Richard Garriott’s ideas could be the beginning

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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.

  • Tabula Rasa will not be as popular as World of Warcraft from the start, but with some regular patching and continued innovation it can definitely whittle away at the subscriber base that is looking for something else.

    What’s interesting to me is that Mr. Garriott spoke about taking full advantage of the 3D world that MMOs are set in and the beginning implementations of that can be seen in TR.

    The ability to use the terrain to provide cover and reduced damage (and the opposite for the enemy) is a great way to immerse the player in the game. I can’t count how many times an arrow flew through a hill in WoW while I chuckled at my PvP opponent.

    Like you said earlier, TR hasn’t busted the door open to innovation…it has just unlocked it. I hope that once developers see how interacting with a world can add exciting interaction to gameplay we will see more than just more WoW clones.

  • It’s happening slowly and randomly right now. Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan… all of those games are trying to change something (TR and PotBS being the two drastics). You’re not going to see much of a drastic change on the current market from any of these. Why? Because the majority of MMORPG players are still content with the WoW formula spanning across nearly a dozen other MMOs (namely WoW).

    When the WoW formula starts to decay the flood gates will open and that’s when the storm will hit. Why do I think it will be a storm? Because the sheer numbers attracted to that style of play. We’re talking millions upon millions, which is huge for MMOs, will suddenly want something different.

    When 225,000 people got bored of EQ style gaming we were introduced to WoW.

    I wonder what will happen when 8,000,000 people get bored of the WoW style. It’s going to be big. My predictions at least.

  • Not to be a contrarian (ah screw it, I love being contrary), but when has this sudden ground swell for “something better” ever happened? Different maybe, but never better. The lowest common denominator doesn’t ever leap upwards. Aaron there had it right. There will be incremental improvements, but the revolution will never be spurred by the listless masses. It’s the Richard Garriotts of the world taking a flyer at something and beinging successful at it to rally those troops.

  • That’s exactly the point. There have been swells for something different from the point of MMORPG inception. But it’s the never before seen numbers that WoW presents which will cause this swell to become an enormous wave that developers will either be ready to ride or not. Since there are smart devs out there I can almost be positive that somewhere out there we have an idea treading water just waiting for the wave.

    I’m obviously exaggerating when I say 8mil. But let’s take a fraction of “WoW numbers” and say 3mil, 2 mil, 1 mil, 500k, if any of those numbers suddenly OR gradually get bored then someone will suddenly realize that the ideas of innovation are worth a look.

    And of course I just want to add that this is theory crafting here.  I’m predicting here giving my opinion on what I feel we will see in the near future based on how the industry has evolved thus far.

  • Okay, “Analogy Boy” here again, despite the fact that there has never been an analogy that wasn’t suspect at best.

    Up until now, the MMORPG realm could be equated to pre-1940’s America. However, look at the WoW players as the Baby Boom of MMORPG’s.

    It’s the single largest influx of new players we’ve yet seen, and as a result, the genre’ will change to accomodate their needs, wants and likes as that group matures, for the same reason we keep seeing oldies radio stations and increased numbers of brands of adult diapers, which are really handy if you’re going to start a long raid in WoW, which brings us neatly full-circle.

    Which is why in forty years or so, I fully expect to hear “Bio break my ASS, kid…keep playin’!”

    Let this be a lesson to you…never, NEVER post a comment after you’ve taken Nyquil.

  • Hahah Inhibitor! 😛 Another analogy I’m going to steal *cough* I mean borrow from you in the future.. 🙂

    Bottom line, whether it be the gradual erosion or a tidal wave, the industry will see a change eventually.

    I feel strongly that it will *hopefully* be towards a more enriching and dynamic game experience.

  • Borrow away, bud. 🙂 I’ve got a million crappy analogies…just ask my wife.

    She once threatened to smack me if I used one more analogy in conversation, to which I replied “Boy, you’re madder than a wet badger in a running clothes dryer.”

    It took a week for the swelling to go down.

  • “An inventory management system”??? Is RG crazy or just incredibly shortsighted? Sure, getting better gear is a great part of the game, but that’s only one small part of it. I love to see innovation in gaming as much as the next guy, but taking shots at WoW like that that just sounds like sour grapes.

  • I’m sorry to be obtuse, but I don’t see what RG has done that is so earth-shattering except complain about WoW. What specifically has he done with TR that’s fresh?

