New Game Releases for 9/16 – 9/21: Something For The Destiny-less PC Gamers

The game companies must have assumed that (almost) everyone would still be knee-deep in Destiny this week, so they decided to hold off on any especially huge console releases for now. Continue reading “New Game Releases for 9/16 – 9/21: Something For The Destiny-less PC Gamers”

Here’s How They Should Reboot the Tenchu Series

Playing the 1998 PlayStation game Tenchu: Stealth Assassins for a Let’s Play recently got me thinking about how badly I’d like to see that franchise make a comeback. Continue reading “Here’s How They Should Reboot the Tenchu Series”

Debate Club: Are MMOs Relevant Anymore? (The “Not Really” Side)

By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief

World of Warcraft wasn’t the first MMO, and it certainly won’t be the last. However, I truly believe that no MMO will ever see that level of success ever again. Of course, it’s a little unfair to compare an entire genre to a game that was basically a freak phenomenon and exceeded all reasonable expectations. It would be like writing off every sci-fi movie that doesn’t have the same cultural impact as Star Wars. Still, I feel that WoW was a fluke, and while MMO’s will continue, they’ll return to what they were before WoW‘s peak: a relatively small, specialized genre with a very dedicated (but not especially huge) fanbase.

I wouldn’t say MMOs are irrelevant necessarily, but their relevance has been greatly diminished as much of what made them relevant to begin with has been co-opted into other genres. When MMOs first broke through to the mainstream in the late 90’s, the gaming landscape was quite different in terms of player interaction. In the ensuing decade and a half, we’ve seen many advances in gaming that allow players to interact with each other in virtual worlds. Whereas simply being able to walk around a virtual world with other players and being able to chat and interact with them outside of just shooting at them in a FPS was once a mindblowing and revolutionary concept, any number of games offer such an experience now. There have even been virtual lobbies built into various gaming platforms like PS3 and Wii U that let you walk around and talk to other players as avatars, meaning you don’t even need to be in a “game” to do that anymore.

In terms of actually co-existing in an evolving, persistent world that one can easily live in for months and even years of “real time”, it’s pretty clear that Minecraft currently holds the crown in that space. For people who want to experience a long-term adventure where they explore a huge world and have a character that evolves greatly over time, games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim offer that and, as a single player experience anyway, are far superior experiences in terms of being an epic story-driven adventure. The open-world genre that consists of games like GTA, Red Dead Redemption, and Saint’s Row continue to evolve to allow for the type of spontaneous, emergent gameplay that make MMOs special. And as those types of games continue to take stabs at online play, that should further bridge that gap and make the novelty of a bunch of people doing things together in a living, breathing world where “anything can happen” far less exclusive to the MMO genre.

Speaking of which, game worlds in general continue to grow as technology advances. Certainly the size of the world in a game like WoW or Everquest was much of what made those games so special. But again, games like Fallout 3, Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V, Mass Effect, Zelda, and many others rival any MMOs total land space and, in many cases, offer far much more “to do” in any given chunk of virtual land. I could even pay $6.99 right now and get the entire world of GTA: San Andreas ON MY PHONE, easily one of the largest and densest game worlds ever created, and again, I guarantee there is way more to do and see and find then in any single MMO, even with expansions.

Which brings me to the one thing I feel MMOs still have that make them stand out, which is the ability to have an ever-changing world with worldwide events that effect all players and cause lasting, permanent changes on the world and its players. No non-MMO game has approached anything like that yet. The problem is, I feel that the average player today wouldn’t appreciate something like that anyway. Everybody’s always onto the hot new game. People would rather have their NEW Halo and GTA and Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed every year or two, and have it be a new, standalone experience, than they would just a game called “Halo” or “Grand Theft Auto” and have it just change and evolve into the equivalent of the sequels. They want each game to be twice as good, twice as fast, twice as big, have graphics that look twice as amazing. That’s the nature of gaming, especially today. The fact that a new Madden is still such a huge event each year is proof of that. I just feel that the audience that wants to sit down and immerse themselves in a single world and live in that world for literally years is a small one. But if it’s such a small one, how to explain the success of WoW, you ask? Again, WoW was the exception. Lighting in a bottle. But it won’t ever happen like that again. Most of the people who played that game, well now they’ve “done that” already. The reason that no other MMOs have been able to even make a dent in WoW‘s numbers prove that most people aren’t willing to start over. They’ll either keep playing WoW, or they’re going to move onto something completely different. Not an MMO. A small number will splinter off into some of the smaller MMOs, but I feel that most will not be willing to spend ANOTHER 10 years playing one game again, and the younger generation who have MMO-like tendencies will likely flock to the cartoony free to play RPGs that they see advertised during Spongebob and Adventure Time. Or they’re already playing Minecraft.

