I've an inkling that the folks espousing this idea have little experience with the old-school games they purport to be evolving beyond. This doesn't stop them from claiming that old-schoolers are in love with a time period instead of a game, though, which in turn intimates that old-schoolers' minds are too muddled to know exactly what they do and do not prefer.
Regardless of how you feel about old vs. new, sandbox vs. themepark, or world vs. game, it's easy to see that conflating someone's personal preference with nostalgia results in a perspective that's of limited usefulness at best.
entirely possible that something old is better than something new. This is especially true in the case of personal preferences regarding entertainment. Elvis and The Beatles still move a helluva lot of albums, and it's not because the records have been remixed, stripped down, or polished up to make them more palatable for a younger audience.
But wait -- isn't change good, like, all the time and stuff? Well, no. Change can be for the worse.
Yes, yes, ever forward and all that. That's fine and dandy except for the folks who enjoyed how things were at an earlier point (and assuming that development moves in a straight line, which it doesn't). This isn't rocket science, but it bears mentioning (again) because I keep seeing the same silly arguments when folks try to defend feature-deficient MMORPGs.
Here's the real heart of the matter, inconceivable as it may be to the less-is-more and newer-is-better ideologues: some folks simply prefer worlds over games. These folks don't need direction like a baby needs mother's milk, and so they don't curl into the fetal position at the thought of a game that doesn't tell them exactly where to go, how to get there, and what buttons to press to make the journey as efficient as possible.
They don't cringe at the thought of having to wait for a spawn or socialize while they do it. They don't go weak in the knees for MMO story that amounts to young adult fiction (if they're lucky). In fact, if they wanted yet another retelling of the hero's journey, they would be reading a novel or watching television instead of mucking about in a virtual world.
They don't want to do the same things in MMOs that they do at the grocery store, and they don't think that the pinnacle of MMO design is the willingness to pare features down to a bare minimum and then declare that the left-overs are what the game has always intended to do well.
They know that there's no such thing as feature-creep in an MMORPG. That phrase is not in the world designer's vocabulary. It's a word for accountants and for developers who lack imagination, ambition, or both. Yes, there's that date when you absolutely must stop adding things long enough to get it launched, but after that, it's right back to the world-building and the feature expansion (and if it isn't, you're simply doing MMO design wrong).
Old school folks generally like getting lost. They like the fact that their gameplay can influence their neighbor for good or ill whether he likes it (or is aware of it) or not. When these folks want to be the indisputable king of a fantasy world, safe and insulated from any and all unpredictability, they know that they can play one of a billion offline RPGs.
They know that MMOs are much, much more than that. They're more than cliche narratives, combat lobbies, chat-room enabled "alone together" questing, and roleplay that doesn't actually affect gameplay or manifest itself anywhere other than the users' heads.
Finally, old school folks have played everything there is to play. Extensively. And so when they comment on older MMOs or MMOs that have come to be called archaic, they're actually speaking from first-hand experience as opposed to relying on second-hand stories. They were there; they know what worked and what didn't.
Yeah, you can say that they don't remember the problems inherent in older designs, but you'd be wrong. They remember them, better than you do, most likely. It's just that they prefer those "problems" because the so-called solutions stripped the massively, the multiplayer, and the roleplaying game right out of the MMORPG.
In summary, yes, you certainly can go back. Especially if "back" is a measurable set of features and functionality that has already been achieved and not some ill-conceived and ill-supported notion of imagined nostalgia.
Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of sandboxes and player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!