Monday, March 8, 2010

An orc by any other name would smell as sweet

In the open Sunday thread Nils asked "Would you like to speculate on the nature of Blizzards new MMO?". The correct answer to that is "No, I don't like speculating.", but I'm afraid that wouldn't make for a very good blog post. So here are my thoughts on the next Blizzard MMO:

A friend of mine is in the Starcraft 2 beta (no NDA), and finds it is solid, graphically much improved, and plays exactly like Starcraft 1. I watched several Diablo 3 gameplay videos, and I think Diablo 3 is solid, graphically much improved, and will play exactly like Diable 2. So my prediction about the next Blizzard MMO is that it will be solid, graphically much improved, and will play exactly like World of Warcraft. And I'm not excited about the idea.

That is not to say that the next Blizzard MMO will be WoW 2, and have orcs and elves and wizards in a fantasy world. But as the bard said, "What's in a name? That which we call an orc by any other name would smell as sweet." The next Blizzard MMO could well be Steampunk or any other genre. And it wouldn't be beyond the means of Blizzard to create a completely new brand, not based on any existing intellectual property. But I fully expect to have to create a character by choosing a race and a class in that game, and pop into the world as level 1 in front of an NPC with a glowing symbol floating over his head, which indicates that I should click on him to be told to go and kill 10 foozles.

Sadly at this point there are some people among my readers who think "But what Tobold just listed is the definition of a MMORPG". No, it isn't. Having a MMORPG based on classes and levels and quests is not the only possible way, otherwise you'd need to label a huge number of games like Ultima Online, A Tale in the Desert, or Puzzle Pirates as being "not a MMORPG". The class/level/quest model of MMORPGs is just the historically most successful way to create a MMORPG, which is why it is widely copied.

What I would wish is that Blizzard would create a radical new vision of a MMORPG, which combines Blizzard's attention to detail and ability to create huge amounts of content with the will to differentiate the new game from World of Warcraft in terms of gameplay. Unfortunately there is nothing in the history of Blizzard which would indicate that they are able to do that. They are the masters of perfecting existing ideas, not of coming up with new ones. I fully expect the next Blizzard MMORPG to be a great game, and I already bet that it will get more than 1 million subscribers. But I'm afraid they will get there by playing it safe, and producing a solid, graphically improved game with more or less the same gameplay as World of Warcraft.

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