Ask Massively: Is this all there is?

If, like me, you are seeking a break from your Wrath of the Lich King addiction, join me for another weekly installment of Ask Massively. If you are one of the two people on the Internet who play something other than World of Warcraft, feel free to look in as well. It is only a matter of time before you decide to join us in Azeroth/Outland/Northrend.

(note: Please read this with a heavy helping of tolerance for snark and sarcasm. If you think replying to this with "HEY! THERE ARE OTHER GAMES BESIDES WoW, YOU KNOW!" is a good idea, You should pay more attention.)

Our question this week comes from someone who has reached a state of profound ennui.

Dear Ask Massively,

I can't seem to find a game I want to play anymore. Call it boredom, or getting a life or even getting old... But the fact remains, I am losing interest in mmo games. It isn't that I don't want to play games, I just don't seem to get the thrill I used to from them. I think we all remember some special moment when we felt that welling up of pride, or an audible "wow" escaped our lips when we saw something that amazed us.

I don't have those feelings anymore, every game I play seems to be a copy of a copy of a copy.. The only thing that changes is the landscape and the names of the mobs..

I was hoping that you could give some suggestions as to a MMORPG that have something different to offer. Something beyond fedexing the 10 rats I just killed so I can be told to kill this guy back where I started for 80 levels.


As I said... Ennui. In fact, a clever rearrangement of "Tharkis" and "Ennui" will generate the phrase "Nuke His Train" which sounds vaguely griefer-ish, but I digress.

I've got some bad news for you, Tharkis. The new and shiny toy that was once the state of MMO gaming is now getting old for you. A new game isn't going to cure what ails you. There are only so many variants of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, and the age of innovation is drawing to a close. In the old days, there was room for growth in the genre. It was relatively easy to find room to improve upon the work of games such as Everquest and Ultima Online. The genre, today, is much more mature. Developers understand what fans will pay for and what they won't. For the money that big time developers put into new games, you can bet that they don't have much of an interest in straying too far from a tried and true formula. When new games didn't cost 50 million dollars to produce, there was more room for trial and error which leads to real innovations in game play.

Instead of looking for the next "big title" to hit the shelves, might I recommend that you take a look at what smaller, independent development studios are producing? If you see a big name attached to a new game title, you can bank on the fact that the game will make "safe choices" which appeal mostly to a mass market audience. It didn't take a genius to see that games like Warhammer Online and Lord of the Rings Online were going to play remarkably similar to other MMOs. Their key differentiators are story and setting. Put into terms from a different genre, the differences were closer to Greyhawk & Forgotten Realms than they were to Dungeons and Dragons & LARP.

Since it is more difficult to spread the word about a game that doesn't have a large advertising budget or extensive community relations infrastructure, one way to find out about new games and other offerings from small or independent developers is to go to fan conventions such as PAX, GenCon, or Dragon*Con. Many fan conventions are including tracks or panels on MMORPGs and feature independent game developers who are a lot closer to the cutting edge than "AAA titles" are. If nothing else, many of these conventions have online communities that have year-round discussions on games that may not see the light of day in more mainstream outlets.

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