Old-school MMO players from before the days of World of Warcraft remember how the genre used to be. Games like the original EverQuest or Ultima Online took forever to go up a single level. Players would wander looking for quest givers without exclamation marks over the heads, and could struggle just as mightily when looking for the place to turn them in. But in the end, a level felt like an accomplishment, a completed quest was a job well done.
Then came the dreaded word: Accessibility. Where did the MMO go wrong?
"We labored over the user interface for [World of Warcraft], going through many iterations, to find one that would be easy and intuitive for players new to the genre," said former Blizzard dev Mark Kern in a blog post on MMORPG.com. He now works with developer Red 5 creating Firefall. "We created a massive number of quests to lead the player through the world, making sure that they never had to think about what to do next."
He said the plan worked, and people came into the game by the millions, making World of Warcraft the most popular MMO ever. Then came quest trackers, more XP, and leveling so fast that gear you got earlier in the day was obsolete by the time you logged off.
"But at what cost? Sometimes I look at WoW and think "what have we done?" Kern said. "I think I know. I think we killed a genre. ... It's not the end game that we should be worried about, it's the journey. An MMO should be savored, a lifetime of experiences contained within a single, beautifully crafted world. The moment to moment gameplay should be its own reward. You should feel like you could live your whole life there,"
Of course, Kern's current title will look to carve its niche in the MMO space, so it is logical for him to find flaws with the competition. But he is speaking to what many fans of the old-school MMO scene--and even vanilla WoW--have lamented for some time, that there is no challenge any more.
World of Warcraft may very well be feeling the effects of stagnation, as the subscriber base is down to its lowest point in years, although still the 800-pound gorilla with more than 8.3 million subscribers. Blizzard has promised for frequent updates to keep the user base more "engaged."