From Zen of Design comes an essay ("End of the ‘World’ as we know it?") that serves a good reflection on recent blogsphere discussions on Ultima Online (incl. Terra Nova's "Ultima Online R.I.P."). UO becomes a lens with which to view the larger question about the future of the MMO... Let's start with this premise from Broken Toys' "THE UNBEARABLE DARKNESS OF ULTIMA ONLINE":
Ultima Online - it won’t happen again. Ever. That moment in time was unique - and it’s gone. Because there will never again be a time where there is only one MMO... there will always be choices... The days of UO’s One World where many mutually exclusive play styles are forced to interact, on the terms of the more socially maladroit, are over. The market has fragmented, and cannot be put back together. People, when forced to play the role of “sheep” or “stupid newbie", will simply leave.
Though the specifics speak to PvP, the general point is with respect to places with co-existing play styles. Damion (Zen of Design) seems right to suggest the one consequence of this loss is the rise of a competing vision of the MMO as a *Game*, a place other than a *World* :
If you believe in the ‘world/game’ split of online world design, and are a fan of the ‘world’ camp, now must seem like a pretty grim time. The grand-daddy of ‘world’ design is suddenly having people talk about it in the past tense (prematurely, I should reiterate). Furthermore, new additions to the ‘world’ side of things such as Star Wars Galaxies, Shadowbane and the Sims Online have all gotten disappointing reviews, whereas on the ‘game’ side of things, we’ve had endless praise for City of Heroes, followed by reviewers arguing, out of EverQuest 2 and Worlds of Warcraft, which game can cure the most lepers. The future doesn’t look too bright - Tabula Rasa and Vanguard, obviously on the front lines of the next wave, both appear to be ‘game-y’ games.
Then Damion proceeds to build an argument as to why he is optimistic about a *Worlds* victory:
...(I)t makes business sense... (T)he world games haven’t been as good as they could... Virtual worlds capture the hearts and imaginations better...
However, the challenge to the *World* vision still lies within the gaze of recent history, e.g. City of Heroes and World of Warcraft, to name a prominent few (Damion):
I’ve seen some go so far as to say that Worlds of Warcraft will end up being the nail in the coffin of MMO design. After all, who would want to make a do-anything game after WoW hit half a million users with a pure gamer game?
The hope for the *Worlds* future lies with those who wish to differentiate themselves from the current market fare, according to Damion...
I guess I am on the *Worlds* cheerleading team - if for no other reason than for a tiny faith in that only in big messy sprawling places can one find redeeming value in effort and relationships. Perhaps too a faith built upon a belief that the mechanics of such places would prove to be more interesting than "hero wheels" and instanced battles with no echo... Yet, we are always reminded of a dark side to *Worlds* that needs to be tamed somehow (Scott, Broken Toys):
...Remember that economic simulation? It extends to the dark side as well. The game’s developers, again, for whatever reason, allowed both for a pretty decent system of player housing - that could be stolen. That’s right, if you are careless and leave a key on you in a dangerous place, your killer could not only take your items (did I mention full item loot of victims on death? Sorry, forgot that detail - a fairly extreme PvP variant you don’t see much of any more) but could repossess your house. Think that one over for a while.
How viable do you think this game would be in today’s MMO marketplace? How many times do you think today’s MMO customer would meekly accept being killed and looted by someone whom they had no chance in fighting against. Losing their house. Abused after being killed verbally for being "carebear" (although that term came into vogue later, when choices began to appear in the market and said "carebears" opted out) and not part of the hard core elite. Entire skill trees devoted to allowing players to steal from each other.
How long do you think someone would pay a monthly fee to be a target?
So perhaps it comes to this: a little darkness is inevitable to contrast the light? Thoughts?