Admittedly, I’ve fallen out of love with MMOs. After 11 years of being passionately involved in this pursuit and having the patience of a saint, the same old predictable formula of endless DIKU MUD/EQ/WoW clones has failed to keep my interest.
This situation is akin to a personal relationship where one person keeps growing and the other person fails to grow. In the case of MMOs, they are stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence. Refusing to mature into adulthood. Refusing to reach their potential as exciting immersive interactive experiences. I feel like I’m living in an abusive relationship. I want a divorce.
As each year passes MMOs have become more infantile and simplistic in order to pander to the lowest common denominator. This alarming trend has been caused by the need for companies to grow the demographic in order to placate shareholders. We’ve known about this problem for years now thanks to the insight offered by virtual world prophet Richard Bartle. Somehow we never thought that day would never come but reality tells us we are watching this apocalypse unfold before our very eyes.
The FarmVille Curse
To make matters worse, this past year we’ve had to endure all of the hoopla about Zynga’s social networking wunderkind FarmVille. Why? Because for many in the industry FarmVille has become a beacon to the promised land of milk and honey. Purposely crafting an addiction so you can squeeze bags of money out of your players has become the noblest virtue in the video game industry. What a sad and tragic fate that has befallen a genre I used to love.
FarmVille is a despicable, worthless piece of anti-social rubbish that has no business even being called a video game let alone an online world. Yet it is being hailed as the savior of the video game industry by the MMO intelligentsia.
But there is lots of blame to go around…
Shame on You Blizzard
I put the sorry state of MMOs today squarely at the feet of the technicians who sold their souls at Blizzard Entertainment. For years they have been carefully and methodically concocting an addiction that is designed to keep you playing and paying long after there is any legitimate reason to do so.
Year after year they have squandered billions of dollars of revenues and have failed to advance the MMO genre in any meaningful way. Let’s be honest here, what earth shattering innovations has Blizzard introduced into the MMO universe?
- NPC’s with exclamation marks above their heads?
- Solo to the level cap?
- Instanced dungeons?
- Daily quests?
- Overpowered hero class?
- The Dungeon Finder tool?
In every case, the addition of these features has created unintended consequences that have caused far more problems than they’ve ever solved. In the past I’ve written extensively on most of these issues and I don’t feel the need to repeat myself.
The End of Community
Perhaps the greatest sin of Blizzard is their legacy with regard to the erosion and trivialization of the notion of community. The caliber of the player community has hit an all time low. The WoW of 2010 is a MMO where community barely exists if at all. Players don’t even talk to each other anymore as they mindlessly farm so-called heroic dungeons. Players are happy to use each other like cheap whores in order to farm more emblems in order to get more shiny purple pixels.
The current state of community in WoW is not what massively multi-player was supposed to be. Blizzard has given the notion of community lip-service as it has become a marketing talking point instead of something that should be a fundamental tenet of a real MMO. Just visit the official Blizzard forums or your local trade channel to experience the sophomoric angst for yourself for evidence of the abysmal state of community in WoW.
Regrettably the importance of developing relationships with fellow players has been minimized in the WoW reward scheme that is the underpinning of game design at Irvine. Using their bag of Skinner box tricks, Blizzard has willfully programmed selfishness and avarice into the psyche of the modern MMO player via the mechanics of WoW. I’ve seen good people lose their souls and morph into ruthless Jason Bourne robots because of WoW.
I remember people who I used to play with back in good old days of EverQuest who migrated to WoW with me back around 2004-2005. Within months they had changed completely. They were too busy soloing to care about grouping. Why? Because they could — because Blizzard promoted it.
Don’t Be Fooled by Blizzards Bogus Cataclysm
I hate to be the bearer of bad news to those of you those of you that still play WoW, but the upcoming Cataclysm expansion is not the cure for the sickness that plagues MMOs. All it will do is put a fresh coat of paint on a tedious and predictable MMO that is painfully years past its prime and is sadly plunging the rest of industry into oblivion with it.
