. Whether that’s technically feasible or not (hint: it’s not) isn’t the point. The point is Zenimax could have tried something, anything differently, and it would probably have been received more positively.

This insistence on using established MMO tropes rather than attempting genuine innovation in the genre has long amazed me. It’s as though publishers and developers looked at World of Warcraft’s subscriber base and thought, wow, that game had 10-15 million players, we should get in on that action.

Um, no. How about thinking of a way to get the hundreds of millions of people who don’t play MMO titles interested in the genre? I’m no game designer, so it’s not like I’m sitting on the perfect answer, but surely there are hints to be found in the way non-MMO games are structured that could point them in the right direction?

Games like Red Dead Redemption, ArmA and even Mount & Blade can show, in different ways, how large worlds and/or large numbers of players can co-exist on the same server and provide fresh gaming experiences that don’t simply revolve around clicking until you collect eight goat’s tails.

Upcoming games like Tera and Guild Wars II are even better reference points: both MMOs in that they’re designed to be played by large groups of people, but both offering radical departures from Everquest and WoW’s tired old formula, most appealing of which is Tera’s use of actual combat, which is enough to get me excited despite my track-record with the genre.

People walking away in large numbers from a Star Wars game and reacting indifferently, even negatively, to a new Elder Scrolls title are about as clear a sign as developers and publishers are going to get that hey, it’s 2012, we’re all getting a little tired of playing the same old MMO. It might be time for everyone to try something else for a change. Something new.


    • He sorta took a piece of paper and a pen with him to the loo instead of a shovel this morning. 😛
      Not that I hate Luke’s usual articles.

    • Hey Cheesus, you do realise that Plunket’s articles are syndicated from the US Kotaku site? & that he will never see your comments here?

      If you really feel strongly about it, why dont you pop on over to the US site & post your thoughts there?
      heres a link to the site to make it easy for you

      but I’m pretty sure you wont put your money where your mouth is so to speak. coz like every other troll / whiner / attention seeker on the net, you dont have the balls to say it where your subject will see it.

      • It’s more to get these shitty posts removed from the AU Kotaku where they don’t belong, the US one can keep their shit but here in the AU of S we actually enjoy a good read.

        • If you want to get them removed, why don’t you apply for a job at kotaku? Or have you already been shutdown for being an immature tool?

          • Because they are shitty irrelevant articles. If I wanted to read this shit I would go back to 4chan or reddit. I won’t apply for a job at Kotaku because it’s pretty clear I would be working with a bunch of people who can’t even write a decent-to-read article.

          • Why is it irrelevant?

            Kotaku is a games site. This is an opinion piece about MMOs which happen to be a game.

          • Notice how I said “articles” which in turn brings the implication that I’m not JUST talking about this article here but every post he has and will make.

          • But why are you talking about it in this article.

            This is one of the better articles I have read on Kotaku, and as an ex mmo player I happen to agree with him.

            I don’t think they will ever go away entirely, but games like WoW are great fun, and then they become tired and boring and then when you try other mmo’s you realise that the whole genre is tired and boring and you go and play single player games and get much more enjoyment from them.

          • Yeah it explains that whilst being a congregation of trolls, perverts and theives at least we know decent writing when we see it. This is not decent writing and so I shall pay Luke Plunkett out until they a) remove his Plunkett’s Turd’s (TM) posts or b) Sack the useless excuse for a writer.

          • In that statement you used the term “we” meaning that you are a head or spokesperson for the conglomerate of 4chan.

            Anyone smell that………*sniff**sniff*….Smells like newfag in here.

        • well if thats the case, clicking on Luke’s articles & commenting on them is pretty counter-productive coz clicks + comments = success for an article = more articles posted.

          so why dont you not click on them?

          • Because I enjoy reading shit. Just not on Kotaku or when written by a douchebag writer-wannabe called Luke Plunkett.

          • point still stands. you dont like Luke’s articles coz they arent up to your shitty standards, so dont click on em.
            unless your boring, tedious & inane hateful rants are less about having an actual opinion & more about trolling / attention seeking.

        • Hey I like Luke’s articles – cuz he goes out there and he plays every game! I’d prefer they stay on the AU site.

