MMO Life: Finding Innovation

By mike_fosterDate: Jun 27 2012 Views:


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2012 is a big year for MMOs. World of Warcraft is getting what will likely be the expansion that makes or breaks it as an industry leader. Guild Wars 2 finally hits shelves, bringing with it the howls of a million fanboys. An army of free-to-play MMOs of varying themes will storm the interwebs, splitting attention from major releases. And DUST 514, CCP's cross-game experiment with its existing EVE Online universe, will test the boundaries of MMOs and the games that surround them.


There is no question about the ambition of these releases. Even in a time where the future of the traditional MMO seems in doubt, dozens of production teams, publishers and development studios are banking on players wanting just a little bit more-looking for the next big thing. However, one has to wonder exactly how long players will go on playing MMOs with the same basic formulas. How many times can we level up a new character, how many NPCs can we kill, how many shiny pixels can we lust after?

Most of the MMOs that have cropped up in the last few years borrow heavily from Ultima Online, EverQuest and World of Warcraft. There's the same fantasy setting, the same hunt/gather questlines, and the same raid encounters with massive, powerful bosses. Sure, some tweaks have been made here and there - TERA's attempt to revamp combat or The Secret World's effort to do away with classes, for example – but nothing that stands as truly innovative and groundbreaking. Most MMOs have interchangeable mechanics and design, and are identifiable only by their artwork and theme.


Even Guild Wars 2, which stands as one of the most anticipated games of 2012, seems to fall well within the comfort zones of current MMO products. There are slight modifications to the way groups work together and how combat plays out, but it's the same general thesis we've been enjoying for the last 15 years. Kill stuff, get stronger, kill bigger stuff. The same can be said for the recently revealed Elder Scrolls Online, which looks more like World of Warcraft than any Elder Scrolls fan wants to believe. How can it be that we've moved so little in terms of design when we've moved so much when it comes to audience, technology and funding?

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