Have MMORPG’s Hit A Dead-End?

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When World of Warcraft first broke on the scene, all hell broke loose in the world of online gaming. Prior to WOW, most online games were small time and small-scale affairs. Little worlds with limited action. Not only was the action limited, the story line and game lore were anemic. WOW changed the rules forever.

It brought to life the ‘massive’ in massively multiplayer online role-playing games. We’re talking about a huge expanse online with thousands of characters per server. As for game lore, its story line meshes well and is modular enough to handle many different outcomes and progressions.

WOW was so successfully that it quickly gained millions of monthly subscribers and the game racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales. Indeed, it hit the ball so far out of the park, many MMO gamers are hard-pressed to name another MMO before it. For the record, there is a good one called Ultima Online. Naturally, where there is money, there is competition-many WOW imitators and knockoffs popped up, covering all sorts of genres. Still, WOW remains the king of the roost.

Now for the sad news. It appears that after WOW pioneered the MMORP’s modern story architecture and gameplay, not much has changed in terms of core MMORP story components. It appears the industry hasn’t evolved much past the groundwork laid by WOW.

Sure, the front end changes-now you have MMORPGs about pirates, space aliens, etc. But the underlying story flow and game mechanics haven’t evolved. They still involve the same basic ‘go to NPC, get quest, fetch or kill, come back to the NPC, get reward or next instruction, repeat until you get bored’ sequence. This would not be a problem if player expectations and maturity don’t evolve with time but they do and the old system is, well, looking worse with time.

If Blizzard, the maker of WOW, wants to protect its nearly billion-dollar cash cow, it has to come up with a new game dynamic that engages players on a whole new level. The problem is not one of technology but creativity and imagination. WOW has to dig deep or else it risks further branding as a ‘kids’ game’. I have to admit that this is not going to be an easy problem to solve.

You can only improvise and build on a pre-existing pattern so much and for so long. What Blizzard needs to do is to conduct a lot of in-game and out of game focus groups and actual in-play studies to see where the roadblocks are and which segments can be improved upon.

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