Encouraged Grouping

There was an article over on Massively, and then Cuppy wrote about it, and it got me to thinking, so I figured I’d chime in…

The first thing to deal with is that games, especially MMOs, are a business just like any other.  And like every business they are very trend driven.  If one company has success with something, expect other companies to follow it, because, in their thinking, that way lies success.  You see it in movies fairly clearly.  One superhero movie does well and suddenly the market is flooded with superhero movies.  If next year a gritty noir cop film were to rake in a $60 million opening weekend, you could expect to see a few more of them the year after.  Books are another place this is obvious.  How many young adult targeted books about child/teen heroes battling evil existed prior to the success of Harry Potter?  How many after?  Bookstores practically have entire aisles of them.

EQ encouraged grouping.  I like to say encouraged rather than forced because despite what some people will tell you every single class in EQ could solo… many of them were just horrible at it.  Grouping, then, felt forced because a bunch of people who couldn’t solo effectively could overcome that and gain much better advancement by grouping together.  Because grouping was so much better than solo for the majority of classes, people say it is “forced”.  Semantics.  In any event, it worked well for EQ.  Grouping, forced or encouraged, fostered communities.  Players built friends lists and joined guilds, they frequented the same zones to be with the same people, they followed those people to new zones.  Because of this, the games that came shortly after all tried to encourage grouping.  EQ was successful, and that way lies success.

WoW came along and said people didn’t need to group.  Every class can solo, and often times they solo more effectively than grouping (because solo you don’t have to worry about stupid people invading your group and messing you up).  And it was more successful.  So, that way now lies success.  Most of the games since, and most of the ones coming down the pipe all allow for rewarding solo play.  In fact, many of these games, through experience split and bonus structures, and loot sharing actually discourages grouping.  Why split exp and loot with random strangers when you can just solo the content and keep it all yourself?  Of course, they still do encourage some grouping, in instances for groups and raids, but the game leading up to the “end game” doesn’t need, and plays more efficiently without, grouping.

This too will change.

The problem I have with this is that MMOs are not quite like other businesses.  If Nike were to decide to change the way they make shoes and I didn’t like the new shoes, I could still find the old kind, through eBay or even through Nike as they are likely to rebrand the old shoes as “classics” and keep selling them until they become unprofitable.  But when it comes to MMOs, if the new trend moves away from your game model, you only have two options: 1) change your game to follow the new trend, or 2) accept that your game might diminish, plan for that, and begin building a new game.

As I touched on in my post about quests, with EQ they chose option 1.  After the launch of WoW (and some even before, the benefit of being a running game while another game runs an open beta and media blitz) they began implementing changes in their game to capitalize on the new buzz of new success.  At this point, EQ plays more like a WoW skin draped over an EQ bone structure with a bit of reconstructive surgery.  The old EQ is lost (unless you want to play the Mac version, which I would, if I didn’t need a Mac to do it), and that is the game I want to play.

I want a game with encouraged grouping throughout, with quests you have to discover, without maps built in to the game, but no one is developing that game anymore, and even the games that were that game aren’t that game anymore.  I am a niche that is not being serviced.  When people ask what MMOs I play, that is the answer I give them.

One comment

  1. […] want to post about here that I feel is important.  I’ve touched on it before, at the end of this post.  MMOs are a different beast that other forms of […]

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