Friday, August 28, 2009

Before I jump into my posts concerning BlizzCon...

There's something I want to talk about that wasn't really mentioned at BlizzCon: The unnamed MMO.

While there are probably people who are interested in hearing my thoughts on said event, I wanted to get this post out there before I forgot my thoughts about it.

First off, let's go over the very little we do know:

  • Blizzard is releasing another MMO.
  • It's a new Intellectual Property (IP).
That's it! That's all we really know.

So with so little to know, what is there that I could speak about? Is it that it's a new MMO? No. There are a ton of new MMOs, and really with the announcement of Cataclysm, Blizzard has shown that it has no intent of dropping its flagship moneymaker (WoW) the moment this MMO goes live.

But the development of new IP is big news. Not just because it's Blizzard, though that would be enough for me. I'm a huge fan of Blizzard's previous games, having beaten almost every one multiple times. Warcraft. Diablo. Starcraft. All amazing games and/or series.

But this brings up a question... Blizzard has both the Diablo settings and the Starcraft settings that they could expand into for the MMO market. Who here can honestly say they wouldn't sign up immediately for Worlds of Starcraft? So why make an entirely new IP?

Now, time out for a sec. I don't remember where, a while back I saw a blog post about the perceived "death" of new IPs for MMOs (if anyone recognizes the blog post I'm referring to, could you direct me to it?). The basic assertion of the post was that why should a company spend time and money developing a brand new IP for an MMO when there are, literally, hundreds of different settings which could all easily be used for MMOs?

Now back to the new MMO. If the above blog post is true, why is Blizzard... the leader of the MMO genre and one of the biggest names in the gaming field, doing something that makes so little sense? Or... does it make a lot of sense?

Blizzard has, since the release of tBC, increasingly prioritized Game Balance over The Lore. And while I'm a little sad, it's overall made my gaming experience that much more fun, which more than makes up for it. Prior to tBC, vanilla WoW was, almost blow for blow, a match to the lore of WC3 and the novels along with previous sources. If anything, it just expanded on what we already knew, fleshing everything out.

But they found that being too adamant about sticking to The Lore would cause serious, serious issues. The imbalance between one side having Paladins and the other side having Shaman is a stellar example of this. I'm sure there are other changes I could think of, but none spring to mind... but you get the idea.

So they chose flexibility over rigidity for the pre-existing storyline to make the game play experience that much better. While a part of me despairs of the changes to the story and moving away from what it was between the end of WC3 and the start of tBC, I realize that Blizzard is a business and will do what's best for the company. And honestly, as a game (but not a consistent storytelling device), WoW is a stellar success.

Now, let's take a step back from WoW and look over other MMOs based on existing IPs. I'm going to discount FFXI since each one is based on it's own world (even though I feel that it was a financial success, but that's separate).

I would say that the only other MMO based on an major existing non-MMO IP that has succeeded was UO, but that game was released back when there weren't many other real MMO options. UO, EQ, Meridian 59, The Realm Online and Asheron's Call were really it in those days.

Games like SWG, DDO, WAR, AoC, MxO, The Sims Online, and LotRO are all generally considered pretty spectacular failures.

I feel that part of the problem (though not the entire problem) is either you go into the game wanting it to match the source it came from and it does not, or it does match said source, but does so closely that it's no fun.

Early versions of SWG illustrated sticking to the source too well, making the game quite un-fun to play. SOE made SWG take place during the Galactic Civil War. As most already know, by then almost all the Jedi were wiped out. So as a result, when SOE was designing Galaxies, they made the Jedi class so hard to unlock that initially no one could figure out how to do it. Four months after the game's release no one had figured it out, and in retrospect it's pretty obvious why. I mean, in a Star Wars game there are those who will inevitably want to play Jedi. In fact a lot will. Sticking to the lore and being like "only a few and they have these limitations" pretty much hurt SWG from the get go...

Then later on SOE changed SWG to a system less skill tree based and more classical (ha ha, see what I did there?). In this case, when you started you picked your class of which one was Jedi. This created the other side of the problem. Sure, anyone could be a Jedi but it had to be balanced compared to the other classes. Unfortunately, they didn't rebalance other classes to bring them up to Jedi's power levels, they beat Jedi with the nerf stick until they were a shadow of their former selves. Thus while the game was balanced, it bore so little resemblance Jedi presented in the movies that it was an insult. With the game originally balanced around "normal" people, with the force sensitives being hard to unlock and having limited lives (no joke on that on...), it was okay. But bring the Jedi down to an equal level with everyone else just made them underwhelming.

In a very round about way, I'm saying that having an existing IP is actually showing itself to be a liability and not a strength. Sure... you don't have to spend as much money developing it, but balancing between being true to the lore and not alienating the fan and making a fun game is tricky at best and impossible at worst.

Even WoW suffers from this. As I mentioned, I quit the game entirely for a number of months because of the changes they made to the back story when tBC was introduced. I'm sure I'm not the only one (at that point Blizzard had around 5-6 million subscribers... no way I was the only one). And I came back, but who knows how many didn't? And as things went on, the lore was again and again changed for the benefit of the game which probably had a similar effect.

By making an entirely new setting, Blizzard is freeing themselves from any existing lore limitations! They can build the entire setting with how to make the best MMO they can think of in mind. Honestly, I'm even more excited about the prospects of this new MMO now than I was before (and honestly I was pretty excited...). If Blizzard can reproduce their success in the MMO department that they had with WoW in this new MMO with a lore that is completely without need for a retcon, I will love it SO MUCH!

P.S. Sorry for taking so long with this post. It ended up going through four iterations of this post before I felt it was a smooth read.

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