Edge talks with Matt Firor, the director for The Elder Scrolls Online in next month’s magazine. An excerpt is online. In the article, they talk about the different generations of MMORPGs, starting with Ultima Online and Everquest. The second generation is described as the time of Dark Age of Camelot and World of Warcraft. The modern age is Star Wars: The Old Republic and perhaps Rift.
What separates these generations for me is the role of the developer after the game launches. With Everquest, which I played quite a bit in its first two years, the developers were very active. There were always times when word would trickle down to you that something was happening on the other continent. You’d run to Freeport and hop on the boat and hope there was something to see when you got there. These events were controlled by the game masters and their minions. They gave you a reason to play every day. I never went to these events because I thought I could aid in battling whatever creature might be Godzilla-ing the countryside. I went because I wanted to be a part of that event even if it meant losing experience points.
Since Everquest, I have sampled several of the later MMORPGs. Rarely have I seen a locally run event. There were some things that could have been, but weren’t. When World of Warcraft launched the Cataclysm expansion, there was talk of dragon attacks that would unlock an in-game achievement if you were killed by the new Big Bad. That has promise, I thought. I did end up getting the achievement, but only in an older zone and a year after the game launched. The new Big Bad, it turned out, was on a timer. There was no game master controlling him.
The new crop of MMOGs can tab into the role of the game master to push the genre forward. Yes, they will have to pay someone per every few servers to do it. But the dynamism an event run by a game master can add will keep people playing. If you have an overarching story to tell, let these game masters implement it. The more you allow those game masters the freedom to shuffle how that story is told, the more interesting it will be for us as players.