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.

9 thoughts on “Third Generation? Was There A Second?



    Very insightful.

    Now I’ve got to put on a thinking cap and think of things that could possibly be that generation boundary.

    Perhaps when games are so immersive that you feel you are actually in them. I’m thinking VR here I suppose.

    Or perhaps the opposite… where the game is not drawing you in so much as entering your life. I remember a game that was more of a mystery game than an MMO… but part of the game was signing up to receive emails, phone calls, even faxes that were part of the video game experience. The only other thing I remember about this game was it didn’t do very well…so perhaps the idea isn’t a very good one.

    But then again… in the end the thing that sets the next generation apart may not be an entirely new idea… it could be the refinement and reimplementation of an old idea in a new way.

    I know that virtually every time someone goes out seeking the next revolutionary thing they find little more than new twist on an old idea (Segway anyone?). But I suppose that shouldn’t stop me from dreaming of what it could be.


  2. Van Hemlock

    Most people’s idea of ‘next gen’ typically translates as ‘needs another 256Mb Video RAM’.

    I’d be tempted to mention Second Life in this context somehow, just to annoy people, (and Brent with talk of ‘sandboxes’!), but certainly all current MMOs are pretty similar when you get down to the abstract nuts and bolts, and indeed, of the same generation, as far as I can tell.

    Very subjective, and a case of ‘knowing it when you see it’.


  3. Ethic

    I prefer the term evolution. Current MMOs have evolved from previous MMOs. They are taking them and improving features but not doing anything revolutionary. So we might be looking at the 3rd Evolution instead of 3rd Generation. The auto industry uses EVO quite regularly to describe the next “change” of the same car model.


  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    You have a good idea there, and it points to my real gripe, which is the free and pervasive use of ill-defined or undefined terms. (see “sandbox”)

    The context in which I hear “Third Generation” used always implies the “next big thing,” but I do not understand what they think the “last big thing” was and how to tell that from the “first big thing.”

    If somebody could respond and say, “Second generation is this” and give a frame of reference, I would be willing to accept that.

    Personally, I have trouble with the idea of “second generation” because I am hard pressed to come up with something that wasn’t at least prototyped in Ultima Online, EverQuest, or Asheron’s Call.


  5. Cath

    I’ll take up that challenge, and reveal just exactly how old I am in the meantime.

    For me, first generation MMO’s would describe a game I played extensively in grad school back in the early 1990s…Shadows of Yserbius on the old Sierra Imagination Network. Essentially it was the Bard’s tale for multiple players. I suppose one could lump the original Neverwinter Nights (on AOL), the game on the GENIE network (Gemquest?), and the MUD phenomenon under the same first generation label.

    Compared to those games, everything in the curretn market is definitley second generation.


  6. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Hrmm, I am not sure that helps the problem. If we say things like Gemstone on GEnie (I was in the beta for that!) and MUDs represent the first generation, and that EQ, UO, and AC through today represent the second generation, nothing has changed from my assertion except that we have added a previous generation. We still see all 3D graphical MMOs as the same generation.

    Comments I have heard, and I wish I could find one to point at right now, imply that EQ, M59, AC, UO, and the like are the first generation and that things like WoW and EQ2 represent a generational improvement, but aside from rather incremental changes, I cannot figure out how you discern the two generations. For example, is Dark Age of Camelot second generation or first?

    So maybe my question is, what defines a post-EQ/UO/AC generation MMO, if anything?


  7. darrenl

    There is no real such things as generations of MMOs. There…I said it.

    What has really changed since UO or EQ? Really nothing but graphics and lowering the bar to entry with gameplay tweaks…thats it. MMOs are kinda like a phone…there really is no difference in functionality between the phones we have now and the the first phone Alexander Graham Bell invented in 1876. Sure, we now have call waiting, call answer and such, but its still a phone.

    I guess I don’t understand the relevance of this topic as of late. Its fascinating to be sure,and I love the ideas come out of this, but maybe we’re looking for something that isn’t there??


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