Wednesday, September 9

MMOs are like Adventure games

Geeky made a comment yesterday

leave those MMO expectations at the door and see how it plays as a game, everything is so solo friendly these days.

And that got me thinking. MMOs might have become a thing of the past. It is a bit like adventure games. Leisure Suit Larry and Space Quest kicked off a brilliant era in gaming. And Monkey Island is still one of the most brilliant games ever made. But as time progressed new features got added to make them more accessible or easier or whatever. But after Monkey Island it all went downhill. Maybe players got other demands, or simply had enough of the concept. Or more likely, developers thought they knew their customers and made bad mistakes. Whatever it was, the genre died out. Mostly because it got dumbed down too far. A few gems got created for a niche market, but the masses had moved on.

I have the feeling the same is happening to the MMO genre. The developers try to make it all too accessable or trying to be innovative in wrong ways, and somehow they kill the essense. Soon some developer will create a whole fresh new genre and we are all going to enjoy it thoroughly. And maybe somebody will make an MMO like the longest journey did for adventure games.

Hopefully that great new genre comes soon. In the meantime I will have to play plain games.


  1. I remember a conversation I had with one of the game designers at Spellorn. An italian who'd worked on UO mods before and done lots of stuff. We talked about how adventure games like the classics from Sierra and Lucas Arts just don't seem to be happening anymore and why that was.
    We came to the conclusion that the advent of Internet, more specifically the World Wide Web doomed the style of play.
    For instance, I never actually owned Monkey Island myself. I do know most of the choke points in the game's progression as I would come over to my friend's house who played it and help him sort out the bits where he'd get stuck. SImilarly these games and the bits where you'd get stuck were watercooler topics for geeks at the time. Walkthroughs were available at BBS'es but only few people actually had direct access to that. So loaning a friend's printout and putting it on the copier was sometimes a must.
    That whole social aspect, the talking about and sharing tips for the games got lost with the WWW and its no-need-to-socialize walktrhough websites. I love and use it when needed for my RPG's but sites like that killed the old school adventures, or at least contributed to that. At the time of the conversation I'd been playing Leisure Suit Larry, Cum Laude (the university one) on the Xbox. In stead of difficult puzzles, the game revolved around playing a sidewise scroller during conversations. This was actually quite fun as your performance level at that game directed the flow of conversation in hilarious ways. But the puzzles were easy and easily accessible walkthroughs made them more so.

    Making MMO's more accessbile has more to do with the rising costs of development which 'naturally' lead to taking fewer risks. If you can sell a game to 1 million people who'll enjoy it somewhat but think it a bit too easy or a game that 100.000 will think rocks their world, what would you do? Joss Whedon says he wants to do the latter with his shows rather than the former. Of course this leads to early demises as happened with Firefly and almost did with Dollhouse. As an artist you want to do the latter, but artists generally don't have control over the purse strings. Those tend to be held by the people who think in terms of return on investment.

  2. Incidentally, that every MMO who tried to do something different, not cater to the lowest bar e.t.c. over the last three years has not met their own or anyone else's definition of succes doesn't help.

  3. Of course every genre will have its own reasons for failing. The web and walkthroughs are mostly to blaim for the end of adventure games. But not completely. It is also a maturing and eventually past-due problem. No matter how much botox you apply eventually you will lose. Monkey Island is still incredibly fun even playing now. It is the attempted innovation that killed it.

    All MMOs that have been relased the last 2 years have failed also because of attempted innovations. And I think Champions Online is the best example of how implementing the players requests completely spoiled the game.

    You are right in that I want to play a Joss Whedon game, and not a CSI Miami game. But eventually people will stop watching TV all together if everybody keeps copying CSI. At the moment all MMOs are failing. Simply because the genre can't go anywhere anymore. Just like adventure games couldn't go anywhere anymore.

    We just have to wait for that new leap. A great game experience (and even TV experience as well) requires something that really makes you think and act as never before. Followed by a few more similar piece of brilliance, including one that sets the bar. Once that is set it will be all downhill.

  4. I'm not sure innovation necessarily kills a genre. But yeah, letting players define your design document would be a Very Bad Thing. As much so as thinking your prior success was due to your divine presence and that you can therefore do no wrong. Both seem to apply to CO.

    The problem with the CSI vs Joss Whedon games, and you could also say Harry Potter vs Malazan Tales of the Fallen for that matter, is that while nine out of ten Whedon followers will watch CSI, if not as avidly or loyally but only about one in ten CSI watchers will follow a Whedon show. Also some of the people who watch CSI will not watch Whedon, but House.
    These numbers tell and apply to books as well and games too. The more something challenges the viewer/reader/player the greater it is, yet the fewer people will partake of it.

    Sadly the "stop watching TV all together if everybody keeps copying CSI" has no historical backing. I give you ER, or 90210 or NYPD Blue and , X-Files for that matter. Or Star Trek Next Generation. Ooh, there's a good one. The Original Star Trek versus Star Trek the Consumer Generation. Anyway, all those series got copied to death and we didn't stop watching. Every once in a while a Whedonesque series will catch on and reach mainstream heights (like Buffy did). This does not so much break the mold as redefine it for the next couple of years.

    What we have to hope for is that such a thing happens in MMO land. The leap as you put it. Something really good actually hitting mainstream. I just don't see it happening in the near future. Maybe Bioware's SWTOR, but I think they want to be mainstream too much to be the off-stream success that kicks the tower over and becomes mainstream.

  5. I think Old Man Murray still have the best take on the death of adventure games...

  6. That's a very astute article Zoso.
    I'm not to sure about the Babylon 5 novels though.
    Never been a fan of derivative fiction even if I did indulge in the vice with Star Wars.

  7. Oh dear, for some people the plethora, the cornucopia of game assitance sites is actually to bothersome that they are pleased about a game that has the cheat sheet included internally....

    Also, who alt-tabs or use two monitors when dualheading with maximized-windowless widnow is a cheaper less annoying option? :-)

  8. As a former Gameamp member I ofcourse like the community driven sites. Sharing is what it's all about. But I don't really like the datastream mined stuff.