    • Relax. There are more constructive things you can do with your time. People are not really going to take you seriously when they see you making the same posts over and over again in every article this dude posts.
      It is clearly stated who the author is before you click on the article. I suggest using this as a guide to help you remedy your experience with Kotaku.

      • No, but occasionally someone says something so astronomically stupid that it’s actually a violation of the UN’s Human Rights Charter to expose other people to it. Mark is not censoring you because he really cares, he’s trying to stay out of prison.

  • Would’t all/most MMOs see a loss in players after the first few months, once those who only stick around for the first 30 days are gone? I’d like to see a comparison to other MMOs, would be interesting to see if this many people leaving is rather drastic for an MMO or not.

      • Can Luke even MAKE a point? I read the entire thing and I’m starting to think if they are even proofread..

        • He summarised his feelings in the title, but from what I gather you don’t read them or you take offence to them when they killed your parents (but not in a Batman way) or something.

          • So basically Luke should just write the title, leave the rest blank to make a point? I like that, but I would still find a way to tell him he is a useless writer.

          • Or, since apparently Luke’s titles don’t make sense, leave them blank, leave the content blank, post the blank article, and then you can complain about his lack of writing and be totally justified in your criticism!
            Everybody wins!

          • Just ignore the guy – he’s clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed and just another worthless troll.

          • Clearly your not the sharpest tool in the shed if your assuming I’m a guy. Douche.

          • Personally I hope you don’t have any reproductive organs, regardless of gender.

          • Your name is based off of a male person and you have given no other hints to your gender. I think it’s a fairly reasonable assumption.

          • How do you know Cheesus is a male? Who gives you the right to assume that I’m a male?

          • I just answered your questions. It’s a reasonable assumption, given the fact that your name is a pun based on a male historical figure. Also, I wasn’t aware we needed to be given the right to make educated guesses.

          • “…you have their douchebag.”

            Gross. Whose douchebag does ‘ben’ have? I think he should return it immediately. He’s being so inconsiderate. I’m very disappointed in you, ben.

          • I’m well aware.
            But just as he has every right to post his opinion on Luke’s work, I have every right to mock him for his blind hatred.

          • You’re the only one I have actually ever hugged properly!
            Super best friends!

    • it is drastic, not in the sense that it’s never happened before, but in the sense that all the other games that this has happened to before are now all either lifeless or had to switch to F2P

  • I’m with Luke on this one.
    I’m not a huge fan of MMO’s. Never have been.
    Played a little of WoW which was ok i gues, and spent a couple of months in Warhammer Online purely because i’m a warhammer fanboy andthe RvR/PvP was pretty damned good.

    Other than that, i’m kinda over seeing studio churn out MMO after MMO, especially when they think they can make a quick buck on it just because it’s a popular franchise, without actually providing any inovation…

    • Guild Wars was flipping awesome; I think they need to just create MMO’s now that are intended to be F2P from the beginning, not hastily adapted. Like, I still want a Pokemon MMO with the exact same payment method as Guild Wars (The base game is Kanto. You can then buy each other region as a standalone expansion pack/sequel without needing to buy Kanto).

    • As a friend of mine once put it “MMOs are games for people who aren’t good at games”. I’ve tried MMOs when the theme suited me (Champions, DC Universe, etc), but they all had the same issue: No gameplay. The best part of them is always the costume creator.

    • Do we really need to kill them? There’s a huge market for them, and the games themselves really aren’t that bad. It’s like hating on Justin Beiber; yes, he may be a shocking singer to you, but people like him. Your tastes shouldn’t dictate the world’s.

      Except in the case of Firefly. That should never have been cancelled.

  • both offering radical departures from Everquest and WoW’s tired old formula

    Except that they don’t. TERA is a WoW 2.0-style questing veneer over a bog-standard Korean-style MMO. The combat system it has is the only thing that sets it apart. It does a damn good job at doing that, but it’s not a ‘radical departure’. The underlying game is the same, your interaction with it is simply more dynamic. Guild Wars 2 is the same. It’s got the whole dynamic world going on, but the actual core minute-to-minute gameplay experience is just as tired and old-fashioned as SWTOR .

