Monday, November 12, 2012

The Latest Greatest Hopes of MMOs

It's been well over a decade since companies started selling products they call MMOs. It's been about a decade since most of them stopped even trying to put out anything resembling a persistent world. In that time there have many empty promises and failed attempts.
Without going into the failed attempts and sell-outs of the past, here are the current and future failed attempts or empty promises that i've run across.

Pretty much dead at this point, Dawntide vaporized when it lost its funding last year. If it were resurrected by some kind soul of a cutthroat profiteering billionaire it would still be the strongest contender for a true persistent world simply because its creators had the best grasp of the necessary interconnection of player activity. The game revolved around crafting and the necessity of gathering crafting components, controlling profitable areas and getting goods to wherever they're going (no teleporting), with player conflict growing naturally out of that. Combined with its heavier slant on naval combat, the entire game world being set in an archipelago while still not pigeonholing anyone as pirates, it still holds some promise.
If another six months or a year go by without anyone reviving it however, the game can safely be considered dated and buried along with Ultima Online even if it does get dredged up a decade from now.

The main detriment to this one is how difficult it is to get into. It lacks production values (even Dawntide was showing more promising artwork and sound before it went under) and it is very punishing on beginners, even those who, like me, have played any number of sandbox games whose learning curve is a solid cliff wall like EVE.
It is however an expansive persistent world (and they're putting the world first with player activity really changing the landscape) and offers a great array of player options. It seems to be the most fanatically "sandbox" of my examples here, and the trade-offs may well be worth it for those who truly like their freedom.

The Repopulation
Of this whole bunch it has the widest appeal while still staying true to persistent world core principles. They are heavily pushing faction warfare which may end up to be a debacle like Darkfall (which boiled down to a few zerg guilds parceling out an all-too-small map with fixed city locations) but the landscape looks pretty in screenshots and they are promising to make non-combat playstyles valid choices instead of pigeonholing everyone as PvPers with some crafting skill stapled on in the back of their skillsets.
They are taking a vast risk by offering both FPS and RPG combat all in one. What's more, instead of making a PvP-centered game with some PvE, they are saying they'll be on equal footing. My impulse is to say that it will be impossible to balance and they will mire themselves in development hell for years trying to get the game engine and skill system to accomodate all that. Time will tell, but i must admit this is the one i'm currently most curious about and would love to see a beta.
It's as or more ambitious than Xsyon while looking better and having more gimmicks to draw players in.

Life Is Feudal
The problem with LIF is that it's primarily going for roleplayer appeal. There is a great amount of sandbox appeal, including again, alterable terrain, but the game seems heavily dependent on the viability of its player faction system, the feudal lifestyle. I have a weak spot for LIF because it might be a  true multiplayer version of Mount & Blade but their die-hard dedication to the medieval setting (no magic or other fantasy elements) might make it hard for the game to achieve the critical mass of players which a persistent world needs to keep it interesting. It will live or die according to how many creative anachronists play online games.

Planetside 2
The original Planetside is, along with EVE and ATITD one of the tragically few examples of true persistent world gameplay. It is a niche product, a pure PvP game selling mainly on the idea of a world-sweeping conflict between three fixed factions and is in this respect much of what World of Warcraft failed miserably to live up to. Hundreds of players at a time using infantry, tanks and planes against each other along gigantic, continent-spanning battle-lines, that's all there is to the game, but there is enough to that concept to make PS2 (along with the fact that it's funded by Sony and has, compared to the likes of the games i've presented so far, practically infinite funding) the most likely to succeed short-term. It's not a sandbox, but it is persistent and massive, and if all others fail it will make a good fall-back point.
It's not its lack of features that will kill PS2, but its marketing scheme. Even before release, they are offering players a chance to buy amusement-park money to spend in game on more powerful guns and upgrades. This is a much bigger weakness than Sony's bean-counters seem to realize.
Nothing matters more for a PvP game than fair-play. What they are offering players is a "pay-to-win" option and it will kill the game's competitiveness in the long run. It will be thoroughly enjoyable for the first couple of months but most players will soon after begin to realize that they can never compete with those willing to spend hundreds of dollars every year to keep buying the more and more overpowered weapons, armors and so forth that Sony is selling.
Don't get me wrong, PS2 will never drop out of the market altogether, but it will rapidly devolve to the status of Project Entropia or EVE, profitable because it can keep a few addicts shilling out year after year but inconsequential for the rest of us looking for a an actual game to play and not just legitimized cheating.

The best thing FireFall has going for it is the investor-bait of an apparent "pay-to-win" system combined with a promise to only let players buy cosmetic features, never practical advantages. Aside from that, it's a compromise between The Repopulation and Planetside 2. Fewer features but more polish, better ad-campaign (they're hiring geek spokesmen like Wil Wheaton as advertisers, good angle) and a solid focus on PvP while still including PvE, fitting my own mantra on the issue of balance in a persistent world, it looks to be the most likely to succeed and actually deliver a true MMO since EVE started selling multiple subscriptions.

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