Evolution? Standards v Principles

So I made this wordpress a few months ago but never really thought of anywhere to go with it. Recently I’ve read a collection of blogs about MMOs and how they are or aren’t evolving and various related musings.

We Need a Mutant MMO
The Innovation Paradox
Thats a Terrible Idea: The Immitation Rut
We’re Working Backwards
WoW is the iPhone, not Walmart

For me the best and easiest place to start is WoW, everyone mention its and you have to — its gotten to be the standard that every other MMO is and will be judged for a while. But in terms of evolution, look at the environment and style of pre-WoW and post-WoW. Pre-WoW we had games like Ultima Online, Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes and one of the biggest things about these are that they are all different, sure there are a lot similarities but they all take that base knowledge and ran with it in different directions. There was nothing to say, “Okay, that is what we have to beat out right.” at least not in the same sense that there is today with WoW. But with anything starting development post-WoW, we see a lot of these elements that have become fairly standardized, from things as simple as using the A, D, W, and S keys for movement and User Interface, to elements as core as game play and interactivity.

When something becomes “standardized”, everyone pretty much expects it and generally, you don’t like it when something you expect isn’t there. Whether you realized it or not, we all tend to work like this, its where the idea of “People fear change” comes from. In many cases, standards are good, they lay a foundation that we can stick to and make sure that things never fall below a certain level of quality. The Con? These standards become closer to shackles. They can become so omnipresent that as soon as you reach them, your done; this continues, it becomes habitual. You spread this effect amongst large groups, and it spirals into the main stream. I remember something my English teacher mentioned in 8th or 9th grade about writing papers. We were required to have a 5 paragraph paper, and it always seemed a chore to get there, a relief to get there, and excessive to go farther. When we asked why that was the rule, her answer was that way back, students just wouldn’t stop writing and it was made to limit how much was written so we could keep our ideas concise, but after so much use, it actually became restrictive as we frantically worked to get enough sentences and girth to our papers to get to that point. Whats the point of my little tangent down memory (hell) lane? Its a similar reaction, a practice that came into place to improve things, end up hindering them.

If I was where I am today 6 years ago, I would have honestly said and believed, and I do believe it today, that when SWG came out, it was or was near the next generation of MMO. Looking at what it had, there were a lot of things that broke the mold — though being similar to UO from shared developers. No true levels, but instead skills. No restricted zones, but a sandbox world. Deep crafter and player run economy verse the merchant and loot based of the past. Going from some of the other blogs I read, that’s a mutation and ripe with innovation. And look at what concepts are being innovated in MMOs now: housing, more robust crafting, distancing from a leveling structure, etc. WoW took concepts that had been well established and loved and discarded those that were hated to make an amalgamation of those loved concepts covered with their own IP and were handsomely rewarded for it. WoW was the golden poster boy for everything that old MMOs to that point had done right. On top of that it showed that an MMO couldn’t just be successful, it was a good business investment and could explode. Ideally this should have set a standard for what an MMO should start from, and there was no where to go but up. Given the list of things that makes a successful MMO and shown that it wasn’t a gamble, the industry should have opened to innovation and to try new and different thing now that developers didn’t have to look for what worked. The actuality was we got nearly half a decade of so called “WoW Clones” from the big budget MMOs as developers hung to those standards and were scared, unmotivated, or just didn’t think about moving outside because those standards were in plain view and screaming at them constantly.

I’d rather that we would have principles instead of standards. Something that is less restrictive than “You have to have this” and be more “Something like this.” Evolution, innovation, or whatever you care to call it, is halted by a misconceived or misused notion of what a developer “has” to do, and only lately have we begun to get out of that rut. I feel its important to bring DOOM up in this discussion. Why? When DOOM first came out, it defined the FPS genre. Subsequent games were viewed as clones to DOOM but over the course of time, things differentiated enough and calling something a Doom Clone went a way, and we’re where we are today. With games coming out like Allods Online that takes the WoW model as a standard and builds on it, or Star Wars: The Old Republic that aims to really innovate and add something past what MMOs truly are, we could be looking at a shift to principles and not an adherence to a standard. Whether the industry will strive to evolve, mutate, and innovate out of it current shadow or will stagnate and simply collapse under its own weight of retaining an old method of thinking, only time will tell.



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