That vague “bigger, better, different” mantra that seems to be all the craze of MMO developers everywhere, was heard once again during Sony Online Entertainment’s Annual SOE Live convention in Las Vegas. CEO John Smedley made Peter-Molyneux-esque claims about the latest, blandly-named addition to the Everquest franchise including such bold statements as “biggest sandbox MMO ever created” and “something the MMO world has never seen before”.
I apologize in advance for using Everquest’s news as a soapbox rant about the current state of MMORPG’s, but this seems appropriate. Way back when, I lost my social life and many hours of my time wandering around Norrath in one of the worst experience grinds known to MMORPG history.
Everquest Next will undoubtedly be huge, probably bigger than World of Warcraft’s Azeroth, but I don’t buy the “something the MMO world has never seen before” claim. MMORPG’s will always have the same formula and that includes the experience grind. I would love to see some new, radical way of character development and gaining experience. A magical leveling method that’s transparent to the game and rewards you for properly role-playing your character, but honestly I don’t think that will happen.
The problem stems from the “MMO” aspect of the game. A multiplayer framework has to play differently than a single player game, especially when upwards of millions of people are involved. There has to be a lot of ways to advance your character otherwise everyone will be standing in line waiting to smack the same orc, get bored and leave. Thousands of quests/options will create repetition at some point. Whether it’s killing 10 of this or delivering messages or viewing vistas, you’ll inevitably end up doing a lot of the same stuff in the game.
These options will narrow further by the hardcore stat junkies who reduce the game’s emersion to just number crunching. Everyone’s interested in the best ways to level their character and thus the optimal quests will be discovered and followed. It’s the simple premise that if gray rats are worth more experience, no one will bother with brown rats.
I don’t have the answers on how to fix this. How about Sony? Well, looking at their history, Everquest is a 13-year-old game with 18 expansions and is still played to date. That’s quite impressive. On the other hand, Everquest II was overshadowed by the World of Warcraft behemoth. I’m too cynical to get my hopes up but I’m interested to see what SOE has in store for us.
We’ll have to wait until next year’s event to see something playable. Until then, there’s not much to show, here’s a video of some concept art from 2010…woo-hoo(sarcasm):