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I often like to look back at my early MMO-gaming years when games seemed to be a lot more fun. Whether it was exploring a world in Ultima Online, or making friends in Star Wars Galaxies, I really enjoyed my time. This got me thinking, are games getting worse lately? I don't think so.
These days people love to compare "new games" to the "old ones". Some look at the oldest games as holy grails, some say we are just dreaming up something that would today be considered a below-average product. When I look at the range of features offered, I feel like modern games put a lot more on the table. A lot more money is going into development, a lot more content is produced and the feature lists are growing with each year.
So if games are getting more elaborate, where is all the fun? When I proudly presented my father with all the MMO titles over the years, he always told me the same thing: "This is not for me. I don't care about shiny gear, I love an adventure!". 15 years ago, the MMO crowd used to be much smaller and much more following my father's ideology - excited to explore and to share fun adventures with others, no matter how many hours of vertical content the developers provided.
These days, the MMO demographics have changed quite a bit. What used to be as quite a niche area is now a game-theme that is mainstream and draws in virtually every gamer at one point or another. With this shift in the demographic, have the players of MMOs changed? I would say yes. Many young people come into MMORPGs as their entry point into gaming, not having the background in traditional RPGs, not understanding the adventure and not knowing what roleplay stands for in an RPG.
I am not saying these guys are evil or not the right players for the genre. Maybe they were never explained where RPGs come from. They approach a new MMORPG as a list of features and play it the way the world encourages everyone to live these days - to aim to the top the fastest way possible. To me it seems that RPGs were never designed for that kind of gameplay. They are not really meant to be a race to the goal, nor they are really meant to be packed with features that promote "gameplay" over the story. Most game studios follow this feature-driven template lately and most seem to fail because their array of features seems to either be lacking that one feature the brand new game has, or because they simply run out of content in months.
If you look at all the recent reviews of the upcoming MMOs, everyone seems extremely obsessed with features. Does it have an auction house, how many classes can you play, does it have endgame dungeons, how many people in a raid ... All these things are nice additions if you have a solid foundation, but why look at MMOs purely through the lense of features?
So my point and my question to you is: Are MMORPGs really meant to be what they are becoming? Is it all about features, about how many hours of vertical progression a developer can pump in and how many obstacles there are in place to slow you down?
Or have we started to look at games in a wrong way? Perhaps this race for features is not a sustainable one. Perhaps all these new games being released are quite fun at their core, just like they were fun 15 years ago. Perhaps games are not the problem and it is the approach we take that is flawed.
Should we put more pressure on developers to "add more features"? And if we do so, are we not signing a quick death sentance to the upcoming game that would have been fun if both the developers and the players tried to see the adventure and the roleplay instead?
Take a recent MMORPG you played and imagine it had 20 times more content stretched over 20 times more "levels". Would that make for a much more enjoyable game, or would it simply mean it would take you 20 times longer until you got bored of it? And if you did get bored of it, is it because of the game itself, or is it because of the way you travelled to the top?
So the next time you read a feature list of an announced MMO, or the next time you read a forum post on "a missing feature", take a moment to think what that actually says about the state of online games.