All games are a certain level of bad. Some are bad due to poor coding or basic design. Games can be bad because of monetary transactions or predatory management decisions to ensure you have to purchase their goods to solve a problem they’ve created. None of these are particularly what I’m discussing here despite being excellent places to start. What I want to talk about is how a select few MMO’s designated as AAA have caused a stagnation issue within the MMO genre.
Lets go back to the beginning of the AAA title wars with Everquest 2 (EQ2) and World of Warcraft (WoW) back in late 2004. While technically the idea of AAA companies weren’t a thing yet the IPs of both of these games demanded gamers everywhere to take stock. The glorious second coming of multiplayer gaming had come and introduced far better graphics, audio and design that we’d seen to this point. New ideas were thrown into both titles as they immediately launched thousands of new developers dreams and imaginations into the stratosphere. I believe the short period of time both games were duking it out gave our current Indie developers an excitement to begin their careers into programing and game design.
Since then we’d seen numerous AAA games developed each bringing their own ideas to the table, but ultimately taking what these games did and modified the idea slightly to fit their own design vision. I want to take a moment here and say I don’t feel this is a problem as if something works and fits what you are developing then there is no reason to overhaul something if you have bigger dreams for other systems. In some situations you had Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) utilize a realm vs realm system pitting three different legions of players against each other, a first for the genre. Then years later Guild Wars 2 (GW2) come along, take that same system and really put effort in improving what they had and make it into something new. Whether you feel GW2 did a good job or not the fact was they took an idea and dedicated time to really digging into it and making it theirs. In an additional example you had Wildstar (WS) actively criticize WoW and their Player vs Environment (PvE) dungeons and raids and spent time attempting to redesign how we engaged in these systems by changing the combat style entirely.
Now onto my issue. There are two types of AAA games in the MMO genre now days. The first is the overly ambitious that puts out the hype about their game design and ideas to muster funding from the community to warrant other business investors. These developers shoot for the moon wanting to develop something we’ve never seen before and ultimately languish is development hell and sometimes publish a half completed game. This leads to an unhappy player community who felt lied to and business investors who won’t see a return on investment. The second is the developers that aim low and release a new MMO that ultimately does nothing unique from the existing stable of games. Neither of wish inspires a player base or investors to continue dumping money into the genre.
This leaves the middle ground wide open for that small 10-20 team to develop in peace and quiet on a project of passion. They can do this within a reasonable fiscally responsible environment because they don’t have the hype of millions of gamers nor do they have the heat from large financial backers. These are where the gems are and games like Valheim and 7 Days to Die (7DtD) have thrived. While neither of these are MMO’s they are both multiplayer enabled and can allow for a better community on a server to server basis. This gives me hope that small MMO development studios can develop successful games with new system designs only with a vigor and passion that a 400 person team can’t possible have.
Unfortunately, the player base lust for these sprawling worlds full of complex game designs and extremely high expectations have lead us here. There is always another big company willing to put their money into the genre, but there is now a basic design for every game they’ll produce. The innovation is no longer there as the ideas will be from some big name they hire to be the face of their product. Or if you have an existing product purchased by an investment company (Daybreak Games, Gamigo, etc) that’ll hire a team to continue the management of their products but will attempt to turn a profit at a cheap cost to net better returns until ultimately the games are unlucrative and then they’ll be shuttered and the IP will remain in limbo and most likely never seen again.
While you can’t bring up a problem unless you have a solution I have to give you some possible paths to rectifying this situation if we want to see this genre become relevant again. So I’m going to leave you all with one possible solution that I feel if strong enough will ultimately change the entire community. Stop paying, that’s it! If we stop pre-ordering games, if we stop buying into predatory microtransactions, if we stop accepting less for a premium this entire community would change. Instead invest your time looking for those niche games developed by the smaller studios that are full of passion and desire to put out a game they’d be proud of.