My fellow gamers: we gather here in mourning at the death of our friend the Massively Multiplayer Online genre. And though we are very thankful to the millions of dollars Bioware spent in order to keep the genre on life support, in the end, the MMO could not survive under the crushing weight of its own bloated hubris.
We fondly remember the MMO as our secret meeting place, our virtual sojourn, or even the online extensions of our most lucid dreams. In these realms, we were warrior Kings and Queens. We could do magic and craft beer and share these things with our online friends. The very first MMOs challenged us to do the impossible and punished us if we chose the wrong path that lead – for example – to a hill full of raging Orcs. We learned to take the correct path next time; no map was ever needed or wanted. Developers back then knew that it was these sorts of challenges that made the rewards all the more sweet. Yes my friends, those were the halcyon days, but as you know it was not always to be.
The heart of what makes any multiplayer game enjoyable is the ability to share the adventure with your friends. Crawling through a dungeon with your best mates with only each other to watch your back, knowing that to do otherwise meant your party would surely perish. Combined with a wistful storyline told by a pragmatic Dungeon Master ratcheting up the tension were elements to a perfect group gaming experience. This is the game that many of us long to return to. Ultima Online and Everquest, were close in that they tied risk of failure to the luck of the dice roll and the only way to mitigate this risk was by adding members to the party. If any of you have ever wondered why you felt the disconnect somewhere between Everquest and World of Warcraft‘s second expansion, it’s because around this time, some MMO developers started to cater to the instant gratification demanded by console gamers.
I will be the first to admit that I was drawn into the next generation of MMOs with the promise of bigger worlds and quicker, easier paths to power and glory. But after a few weeks of trotting through the same old “fed-ex” and “kill x monster” quests, we quickly found out that the only real change was removing the need for groups.
Among current MMO apologists I hear two, main arguments:
1) A genre needs to evolve to stay relevant; and,
2) It is a paying gamer’s right to solo if he or she wants to.
To the first part, I say MMOs should evolve in response to changing culture and technology, so long as they hold at their core their genre’s humble, pen and paper beginnings. On the second point I hold to the Dungeon Master’s mantra:
players want to feel like they are shaping your story, but they must be punished for mistakes. Otherwise, their end reward just isn’t as sweet. When Dungeon Masters or game developers cater to their players, it destroys the multiplayer experience.
But all is not lost my friends, in our age of micro development companies, the next generation of MMOs will be designed by the guerilla game designer. And so while we mourn the death of the giant, bloated, uninspired MMOs of yore, I say to the up and coming developers and game designers: take up the open source tools that were once only available to big-budget developers. Grab your players, kicking and screaming if you need to, and entertain the hell out of them! Make the games that you want to play and we – you loyal gaming fans – will surely follow.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!