Opinions. The blogosphere is crammed full of them, and while that’s to be expected, what riles up the blood is when a clump of them start chain-reacting off of each other to the point where they start saying, “See? Everyone thinks this way!” Even though that’s not true, but hey. It went over well with marketing.
A prevailing opinion that I’ve heard goes along the line of “The early days of MMOs were SO much better than the copycat/clones/rut we’re in now!” and people nod their heads to this sage proclamation and curse the fact that they have to game in 2011 instead of 2003. Why must we suffer with such horrid afflictions as today’s gaming lineup! Whyyyyy?
Now the balanced part of my mind wants to concede that there were many great things about “back in the day” of classic MMOs that will always be fondly remembered. There was more experimentation of design and scope. Fewer titles meant that the communities settled down and grew in one spot instead of hopping every which way. People didn’t know better and adapted to the game design that was given to them.
But you know what? The rebellious part of me says 2003 wasn’t as terrific for MMOs as what we have now. As was 2002, 2001, 2000, and before. Did they create great memories for you? Splendid. Did they see the birth of classic MMOs doing classic things? Awesome. But you couldn’t pay me enough to play in that era instead of today.
You think the quest grind is bad today? Try simply grinding mobs endlessly for no reason other than a lack of other options. Or the horrible death penalties. The lack of real support for solo players. The incredibly obtuse nature of game mechanics and stats. The lack of free-to-play resulting in fewer gaming options on any given day.
Why? Why would I go contrary to the rose-colored glasses crowd? Because this is how history goes. Yes, there are great things in the past that aren’t here today — or in the same form — but by and large the advances overshadow what we’ve lost. Earlier video games in the 80s were certainly innovative, exciting, and drastically different, but for all the whining about the Call of Duty/Madden onslaught today, I don’t see anyone racing back to their Atari 2600s. We’ve moved on. It was nice and all that, but on the whole it’s gotten better.
Face it, devs have learned from the past. And while you may be bemoaning how World of Warcraft molded the industry after its likeness and limited risk-taking and innovation (and I’ll concede some of that), WoW and the post-2004 crowd did a lot of good for the industry as well. We’ve proven that merely copying WoW isn’t a recipe for instant success, and studios are most certainly branching out again with different models and ideas. The quest system, dynamic events, full voice-overs, customizable appearances, public grouping, hybrid gameplay (such as STO’s ground/space combat), genre blending, business models, and most importantly, overall refinement have taken us out of an era that catered to a smaller, more hardcore crowd and handed the keys to the public to enjoy. More people play MMOs today than ever before, and certainly way more than in 2003, and we’ve gone from a gaming genre that got mocked if noticed at all to one that’s fairly well-known and somewhat respected. Kids play MMOs, since there are MMOs for kids. Parents play MMOs with their families, because they’re understandable for all. There are MMOs that reward long-term play and those that are geared toward bite-sized sessions. There are sandboxes (plenty of them, in fact) and theme parks and sandparks. There are hardcore PvP titles and carebear PvE games. Side-scrollers, isometric, 3D, turn-based, real-time, anime, Western, just about any IP you could imagine, Hello Kitty.
Maybe it’s cool to automatically dismiss anything new that comes along and to chew on a stalk of wheat while growling about how incredible EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot was more than these new whippersnappers. I don’t think it needs to be an either/or situation. The past had a lot of greatness to it, but — and I feel this way wholeheartedly — so does the present. I love these MMOs. I’ve been playing them for almost a decade and I can’t get enough of them. I like seeing new ideas and much more polished entries come along, and I sometimes feel like I’m one of the few people who does have great hope for the future.
I will say this — I do hope that devs everywhere will constantly be looking at the past to see what can be learned from it and what could be updated and brought into the present. There were a lot of great ideas that got cast aside along the way in MMO development and deserve another chance. MMOs can and should be influenced by more than just other MMOs, and that includes pen-and-paper games, other video games, board games, storytelling in other mediums, and the works.
I’m all for looking at the past with fondness and to learn. I just wouldn’t want to game there.