    Penny Arcade said it best when it suggested that SWTOR, TERA and GW2 each have a piece of the Triforce. If you combined their strengths together you’d have an amazing game. But it would probably cost an insane amount to develop.

    Blizzard’s next MMO will be pretty interesting – if they can incorporate some of these ideas it could be amazing. They’re not really good at coming up with new ideas, but Blizzard are fantastic at looking at the breadth of games in the same market, picking the best ideas and adding a hell of a lot of polish to them. They’re the company I see as most likely to be responsible for the next big shift in MMO design.

    • I agree with you here.

      I’ve been a rabid fan of GW & GW2 since basically release of the first game.

      I was lucky enough with closed beta for GW2 and then with the last beta weekend to get a serious amount of time into it.

      Its a really good game and a fresh take on the genre, yet I can’t help but feel its still sort of the same. I’ve not played Tera (the graphics turned me off) but from what I’ve seen its very similar to GW2 – though perhaps a bit more reactive & dynamic regarding combat)

      Penny arcade’s comment hits the mark. SWTOR was fun, it just got old/stale quickly and lacked any features that would have made me choose it over wow.

    • Maybe the combat is the only thing that needs to stand out right now. I could rant for days about everything wrong with the genre but ultimately a game with good gameplay needs to get in the spotlight and make it very clear that there are a lot of people who don’t like World of Warcraft-like combat.

      I don’t think Tera will solve all the problems but I do think a game like Tera does a much better job of making that case when the combat is the only major redeeming feature. There’s no other way to read the interest in Tera. There’s no major league IP backing it, there’s nothing very gripping about the world or advertising campaign, there’s no full voice acting or any other hooks. It’s got a lot of attention and even if it flops the message is still getting through to the MMORPG industry loud and clear: there is an audience out there that isn’t satisfied with current MMO standards and they’re a lot easier to reach than the massively invested WoW crowd (after all, they’re hyped up to play a ‘bog-standard Korean-style MMO’).

  • If we look at the actual gameplay of a typical MMO, there are really 2 distinct parts:
    First, there is the city hub where you go to buy and sell items, pick up quests, and arrange parties with other players.
    Second, there is the actual combat, either solo or with your party. A party will generally be between 4 and 30 players.

    Now, we have many real-time action-orientated games (FPS, Brawler, RTS) played on servers with 30+ people. Even Counter Strike had that. So, why not just have a separate server for the hub (which supports massive amounts of players at once), and a series of servers for the combat (which only support 1 party).

    You get the best of both worlds.

  • So what you’re essentially saying is: “Stop liking things I don’t like!”. It’s almost as if different people have different tastes…

    • Really? It feels more of a “I don’t like this and it needs to change!”.
      I’d feel like an article saying “These are the problems with MMORPGs, yet the fact you keep subscribing to the same old MMORPG gives them no reason to change the formula, leading to stagnation” is more of a “Stop liking things I don’t like!”.
      It’s certainly harshly worded at times, but he doesn’t really blame the average player at any point.

      • To expand somewhat, he is saying “I don’t like this and it needs to change!… and I don’t care if anyone else is ok with it because I don’t like it so the entire genre needs to be done away with instead of adding something different to the mix because it is not possible for there to be multiple different types of games in existence at the same time.”

  • Usually Luke’s longer articles are good, and he does write some impressive ones (which is part of what incites the rage at some of the copypasted tripe), but this is not a good article. The whole point of the article was to highlight that a new wave of MMO’s, that differ from the tired old traditional ones, are coming, but, in the whole article, he never says anything about what makes them different, other than a short bit about Tera’s new combat. Even worse, he admits that he doesn’t like the genre. Why do I want to read his thoughts when he’s already made up his mind (again, with no justification)? As Neg-0 pointed out above, a new combat scheme can hardly be called a ‘radical departure’, especially when none of his complaints relate to the combat of ‘traditional’ MMOs. This article is about 10x the length of his normal posts, and says even less than them. How disappointing.

    Length =/= good article.

