Daily Archives: January 22, 2007

Third Generation? Was There A Second?

I just finished up listening to VirginWorlds podcast #49.  During the show, Brent took on, in passing, the thorny issue of “Third Generation MMOs,” and did so in the only logical manner possible.  He explained generally how this next generation will change things, but did not speculate on what that change would specifically be. 

This is at odds with a lot of what I have heard or read about “Third Generation MMOs,” where people try to pin down specific things that they feel will usher in this next generation.

The problem with the features people bring up is that while they are nice, they are all really only incremental additions to the MMO space. 

Like 99.9% of player/user feedback on any product, what people are suggesting is great for refining the genre, but almost universally useless for creating something really new.  It is a constant in market research that people want what they already have, only a little better, a little easier, or a little cheaper.  Nobody asks for a revolution.

And refinement is not revolution.   I say that revolution is the requirement for a generational change in the MMO space.  It will come in the form of something that we probably cannot conceive of right now, being mentally boxed in by the standards of the genre.  Not only will it be something that, once people have it, they cannot do without, but it will be something that is, to borrow a phrase, at right angles to all they know and expect.

And, given all that, I will suggest that we have not really advanced a generation at all in MMOs, that everything we have played so far is first generation.  Either generations count incremental change, in which case the distance between, say, Meridian 59 and Vanguard is many generations, or generations count only revolutionary genre-changing events, in which case Meridian 59 and Vanguard are the same generation.

And before somebody brings up EVE-Online, I want them to consider hard the feature they think is even second generation and explain how it isn’t just a refinement that could be grafted onto any current MMO.  I happily support the idea that CCP has refined the MMO genre beyond what anybody else has done, but I am afraid that nothing there is revolutionary.  

I believe that 20 years from now people who track the industry will lump everything so far in the same bucket.  Generational references are marketing fluff so far.  There can be no third generation MMOs coming soon because the second generation has not yet arrived.  Generations are not marked by incremental feature changes, they are marked by paradigm shifts.

My 2007 Outlook – Lord of the Rings Online

Unlike 2006, 2007 looks to be a bright year for new MMOs.  Many of the announced titles for this year appeal to me.  This means making some decisions, since I cannot play them all, at least not at the same time.  So I plan on a series of “2007 Outlook” posts that will cover my own views on the MMOs coming up, my own interest in them, and the likelihood of my actually playing them. 

I am also going to toss in one more metric, which is the need to play a given game on day one.  There are some games where playing on the opening day is an experience unto itself.  EverQuest on day one was like that for me.  It was frustrating, you could barely play, yet there was a huge amount of excitement in the air.  You knew, waiting between server crashes and disconnections, that you had to get back into the game.

So with that said, I will start with the title that is first in my heart.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar

I have opined on this game before, and not always kindly.  Pointy Ears.  Monster Play.  Mucking with the story line.  Interacting with the Fellowship.  What are they thinking?

I am not even keen on the name.  Shadows of Angmar?  Yes, the leader of the nine Nazgul was the Witch King of Angmar that overthrew the fragmented northern kingdom of Arnor, the scattered remains of which became the rangers of the north.  But Angmar itself was thrown down by Gondor over a thousand years before the birth of Bilbo Baggins, so the shadows of this short-lived kingdom must be pale indeed by the time of the game. 

Still, as far as intellectual properties that have a hold on my imagination go, there are few more powerful than Middle Earth.  I have previously disclosed my affinity for the works of Tolkien. I cannot actually write in Tengwar (after years at a keyboard, I can barely pick up a pen and write in English) but I hung out in high school with people who could.  So there is a strong desire to go and play this.  I am drawn to it like Smeagol was to his precious.

This, plus some good things about the beta I have heard or read have kept my desire to play the game pretty high.

My biggest fear, of course, is that they will take undue liberties with the story to facilitate game play.  It is going to happen.  It has to happen.  I just hope it won’t be so huge that it becomes a deal breaker for me.

My second biggest fear is that this will prove to be a game that just should not be a traditional, mass of people in the forest, ‘where do I find this?’ on OOC, style of MMO.  This might be one that would prove better in done on the GuildWars or Dungeons and Dragons Online model.  Or it might be worth creating a new MMO model for this sort of “massively multiplayer online interactive literary tourism game.” (MMOILTG?)

And maybe they went that way.  Maybe they have broken new ground in the genre for this title and its odd circumstances.   I do not know because I have this odd “The more I want to play it, the less I want to know about it in advance so as not to spoil it” trait and I have been in full avoidance mode with LOTRO.


Interest: High

Affinity for the Theme or IP: Very High

Will I play: Very likely, even if I have to go it alone.

Do I Need To Play Day One: No.  I’d be willing to wait if I heard it shipped before it was fully baked.