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The Digital Continuum: Looking back while moving foward

Kyle Horner

This last year has seen a lot of things happen in our beloved MMO-world. Things like the launch of Pirates of the Burning Sea and Age of Conan delays seem long lost in the fog of summer and winter. It was all buried underneath the revelations of DC Universe Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. And the noise created by the build up to Warhammer Online's launch seemed squelched by the silent wall that was the Wrath of the Lich King launch. It was all a gust of insanity that blew through our brains, creating ebbs and tides in our attention and interest faster than any of us probably thought possible. And just when we all thought it was over, Atari bought Cryptic.

But it seems safe to leave our homes and wonder about the great precipice of 2009. At least until the next massive storm rolls in and knocks an oak tree into our recently mended skulls.

Science fiction fans who happen to also enjoy MMOs have gotten a pretty big win this year with reveals like Cryptic's Star Trek Online and BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic. Unfortunately, because these two games are so early on the information has been on extreme drip-feed. Certainly SWTOR more than STO, although I really don't see why since both games were announced around the same time. Obviously this can't be kept up for an entire year, but I really do hope we get more information sooner rather than later.

Buying into hype is nothing new. I've done it, you've done it -- we've all done it. Maybe some of us haven't, but I feel a little sorry for those folks because there's a certain revelry in allowing oneself to become excited. Don't you want to know what it is to feel excitement? But I digress. Hype: It's happened year after year and will continue to happen for as long as people look forward to things -- so, uh, forever. What 2008 should have taught us all, is that enjoying a little hype is okay once in a while.

It goes both ways, though. Frankly I'm amazed at how much hate I see for Sony Online Entertainment, even when considering the old adage that, "Time heals all wounds." The passage of time changes many things, and I'm incredibly convinced that the SOE of today is not the SOE the NGE times or even of when EverQuest II was launched. In fact, I'm going to pull a page out of our own Michael Zenke's book here and say that I think SOE had to change their entire game-plan after World of Warcraft came out swinging like some kind of blunt trauma-inducing maniac.

The fact of the matter is that while SOE is far from perfect -- no company, or person, ever is -- they're continually moving forward, learning and supporting projects with generally bare-faced honesty. And yeah, if they screw up DCUO, I'm going to be disappointed with them. I'm not going to straight-up give up on them though, because one team's mistake isn't the next's to own. Hell, even the dev team lead originally responsible for World of Warcraft isn't with Blizzard anymore.

What's really reprehensible is when a company simply kicks its history to the curb, pretends it doesn't exist and moves on without owning up to mistakes. But I won't dwell on such a fresh gouge into many a players' flesh.

Instead, I'd like to discuss how amazing it is that there are so many games getting so many great updates this year. I'm actually really afraid of how the next year is going to pan out, because it looks like we may see the launch of Champions Online, Jumpgate Evolution, LEGO Universe, DC Universe Online, Free Realms and The Agency all in the same year.

Why is this so frightening? Because all of these games have the potential to be dark horse hits. Champions Online, Free Realms, The Agency and DC Universe Online are all purportedly coming to consoles and PCs alike -- plus they're all coming along quite nicely so far. If LEGO Universe does come out, I don't really think I need to explain why that's a huge deal. Jumpgate Evolution looks like it's going to fill a gap that nobody else in the previous, present or future generations of MMOs is trying to claim. I find this very strange when there's a lot of people out there who're interested in an action space-shooter MMO that looks and handles great while running on a vast array of hardware.

So while the floundering of more than a couple companies seems to be the highlight of 2008, I don't take it as an ominous sign for the industry. Actually, I think it's just harsh, uncaring digital Darwinism taking its course. That's not to say I think any of these games or developers deserved what happened to them. And I of course wish everyone affected a speedy re-hiring, but the fact remains that what's left for the next year looks incredibly strong. Partly because developers want to move things forward, but partly because at this point they have to -- otherwise we could see a repeat of the previous year in the following.

And to conclude this all nicely: Out of all the things to learn or think about from 2008, the biggest one is that there's plenty more in store of us in 2009 and beyond.

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