Welcome to January, the season to navelgaze. I’ve done my share:
The video game industry is not going to be immune from the Great Recession. The MMO industry is especially not going to be immune, as the only proven path to success for MMOs is in huge budget gambles that have missed more often than not.
But looking at the future is risky, since it hasn’t, you know, happened yet. So backyard pundits (you know, like backyard wrestling, but without the dignity) look back in angst-er at the year gone by. Here’s a typical sample.
If an apologist fan (or Bill Roper) of any of these games tries to blame the previous as to why these games never became a success then they clearly have a few screws loose. No, these games failed because their developers let it happen.
(You know, I can’t begin to describe the number of design meetings where people just keep saying “you know, we should just let this game fail. C’mon! It’ll be fun!” In retrospect? We should have done that less.)
First, a tangent (well, another one, anyway): I love Hellgate: London. I love any game that has enough balls to put a colon in their name, but especially Hellgate: London, which never was really an MMO but pretended to be long enough to try to get a subscription fee that few actually paid. But why I love HG:L the most is the sheer amount of angry internet angst it generates.
Let’s not beat around the bush – HG:L was a bad game. The content was poorly written, the skill system was overcomplicated to the point of opacity, and as near as I could determine, the game consisted mostly of ruins, demons that jumped out at you, and the color brown. This would be why I did not buy it. I did not remain on message boards for six months or a year complaining about how Bill Roper personally raped my childhood or making oh-so-witty puns on the game’s name that people who still laugh at “Micro$oft” find clever. Why should I? It wasn’t a good game. There are other games which were good. I played those.
See – there *were* good games that came out last year. You may have heard of this “lich king” thing, for example. Sure, Blizzard could have run the Zone Creation Wizard 16 times, crapped out enough foozles to take you to the next Woozle Fairy Instance Run, and made 83 hojillion dollars. Yet, there were actually some zones in the expansion which are… really good. Sure, if you’re tired of killing orcs with a sword, it probably doesn’t do much for you – but for people complaining about how the world doesn’t change when you do anything, well, they’re working on it.
A few people, I’m given to understand, picked up the expansion. There were a few other expansions as well, if you like the whole kill orcs with a sword thing but still think Bill Roper raped your childhood back when he was doing voiceover work at Blizzard.
Want PvP? Well, there was this one game that came out last year and is still poking along, and there’s this other game that has this somewhat interested following coming out soon, and oh yeah, there’s this other game which has a new expansion and store presence coming up which is more than a little popular. I’m told you can even kill other players in that lich king thingamabob a few of those kids today are playing!
It’s easy to point at failures and laugh. I do it with great regularity, because I too enjoy easy things. And it’s true that new MMO development is going to slow this year. It SHOULD. Huge megaprojects like Tabula Rasa that don’t have a clear goal and defined market will fail – and they SHOULD fail. Games like Age of Conan that release half-baked will fail – and they SHOULD fail. This is market evolution in action. If you’re going to compete in the marketplace, it’s a bit more mature than when you had two–letter–games and nothing else.
But the market isn’t in tens of thousands, but tens of millions. There’s a bit of room to grow and prosper. Just not, you know, if Bill Roper raped your childhood.