The Jaded Gamer

I recently received a note from Lodestar (one of the frequent posters at The Secret World forums) talking about how he feels like he’s becoming somewhat disenchanted with games in general and MMO’s in particular. He posited the question, are we (as a whole) becoming more jaded? Is it really getting harder to get us excited about “The Next Great Thing”?

As I thought about this for myself, I think there are three factors at work here. One is personal experience / perception. The other is technology is edging toward the “So what?” plateau. And then there is the WOW factor.

Finding that Old Feeling Again

One of the things I have noticed over my 10+ years of MMO gaming is that people tend to really fall in love with their first game. Every other game usually ends up being compared to the first one that they REALLY loved playing.

For me, my first MMO was Anarchy Online. I started playing AO a couple months after the launch date (lucky for me I missed some of the technical issues they had). I still remember spawning for the first time in West Athen Backyard 3 (a place I still visit in-game for some nostalgia). I remember how impressed I was with the graphics, and then realizing that most of the characters I saw around me were connected to other real people elsewhere in the world. It was a sense of wonder and awe that I haven’t ever felt since.

It has been my position that many people who move from game to game are trying to find that feeling of wonder again. We want to be blown away to the point where we forget that we’re sitting in a chair in front of a keyboard and we’ve found another world that we want to visit over and over again.

The problem is, that I’m not sure that it’s truly possible to regain that sense of awe. As we move from one game to another, things that were new to us before become “Oh, that’s just like such-and-so in the other game.” I’ve played most of the major MMO releases since 2001. And while some have captured my attention for a month or two, there was never that same feeling that I had with AO. In fact, I just recently started playing AO once again and am having fun back there with my old guild.

“Cutting Edge 3D Graphics” … meh

I remember reading a technology futurist talking about HDTV and the prospect of having a 2 meter screen in your living room. The pundits were talking about how great it would be to have a theater like experience in your own home. He took a different slant that eventually such technology would lead the consumer to a “so what?” mentality. They’ve seen theater screens before. If they want to see a huge picture with great resolution, they’ll pay for a ticket. The value of such home entertainment for the average consumer may be overhyped.

I feel that we’re approaching such a plateau in computer graphics and game engines as well. The difference between playing the very latest Unreal engine based game and what I played in 2001 when I started playing AO is one of degrees. It isn’t a revolution anymore.

Particle effects, water ripples, reflections, lighting models, etc. are all well and good, but we’re talking about refining what we’ve seen before. And even though we can acknowledge that what we do live today in-game used to require massive rendering farms just a few years ago, we’ve seen these graphics before. Pixar and the other studios have spoiled us with great looking graphics in movies for years. The fact that we’re seeing them on our PC screens in a live game is cool, but that coolness wears off pretty quickly.

For myself, I’m finding less and less to get excited about with in-game footage of game engine updates. The animation may be a touch smoother or the water effects may be a little more realistic, but it isn’t so much of a change that I’m like “Wow! I have to get that as soon as I can!”

The 800 Pound Gorilla

Whether you are a particular fan of World of Warcraft or not, I think it would be remiss not to acknowledge what Blizzard has done to the genre over these past 6 years. WoW 2010 may have refined the traditional fantasy based MMORPG formula to the pinnacle. Any fantasy game today must be compared to WoW whether they want it to be or not.

While games like Age of Conan or Aion or Rift may offer a few unique twists, at the end we’re looking at using swords and spells to fight fantasy creatures for quest givers, all trying to grind for levels and loot. PvP aspects may give us some reason to want better gear, but they are seldom so game changing that they can serve as a purpose all to themselves.

We can argue all we want about whether a new MMO needs to be a “WoW killer” or even “WoW also-ran” to be successful or not. See my friend Craig’s blog (The Numbers Game) for some interesting discussions about the numbers game MMO’s get dragged into. But the design, features, level of polish, etc. of any new MMO will certainly be compared to WoW.

Your Thoughts?

So these are the three reasons that I see where the hardcore gamer may be getting a bit frustrated with the latest round o MMO’s (and games in general). Would love to hear why some of you think about your own disenchantment.

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