Why So Much Fantasy?

In an interview back in May, CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Petursson wanted to know what is up with all of the fantasy genre MMOs.  He wants to see the MMO-esphere expand beyond fantasy.  According to him, even some more SciFi massive games out there to help expand the market, which he sees as providing more opportunities for CCP’s EVE Online.  You can read the interview here.  It is short, so go take a look.

He certainly brings up a good point.  I have three gut level responses to the big question in this interview.

First is that “fantasy” is a pretty wide net to cast when it comes to genres.  I mean, I went over to Wikipedia where they, of course, have a list of sub-genres to fantasy.  I knew there were a few, but I did not know there were so many.  We have a lot of ground to cover before the fantasy genre runs dry.  Yes, we have probably gone to the high fantasy well too often, but there are other worlds to conquer.  Conan, for example, is not high fantasy.  His world is, clearly, not the nice, clean battle between good and evil.  Conan’s world has a lot of shades of grey.

Second, fantasy, especially high fantasy, tends to be prime for conversion to the massive gaming environment.  Fantasy tends to have both the space and limitations that make for good massive gaming.  A good high fantasy IP will already have defined world along with the lore to make a massive game.  Plus, fantasy tends to be in a more medieval setting, so you can get away with making people walk everywhere they need to go.

Other likely genres do not fit as nicely into the MMO scope.  SciFi tends to be vast.  Doesn’t EVE Online boast of being the largest MMO around when it comes to sheer volume of space?  You think walking across Norrath or Azeroth takes time?  You haven’t taken an epic space voyage in EVE then.  Space is big.  Technology is complex.  It can be difficult to distill that down into a massive environment.

Horror, another possible avenue, tends to be too small.  Frankly, as a genre, it has been made pretty clear that you do not need a world, or even a continent to scare the crap out of somebody.  A small castle, a decrepit manor, or a village off the beaten path is about all the setting you require.  There are some exceptions to this in horror, such as Cthulhu, but as a genre it is hard to beat fantasy as something that fits right into the massive mold as we experience it today.

Finally, fantasy has been the most successful genre for MMOs.  World of Warcraft, and EverQuest before it, set the outer boundaries for success in the MMO space.  That does not mean that other genres should not be explored, but this does seem to say something about our desire to take up the sword as opposed to the blaster.

And then, completely off topic, can you look at the picture at the top of that interview and not have the urge to shout, “Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!”

12 thoughts on “Why So Much Fantasy?

  1. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Oddly enough, there is a school of thought that says LOTR almost killed off fantasy.

    Once you read LOTR, especially if it is your first fantasy novel, you will have a desire to find more books like it. Only, when you start picking up stuff in that section of the bookstore which caters to the dragons and unicorns crowd, you will find yourself in the midst of a lot of crap. LOTR was so good that it spawned many wannabes, so you can find yourself knee deep in pale imitations that will turn you off the genre.

    My personal experience after reading LOTR was to run out an pick up a brand new book titled “The Sword of Shanara.” Terry Brook’s book was probably a pretty good first outing, but at the time it seemed flat and derivative of Tolkien’s work, so I put it down and never picked up another one of his books ever again.

    Later I picked up “Lord Foul’s Bane” and found that Stephen R. Donaldson had made a fantasy world that wasn’t a pale reflection of Middle-earth. And thus fantasy was revived, at least for me.

    But, yes, Tolkien done it. He made it acceptable to run around waving a sword on your computer.

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  2. Kilanna

    My husband and I were chattering away about this very issue recently. When I am passionate about something, I tend to throw myself into it with gusto to the exclusion of all else, so I am happy with my fantasy game. My husband is at the complete opposite end of the scale because he craves diversity and he really wishes that there was more than the current plethora of fantasy.

    Oh dear – Terry Brooks :( I personally do not like his style at all.

    My first experience of Terry Brooks was the Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace book. I found the book extremely dissapointing. I thought it was pale and shallow. There was so much possiblity to explore relationships between key characters and really bring the universe to life – I was left feeling flat and frustrated. I have tried to read a few of his other works with an open mind but just cant seem to get drawn in.

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  3. CrazyKinux

    Read both the Terry Goodkind and Terry Brooks and found both to be blend, weak in their plots simply LotR rehashed. Very disappointed.

    Both of you should check out Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen : 1) from Steven Erickson. It’s epic, its High Fantasy mixed in with espionage, assassins, military expansions. Almost every day coming home after my commute, I would say to my wife how much I loved his story. His story telling abilities are incredible, all characters are treated as main characters, in my book he’s way up there with Tolkien.

    I’ve just finished it and am about to start the second in the series, “Dead House Gate”. I can’t wait!

    As for too much Fantasy MMOs, I’ll agree, but would blame more D&D then Tolkien. Funny thing is that there are tons science-fiction settings that I would love to see as MMOs: Dune, Mars Trilogy, Mass Effect, The Gap Series, etc. Wish devs and publishers would start thinking outside the box.

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  4. Pingback: You can’t put a dragon on a spaceship « Gestalt Mind

  5. Cameron Sorden

    George RR Martin still gets my vote for best fantasy writer. If he would just finish his damn book…

    I think it’s interesting to see how common magic has become in the idea of what fantasy is, when you consider how low-magic LoTR is.

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  6. Pingback: Fantasy/Sci-Fi MMO Steelcage Deathmatch « pΘtshΘt

  7. Talyn

    I actually had the opposite reaction to Tolkien. It literally took me three months to read the first book. It was so slow and boring and did not draw me in at all. The latter section picked up the pace so once it finally got interesting I finished it, and the next two books, within a two-week period. But I’ve never really had the desire to re-read the trilogy nor to seek out similar novels.

    Back then, I would have rated the Dragonlance Chronicles as a far superior read over Tolkien. These days… I’m rather fond of Sara Douglass’ writings.

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  8. Stargrace

    Sara Doughlass, Robin Hobb, Terry Goodkind, I read whatever fantasy I can get my hands on, old Dragonlance and all the rest. I love fantasy and hate sci-fi, so the whole “why fantasy” or “why so much fantasy” is just fine by me, keep it coming!

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  9. Gdub

    Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara was a pretty obvious ripoff of LOTR, but, if you read the rest of the series it gets really good. Outside of the original trilogy (sword, elfstones, wishsong), the heritage series (of 4) is awesome. I have everything up until the First King, but that’s a prequel pre-dating Sword. He’s made some other shannara books since, but I never picked them up. Still, he’s not as bad as you may think.

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