  • He says people are sick of the same format and want something fresh. This is why writers don’t tend to use the words “the people want” because you don’t speak for them unless you have a massive survey. Given the success of COD and WOW and the very fact that the Elder Scrolls have done tons of marketing before getting to this point and still decided to use the same old mmo model really does seem to say different….having said that I don’t like mmos either, but out there in the real world innovation isn’t valued as much as he thinks or I’d like. Some fuckhead with an acoustic and a sob story will still sell records and that was out of date in the early 60s

  • For a moment there MMOs were becoming the new FPS, everybody wanted to make one, simply put there aren’t enough people to around for all of them to be successful :P, I honestly don’t see TESO doing very well either. The market has way too many MMOs

  • What is wrong with half the writers at kotaku. MMO games are amazing because they tend to give an amazing enviroment to explore, unlimited amount of content like WoW and the constant development of the character that has become a small part of your life. To sit there and say MMO games are dying is stupid considering how much the market is growing. Especially since blizzard are making another MMO.
    Sounds like kotaku are not about stating opinions but more trying tbash these thoughts into our heads. MMO games are a social hub like fcebook but with just gameplay.

    I can understand why people dont like MMO games but this guy writing the article sounds like he has come from an american gaming site.

    But if you like MMO games then dont ever look at or play the elder scrolls or fallout or any other rpg games cause they are MMO Games but with the online. And trust me, when Blizzard release there long awaited new MMO, I can guarentee the MMO Market to skyrocket again.

    By the way alot of MMO games in the past yearhave been crap(star wars)

    • This was a bad article, but I get the feeling you merely read the headline and skipped on down here. You’ve attacked entirely the wrong parts of it.

      “To sit there and say MMO games are dying is stupid considering how much the market is growing.”

      He never says MMO’s are dying. He’s saying that traditional MMO’s (grind, quest, level) are giving way to MMO’s with new concepts to bring to the table. As for the MMO market GROWING? I don’t think so. Players are shuffling from MMO to MMO trying to find the game to light their proverbial fire. The MMO market is unquestionably stagnant at the moment.

      “I can understand why people dont like MMO games but this guy writing the article sounds like he has come from an american gaming site.”

      Kotaku IS, first and foremost, an American OTAKU (Anime, Gaming, really anything geek culture) site. Since Tracey left, Mark is the only one contributing regular articles to this site from Kotaku Australia. Funnily enough, Luke is an Australian, but he works and writes directly for Kotaku US.

      “But if you like MMO games….”
      He does not. He clearly implies that he’s had negative experiences with the genre, the clearest failure of this article is the fact that he already doesn’t like MMO’s and makes that plain to see. It destroys all his journalistic credibility to write a piece of this nature.

      “By the way alot of MMO games in the past yearhave been crap(star wars)”

      You’ve made the same mistake that Luke has. You say it’s “crap”, but you do not explain why it’s crap, or how it could be better than it is. Any specific failings, or is it a game you have merely chosen to dislike?

  • How hard is it really? Sandbox MMO is the way. Give people an open world with little restrictions. Put an interesting combat system that doesnt involve mashing speed keys in a rotation perhaps something more like EQ1. Put a crafting system in like SWG before they screwed it, let people build houses and cities and add a side of minecraft in there and Booya, you got yourself a decent MMO.

    All this quest hub to quest hub crap that is way to easy and batshit boring is what killed the genre for me. Why would I want to do exactly the same thing as everyone else? Hell most of the time the only levels are any any different are the first 10 noob levels then everyone is doing the same boring crap.

    People these days want Sandbox games. A bit of freedom. Give people the tools to do that and it will be game on.

    • I agree in many ways. I remember the first MMO I played (Asheron’s Call) and how totally amazing it felt. There wasn’t anything really telling me what to do, but at the time that added a sense of awe and wonder to it. I decided I’d find my way to a town, where I started talking to people and off we went hunting and exploring low level dungeons. I didn’t even realise what was happening when my character was leveling up because the world and players I was interacting with drew me in to the point that nothing else much seemed important. I wasn’t following the same boring quest lines and seemingly linear advancement path as almost every other player before me, like in most newer MMOs.

