Why Joining Them is Never Going to be as Satisfying as Beating Them

February 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

Would a Grand Theft Auto MMO work? Can a realistic setting even house such a game? Does such a game have the weight needed to topple World of Warcraft? I emailed Suzie of Girls Don’t Game for her thoughts.

Suzie,

We’re all familiar with the problem with World of Warcraft. As anyone with basic knowledge of economic theory knows, the control of one company over an entire market with a product that is vastly more popular is most certainly a bad thing, and make no mistake, within the MMO market such a situation exists. With monopolies no competition exists, stunting evolution and limiting potential. If consumers want an different MMO to play there’s simply no alternative to WOW, with it’s two expansion packs, millions of players, and it has to be said, superior gameplay.

It’s no surprise then that last year saw a huge effort on behalf of many top-tier publishers to try and take their own slice of the MMO pie from Blizzard’s overflowing – but locked – bakery. Eidos’s attempt was Age of Conan, Ncsoft’s Tabula Rosa and EA perhaps most promisingly of all, made a well constructed effort with Warhammer Online. Two out of these three have widely been considered complete failures; Age of Conan has seen its servers recently castrated, and unsold copies of Tabula Rosa were discovered for the taking in a dumpster outside of an EB Games.

The pessimist in me has already decided that at this point WOW cant be beaten. No amount of talent on the part of a development studio is going to match the experience Blizzard have gained through running Warcraft for this long, and then even with an amazing effort, tearing people away from characters they’ve invested so much time in is a task few out there are up to. Developers seem to be missing the point a little, people don’t like WOW because it’s the finest interactive experience ever created, they like it because it’s WOW. Essentially you’re not going to beat it by copying it.

If the fantasy-fans are already entrenched in their level 50 Mages then who are you to tear them away. Why not go for gamers playing games with completely different settings? Why not try and suck in a completely new demographic with a universe that is, for want of a better word, cool? Why not take arguably the coolest gaming universe around and let people inhabit it communally? Why not make Grand Theft Auto an MMO?

Start telling a group of non-gaming friends about an epic quest you and your guild got into the other night and you’re not going to impress. The appeal of MMO’s has never lied in the objectives players complete but instead the way in which they complete them, the community that rises up out of the need for this accomplishment. How much easier a sell would it be to draw in non-gamers with the promise of experiences mimicking the greatest action scenes in cinema history, the bank job from Heat, or the villa shoot-out from Scarface, all events Rockstar have used as inspiration in past GTAs. Even the name Grand Theft Auto carries weight to a non-gamer, it’s much more likely they’ve heard of the best selling franchise in history as opposed to Warcraft or Age of Conan.

If there’s one thing Rockstar can do better than any other developer in the world it’s create a bustling metropolis that feels lived in by the thousands of characters seen roaming the streets. How easy then, would it be to see other players filling the shoes of the people you pass by in the street without a second glance. That taxi driver that dropped you off at your mission marker could be someone on the other side of the world, saving up a little more in-game cash to hire some protection. That hotdog vendor you just paid could be someone else playing a minigame in between missions.

It’s not hard to imagine an entirely new group of people getting hooked on an MMO through the infinitely wide grip of GTA, people who would not otherwise have considered touching WOW or any of it’s imitations. Only through expansion and change can the MMO market hope to evolve, and turning out one fantasy rpg after another isn’t going to accomplish this. I know you’ve spent some time with WOW in the past, is all of this just wishful thinking?

Jon

Her response is forthcoming.

Edit: Her response can be found here.

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