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.