Defining an MMOs Identity

everquest veliousBrad McQuaid (Aradune) is kickstarting an MMO. Fellow EverQuest veterans will know exactly who Brad is and the type of games he makes, but the younger generation probably has no clue. Brad is one of the big names behind EverQuest and Vanguard. He is known for a certain style old school games.

Something Brad said in a recent tweet soliciting questions for the upcomoing Kickstarter campaign got me thinking.

The game is high fantasy and if you’ve played EQ 1 and/or Vanguard, you’ve got a general idea of what the game’s about and what kind of questions to ask.

— Brad McQuaid (@Aradune) October 31, 2013

Aradune is Stinky
We remember him fondly.

That’s a powerful statement. Brad is implying that EverQuest and Vanguard were so memorable that they imprinted a definition on their players that lasted 10-15 years. He’s right!

If someone tells me “This game is like EverQuest” then I know exactly what they are talking about. Tell me a game is like Lord of the Rings Online and I’ll probably stare at you blankly while trying to figure out which part or in what way.

What makes a game definable like that?

For a long, long time someone could say “That game is like World of Warcraft” and most of us would have a good idea. I don’t think that’s really the case anymore. The definition of “WoW clone” has become a little more fuzzy over the years. The reasons are simple: (1) WoW itself has changed radically over the years, and (2) So many games copied WoW just enough that it felt like 50 versions of the same game were all diluting what it meant to be a WoW clone.

I’m learning that consistency in the MMO industry matters a lot. Good game or bad, niche or mass appeal, an MMO has to have a clear identity. The formula is just as important. MMOs are the sum of their parts; The good parts add and the bad part detract, but the entire game wouldn’t be the same if any piece went missing.

Going back to the dilution of the WoW clone, I blame the fact that games continually try to emulate what they perceive as the good and strip out the bad, failing to realize that the bad parts may have actually been making the good parts better — if nothing else, they add depth.

To Brad and MMO developers at large, I urge you to take into consideration whether or not the game you are making is refined enough that it will be memorable in 15 years. I hope Aradune remembers that ‘why‘ he is able to solicit former players matters just as much as ‘what‘ he gets from them.

  • Sadly many people remember Vanguard and how incomplete it was and how poorly it ran. This will red flag any project by this guy.

  • I think one guy can get a lot of crap for a game. The industry is full of individual people taking the blame for entire projects being a flop, but it takes a team to make a game.

    I was one of the people to hit level 35 and realize the game wasn’t finished. I was also one of the people waiting a year before launch, and one of the people crashing to desktop every hour. Despite all of that, I can see what Vanguard was supposed to be. I like the direction.

  • Most of the flops I participated in had a unique identity that attracted me, but something about the underlying mechanics felt broken.

    I have always wondered why it was necessarily better for a company to build an MMO from scratch than revamp an older title that got it wrong. Perhaps it is the stigma of failure? It seems pretty common for other game genres to just treat an unpopular iteration in their franchise as a bump in the road and revamp the latest version with a +1 suffix,

    I would love to see a Tabula Rosa II, although I would likely wait to hear the initial reviews before jumping in if it weren’t F2P.

  • Yeah, I’m sorry but I refuse to let the passage of time diminish the colossal train wreck of a release that was Vanguard.

    I’m amused to no end that a dev would honestly put that game on a kickstarter resume. Good luck dude…

  • @Solarbear – Yes there were a good number of issues with Vanguard but IMO it was the best MMO to come out since WoW. If it wasn’t for the fact that the coding was just so poor I would have kept playing it. For me the big issue was had just bought a new gaming rig and the game still ran like crap on it and I crashed consistently.

    I do so love the unique feel of the older MMO’s though and Vanguard had it. I miss the old days of UO/AC/EQ annd DAoC. When MMO’s all had their own flavor and were all fairly great games.

  • The concepts behind Vanguard were great, the implementation terrible.

    The problems with Brad’s involvement were not just to do with the way the game was implemented. This was just a symptom of what appeared to be a badly run organisation: Microsoft gave them loads of funding, didn’t like what they were getting and dropped them. Numerous deadlines were missed and the game was full of bugs that had been reported and ignored at launch. The way the staff were treated during the final days of Sigil was pretty poor, too.

    I’d be extremely wary of any game run by Brad McQuaid, no matter how good the concept. I just wouldn’t have faith in the basic management of the company behind it.