Runescape is a game that gamers love to hate. “Real” MMO gamers (WoW fanboys) loudly deride its lower quality graphics and weird business model (not the gospel $15/month), and “those other MMO gamers” (Puzzle Pirates, W101, etc.) look at it as a grindy mess like all of those “big soulless” MMOs (WoW).
So, it’s understandable that the buzz for the company’s next project, MechScape, isn’t as big as, say, the hoopla around BioWare’s Star Wars The Old Republic. Still, they look to be doing some interesting things in the MMO design space, and for that, I applaud them.
This really has me scratching my head, though:
Now, I love ‘mechs as much as any other Battletech geek, and I really like 4X strategy gaming (mmm, Master of Orion/Orion 2/Magic, Civilization), but I’m having a hard time seeing how this could work in an MMO setting. I love Exploration, too, and the notion that an MMO could be built more around the 4X model than the DIKU model makes me very happy. So, I’ll be happy if they pull this off and make lots of money doing it, maybe even reshaping the MMO genre. It’s just… you wouldn’t make Mario and Bowser the stars of a JRPG, would you?
Oh, wait… (yes, that’s an important distinction: the characters made the transition, but they changed the game design pretty significantly to shoehorn Mario into FF-Lite)
OK, so maybe this is a better example of design pulling in different directions, and the business model causing further problems:
You just can’t make every game type into an MMO. I’m all for innovation, and I wish Jagex well on MechScape, but sometimes, the best intentions can still go awry. Here, I’m voicing concern over both the “will it blend” approach to game design, and the annoying trend of making every game an online monstrosity (as if slapping on the “MMO” label makes roadkill sausage into top sirloin).
I guess time will tell what settles out of the mix, but for now, I’m cautiously optimistic, hoping that they will find a great niche for massively multiplayer 4X gaming. There’s certainly potential there for would-be galactic emperors. It’s never going to hit the same sweet spot of marketability that WoW did, but if they can manage to concoct a solid game, it’ll be one that I definitely look into for a while.