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So I guess I lost my old account so forgive this being my first post, while I've never been a largely active member in terms of posting I've been around here a bit longer than my new profile would indicate.
I'd like to talk about why I believe MMO's are in a steady decline. Now let me preface this to be clear, I'm not talking about any individual MMO, so definitely not a WoW vs. Wildstar or any such discussion though I will reference some as examples.
Let's start back near the beginning of MMO's. Two good examples are Ultima Online and Everquest. I use these as examples because they were pretty close to the only available options at their time and yet were also vastly different from each other.
The first, UO, was an isometric top down sandbox mmo that fostered a dangerous experience to the player, generated by other players in the form of PK's. Now in those days generally the way this would work is when you traveled between towns you would often be set upon by other real players who frankly wanted to "pwn you" and "take your $h1t". Sometimes you'd escape and give a large sigh of relief as you inspect the castle deed in your pack. It had taken weeks to save up for, the deed you almost lost to two d-bags casting "corp por" as they ride naked on their pixellated stallions dawning their jester hats and halberds a'la traditional tank-mage style. Other times you might die, form a war party in the nearest town and go out looking for them either leading to sadness as you realize they've moved on or some form of sweet vengeance.
The second, EQ, was a 3D fantasy environment built more like a theme park than a sandbox. The game was centered around very difficult dungeon raids as it's claim to end game. Good equipment was ridiculously hard to get, even leveling itself felt like a chore as it would usually take many months of grinding to get to max level. The time sink that was EQ felt like exactly that: a giant time sink. You were spurred on by the feeling that if you could just make it over the next hill and get that next level or that next piece of gear then you might start actually enjoying the game. At least from my perspective that's how it felt, I don't think I really enjoyed killing the same goblins at the same spawn point for literally days underneath some old keep in some old town until I was high enough to move on to the next area of endless throngs of useless AI.
Since then there have been many slight variations to these two models, definitely more themepark type mmo's than sandbox.
So here's the problem. Traditionally, themepark mmo's have gradually become more and more casual to allow for a larger audience to enjoy them. Often the core of the game is fairly easy, usually leading to a bandaid of challenge being built into end game in the form of super hard raids. The hard part being the amount of time it takes you to figure out the scripted sequence of events that will always be the same, regardless of how many times you defeat "X boss of hard". It usually boils down to "put enough time into it and you'll obtain practically any item you want". The issue with this being that when everyone and everything is "special" then no one and nothing is.
On the other hand, let's say you like the idea of a super rare magical sword that glows blue with electricity and does twice as much damage as a normal generic sword. As cool as that sounds the fact of the matter is that you simply can't unleash a super powerful "mcguffin" into an online community without some mechanic in place to lose it. There has to be risk for reward to justify a truly epic feeling item. Most, however, would not like the idea of losing that item if they are killed and would quickly rush to the forums to gripe about it, immidiately followed by a /cancel subscription.
This is the main reason no weapon or skill set in any themepark mmo ever really feels truly "epic" or " uniquely powerful".
Players simply don't want the risk, they won't pay for it and that's why companies keep making clones of each other. They keep making the same boring, useless games that players flock to with high hopes of it being new and different only to quickly leave as soon as they realize it is the same hamburger they are eating with a slightly different bun.
I don't know about you guys but I am bored. I'd love to see a new inventive mmo but I don't see anyone taking the risk to develop something entirely new. Though there are always claims of said new mmo being fresh and innovative, I've played nearly everything out there and I don't feel anyone has really accomplished this.
Oh that's great you might say, well how would you fix it then, Javelin007?
Good question random forum guy! Let's just say I had endless funds and a game company with carte blanche to make whatever I want. Here are the keynotes of what I wish existed:
I am sure I'm not alone when I say that I'm tired of mmo's feeling like they are a playpen wrapped in padding to protect my feelings -- as though I'm not adult enough to handle being back-stabbed in a back alley behind a tavern because a thief assassin looked in my bag and noticed I was carrying more gold on me than I should of been.
Give me something gritty, give me something new, give me something raw.