There’s a bit of a flame war going on out there in the blogosphere revolving around a recent Gamasutra soapbox article (reg. required) which took a few stabs at the MMO status quo, and has received some less-than-positive responses in return at locations such as here and here.  Other luminaries such as Scott Jennings (Lum the Mad) and Jessica Mulligan have chimed in as well in comments.  Just figured I’d rant a little rant of my own… I’d hate to be left out…

Everyone has their own take on the points brought up, of course.  Some of the items ridiculed by Mrs. Schubert, for example, had commenters take exception and stand up for them in her comments, while agreeing with the other points made.  Psychochild mentioned the overarching importance of the social part of the experience, particularly in terms of retention.

Less anecdotal evidence of the power of socialization in terms of account retention can be found at Nick Yee’s Daedalus Project… this link is a recent summary on the topic.  A few have argued potential bias in the manner that data is collected by the Daedalus Project, but it’s still far less subjective than “I’ve heard people say…”

Now personally, the socialization angle isn’t a big deal for me.  I continue to play these games if I am having fun, period.  With my schedule (and the hyperactive pager surgically attached to my hip), that generally means a lot of soloing.  But I’m atypical of the current MMO player base.  Then again, just to be contrary, perhaps I am more typical of that wider player base that everyone says they are interested in pursuing?

In the end, it really boils down to the same thing that it always has.  I’ve seen this type of thing for years, from message boards thru mud-dev to the Greater Blogistan of today… and it’s a big part of why I haven’t generally bothered to chime in much in the past.  In order to get people to seriously consider these various topics again (yes, again… most of this stuff has been hashed thru more than once before, after all), you are going to have to sit down and pound something out yourself showing why it will work if you do it your way. 

In short: you think you’ve got some hot new perspectives/ideas that will work for 1000s of players at once and revolutionize MMOs?  Prove it.

Until you can do that, you’ll be shot down from a hundred directions, and really, for good reason.  It’s not like the individuals involved in the firing squad don’t have some (prolly painful) experiences to back them up.  They work on this stuff 40 hours a week (minimum… and that’s probably if they’re lucky).  They probably have recurring dreams about some of it (or nightmares, more likely).

Do I think the industry would be better off with a whole lot more experimentation going on?  Definitely.  Will it be the big-name developers and publishers that do it?  Not on your life.  They aren’t going to plop down 20+ million on “new and original” without some serious risk-mitigation strategies to back it up… and there’s always going to be someone willing to promise “It’s just like World of Warcraft… But Better!”  10 years from now, when 99% of those WoW+ clones have tanked, and the publishers have had a few years to pout and lick their wounds… maybe we’ll see some incremental divergence.  (But even then… probably not.)

Small publishers and low cost projects, like ATITD, Puzzle Pirates, and so on and so forth, are where the innovations are going to come from.  They won’t make the headlines, but they will push back the boundaries of the “acceptable to discuss”.  At least, I certainly hope so, since that’s my strategy… 🙂