March 20, 2011

Innovating the MMO Industry

For every game I have ever played there has always been specific things that have caused me to keep going or to delete it from my hard drive, it has never been a case where neither existed. So the real question is to what these reasons are, because it has nothing to do with the grind, which is what many people claim is what causes them to quit. To be honest, it has always been the features of the game. However, how do we define what is a 'feature'? We all have seen the tab at the top of the game's website, claiming it has things like a crafting system or player vs. player action. As far as I am concerned, a feature is anything that would not be included in the standard mold of the game. So saying things like the game supports a massive amount of players is redundant to being a MMO, and is not a feature.

Now, what do we look for when we see a list of features? For some people they want late game raids against epic monsters that require a team to defeat. Others wish to join their friends in a guild and compete for castles and other massive structures. However, all of these features combine one key feature, and that is innovation. Without innovative features, a game has no reason to exist. No matter how big or small, every game must contain an innovative feature in order to exist and thrive in the industry. We are not talking about anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, simply an improvement.

For Blizzard, they really catapulted to success by creating a mainstream game that was available to everyone and enjoyable by everyone. However, this is not what kept players on the game. For many it was the innovative feature of including an expansive and competitive late-game phase. They introduced arena combat that required skill and teamwork, not button-mashing, and raids that forced users to form groups and create a stable community. Guilds were no longer something you joined for a name above your head, they were something you joined for friendships and allies. You joined them to help others and receive help in return, to complete challenges and missions together.

So the problem now lies with the current releases and what they bring to the table. Mediocre graphics paired with sub-par player vs. player combat and raids that require no teamwork or coordination. Why do we bother to play them? The problem is that players cannot continue to support these games that bring nothing new to the table. We must rewards companies like NCSoft and Blizzard for pushing the boundaries of the industry forward, and punish companies who think it is okay to release the same features under a new title. We cannot continue to pay monthly fees and microtransaction fees for a game that stalls the industry at its current state. When a company takes a current game and changes it slightly to call it a "steam-punk style MMO", although it varies only in graphics from other games, we must refuse to shift to the new game and reward them for completing no work at all. If the industry should progress and we shall get new and better games, we must give developers a reason to include further innovations.

When we stop giving our money to companies that do not deserve it, we can create a new generation of games where the innovations by today's standards become the classics that are so standard we don't even refer to them as 'features' anymore. Imagine when great combat that requires skill, aim, and teamwork is something that every game includes, and new features such as underwater combat and buildable terrain step-up as 'innovative features'. We can only progress as long as gamers show they are serious about each new game bringing something new to the table. We should not be lacking basic trade skills like crafting in new games when Runescape has been providing them for many years now. I still wish more games would incorporate woodcutting and fletching and similar skills, however there is no reason to add twenty trade skills when players continually throw money at games that feature nothing more than crafting and a guild system. In this day and age that should not be enough, especially when so many alternative games offer full guild innovations such as halls and storages. We have to expect more if we ever wish to get more. A fresh start is not worth your money, innovation is.

Credits: MMOsite

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