Richard Garriott’s ideas could be the beginning

I never gave my opinion on Tabula Rasa. Back in September when the NDA was lifted those in beta were eager to share their thoughts and opinions on the game and having never personally played the beta I felt it was inappropriate to weigh in my thoughts. Since then I have given TR a try and my views of the game align with those in the beta impressions I blogged. It’s an “ok” game – On the verge of 2008 “ok” doesn’t cut it anymore. While the game itself may fall short of expectations placed upon it, Richard Garriott’s way of thinking does not.

“As many kudos as I would like to give World of Warcraft, it’s basically a remake of EverQuest, just incredibly polished and refined. There are harbingers of failure in that model. Everyone in these games is obsessed with the concept of how much damage-per-second they are inflicting and maximizing their DPS. When you do that, you are no longer playing a role; you are playing an inventory-management game.” – Richard Garriott

You can replaced the line about increasing dps with anything and his sentiments about World of Warcraft are absolutely true. The game is all about inventory-management and the goal of the game is to better your gear. Nothing new there per se but looking at how I feel about WoW that sums it up nicely. The same holds true for many MMORPGs though so it would be unfair to single WoW out in the crowd. Lord of the Rings Online and EQ2 are very much inventory management games as well. While I feel EQ2 tends to move slightly away from that mold it still, for all intents and purposes, follow the formula. I’ve been writing a lot lately about dumbing down MMORPG’s and how we are going to see this trend continue. Looking back I think calling it “dumbing down” was in error. It’s really about making the games appeal to as many people as possible and in doing so I feel MMORPGs today are making better single-player games than they are multiplayer. WoW took mechanics that could, and in my mind should, become intricate and dynamic and made them simpler and refined them to a base state of mass appeal. Bad? No not really; just not ideal for revolutionizing the future of the industry.

I’ve also been rambling on about achievement and accomplishment in MMORPGs. Those are byproducts of dynamic and ‘involved’ experiences where you’re more than a character in the world standing next to a mob and mashing 1-3 on your hotbars over and over. I applaud Garriott for daring to be different with his combat system. In my opinion he knows the direction that the MMORPG industry needs to grow and he tried to be the catalyst. Doing so alone I think his attempt is a failure to revolutionize the industry, but it’s a start and that’s darn good enough.

“What I feel is most needed in the MMO gaming industry with regard to combat is innovation that makes combat more engaging and less like inventory management for the player. I believe it is possible to make an MMO combat system that provides engagement with the 3D world and encourages using tactical strategy against your opponent’s actions.” – Richard Garriott

Like I said, it’s a start. There needs to be more thinking along these lines. Developers should be asking themselves “how can we expand upon our current systems and make them more engaging?” instead of “how can we make something like WoW where billions will want to flock to us?”. You don’t have to make it difficult. You can evolve what you already have into something that will still be easy enough for 8 million people to play yet still offer a rewarding and engaing experience. I think this applies to all aspects of MMORPGs and not just to combat. Make the leveling process different than simply talking to an NPC and receiving a quest to kill x mob for y reward. Work out of the box and evaluate other ideas for advancement – I can start listing some but that’s a post for another day.

It’s only a matter of time before the current trend becomes too accessible and dull. I’m interested in seeing what happens when millions of players suddenly start wanting something different. Right now only a small handful of people have decided that they want something different so there is little incentive for change. We blog about our dissatisfaction for the current gameplay or write in to the New York times about it (if we’re Richard Garriott). When 90%+ of the now enormous MMORPG playerbase all suddenly join us in our way of thinking, and trust me it will happen, what do you think will happen then? I think I might sit back and chuckle when Blizzard is frantically trying to control the monster that they have created. And it will be interesting to see who the masses hoist onto their shoulders and cheer as heralding the “new” way of thinking. Will it be Blizzard again with their next MMO? Maybe ZeniMax’s team or something from EA? Mr. Garriott was a little premature thinking that Tabula Rasa would revolutionize the industry, but the door is now unlocked (not open yet, but unlocked) for someone intelligent enough to grab themselves a wealthy publisher and run with this in the near future.

A storm is brewing and the winds of change are going to be mighty strong.

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