  • @ Adrenis: You can derive nearly any meaning from what someone has to say if you look hard enough. Taking his statements at face value he is merely classifying the “WoW Formula” type games into inventory management systems. And let’s be realistic, getting gear is well over 50% of your character’s purpose in WoW. Hell it could even be 99.9%. He’s not taking shots at WoW, he’s giving constructive criticism and supplying an alternative. That’s called discussion. Disagree with him or not, he was well spoken.

    @ Jadawin: He has not done anything in TR that’s fresh, nor has he DONE anything earth-shattering. That point was made clear when I stated he failed with TR. His ideas however are quotable as being a possible beginning step of MMO progression into the “games of tomorrow”.

  • I’ve heard nothing but good things thus far about Tabula Rasa. So, why am I not playing it? Because NCSoft Korea developed and distributes it. NCSoft Korea, in the past, has demonstrated a total apathy toward their own EULA. I refuse to play another game by them. It’s sad, because they make great games . . . and ruin them by allowing all kinds of cheaters (botters, gold sellers, hackers), and the legit players are over-looked.

  • I don’t think it was Blizzard’s intent to revolutionize the MMO genre. When i read some posts i feel as though it is assumed that Blizzard wanted to invent a whole new gaming experience and failed. I think they saw a model that was already there, took it up, shaped it, refined it, polished it and turned out a higher quality product. Another notion i sense underlying some opinions is the assumption that the only thing bigger than WoW’s player base is Blizzard’s ego. Again, i tend to think that Blizzard is very aware of the industry and it’s shifting nature. The fact that they are making another MMO as we speak leads me to believe that they are taking a proactive approach this time as opposed to letting others do the dirty work beforehand.

  • Definitely. As much as I dislike the game of WoW I respect the fact that they were able to take one model and polish it to the point they have. Where I don’t see eye to eye with them and another developers is the single direction they’re taking MMOs lately. WoW was great and all but it’s definitely not the only way to make a MMo anymore. People are trying to make different types of MMOs and they’re slowly failing one by one.

    If PotBS and other MMOs ‘testing the waters’ (no pun in tended) succeed then we might see the door opened a little bit more for the market of alternative formulas.

  • I hate to say it but developers have been trying to get away from DIKU based games like World of Warcraft for a long time. Games like A Tale in the Desert, Eve Online, City of Heroes and a bunch of others have been trying alternative achievement systems for the past four years. So far none of them have had much luck in beating out the well polished DIKU based games in active subscribers or profits. It’s not like these names are unrecognized by the average MMO gamer either. Most people have heard about these games but just like the persistant sense of achievement surrounding gear based adventuring.

    If its one thing that Tabula Rasa has done is shown that a Sci-fi setting with guns can integrate RPG attributes like quests and persistent equipment just as well as a fantasy setting. Honestly, though if it wasn’t for crappy support and marketing Planetside would have done the same thing years ago. I don’t expect any MMO trying to do things differently from World of Warcraft to get much support or venture capital over the next few years though. Just look at Gods and Heroes which had some very good ideas and still got canceled while Vanguard, a no polish EQ clone got both MS and SOE to give them money to get out the door.

  • I love all the spiel from Richard Garriot but his game is just as boring as the next one. Infact his game can almost be directly compared to WoW but with guns.

    He harps on about innovation, where as I see little no innovation apart from his applauded mob spawn ‘mechanism’ of them flying down in a space ship rather than just appearing … if that’s the type of innovation he’s talking about then I think he’s doomed to failure, as is Tabula Rasa.

    I beta tested TR and got my character to max level to see what the game was like, and to be frankly honest: the game is more boring than any other MMO I’ve played to date (PoTBS might take that cake … I’ll update you on that one when I’ve had time to play a bit more). Not only is it stale world with very little interactivity, it has very little overall differentiating landscapes or even shops, everyone looks the same and most of the mobs look the same.

    The balance of the mob power (or at least when I played just pre-release) was utterly stupid, with one instance meant for a group couple be cleared by a single person with mobs of equal level then come out side to be 2 shotted by a single mob that is 5 levels below you.

    So he can talk the talk but can’t walk the walk, NCsoft were so enamid with trying to be a wow killer they took any sort of innovation out of the game, it’s wow with guns but piss poorly done. And for all the waffle Mr Garriot comes out with, he’s full of s**t putting it bluntly.