Over the years just about every publisher has wanted to cash in on the MMO genre wanting those sweet sweet subscription fees. Of course one problem with all this is that they all want to be World of Warcraft. In a sense you can't blame them since after all WoW became the most successful game in the genre spreading far beyond main stream appeal. Nothing wrong with wanting to reach that level of popularity right? Well the problem is, in my opinion WoW was like Lightning in a bottle. The time that it came out and the design choices made with it worked perfectly in it's favor. While it borrowed ideas from other MMO games it was the first to use those ideas well. It was heralded by every critic on the net and in publication and everything that would follow after it would have a really tough time escaping it's shadow.
It's not to say games that stand toe to toe with the WoW behemoth never came along certainly not. In fact it wasn't long we got games like Guild Wars which was a free to play game that offered new approaches to the MMO formula and having played both of them I can tell you that GW was a worthy competitor. More recently we also got Rift which was a game I didn't pay much attention to but it certainly turned my head when the reviews came in and songs of it's praise were being sung.
But still for every one good MMO that comes along there are dozens of others that are practically thrown at us and despite the potential they may have had, they can't seem to escape the fate of being rushed, having a terrible launch ,and game play riddled with bugs. I don't blame the designers certainly not. Making a game is hard, making a game online that works properly is freaking ludicrous! The sad truth of that being publishers are not willing to give developers the time they need to properly test and desighn everything so the game launches smoothly. Now this could be said about games other than MMO's but lemme get back on topic.
MMO's good or bad have fallen into a number of tropes and trends that seem difficult to escape. For example just to name a few Combat is usually turn based or timed so that fighting can still feel like you're using skill while playing over a potentially laggy connection. Quest are usually repetitive not always feeling fulfilling but rather feeling like work asking you to find some NPC, bring back X number of items, kill X number of enemies etc. Anytime there's some type of boss or important enemy it's basically stand in line till someone kills them, wait for him to respawn then kill him when it's your turn while other folks wait in line to do the same thing. The differences in player levels can make it difficult if you want play with a friend who is perhaps 20 levels higher than you are and all you can do is grind to get to his level or worse yet be murdered trying to follow him.
Although the other issue which depending on the game you play is the money investment in the subscription fee. Now things have become less expensive these days going from 20 a month to 15 per month and of course saving money if you pay in 6 month blocks. However with money being as tight for folks these days given the poor economy no one wants to pour cash into something if it's not going to be worth their time. After all if you're going to continuously pay to play a game then it should damn well be worth it. Thankfully in some cases it is and also some games have gone free to play. Although depending on if it's really free or if it's limited until you pay for all the goodies can make a F2P game questionable as well.
But where am I going with all this? Well I'm curious in this day and age, how do we break out of the MMO stereo types? How do we break the mold again so that critics and average joe's alike don't feel like doing a quest is just repetitive work? How do we make players feel like they are the heroes again? How do we make the actions of the player feel important and have weight and consequence? And above all would it be possible to do any of these things and still have a fun and functional online experience that anyone can have fun with?
I await your input people. Discuss!