So is it fair to call MMOs “irrelevant” as long as there are still active MMOs and people are playing them? Of course not. But you can be relevant but also be niche, and that’s the path I see MMOs settling back into.

Debate Club: Are MMOs Relevant Anymore? (The “Yes They Are” Side)

By: Steve Zachmann, contributor

World of Warcraft fundamentally changed my view on gaming as a whole.  It represents to me the very best that the MMO genre has produced, and while WoW is very clearly entering its twilight years, the fundamental building blocks that it helped forge are ones that I believe can be expanded on in ways that will push gaming in new and interesting directions for a long time.  Despite the recent lack of quality in the genre, there are still some very different experiences to be had in MMOs, the kind of experiences that simply cannot be found anywhere else.

Where single player games tend to tell deep yet isolated stories,  MMOs create worlds where story is less important than social experience.  Just before World of Warcraft launched  its second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, there was an event involving a zombie plague.  Players could become infected and eventually turn into zombies if not cured quickly.  Once fully zombified, players could infect or kill other players, and npcs.  What happened was truly epic.

Zombie players began wreaking havoc, infecting and killing anyone they found.  Non-zombie players hunted them down ruthlessly, while attempting to stave off their own infection.  Zombie players were vicious and deadly so traveling alone was a death sentence.  Players traveled in packs, with healers curing the fighters as they went.  Hundreds of players all holed opted to hole up in safer areas like the Stormwind cathedral.  Of course this prompted hordes of zombie-players to attempt to overwhelm them.  Battle lines between zombie-players and non-zombie-players were drawn, and the battle raged for weeks.  Quest givers, class trainers, and all other manner of npcs were killed or turned.  Players fought for their cities, while the zombie hordes constantly threatened to overwhelm them.  When you logged on you never knew what the world would look like from day to day.  Some days it felt contained, with masses of players eradicating even the smallest outbreak.  Other days it seemed like the zombies had decimated everything.

The event was polarizing to the player base.  Some – like me – loved how organic it felt.  Others found the inconvenience of dead quest givers and auction masters to be extremely irritating.  No matter how you felt about the event though, you remembered it.  The stakes felt high.  Players who didn’t want to become zombies banded together.  High level players went out of their way to protect low level players.  Players wanting to be zombies constantly changed their strategies trying to invade cities from multiple routes and at different times.  For the short time the event lasted, it felt like a truly epic battle, and it happened in a completely unplanned way.  I used the word organic before and that is truly the only way I could explain it.  The game gave players a pallet of tools, and we built our own experiences.

The fundamental thing that separates the MMO genre from every other gaming experience is the manner in which players interact.  Sure there is player interaction in many other traditional multiplayer games, but the type of persistent world that the MMO genre creates affords players the opportunity to have meaningful, long-term experiences together that can have an impact on the world far beyond a thirty minute capture-the-flag match.

Things like the Zul’Gurub pandemic, and many of the high profile events in EVE Online further show that the type of experiences offered by the MMO genre are unlike anything else in gaming.  There is no doubt that the genre is not in its prime right now.  Other than WoW, and Guild Wars 2, there is little to pay attention to.  Even a Star Wars MMO flopped pretty badly.  That said the genre itself has merit.  Unlike single player games, or even traditional multiplayer games, MMOs allow players to craft experiences together with massive amounts of other people, and that’s something that I don’t believe is going to go away anytime soon.  Even if it takes five years for another great MMO to come along, now that so many people have experienced some of the really fun and different things they provide, I believe that the genre will be relevant for a very long time.