The bigger picture of MMORPGs.

I love the chat box on www.mmovoices.ning.com because we are always having neat little conversations in there while we play our games. It’s hard to make amazing points in a chat room, and it makes you pick your words carefully. I like that, being that I can talk WAY WAY WAY too much.

We were talking about Free Realms, and it seems that everyone presumes that I am a fan of Free Realms simply because I think all games should be the way it is, meaning that all games should be played the way it is played, or look the way it looks. I get frustrated sometimes because I use example so much when I am talking and people tend to get caught on the example as a literal point, and not as something representing something else. I can’t explain myself, most of the time, without trying to paint a picture that represents the feeling behind my words.

Free Realms is an example.

If you look at what SOE did, if you really look at it, you might see that they not only pulled something wonderful off but did a helluva lot of good for the MMO community, something they do a great deal of. Of course, many people seem to think that SOE does nothing but ruin games, but when you are in the business of taking chances and attempting something different, this can happen. Also, when you have more titles under your belt than anyone else including some of the oldest titles out there, the percentage of mistakes made will be higher just in proportion. With Free Realms they not only showed that a game company should recognize new trends (F2P), but should try to be one of the first to participate in the new technologies coming and the new styles of game-play.

Some people tend to think that Free Realms and the increased visibility of even the term “F2P” means that the “old ways” of gaming are gone, or going. They are not, at all, and in fact are probably just enhanced and changed a bit. The “old ways” were bloated, time consuming and boring a great deal of the time. If not, then why aren’t players playing those “old ways?” In fact, I find many, many players that talk about the old days yet use things like fast travel, walk-through sites and mods that give them far too much information on the screen.Many players like to talk about the old days while participating in the “new ways” that they criticize.

And, as I have said quite a few times, the old ways have never been taken out of most games. Even EQ, which has been named as “getting easier” because of the lack of corpse runs and the like, still has those corpse runs and still features a very tough leveling system. Just because the easier choice is there does not take away the players ability to play the “old school” way. My bet is that most players left those “old school” games out of sheer boredom or for the light of a shinier newer game. It had nothing to do with the game getting “easier.” True, there is something to be said for a player feeling as though the old school ways have been devalued or taken down a notch by a game adding these new options, but that cannot be helped by the developer. The developer must try new things or perish. Many people would claim that adding “old school” servers would prove that players want that old-school-hard-core game-play back, and while I am actually a great fan of those type of rule-sets, I have always maintained that the server would be a ghost-town as soon as the nostalgia wore off. I would be there, but like it was in every game that gave the choice to play “old-school” style, (Vanguard, for example), players would talk about a “hard-core” play-style while taking a portal to the latest dungeon run.

But this blog is about the “bigger picture” that Free Realms and “the new generation” of games represents. Not only are games of higher quality now, but the delivery method for the games has changed. Now, thanks to faster internet connections and faster home PC’s, the games are getting better looking and faster to download. Look at LotRO, for example. That game is beautiful and runs great on many different set-ups. But you can download the trial and be up and running within a few hours. It’s really amazing, if you think about it, but even more amazing that in 10 years we will be laughing at the look of games like LotRO and Free Realms. The most common argument I get into now-a-days seems to be about how games are not what they “used to be.” About how they used to be harder, more immersive, more rewarding.

I think that games used to be slower, more exclusive, and more boring.

The trend of new games to add “easy mode” options is just that: a trend. It is an exploration of a medium, it is an attempt by many companies to see how it works out, to experiment. If players want to get stuck inside of one game, that’s fine. But that player does not need to be commenting on how gaming has become this or that. Gaming includes literally hundreds, if not thousands of games and all sorts of innovations and amazing attempts. SOE has been a leader in innovation and in attempting new things. Never will I say that they are always successful, or even successful most of the time, but they are trying things that push the medium forward. If you don’t like their experiments, don’t play them.

But if you want to look at the bigger picture, and want to call yourself a gamer, educate yourself a bit. Get a few gaming magazines, go to several sites besides the one or two sites that you visit about your game. Step outside of your home-world, try something new. I will promise you that one day you will become bored with your current title and will look around at all the new games and realize that you have been left behind, that there were so many opportunities for different kinds of fun and you might have lost those opportunities by spending your time in one game, night after night.

The bigger picture includes a lot of people, games and worlds to explore. I, for one, want to explore them all.

Beau

EDIT: I would like to add in a point, and not in the comments, that I forgot to bring up. I write so fast I often forget stuff, or I remember them suddenly on the pot. Also, it’s my blog and I can do what the Hell I want! :) :

People seem to be saying that Free Realms is a collection of mini-games, while other “conventional” MMO’s are not. This is false. Free Realms is, in game-play, very similar to a conventional MMO. That is why I am talking about the innovations in packaging, delivery and in style.

1)  There are several activities that are not “mini-games.” Combat, racing, bumper-cars, cooking, instanced “raiding”, collecting for Xp…many examples that if you stop and think for a second, you can find those same examples in almost every game out there. That means not that Free Realms is a collection of non-mini-games, it means that all MMO’s are a collection of mini-games.

2) Crafting in EQ2, for example: you go into a separate screen and play a “game to craft. Same with Vanguard.

3) EQ2 has, literally, a gambling coin game. So does Free Realms.

4) Raiding, from EQ to WoW, has certain “strats” that must be followed in order to kill the monster in the end. In this case, raiding has taken from Mario Brothers.

5) Much of Free Realms instancing is due to the level of difficulty being low. They load the instance, and then do a “rady-check.” This is a common practice in raiding, some of the most “hard-core” game-play in conventional mmo’s.

6) Free Realms has non-instanced chat areas, places to socialize and NPC interactions. So do conventional MMO’s. Free Realms, in many cases, has MORE of this than many conventional MMO’s.

The problem here is that many players see a game like Free Realms as too fine of a point to game-play, too literal. They want their avatar to go through motions to get the gem, instead of waving their mouse around on a screen. Even though, essentially, combat in almost any MMO is based upon a random dice roll, that is not considered a mini-game. Even games like Spellborn, that have combat based on actual aiming are considered different than a game of Duck Hunt. This is not about connecting all MMO’s to Free Realms, or arguing that Free Realms is exactly like every MMO out there..this is about seeing things for what they really are, and recognizing innovation even though it might not be in the department that you want it to be. If you want real innovation, look at Second Life. Yet, no one wants games that have no combat.

I will talk about this more in the podcast, but it’s nice to work out thoughts here too.