Friday, January 29, 2016

"Me Too" MMOs

I was reading through an excerpt of a speech from Jeff Strain. I've read the speech many times before throughout my career -- it was given in 2007 -- but reading it nearly a decade later I found myself unsure of the words being said.

Here's the excerpt:

"Before you start building the ultimate MMO, you should accept that “MMO” is a technology, not a game design. It still feels like many MMOs are trying to build on the fundamental designs established by UO and EQ in the late ’90s. In the heyday of Doom and Quake we all eventually realized that “3D” was a technology, distinct from the “FPS,” which was a game design. It’s time we accepted that for MMOs as well. We are finding ways to overcome many of the limitations of the technology that dictated the early MMO design, such as Internet latency and limited global scalability. These improvements can enable a new class of online games that break out of the traditional MMO mold and explore new territory. It can be a daunting proposition to willfully walk away from what seems to be a “sure thing” in game design, but lack of differentiation is probably the number one reason that MMOs fail, so we all need to leave the comfort zone and start innovating, or risk creating yet another “me too” MMO."

The speech is somewhat prophetic at the end, saying "me too" mmos are likely to fail.

What's interesting is that 9 years later we've seen a lot of new types of MMOs. Survival MMOs, the MMORTS, social oriented online games. Even strictly non-combat MMOs like Ever Jane. The list goes on. But at the same time, we've still seen a lot of "Me Too" MMOS. Many have failed, but a fair number of them have succeeded. Perhaps most strangely is the fact that Guild Wars 2, the successor to Guild Wars and made by the company co-founded by Jeff Strain is very much a "Me Too" MMO that is succeeding. When Guild Wars 2 was first presented to the Guild Wars community, it was even pitched as "an MMO more like what you think a typical MMO is like" (paraphrasing here). The most notable difference is the persistent explorable zones. And while the dynamic events are an attempt at innovation, it's more of an evolution (Quests -> Group Quest -> Warhammer Online's Public Quests -> Guild Wars 2's Dynamic Events). Hearts are especially quest-like in their lack of real impact on the world your character lives in.

Now, by my second-hand hearing, Guild Wars 2 has been much more successful than Guild Wars 1 was from a monetary standpoint. I don't know if that's because of the more traditional design (granted, with plenty of non-traditional mechanics thrown in the mix) or a result of something else. Either way, I'm reading these words differently today than I was the last time I set eyes on them.

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