The MMORPG: Recycle, Repeat

I’m tired of the tried-and-true formula World of WarCraft seems to have established, but I understand the logic behind it. Because of staggering costs and lengthy development cycles, MMORPGs are a gamble; it makes sense to go with what is proven to work and to take as few risks as possible.

Build on the foundation, streamline some processes, inject it with its own flavor, and you should have a hit, right?

Not necessarily. There’s such a thing as playing it too safe, and it’s my opinion that Star Wars: The Old Republic is the most recent example. The problem is that MMORPGs like SWTOR build an (arguably) very similar experience, but don’t have the years of content updates and expansions that mainstays like WoW do. For the players that jump ship, they’re working their way up from level one through the same gameplay mechanics, finishing the content within a month after release, and then finding themselves with nothing to do. Their free month expires, and they decide not to pay for the subscription until more content is added. In the meantime, they’re back to their old stomping grounds.

That rationale makes perfect sense, but as evidenced by SWTOR’s recent free-to-play announcement, it takes a heavy toll on developers.

The solution to this trend sounds simple enough: Change the formula and make the new standard about quality rather than method. But generally speaking, gamers don’t want that. People say they’re waiting for a “WoW-killer”, but what they really want is WoW+. That’s why community forums are often rife with harsh and unfair comparisons. If a game deviates too drastically from what they know or takes too much effort and time to acclimate to, players won’t stick around.

I tried to introduce a friend whose first MMO was World of WarCraft to Final Fantasy XI and City of Heroes a few years ago. He gave up on FFXI after a few minutes, citing that the menus weren’t user-friendly, and even though he admitted having more fun playing CoH for a few hours than he had had playing WoW in some time, he explained that he wasn’t interested in starting a game from scratch and learning the new mechanics.

No one game is going to change this paradigm. It’ll take a very slow (and painful for some) evolution. For now, the free-to-play model appears to be a potential catalyst in getting players outside of their comfort zone, but once that model becomes the standard, will we be right back in the same rut?

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Vita’s Vitals

I recently read an article concerning PlayStation Vita sales that led to an interesting discussion with friends.

The Vita is a sleek piece of hardware, and one friend commented that despite its gorgeous graphics and sharp interface, he was far more enamored by Nintendo’s 3DS. It’s no secret that Sony’s latest handheld has pulled-down some relatively lackluster numbers since launch, and the blame is typically placed squarely on the lack of worthwhile titles. But I think there’s more to it than that.

Sony appears determined to bring big console experiences to the handheld screen. The recently announced Cross Buy feature, with which players can buy a PlayStation 3 game and get the Vita version for free, demonstrates their opinion that gamers want to be able to play on one system and effortlessly transition to another. That’s a nice feature, but in my opinion, this makes the Vita feel more like a companion gadget living in the PS3’s shadow. Which brings us to what I believe is the heart of the problem: The PlayStation Vita doesn’t have its own identity.

Titles such as Killzone and Call of Duty will move units, but the Vita needs titles and experiences that are exclusive to the system. Media Molecule’s Tearaway is a step in the right direction that will hopefully build enough momentum to attract more developers to explore the real potential of the Vita. The sales will follow.

The Gamernomicon

My girlfriend and I stepped out to get a burrito from Chipotle when she got home from school, and she could tell something was on my mind.

Even after submitting my application to a college and e-mailing a game design portfolio to the evaluator, I still felt like there was something I needed to be doing when I got home from work yesterday. This whole college situation has me feeling pretty restless because there’s so much riding on getting into a reputable school. And there’s only one around here that offers a game design program.

“Stop feeling this way,” I told myself, “This is a waste of time!”

I recalled a conversation I had with a friend at work. For two days, I hardly ate anything. People at work told me that it was probably stress, and my girlfriend echoed the idea. “You can’t stress about this or try to rationalize what-ifs,” the friend explained, “The answers are blowing in the wind.”

So I made up my mind last night to assign myself some homework to take my mind off things, and to advance toward my degree even before classes (potentially) start!

I sat down and organized The Gamernomicon, what I call the book that houses my games, by those I have and have not completed. My goal is to complete every game in that book while documenting what worked, what didn’t, and what I would have done differently in each. First-up? The Last Story!

Between gaming sessions, I’ll be reading through A Theory of Fun for Game Design as recommended in a great post about game design portfolios by industry veteran Brenda Brathwaite, and getting my chops up in Blender.