What follows is the full transcript of the interview I gave a University of Texas at Dallas student regarding the decline of social interaction in MMORPGs which was the basis for my previous article. The format of my answers is in no way as cohesive as I would have liked and is presented in “as is” stream of consciousness format chronicling my thoughts on each question.
It has been a while since I have thought about the state of social interaction in MMOs and this interview gave me a chance to explore many of those thoughts in greater detail.
A few weeks ago at BlizzCon during an interview with WoWInsider’s Anne Stickney, Blizzard’s Alex Afrasiabi — the World of Warcraft Creative Director — made a rare and frank admission. He said that Blizzard has lost sight of the social world aspect of their MMO and that he was mainly to blame for it. Molten Core has frozen over.
The incremental yet relentless erosion of social interaction is something that many of us in the MMORPG community have been chronicling since the release of WoW in 2004. For some reason the developers at Blizzard have been unable to notice it until now. I am currently working on an article responding to Afrasiabi’s comments and what can be done to remedy this problem.
If you have been on the fence about trying Zenimax’s Elder Scrolls Online MMORPG because of the high price, now may be a great time to take advantage of a great sale going on right now at Amazon.
Previously, you had to pay the full price for the Elder Scrolls Online Standard Edition which is $59.99 for the digital download. MMO fans rejoice as Amazon is currently selling it for $24.95 which is 30% off and a savings of $35.04! That is an insane price and really if you are into fantasy MMOs you should really try out Elder Scrolls Online. At this bargain price it is a steal.
In a previous blog article I had many reservations about ESO. Thankfully at least some of my concerns have been addressed by Zenimax which has tempted me to take another look at this major release MMO.
Rarely do I ever endorse a Kickstarter project, but there is an interesting and unique MMO/RPG hybrid called Stash that I would like to recommend to my readers. Forged by the venerable Frogdice, creators of the esteemed Threshold MUD, Stash is a breath of rarefied fresh air in a stale MMO market dominated by Blizzard’s WoW and a parade of unimaginative clones.
Watch most Twitch.tv streams that showcase SOE’s Landmark “sandbox” virtual world and you’ll see a familiar sight to those that follow the comic book and the superhero genre. You’ll see a superhero character with a flowing cape that seems to effortlessly fly through the air. Instead of fighting crime, this superhero is gathering resources.
The typical landmark avatar is a cross between Superman and Spiderman. Like Superman, the Landmark character has limitless strength and boundless energy. He can effortless dig holes, chop down trees and carry thousands of tons of earth and rock without the slightest of encumbrance. Like Spiderman, he leaps like an acrobat on steroids from object to object with his magical grappling hook.
What is all this for? Not to fight crime or vanquish a dragon? No, it is so this superhero can build his own private architectural creation, much like the way Superman built his Fortress of Solitude.
Since the release of the EverQuest Next Landmark alpha in February and all the surrounding hoopla it seems that everyone is in the alpha. To be honest, I can’t think of a Twitch.tv streamer that is not in the alpha. Many of them are giving away free alpha accounts and codes for in-game items. Rumor has it that there is an unpublicized SOE “insider” program where a select number of websites and superstar Twitch.tv streamers get to dole out free promotional goodies on behalf of SOE.
To their credit, SOE has run a masterful and rather ingenious promotion campaign. With all the positive press surrounding Landmark, maybe it’s time for a different perspective. So let’s take a brief time out and dispense with the hype and cheer-leading that has emanated from SOE and their sycophants in the gaming media. For a few fleeting minutes, let’s go off the script and challenge the official narrative and dare to talk frankly about what it’s like not to be in the alpha.
I had the opportunity to have participated in two Elder Scrolls Online beta weekends. During the previous beta weekend I was able to devote some significant time to playing two characters where I got a good feel for the first 5 levels of the MMO.
The second beta weekend apparently just ended abruptly at 9 PM Pacific time — 3 hours ago as I am writing this. At least the previous weekend allowed players to play in the early hours of Monday morning but not this weekend. Throughout this beta weekend the ESO servers were plagued with problems that made playing the MMO pretty impossible. You would think that given all of the server problems that players experienced this weekend, Zenimax would have the good sense to extend the beta weekend like they did the previous time. Not this time.
Since I didn’t have much time to play the most recent beta which has put me in a foul mood, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts instead.
In the classic film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is forced to relive February 2nd over and over. Eventually he learns from his mistakes, perfects his strategy and wins the heart of the heroine played by Angie McDowell and the curse is broken. For years, MMORPGs have been subject to a similar curse. I call it the Groundhog Day syndrome.
In this design paradigm players are forced to deal with a virtual world of static spawning enemy NPCs with predetermined attributes and abilities. When killed, these mobs spawn again within a few minutes or if within an instance they re-spawn when you repeat the instance.
In the real world people would quickly tire of being trapped like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog day. With so many interesting possibilities available to a dynamic virtual world, why would anyone want to go back to a predictable scripted theme park MMO?
Brad McQuaid is back. Almost 15 years after the release of EverQuest and 7 years after the release of his Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, the prodigal son of the MMO world has returned seeking redemption. This time Brad is pitching a new MMO on Kickstarter called Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
Brad has a checkered career in the collective memory of video game industry. Deemed by some to be the brains behind the revolutionary EverQuest — regarded by many as the finest MMORPG ever created — he is also considered an incompetentvillain by others who believe him largely responsible for the failure of Vanguard which is estimated by many to be one of the biggest disasters in MMO history.
Before the debacle of Vanguard, I was a big admirer of Brad McQuaid. After all, he was the face of EverQuest and was christened as a “game god” by the media back then and many of us believed the hype. I also think that he received the lion’s share of the credit for EverQuest when in truth it was a team effort. That said, I still have a great respect for him and despite his failings he has dared to come back on the scene to challenge the complacency in the current MMO market.
For World of Warcraft devotees the almost annual BlizzCon love fest is like an American State of the Union address combined with the euphoria of an Amway convention. There is no dissent to speak of as the lucky few fans who managed to purchase tickets sit in rapt attention awaiting revelation of new features and story narratives that will shape their game play experiences in months ahead.
Blizzard is preaching to their loyal choir. So it’s no surprise that BlizzCon 2013 was predictable and scripted spectacle. In grand tradition, I too follow with my predictable BlizzCon article.
Before each BlizzCon there is always a feeling in me that maybe this time Blizzard will get it right with World of Warcraft and change course. After all, how can a video game company continue to adopt a stay the course philosophy after losing millions of subscribers? Surely something has to give…
After watching BlizzCon 2013 in DirecTV’s virtual ticket pay per view my hopes were again dashed. The massive and aging ship USS: WoW lurches toward the iceberg of its obsolescent doom in a sea of ice cold reality.