As the Worlds Turn: Birth of a New Era

It is a great time to be a MMO gamer. We have a catalogue of spectacular games readily available that can satisfy any gaming palate. Granted, some gems shine brighter than others but there is no doubt that it is indeed a good time to be a fan of MMO games.

But, as the song goes, "the times, they are a changin'". Not only are we being presented with shiny, new games with graphical muscle enough to conquer small countries but we are also blessed with new gameplay mechanics designed to streamline and enhance our gaming experience.

Are we witnessing the birth of a new era? Or will we talk about the failed gaming revolution of 2008?

Age of Conan is leading its own army of bloodthirsty, beheading savages into the new era. Its graphical prowess cannot be denied. I'm sure many gamers are, at this very moment, picturing themselves astride a raging rhinoceros. I know I am. Even if some countries are being denied certain details of the female anatomy, Age of Conan is shaping up to be one bloody, gory, beautiful game. And fear not, American players will get the full package.

I'm all for raising the graphical bar but what will this do to system requirements? Some recent PC titles this past year have shown that graphical might is not all that is needed to be a retail success especially if one needs to take out a second mortgage to upgrade their rig to play it. Some claim that part of WoW's success is the low system requirements. I believe that to be true. Good gameplay will always win out over shiny graphics. When the two are combined, well, that's just a win-win.

For all the press we've seen and the impressive coverage the great people at Massively have provided, Age of Conan is still, for the most part, a game we are all experiencing through screenshots. Will it deliver on those blood soaked promises? I certainly hope it does, by Crom!

Warhammer Online is boasting some pretty impressive graphics as well but they are on track to take PvP gaming to a whole new level. Granted, deep PvP can be found in other games such as EVE and Dark Age of Camelot. Warhammer Online, with its solid roots in tabletop gaming, wants to give PvP a new level of approachability as well as some polish.

I usually play solo so strong PvP has not been one of my major considerations when looking at the bullet-points for a MMO. However, if EA Mythic can make the PvP mechanic in Warhammer Online approachable and a little less intimidating, I would certainly appreciate that. There are many other cool features on the board for Warhammer Online but their intent to take a long-standing franchise with a possibly very complex system and history and make it much more accessible to the average, or even the new, MMO play is admirable.

All of this innovation is very good. There is, however, one game that keeps getting attention in articles, podcasts, and the like and that game is Mythos. Flagship Studios' "test" game that was created on a whim is picking up speed at every corner. The surprising thing about Mythos is that the game, in all honesty, is nothing new. If anything, Mythos is a very refined and very obvious throwback to games of yore.

Will the success of Mythos signal more "classic" game revivals? MMOs started as graphical versions of MUDs and MUSHes. Will we see more games actually scale back features and complexity in exchange for fun and ease of play? Dungeon Runners is a game from a similar heritage. But that isn't the only thing these two have in common.

There is a trend that I've discussed before and its shadow is growing. Free-to-play gaming seems like it is actually starting to take hold and while game publishers aren't rushing headlong into a world with no subscription fee, they are testing the waters with alternate methods of generating revenue other than dinging my credit card every month. One of the current experimenters in this new world of financial voodoo is NCsoft. They recently announced NCoin and have already forged some new ground with their payment methods for Dungeon Runners. They have also recently announced in-game advertising for City of Heroes / City of Villains. Will this mean a reduced cost for CoH/CoV? Who knows? Believe it or not, I think that part of the motivation towards free-to-play gaming (or cheaper-to-play gaming) is the increasing number of Eastern free-to-play MMOs making their way to western shores.

As more and more Korean and Chinese MMOs make the migration to our shores without subscription fees in tow, the big publishers here have to be seeing one thing: potential loss of that player's time and money. If a quality, free-to-play game starts drawing players, those players have less time to dedicate to the high-budget, high-fee (as apposed to 'free') games. As players realize that they haven't logged into their pay-to-play MMO for a few weeks because of their sudden interest in this foreign beauty, they may cancel their subscription. The mere mentioning of such an exodus sends chills down the spine of any big-game executive.

In response to this, those same executives and publishers need to push the envelope in terms of quality, content, and overall gameplay experience. For the masses of MMO gamers out there, that is a very good thing. Making companies like Blizzard and Turbine justify that monthly fee with increased content, new updates, better support and better game balance is a truly awesome windfall for players. You may not like to run around and grind wildlife for hours on end but plenty of people do and the bigger players are taking notice.

Changes in gameplay; changes in game features; enhanced graphics; enhanced experience; better billing options. All of these things are painting a very rosy picture of the future of MMO gaming. We may be mentally deficient. We may also be addicted, psychotic wastes of human DNA. Whatever they say about MMO gamers, one thing is sure: we're here to say and we're excited about what is to come.

This article was originally published on Massively.