A Massively Overthinking topic came up at Massively OP last week that struck me as… well… a bit silly. Not that every post has to be razor sharp intellectually, but this one was almost the straw man fallacy illustrated, as the staff was asked whether they would prefer a niche MMORPG that focused just on on a couple of strengths or an all-in-one MMORPG that covered all the bases. Somehow, that became a measure of features as everybody weighed in.
Unsurprisingly, the entire staff decided that they would prefer an MMORPG that had it all. It was like asking somebody if they preferred a lover who only satisfied some of their needs or one who satisfied them all. Absent any other details, why wouldn’t you choose the latter.
Left completely out of the post, except in the minds of those opining on the topic (something I wouldn’t swear to even that in court given some of the responses), was any sort of attempt to define what niche vs. all-in-one comparison even looks like. You know, some details that might serve as illustration.
It is very easy to say that you’d prefer an MMORPG that did 10 things pretty well than one that did 2 things better than anybody else, or that you’d trade graphical fidelity for features (Is graphical fidelity even something niche MMORPGs offer as a comparative feature?), but what does that look like in the real world? Where is the comparison? Show me that niche MMORPG that does 2 things so well and compare and contrast it to you favored jack of all trades.
Sure, World of Warcraft, the one live MMORPG that gets a mention, can stand in for the “does everything” title I suppose. But what about the niche side of things? Where is that?
My first thought went to Project: Gorgon. That is as niche as it gets in the MMORPG world, right?
But I would be hard pressed to declare that Project: Gorgon has focused on doing anything “better” than the rest of the genre, unless you count being weird and quirky. I mean, graphic fidelity certainly isn’t on the list. And it does a whole bunch of things… whether they are better or worse than you want seems to be pretty much up to you.
Basically, its niche status is set more by its low production values and departure from the beaten path than anything the MOP staff was railing against. Maybe of its 10 things, some are you wouldn’t suspect, but it does them.
Then there is Pantheon: Shadows of the Past. But that hasn’t shipped yet, so while it has been declared niche, we cannot really be sure what that means. Given Brad McQuaid’s enthusiasm in embracing any feature that gets brought up, I wouldn’t bet on the focus aspect. And, in any case, I think its niche status is less about features and more about being old school, for whatever value you care to assign to that. Is walking to school uphill, in the snow, both ways a feature?
Likewise, Camelot Unchained is still under wraps. It could be the chosen niche game, being focused on RvR and crafting… and building… and housing… and a few other things I think. Can it be more than 2 but less than 10 features? Anyway, it isn’t an option yet, so it doesn’t count to my mind.
Shroud of the Avatar came to mind as well, but that doesn’t fit the bill either. It is niche in its approach I suppose, but it does many things… many of them badly… does being bad make you niche?
Anyway, as I trotted down the list I started to suspect that you couldn’t really be an MMORPG… and my definition of such means worldly online games like EverQuest or World of Warcraft or EVE Online or Star Wars Galaxies, and not instanced lobby games like Diablo III or World of Tanks or whatever… without focusing on more than a couple of features. Being a two feature MMORPG is like being a two legged tripod, something that just doesn’t work out well in the real world.
In the end, I couldn’t really come up with a live niche MMORPG that met the seeming criteria of the post. I could, however, come up with examples of MMORPGs that went too far with features, to the detriment of the game.
So I am left with some questions.
What is a niche MMORPG? Is it something defined only by features?
What defines an all-in-one MMORPG? I mean, WoW is the easy answer. But is it? I suspect that people on that panel would argue against it because it lacks some feature they feel a “real” MMORPG needs, like player housing.
When does an MMORPG have to have all those features? The response “at launch,” or even “on a detailed roadmap at launch,” seems unrealistic. EverQuest, which I dare anybody to tell me isn’t as full features as they come, shipped with a feature set that would probably be considered inadequate in the context of “all-in-one.” But it grew with expansions. Then again, it also came from an era where MMORPGs didn’t peak on launch day and fall off after that.
Finally, what counts as a feature in any case? Seriously, how granular can one go before things count or do not count?
In the end I remain unconvinced that features are the defining benchmark that post suggests. There are plenty of MMORPGs out there with a lot of features that do nothing for me. I certainly go back to WoW time and again in part because of the feature set it offers. But there is more to my affinity for the game than that.
Of course, we could dial this back another step and start in on what an MMORPG really is. I may be defining that more narrowly than others. But, then again, I am not sure comparing and contrasting World of Warcraft against something like Occupy White Walls leads us anywhere fruitful either.