      I might be biased, but I’m really hoping for some new Sandbox MMO(s) which create an awesome environment for FFA PvP, letting players drive politics and interesting changes. I’m yet to find an experience like the early years of the Asheron’s Call PvP server with all the guild fighting over towns, dungeons etc. and the whole player driven RPKs (Random Player Killers) vs the Anti-RPKs. EVE Online is really tempting me, but I’m not sure if I want to make the commitment, as the learning curve seems very steep and seems like it requires a heavy time investment before getting to the meat of it.

      • Nick I just want to say that EVE Online learning curve isn’t as steep as you think. Things have changed in EVE in the past couple of years to make it more accessible to jump into the game and enjoy it.

        It’s a good time to be in EVE at the moment.

  • It’s funny, I was only just thinking, I wouldn’t mind trying to get into an MMO. I have literately just downloaded a heap to try out. The biggest thing that has put me off MMO’s is the P2P system. I’ve always been a fan of F2P. It can only mean good things for developers IMO to offer F2P or even ‘lite’ versions to try things out. I wouldn’t have even played Rift or DC Universe if they weren’t F2p now – and I like both of them. I am getting GW2 whenever it comes out, of which I played the beta recently and it was fun. I also recently acquired a trial key for Tera and I really like that too, but again I still have to make the decision on whether I ‘commit’ to these paid titles. Especially when games like Diablo 3/Torchlight 2/Krater etc are coming (also ever other great title coming out this year! These games/RPG’s will offer many many hours for similar enjoyments etc.

    • Err but Rift isn’t F2P? You still have your 15 bucks per month for a sub, I don’t see where you’re coming from here.

      It states right here that there is a monthly subscription fee for Rift…

      I remember when I played Rift I couldn’t stand more than half an hour in the starter zone as a Rogue it just felt too much like World of Warcraft, even some of the quests resembled starter zone quests in WoW.. If a game wants to get my attention it needs to do better than to copy & alter what it’s competition has.

    • Err but Rift isn’t F2P? You still have your 15 bucks per month for a sub, I don’t see where you’re coming from here. It states right here that there is a monthly subscription fee for Rift…

  • More sandbox games (ala EVE) would be amazing. That game has so much depth…

    its also exceedingly complex which is a bit of a put-off. as is the skill up time taking literally months

  • This article TBH is rubbish, not because of the facts he pointed out aren’t true is more to do with the person who wrote it and some of his other posts.

    So he wants to take all these MMO’s out the back and shoot them yet one of his follow up posts is about a run of the mill FPS (Mount and Blade) that he likes, the only thing which really distinguishes it from really any other FPS is the high numbers of players in any one war field. Graphically is looks extremely out-dated almost like it actually came from the era that it’s based in. We should be seeing a new rant about taking all these old FPs games out the back and shooting them, as none of the FPS’s that have came out in the last 5-6 years could be said as re-defining the Genre.

    I admit I’m a MMO player but I was before then, an FPS player (Still am). I started off in MMO’s playing Anarchy online then moving onto WoW, tried some F2P MMO’s as well as AoC, Warhammer online and now SWTOR and Tera, with the last 2 i am playing at the same time they both bring something to the table when it comes to the genre. SWTOR with its great story telling, Tera with its combat system. But at the end of the day it comes down to personal preference on what genre of game you are going to enjoy the most.

    Unfortunately for most Genre’s of video games there isn’t going to be a massive re-defining element, the only thing that is going to change is the graphics and then there will be a point where they’re so realistic you won’t be able to tell the difference too real life.

    Effectively this article is one mans opinion that should be taken with a grain of salt, and just that ONE MANS OPINION!

  • I have no idea why developers keep churning out nowhere MMOs. World of Warcraft captured lightning in a bottle. Ever since then we’ve had to put up with MMO after MMO failing miserably. A few have managed to stick around but there must have been so many failures for every game that has made a little money that I wonder why so many companies are still eager to invest in the genre.

    I noticed with Kingdoms of Amalur that they switched gears from an MMO to a single player game, which was smart. They’re still allegedly planning an MMO. We’ll see. An MMO with Amalur-style combat might be fun… for a little while.

  • Mmorpg have only just started. The problem is all the mmo developers are doing is making everquest clones. Like those who believe everquest would never succeed needing a online connection and gpu so now do mmo investers not believe a mmo can last with high quality graphics and complex gameplay. The very aspects they need to intrigue potential customers.

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