Hello again. Not much new at all in the MMO world. Age of Conan has been delayed and things have been very quiet regarding Warhammer Online. Both games sill have a lot of eager watchers. All we can do is hope that the many delays work out for the best and the games are that much better when they are finally released.
Pirates of the Burning Sea came out in January but word is that they have had extensive stability problems. There hasn't been a whole lot of community interest in the game despite it having a reputation for a sophisticated economic model and engaging ship-to-ship combat. The buzz-level for PotBS is somewhere between Tabula Rasa and Lord of the Rings Online. I would have tried the game myself just to see how it was but I started a new job this month which has confiscated all of my free time for a while so I don't have any personal opinions to offer.
Star Trek Online has been transferred to a new developer w/o any of the existing code. This means to me that the game is either completely dead with no chance of revival or that it will be 2-3 years before we see any further signs of life from it. Lesson learned here I believe is if there is one company you do NOT want working on your MMO it has to be Perpetual.
I have added a second section to the Watchlist just to track the development of interesting MMO's. When they get closer to release I'll promote them to the top half of the page. In the meantime it makes a convenient spot for me to remember what to look for when I troll for MMO news.
Since there are no new announcements or releases worth mentioning I'm going to talk about what I would like to see instead.
What I would like to see in an MMO is a return to the sandbox game. Every major game released or in development since Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft has been more and more an example of a 'theme park' game. A theme park world is one where players are lead from one activity to the next like a tourist in Disneyland. Each activity (quests, dungeons, pvp, pve) can be thought of as a ride and players as the customers. This gives the player the illusion of being able to travel freely around the world while the designer subtly leads them by the nose from place to place ensuring that players always know what they are supposed to do. Each quest leads to the next as players are pointed, even pushed, towards content tailor made for characters with their background and experience. This sounds like it should be a good thing, and in truth, it does a fine job of presenting the MMO newbie with a very directed and controlled game experience that can create a sort of protected comfort zone for them to play in.
Where the Theme Park game focuses on creating a series of interesting rides to carry players from start to finish the sandbox game on the other hand focuses on creating the game world as a whole. Another way to look at it is the Theme Park world is designed one ride at a time and these rides are then connected to form the world in the same way puzzle pieces form a picture with specific paths for players to follow from one piece to the next. The sandbox game focuses on the picture itself rather than the individual pieces. Unfortunately, in past sandbox games, this left finding interesting things to do in the hands of the player. If the player was new to the genre they could easily feel lost, without purpose or direction, become bored and quit. Even experienced players often dislike not being explicitly told what they should do as well as when and where they should do it. For my taste though, I hate being lead around. I greatly prefer to find my own way through a game. Exploration and discovery is at least half the reason I play these types of games to begin with.
What I really want is a huge world that I can wander around in finding interesting things to see and to do. I want it to be so big that I could easily spend an entire year playing the game and still not have seen every location, completed every quest, or encountered every type of content in the game. Related to that I want the world to change and evolve over time. I want places I visited months ago to have grown or been altered in some way based upon game events and player actions. I want the world to be a living, organic thing that is continually molded by the players who populate it.
The second big change I want is in appearance. I'm not referring to poly counts or graphics quality here. I mean I want the world's terrain and topography to be interesting. So often game worlds are bland and mundane, their landscapes dull and unimaginative. It seems ironic that so called 'fantasy' game worlds are often more deprived of interesting detail and depth than what can easily be found in the real one. Game designers really need to get out from behind their computer screens and take a look at the world around them. There are so many profoundly awe inspiring places out there that put anything ever done digitally to shame. The mountains, rivers and forests of places like Yosemite or Yellowstone, the giant sequioas of California, the deserts and canyons of the American Southwest. Amazing places like this exist all around the world yet when game designers undertake the creation of a fantasy setting they are so mired down in the dull and uninspired I have to wonder if they have ever even left their mother's basement. Part of their problem is one of scale. Their worlds are so compressed that they could easily be misplaced if translated meter for meter to the real one. I suppose it's hard to find room for something like Utah's Monument Valley or China's Soaring Dragon Cave when your entire world is no larger than a dozen or so city blocks.
To summarize: I want my next MMO to be huge, larger than all other game worlds combined and able to house anywhere from 10,000 - 100,000 players without becoming crowded. I want it to be a living, organic entity that changes over time. I want it to be at least as beautiful and interesting as anything I'm likely to see on the Travel Channel or in National Geographic. And lastly, I want it to be so stuffed full of dynamically generated content that there is no chance I will ever encounter every single thing that the game has to offer. While doing all that I want to maintain much of the hand tailored content of traditional worlds. Carefully crafted dungeons, castles, pvp battlegrounds and quest lines still have a place in my perfect game but only as further enhancement to the vast virtual world that houses them.