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Ask Massively: Old games, Blizzard's next MMO and bugs

Mike Schramm

Did you know that Thursday really was named after the god Thor, and that in Thailand, Thursday is associated with the color orange? Here on Massively, Thursday is known for something else: it's the day we take your questions and answer them in a feature known as Ask Massively.

This week, we talk about refreshing old MMOs, Blizzard's next massive project, and how MMO devs should deal with bugs-- should they try to hide them under the carpet or shine the light on them. Click the link below to read this week's edition, and be sure to send us your questions, either by posting them in the comments here or by dropping them in our tipline.

Question for Massively?

Do you think development companies might get back to retooling classic games instead of churning out new ... lesser games. Such as updating/relaunching Everquest. Keep the core gameplay and zones the same, but give it new models (similar to EQ2), implement some anti-bot farming changes, and starting everyone from zero with slow releases of expansions, to keep casual gamers engaged?

-Chris S

The short answer is yes. Companies are finding all kinds of ways to breathe life into older MMOs, from the updates to EQ that you mentioned (including the Mac that time forgot) to EVE's graphical updates in Trinity and Anarchy Online's just-announced revamp. Developers are already retooling classic games, because in many instances, it's much cheaper to simply update an older game (not to mention that all the infrastructure is already there), rather than let it die off completely. My guess for the next big revamp is going to be Dark Age of Camelot-- as Mythic releases Warhammer this year, expect DAoC to see a few revival changes.

But the longer answer is that this is just the maturing of the MMO industry. This is still a relatively new genre, even in the relatively young field of videogames. Developers are only just now starting to master the art of crafting and upkeeping these online worlds (well, at least they're working on mastering it), and so I'd think that revisiting and revamping older IPs and mechanics is only something that will increase over time. You can teach an old game new tricks.

This next question is actually from Massively's own Akela Talamasca.

Can we get a blogger round-up of what everyone thinks Blizzard's next MMO will be? I'm gonna go with Diablo. It's been long enough for them to bring it back, the fans are certainly chomping at the bit for it, and with their WoW experience, they could definitely bring enough variety to the character classes to differentiate them from what WoW has to offer.


I think that a Diablo MMO would look too much either like a WoW MMO, or just like Diablo II (although of course if Blizzard did commit to doing one, I'm sure they could think of ways to make it new). But I think that if Blizzard is working on a new MMO, it'll probably be an all-new IP. Here's the rest of our staff:

Eliah Hecht: I'm going to vote for new IP. Hell, it's about time.

Chris Chester: Lost Vikings!

Kevin Stallard: Product synergy... They release Starcraft II.. then about a year later, go live with World of Starcraft. The collective Nerdgasm from Southeast Asia would be a 10.0 on the Shatner-at-Trekkie-Convention Scale.

James Murff: Probably be "Space of Starcraft" to keep the alliteration.

Kyle Horner: If you look at Blizzard's track record you'll see they are a company of pattern releases. Blizzard typically likes to release a game and follow it up with an expansion. Also, Blizzard hasn't created a new IP since 1996 when Diablo released -- what's another five or six years?

It's taken Blizzard ten years to release a sequel to Starcraft -- we can safely say they like to take their time. Whereas Diablo II was released in 2000, which probably puts the next game two or three years out. The last release we saw from Blizzard was Warcraft III, Frozen Throne and then World of Warcraft.

Blizzard's current project is codenamed "Hydra", which to me says a multi-headed release of Starcraft titles. So, Starcraft II, expansion and Starcraft MMO. They've done it before, just like they've done the game and expansion cycle. A Starcraft MMO could translate well onto consoles, depending on the mechanics (think Tabula Rasa, but with the Blizzard touch) and would also stand out of the pack more than another fantasy game.

So there you have it. Either a Starcraft MMO, or Akela's second guess: Rock N' Roll Racing Online.

Should MMO companies be more forthcoming with bug reports and errata after a patch, update, or expansion? With some companies, all too often the need for a patch is admitted only when players begin experiencing problems, while it turns out that the company already knew about the issue in question, and had been working to correct it behind the scenes before it was discovered.

Is there a value-add in letting players know ahead of time about these bugs (similar to CoX's Global Message of the Day), or should companies continue to try and address the issues before the players find them?


It's a good question. One the one hand, developers have a responsibility to players to let them know if the game might be buggy, or even if there might be bugs that damage systems. For some bugs, some players might even be able to help find the problem, with testing or experience.

But on the other hand, a bug may lead to an exploit. And most companies don't usually want players to know when they've screwed up anyway. History shows us that security through obscurity never works, because if there's a problem, usually players will find it. But obviously most companies aren't going to trumpet their mistakes.

In this case, I'd say the problem isn't so much before a bug is discovered by players, but after it. Yes, companies should be more forthcoming with players in terms of bug reports-- once a bug is discovered, companies should have a clear plan to clean up the mess, whether that means reverting code to previous versions or fixing it quickly. We're at the point now where we should expect stability from the companies we pay for these services, and so leaving a bug for players to discover should not be an option.

It's still not black and white, though. The situation you describe seems like one where public knowledge of the bug would cause more exploits and more problems, and so in that situation, yes, a company might have reason to try and fix it before it was discovered. But even then, having a plan is always helpful-- if these companies can work to fix or even negate bugs quickly, public knowledge isn't a problem. Any time players systems' are in danger, they should know it. But if a bug makes an exploit possible that shouldn't be, my opinion is that there's no reason for companies to share that information-- they should just be working on fixing things.

Readers-- what do you think?

If you have a question for Ask Massively, either post it in the comments section below, or send it to our tipline to get it answered in this space next week. Thanks for reading!

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