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Where Gaming Is Today

It sure is a lot easier to copy a post I already made in reply to existing commentary than come up with a new blog entry, so here we go.

It's funny just how much time we spend talking about how to define the words we use considering how anything said on the Internet is doomed to be taken out of context anyway.

I think we're all in general agreement that an MMORPG is a game that is predominantly made of persistent space with an extremely high amount of players able to interact within that space. However, even this common definition is a bit of an optical illusion. In reality, no MMORPG really has successfully managed to put several hundred players in close contact with eachother without suffering from bottlenecks that sabotage the gameplay and the solution has been to split them up by worlds (servers), geography (zones), and even outright copies of the same geography (instances). The more divided the player base is, the faster the gameplay you can host, and a large challenge in designing an MMORPG is how to do this transparent enough that it least feels like an MMORPG.

So, knowing this, what good is that acronym, "MMORPG," really? Not much. It's only as Massively Multiplayer Online as each individual player believes it is. Barely anyone RolePlays. As Games, repetitively grinding mobs to make numbers go up is about as fun as doing your taxes. About the only reason I don't look into the mirror and ask myself why I've been lying to myself to idolize the term MMORPG is because I know, deep down, that there's always the chance somebody will come along and do it right, and if such a great portal of escapism were ever devised, my exultation of the genre would be fully justified.

Moving on, a lot of what Ryan Seabury is saying here is true by virtue of its obviousness.
  • Yes, MMORPGs are no longer the new kid on the block. There are now hundreds if not thousands of MMOs in operation (though the greater bulk of those are eastern Cyber-Cafe fare). What that means is you're now going to have to compete on the quality of your game as opposed to assuring some measure of success simply through overcoming the technical merit of breaking open a whole new genre.
  • Yes, if you make the tried and true and do not push the boundaries of innovation at all, you are fairly asking to fade away into mediocrity. If you look at EverQuest and say it's just the grind, look at World of Warcraft and say it's just a streamlined EverQuest, or look at Rift and say it's just another WoW clone, you have yet to cultivate an eye for what is true innovation, and your attempts to emulate their success will fail.
  • Yes, anyone who plans to sustain themselves in an entertainment industry has to come to grips with the fact that their pay is ever at the mercy of a fickle audience. I tend to look at those TV commercials advertising computer game development degrees as a real travesty considering how many of those kids are bound to run face-first into a meat grinder. The smartest developers are the indies who spin their creative vision with cheap tools while keeping themselves afloat with real jobs.
Up to that point, he's reading past observations, and hindsight is relatively 20/20. It's when he slips into predicting where technology is going to go that he begins to slip up.

In this case, I disagree with the idea that making casual gimmicks that troll social networking is sure success. For every Farmville, there's hundreds of games that want to be Farmville and fail, it's generally the same ratio of being noticed versus not you'll see in neigh any particular genre of the gaming industry. Sorry, as amazing as you might think Facebook's social pervasiveness is, social gaming is neither a magic bullet nor unexploited technology.

Also, I believe that this whole casual paradigm over the last decade is beginning to dry up. The trouble with that approach is, if you develop a game that only interests non-gamers, your resulting audience isn't going to hang around long by virtue of not being the type of play games to begin with. This is the reason why the next Nintendo console is suddenly boasting beefy rendering capabilities instead of being the Wii 2: the casuals proved untenable in the long run.

In the end, I think the reason way so many developers don't bother to push the envelope of games in order to interest real gamers who are far more likely to give them real cash moneys over a consistent period is because that kind of innovation is hard. Partly because making a game is a heck of a lot easier when you've a working example to study. Partly because real gamers have standards that are mighty hard to satisfy for developers who modus operandi is to clone what a real gamer is already bored of.
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