After much teasing, SOE President and apparent surprise fetishist John Smedley laid out the details of the newest MMO offering from SOE this week. Landmark is no longer the new kid on the block as H1Z1 shuffles out into the light, a zombie apocalypse themed MMO. The reaction seems mixed right now, with some commentators wondering what will differentiate this offering from the other early access zombie contenders.
For my money, SOE won't want to mess too much with the formula that made DayZ a phenomenon, but what they do have is a solid MMO engine and the resources to get a well-polished product into the market, something the current crop certainly struggles with.
If you're a regular reader you'll probably be aware I'm a big fan of DayZ, and since H1Z1 is free to play you can be sure I'll give it a try. It's also one more reason to invest in the new SOE All Access subscription plan, so in my opinion SOE knows what it's doing.
The announcement did make me think about the direction of game development as a whole, as we are seeing more and more games that put the user in the driving seat. There are more robust tools for user generated content, an increase in player agency and a focus on emergent gameplay. I'm a fan of this type of design, and I think it will persist until it becomes the norm. There's the rise of online gaming as a platform to consider, the 'evergreen' nature of procedurally generated content and PvP, but ultimately it's what the new generation of gamers are used to.
These new crops of gamers are growing up with MOBAs like League of Legends, procedural sandbox builders like Minecraft and survival gankers such as DayZ. These are the games that the largest demographic of video game players in history are shaping and being shaped by. Interestingly, while these games have mechanisms that can make a player feel powerful, they don't make you feel like a hero if you don't want them to. Landmark follows this trend—there is no good or evil as of yet, and with players eventually determining the nature of the content, can good or evil really exist at all? We can destroy the evil cyborg one day and blow up the elf queen's castle the next.
Think about how many games the older generations grew up with that cast us as the hero, which prescribed us a moral compass and told us who was evil.
It's an interesting thought, and incredibly important to consider when trying to contextualize decisions being made by designers who want us to play their game for the next 10 years. For younger players so used to having such a big impact on the world they play in, H1Z1 and Landmark seem to be a great step in the right direction.