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Penny Arcade digs on DDO, encapsulates modern MMO industry

Michael Zenke
Monday's comic strip and commentary over at the popular Penny Arcade comic site was all about Massively Multiplayer games and the genre in general. They specifically called out Dungeons and Dragons Online for being kind of terrible at launch. A year after Burning Crusade's explosively successful launch, non-players must see DDO's tiny subscriber base as comparatively irrelevant. In analyzing the preview video for the game's sixth module, Tycho describes the views of a jade visage leading to a below-ground adventuring scenario:"Your dungeon entrance says something about you as a subterranean civilization, and this one said that I could avoid it altogether, and not miss much."

The problem, as he goes on, is that it doesn't actually matter how good DDO is. With World of Warcraft now having several years of game updates, a highly successful expansion, and (oh yeah) ten MILLION players, any game that will draw away a significant number of players from Blizzard will have to be substantially better than WoW.

The thought occurred to me that even then there's a danger if the game's improvements are simply subtle tweaks on the industry standard. If 'feature X' is the big draw for a game, there's absolutely no reason Blizzard couldn't work all or part of X into their game. Then you get "feature X, plus ten million players!" Warhammer Online's RvR-centered gameplay and Age of Conan's unique combat mark them as real competitors ... but will they be good enough?

That, as we've talked about again and again, is the real crux of WoW's success: it has reached critical mass. As Mr. Brahe concludes, "They have set up a system that allows me to rent my friends on a monthly basis." It's hard to argue with the convenience of pre-packaged acquaintances.

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