The Last Bastion

For the old guard, the happy fools, the dreamers.

Who Hates “traditional” MMORPGs? Not me.

Posted By on February 24, 2016

Posts in various web communities quite often get me churning…I still have the old forum warrior somewhere inside that always wants to respond and write huge, prolific posts on whatever topic happens to come up. Sometimes I actually write the posts, but these days I usually delete them. Most of the time, it’s not worth getting into a long discussion that will be ignored by game developers, or arguing with people who are never going to change their mind.

On my own blog, though…those kinds of things are great fuel. Just what I need to get the juices flowing so I can fill these terribly boring white “new post” boxes with beautiful black letters. So anyway, my rant which didn’t get posted today was in response to a post on reddit. This user correctly assessed the current situation in the genre in only a few words, without really understanding why –

Quote from reddit user Hopeann-

“Are there any N.A. MMORPG coming out anytime soon? I have been looking for a while and it seems like they are only being made in Korea or Asia . The only ones I have seen are start ups that look like shit .
Are there any top quality MMOs coming at all from NA? Something like WoW or SWTOR or even Rift /ESO .”

Obviously not someone who wastes a whole lot of time on the “meta” of the genre…just a person looking to play a game of a certain type and having a difficult time finding one. I find this very telling. Sometimes being so intimately involved and so thoroughly invested in something leads to a blindness of simple facts…and often it’s hard to illustrate exactly what’s getting missed to people who can’t see the forest for the trees. Folks in this genre, developers and players alike, spend so much time on the finer points, I think we often miss what’s right in front of our faces.

This particular statement from someone outside looking in almost perfectly illustrates a problem I’ve been trying to describe to people for years. This person gets it, just by passively observing and taking a few minutes to shop. Namely, ever since the earliest games in this genre, almost nobody has wanted to actually make an MMORPG.

Sounds weird, I know. What is a genre? The way I understand it, a genre in our context is a set of things that all share the same traits, or are based on the same fundamentals.

Dictionary.com says –

a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like

Okay, so what is an MMORPG? What makes a game a part of this genre? That’s kind of a huge question with really complicated answers, I know. But I think we can boil it down quite a lot just to illustrate an important point. There are a lot of things you can change and have your game still be an MMORPG. There have to be some things you cannot change. Otherwise, it’s not an MMORPG, right? I know there are lots of arguments online about each new game and whether or not it qualifies as part of the genre, but I wanted to look a bit at the larger trend.

What have developers been saying and trying to do ever since World of Warcraft (and some maybe even before that)? One of the primary overarching goals always seems to be getting away from MMORPGs. Getting away from exactly the elements of game design that made a game part of the genre. Supposedly, everyone hates these elements. At least according to the developers who supposedly want to make and sell MMORPGs. It’s confusing as heck. Why try to make a game in a genre that you don’t understand or enjoy, and that you don’t think players enjoy either (you’re wrong, but okay).

A game that’s social where you have to rely on other players in various ways? A long journey where your character slowly evolves and improves by gaining memorable experiences and items? A virtual world that’s complex and deep and shared, one that’s based on epic stories and designed around exploration, a sense of wonder, and adventure? The list goes on…but obviously we can look at the first games that lead to the formation of the term MMORPG, and get a pretty good sense of not only the roots that lead to those games being created (namely, tabletop RPGs and MUDs), but also get a pretty good sense of the common elements that make those games what they are.

So, when someone says “traditional MMORPG”, I find it a little funny in a sad way. In reality, “traditional MMORPG” just means actual MMORPG, as opposed to whatever bastardized set of various game designs that some developer is currently wanting to call an MMORPG.

Isn’t it strange that developers who supposedly want to make games in this genre have spent something like 15+ years trying to make games that aren’t really in this genre, for some supposed audience that doesn’t like games in the genre? Everyone’s advertising their games as “new and improved and different and totally not all that stuff you hated in traditional MMORPGs!” Or at least they were for a lot of years.

There are a pretty significant number of players who actually¬†want to play MMORPGs (games which actually contain those common elements)… sure we’d like to see them improved and innovated on, but I don’t think any fan of MMORPGs is looking for them to be a completely different type of game. We play these weird mutant hybrids, and always end up finding the experience to be…not the same. What a shock.

There’s a recent trend now with these crowdfunded efforts to return to the actual genre in one way or another, which hopefully will lead us in a better direction in the next decade. If one looks at the games currently available though, and the stuff that’s been coming out over the last decade, one is definitely forced to wonder…where are the MMORPGs?

This person’s particular question could probably more accurately be answered by providing a bit of history…the fact that the genre went through a huge boom and bust post-WoW, fueled by overzealous, overconfident developers and eager game companies who saw the huge potential dollar signs and didn’t care to understand the details of who the players were or the type of games we want. It’s come full circle at this point, with gun shy money men and developers attempting to appeal to smaller, more focused audiences. These little crowdfunded projects might “look like shit” right now, as the poster so eloquently put it, but some of them may end up becoming the most succesful MMORPGs in more than a decade…if only because they may actually be MMORPGs.

…and yes, that may very well be the most times I’ve used the acronym in a single post. What do I win?


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