“Plenty of Life Left After WoW”

No, I’m not referring to the rest of Mark’s life after reaching level 70, I’m talking about some recent developer comments made at this year’s more understated Leipzig Conference. Representatives from Cryptic Studios (City of Heroes & Villains, upcoming Marvel MMO), Turbine (Asheron’s Call, D&D Online, Lord of the Rings Online), EA Mythic (Dark Age of Camelot, upcoming Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning) and Zenimax Online Studios (unannounced project, lead worked on DAoC) loosely praised and largely dissed World of Warcraft, stating that Blizzard’s primary strategy was to not innovate and focus on delivering a finished game. Oh, but don’t follow that model, they added, because it’s not innovative enough. Huh?

That’s one of the weaknesses of taking sound bites from a roundtable discussion– usually the discussion is about a topic without a clear point, and the resulting snippets are easy points to play against each other… though I think there’s truth in believing this is how competing developers, in general, have sought to analyze and then write off Blizzard’s MMO success. Obviously there’s some short-sightedness to this thinking.

Blizzard is said, if you ask many seasoned gamers, to be the master copier. Warcraft ripped Warhammer. Diablo and Starcraft ripped off other titles that Mark can quote for you. World of Warcraft ripped off all the preceding MMOs. But in its apparent plagiarism, Blizzard made polished, high quality games that optimized any failures of their influences and received well-won critical and mass market acclaim and success.

Amusingly, this “optimized plagiarism” (my quote, not theirs) accusation can be said of any MMO that came out after Ultima Online or even EverQuest, which themselves were computerized optimizations of pen and paper RPGs. Not to get too chicken and the egg or circular, but it really all comes back to the cliche that there is no original art or creativity anymore, and the same can be said for video games, if not especially MMOs. There’s a twist, or a compelling delivery, that makes some games stand out from others, but as the Cryptic guy (who else?) said, the main point was that WoW is fun. Isn’t that what a good game in any medium is really all about? That’s certainly why Channel Massive recently got back into City of Heroes.

And there’s a big “no duh” response concerning delivering a finished product. Blizzard’s known just as much for its delays as its quality games, and I was relieved that the faltering Conan: Hyborian Adventures was delayed rather than shipped crappy.

Looking forward, I hope that the delays– or at least more realistically forecasted development schedules– actually continue, and I definitely hope the innovation these developers say is tantamount is delivered, because more than a few of them are guilty of not only delivering unfinished products but things that are just as unimaginative as they accuse WoW of being. While Mark and Jason would differ, I’m all for Pirates of the Burning Seas, a rip of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, even if it is being developed by SOE (Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies), just because it’s a new genre for MMOs. And that’s also why I’m more excited about the barbaric Conan and Warhammer 40k MMOs than I am Warhammer Online, which may just be an origin trip for us WoW players. And since no one else wants to jump on the superhero bandwagon after City of Heroes, I’m of course looking forward to Cryptic’s Marvel MMO for consoles. Those games are what I call life after WoW.

Read the story I’m referencing in this blog over at GamesIndustry.biz.

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