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Can EverQuest Next break out of the MMO rut?

As the MMO genre has grown and matured, demands for convenience have seen massive increases in solo-able content. Instant group finders abound, and community ideals erode in the glare of instant access group content, designed to be completed without any need for communication.

Many people see this as a problem, the strength of the MMO genre is the persistent nature of the experience, what good is it if all its parts are disposable?

What is the answer to this problem? Many think it is to wind the clocks back to a pre-World of Warcraft state, but this is simply not possible. The realities of making online games has changed dramatically, playing with other people over the internet is now no longer a novel concept. This was a time without YouTube, when social media was in its infancy and people thought Steam was something that came out of a kettle.

Despite this, after years of market dominance by WoW and WoW-Likes, it seems that the values and principles that MMOs were founded on are making a return. A Kickstarter campaign has just been launched for a new MMO title, helmed by legendary designer Brad McQuaid.

There is undoubtedly an audience for games that are built on community interaction in an unforgiving world, with games like The Repopulation and Camelot Unchained already finding success on Kickstarter. Not to mention Star Citizen: 36 MILLION dollars and counting. 

Has the MMO market matured to the point where niche products are more viable, or have they always been viable but studios and investors were too focussed on taking a slice of the WoW pie they didn't want to risk trying to create their own from scratch? The success of Eve Online shows there is a market, and from what we've experienced these last few years, the riskiest path is following in the footsteps of WoW.

For example, let's imagine there are a couple of MMOs readying for launch this year, let's call them SWOTOR 2 and Rift 2. The first is a subscription based game built on a beloved IP that focuses on story driven content. The second is a direct challenger to the throne, sub based with an updated engine and a more engaging combat style, public quests and a deep build system.

I'm sure I don't need to paint you a picture of the fate these games will probably encounter, let's just hope The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar don't make the same mistakes as those that have come before.

If we can't go back, and running in place only leads to stagnation, what other option presents itself?

EverQuest Next has its progressive attitude stamped right on its name, SOE understands that to be successful it must not even get into the mold to begin with, let alone break out of it. After going back to the drawing board on the game multiple times, I'm inclined to believe they're serious about it.

Whether they can pull it off is another matter; this genre is stuck so deep in a rut that players will defend and demand mechanics born of limitations that no longer exist. See Trinity Combat, Raids and PvP Servers. Ideas like these are so ingrained in our group psyche we can't even have a discussion about role-based combat or large group content without it being firmly framed within the context of the trinity or raiding.

We willingly force ourselves into the false dichotomy, either do it like EverQuest or do it like WoW. At this point I would like to remind everyone that World of Warcraft launched over 9 years ago. Why do we still think we should follow a game that, if it were a person, would probably be into Justin Bieber?

Think of all the amazing games that have been conceived and born in that time, the new genres that have emerged, the new opportunities presented by new technology. Yet here we are, unable to even discuss game mechanics without the context of a game as old as Half Life 2. Maybe that's a bad example.

Not only is EverQuest Next trying to break away, EverQuest Next Landmark will allow players to show the way. Can we, as deputized game designers, find a way out of the rut? 

My greatest hope for both games is that great things happen that no one expected. If we keep treading and backtracking along the same paths, how can we expect to be surprised?


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