I’m not a social butterfly. Bartle’s test puts me in a very polarized EASK model (100/50/50/0), which is to say, I explore at any opportunity, achieve and socialize when I can’t explore, and don’t have a mean bone in my body. Um… except for all those rats and boars. It was self-defense, honest.
Lately, though, I’ve been flitting about between different MMO games, and I’ve started to feel a little… flighty.
To be honest, I’m not sure why I’ve got the MMO bug lately. It’s almost instinctive, driven by my perpetual need to understand things around me. Sure, I like games, always have, but I’ve been able to resist the siren call of MMOs for a long time, so why am I fascinated now?
I think that part of it stems from my overall interest in the game industry. I grew up thinking that I wanted to be an animator. Given the chance, I’d probably still go that route, but for now, games are my home. I’m technically a Technical Artist, but I have a deep interest in game design and the business side of the industry. I like to know what’s going on, so that I can position myself to take best advantage of situations. That’s the EA part of my Bartle type, framed in the MMO some call “Real Life”.
I’ve been taking a hard, analytical look at World of Warcraft as the 800 pound gorilla in the room. I like it. If I had happened upon it in high school, when I had free time and more discretionary funding, I’d probably have been sucked in like any self-respecting geek gamer. These days, I have sufficient dicipline (and responsibility for a family, notably) to dodge that particular bullet, but I still like the game. It has problems, among them a deep-rooted grind mentality, a troubling business model, and an unfortunate game design focus on the high end. Even so, it’s an enjoyable game, at least for as long as most games can be expected to be fun.
I’m going to try Guild Wars next month, but I suspect that it’s not going to be groundbreaking. Good fun, but nothing that will change the course of my career or life. I’m looking forward to playing it for the narrative and exploration, but I don’t really expect the gameplay itself to be amazing. I reserve the right to be pleasantly surprised. If Warhammer Online makes a free trial at some point, I’ll pick it up and try out a White Lion.
Still, fun as it is, WoW is not the epitome of design. Warhammer Online and Guild Wars are riffs on the same gameplay. It’s not the only lineage for MMOs. The DIKU lineage (hack and slash loot/level treadmill) is time-honored (and time-worn), but gems like Puzzle Pirates take a very new tack at the multiplayer online world. Second Life is… well… something I don’t have experience with or interest in, but it’s apparently yet another sort of experience. Atlantica Online is a weird sort of hybrid, as are Dreamlords and Stargate Worlds or Tabula Rasa. There are DIKU elements in those last batch, but layered in amongst other “genres” of games, like Real Time Strategy, Tactics or First Person Shooters. There are a lot of directions that online multiplayer games can go in.
It’s been postulated that MMOs, or even just online gaming in general, are the “wave of the future”. Raph Koster seems to agree, and Three Rings is doing interesting things with Whirled. Sony’s Free Realms is trying another direction. Wizard101 is good fun with a unique combat system that could easily branch out into a physical card game. Of all that I’ve seen so far, I’m most excited about the games that are trying new things, outside the treadmill. That’s why I’ve loved Puzzle Pirates for as long as I’ve known it, running on two and a half years now.
I’m likewise looking forward to seeing where the industry as a whole goes. I have some big reservations about the “online, all the time” mentality, but I’m warily optimistic about some of the potential that could be realized. My butterfly relationship with the genre isn’t likely to settle down, but perhaps I can glean enough information to place myself ahead of the design curve. There is great design potential out there, and good business opportunities. For the moment, though, the MMO genre as a whole feels a bit like a flower garden; pretty to look at, superficially fun, but ultimately not much more than that.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve been flitting around, sampling without settling. I’m looking for something more than the sometimes vapid design and content that has almost become a dose of static. What’s the old saw? If you want something done right, do it yourself? Perhaps I’m instinctively positioning myself to do just that. The Explorer in me certainly is having a good time looking around, whatever the end Achievement.