Paul Barnett’s “Questioning the norm” could be more important now than ever.

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I was reading Paul Barnett’s Blog today and I read something truly insightful. “What do you see as the major challenges for new MMO’s?”, he asked. Paul Barnett’s answer to his own question is “learning to question”. I would like to quote something that I find very thought provoking:

“What I am saying is that you need to understand where that convention came from. Why it was used, the purpose it served and then ask you’re self. Is this still being served today? Can I do this a better way? Are we just holding on to an old bit of thinking that we have out grown? If you can question why you are doing something, if you can understand the reasoning, then you can make a judgment call.”

How absolutely brilliant is that? Here’s my take on it. It’s so true these days with new MMo’s using elements from previous MMO’s simply because they were successful then or they were received well by the community. Paul’s example with names over monsters was perfect for illustrating something harmless yet still almost always looked over as “expected” in a MMO today. To quote Paul again, “…isn’t a boar that is on the iron hills by default an ‘Ironhill’ boar?”.

Like I said before, Paul used a very simple example to illustrate a point that MMO players from all age groups and play styles should be able to understand. But what if it was taken further? The use of names over monsters heads can be written off as many things from ease of identification to loot drops to nothing more than habit. But what do you call it when the developers of a new MMO seek out things done by other game developers in successful scenarios? Do you call it copying? Uncreative? You could look at it from the perspective that using something that works is just plain smart. But let’s, for the sake of the topic, question the norm.

Let’s take something that is much deeper and controversial on the minds of MMO players today. I’m talking about, of course, raiding. Where did it start? To be honest the first time I remember ever hearing about a true long raid was in the original Everquest. Players would gather together and form raids to attack the various Planes. Back when I was still very naive to the whole “end-game” idea I saw this as nothing more than a group of players truly interested in challenging themselves to see how well they could do against the hardest mobs in the game. It wasn’t long before I realized that in reality perhaps the first raid was for that very reason but after that why would they go back so often and stay up so late and push themselves so hard? It was for the gear. Let’s jump ahead a few years to World of Warcraft. Raiding is the heart and soul (or lack thereof) of WoW. The game’s entire purpose is to get to the end level to get into the best guild to get into the hardest raids to get the best gear. What happened to the thrill of the hunt? It was lost because no one questioned why.

Backing off from one single topic I can think of a short list of things that are in every MMO and will probably remain in every MMO simply because people are not questioning the norm. Why are there vendors everywhere selling absolutely useless items that no one will ever buy? Why is it that level 50 seems to be the average max level in every game coming out? Why is it that the purpose of MMO’s has evolved into nothing more than a gear grind… Level until you can get the best gear just to be able to do the raids that have the best gear just for more raids to come out that have better gear… and so on. Why is it that the new system of leveling up and being given skills is the only way to go? What happened to the days where characters could be more unique? Do gamers truly want everything to be mainstreamed into commonality? Paul Barnett’s “questioning the norm” is very important to the future of this genre.

If we don’t “question the norm” then before we know it 10 years from now your worst possible nightmare could be as common as that name over a monster’s head.