Will there ever be another super MMORPG? In 2005 one came along and dominated. We all know what I am referring to. I bet the majority of people here have played it at some point. But has the time been and gone for that sort of massive online experience to come in and capture our imaginations?
World of Warcraft was and still is the benchmark for a massive multiplayer online roleplaying game. But there are so many different MMO genres now, all pulling on us for our time, clawing for our attention and pushing innovation. With League of Legends, Rocket League and Overwatch out there and highly accessible, are these the types of games that consume our quick fix gaming needs now? Or is there still space for a reinvention of the MMORPG?
To explore these questions I feel we need to look at single player RPGs compared to online multiplayer RPGs. The limitations of the computer game environment, with regard to single player RPGs, are nearly reached. A single player RPG title like Pillars of Eternity is an amazing feast for RPG fans, but hasnt really moved that far on from the likes of Baldurs Gate or Planescape Torment. Its all about an incredible story, where you are the central hero. In these single player games you dont get the party interaction of traditional tabletop roleplaying games, where you and friends are sat around, passing ideas back and forth about how to progress, and no matter how crazy the idea is that you come up with, its still possible. But in single player RPGs they can code exceptions to help with this, but thats where the limitations are reached.
Multiplayer titles, like World of Warcraft, have to cater for the masses. So you do get some party interaction and coordination with attacking enemies, but you will find that playing for any length of time with a bunch of people it always boils down to a numbers and balancing game. Have you got the perfect party combination and the right item selection to deal the most damage or debuffs or healing.
This is largely because there is no feedback from the NPCs. In a tabletop game this NPC feedback depth is crucial and applied by the Games Master. Helping spin a story that has personality and realism, while still being bespoke to your player needs and desires. So to anyone looking for the experience of roleplaying, stepping into a MMORPG feels hollow fast. If you even slightly start to pretend to be the character you have made up, the fourth wall will likely be breached by a fellow player before you can say “Hello friend, I have travelled from the capital in search of aid...”
And so where does that leave us. It leaves us with World of Warcraft and Blizzard understanding exactly what their particular MMO audience is after. They have the money, psychologists and developers to create the best possible experience within the limitations of the platform it is being delivered upon.
Not many of us are really roleplayers. Most gamers know roleplaying through other single player computer games, like Deus Ex. Single player games borrow levelling up and achievements from the RPG genre because its a great way of understanding progression and driving us forward to attain more progression.
So World of Warcraft is built to reach the largest number of people, while giving them the aspects of the game that is addictive enough to keep a person returning for more and being able to grind with your friends. None of this is bad. Its just not the roleplaying experience that everyone who sits around a tabletop to play D&D understands.
So back to the original question about will there be another mega MMORPG? You would need something very radical, that would be user driven. Allowing people to meet in this online space and weave their own stories and swiftly control and generate their own encounters and characters. To become The Hero, rather than be one of millions of people fighting the same respawned boss, to be able to meet NPCs that are controlled by other people who have relevant agendas. Basically this sounds like you need a call centre of people who for their day time job all play as NPCs and Games Masters for the millions of people out there that want a truly innovative MMORPG experience.
But who would want to risk making a game where you need thousands of living people to run it 24/7, teams of management and story controllers? Whats your thoughts on all of this and what type of game you feel the next Mega MMORPG would be?