If Blizzard had any courage they’d unleash a real cataclysm in Azeroth — not the phony one they have planned. WoW needs a complete and total flood-like cleansing that would make Noah proud. A complete and total server wipe would do it. Everything gone. All your precious epics, characters and bank mules. That’s exactly what WoW needs right now. If we want something better then we need to have the conviction of the pilgrims leaving their restrictive homeland and arriving to the freedom of America on the Mayflower. We need to start all over.
Do you think that anyone at Blizzard would have the guts to do it? Not a chance.
The problem is that within a few months everything would be back to normal. You see the problem with WoW is a systemic flaw inherent in all of today’s MMOs — they are basically a numbers game heavily disguised by lots of polish and eye-candy. How many people do you know that played WoW 6 years ago are still playing? Most of them have figured out the equation and moved on. And therein lies the heart of the problem.
You Get the MMO You Deserve
Blizzard has seduced and fooled us with their Hollywood polish. We traded in the important exhilarating virtues of being part of a virtual world — community, camaraderie, danger, player interdependence, role-playing and player freedom– and instead opted for a safe and scripted amusement park ride.
There’s an old saying that goes like this: people get the government they deserve. This same logic applies to MMOs: players get the MMO they deserve because ultimately we vote with our dollars.
As long as is there are copious amounts of reward with almost no risk, as long as content remains static and non-dynamic, as long as players have no sense of ownership in their world, as long as players have no need of other players, as long as player freedoms keep getting curtailed, as long as extracting money from subscribers is the end all and be all of game design — you will have the disease that is World of Warcraft.
The only explanation I can fathom for the lack of evolution in the genre is that Blizzard is purposely withholding all of their innovations for their upcoming next gen MMO which I predict will be announced at this year’s BlizzCon. Until their new MMO is released, they are going to milk the WoW cash cow for as long as possible by expending the least amount of resources to get the maximum amount of return on investment. Thank you Emperor Palpatine.
We Need a Real Cataclysm
When I survey today’s MMO scene I wonder what God must have felt like when He looked at the mess that humanity had gotten itself into. It’s no wonder He decided to create a flood that would reboot humanity and start fresh.
As it stands today, I feel the same way about the MMO industry. They’ve been serving us the same unimaginative crap for the last 11 years and putting a colorful bow on it. And you know what? We keep paying for it.
This industry is caught up in a vicious circle. Every new MMO company grovels and trembles in the shadow of WoW. They are prisoners of the Blizzard success formula. So instead of things getting better, they’ve gotten worse. We need a real cataclysm. The time for excuses are over. It’s time to start over.
Back in the early days of MMO, the player community was intelligent, passionate and vocal. I recall Woody Hearn’s May 2004 boycott of EverQuest which for a few fleeting weeks galvanized the EQ community and put lazy and corrupt MMO companies on notice that we’re not going to take your shoddy crap any more. The lethargic MMO community of 2010 doesn’t have the courage, maturity and will to carry out that kind of public boycott today. They are like the glassy eyed, brain addled denizens of an opium house. They are just too stoned to care.
Almost every major WoW website is in some way beholden to Blizzard lest they lose their precious press access and junkets to Irvine. No one dares boycott or take a stand against them. Just like in the real world, for the most part we have a lazy video game press that are cheerleaders and enablers of the status quo. Has anyone in the press seriously questioned the lack of innovation coming from Blizzard?
In the absence of a legitimate video game press the responsibility falls on us the MMO community. Maybe we are the real problem.
We need to stop playing the same unoriginal MMOs out there and cancel our accounts. We need to stop supporting lazy companies that refuse to innovate and reinvest adequate funds into their MMOs. We need to stop playing MMOs until something worthwhile comes out.
Let me close with another relationship metaphor, we all know a friend or family member that absolutely needs a man or woman to get by. Perhaps we too need to be single and independent for a while and take a break from the MMO hamster wheel. What I’m going to say will sound trite but it needs to be said: read a book, take up a hobby, plant a real garden, walk a dog, spend some time with your family and friends, seek out the meaning of life. Get some perspective and open your eyes. At least for me, maybe I need to realize that there’s more to this life than looking at a computer screen and hoping for salvation from a virtual world.