Thursday, August 2, 2007

Where is the hype?

A reader who signs with the symbol "= # # =" left an interesting comment on the Chore Wars post: "On a side note, when a post about chore wars gets more replies than a post about Tabula Rasa, it can't be a good sign for Richard Garriott." Well spotted. There are a number of MMORPGs announced for the second half of 2007: Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Age of Conan, Gods & Heroes, you name it. But the amount of hype around them is curiously low. Nobody seems to be waiting for these. Why is that so?

One reason is certainly the expectation that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) will be BIG, and thus the hype is concentrated towards that game, even if it probably still is one year away. But more importantly it seems that World of Warcraft changed our perception what "big" is. Games that "only" get a couple of hundred thousand players are nowadays considered niche, although 5 years ago that was what the market leaders had. Thus the games I listed above don't excite much. Even the second World of Warcraft expansion, which is probably going to be announced this weekend, is producing more buzz than all the other games of 2007 together.

Or maybe we are suffering a collective MMORPG burnout, a general gaming slump, and can't be excited about anything any more. Which is curious, because I think some of the upcoming games have some merit in being innovative: Tabula Rasa combines MMO elements with FPS elements. Pirates of the Burning Sea has ship-to-ship combat and a trading part (which I am personally most interested in). Age of Conan is trying to revolutionize MMORPG combat with it's "Real Combat" system. And Gods & Heroes has you collect NPC minions working and fighting for you. None of these games are simple EQ/WoW clones.

I'm pretty sure that none of these games will reach subscription numbers in the millions like World of Warcraft. But some of them will be commercially successful enough to make a profit. And their various innovations will advance the MMORPG genre, even if some of those experiments might fail. Somebody has to try to change things like MMO combat, because otherwise in 5 years we will still be stuck with the same autoattack-plus-hotkey combat we already had 5 years ago. Thus I will closely watch the games still coming out this year, and play them. Even the ones I'm sceptical about I would at least want to test them if they offer an open beta. So I'll see whether I can incite some hype about one game or another by presenting them over the coming weeks.

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