Upcoming MMOs; what does a game need to dethrone WoW?

 

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With Aion looking more and more like it will have to be happy with second place, what do games need to have to realistically have a chance of knocking the crown off Blizzard’s bonce?

With the trial month for Aion set to end this week, Blizzard will be pretty satisfied at having fended off THE serious contender since the release of Wrath of the Lich King. Releasing the announcement of their new expansion, Cataclysm, to coincide with the Aion launch, was undoubtedly a PR move in order to nullify the huge dip in numbers that would have inevitably occurred. Going by the information that has already been released by Cataclysm, it was something that was in the works for quite some time now – surprising if you consider that Blizzard are currently working on an unannounced MMO (more on that in time).

But with the behemoth threat that was Aion out of the way, what can really stand in the path of Blizzard and another five years of domination in the MMO market?

Gameplay

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Where Blizzard hit the spot with World of Warcraft was its perfect balance of simplicity and attention to detail.
You could pick up almost any character, even the new ones, and straightaway be at a moderate level of skill without really concentrating too hard. Having something like a combat system á la Age of Conan might appeal to those who like to smash their way through their keyboards every two weeks but in the end, we all want to press a few buttons and collect our spoils.
Any game that really wants to effectively challenge World of Warcraft needs to heed their lesson well here – this is where both Warhammer Online and Age of Conan failed.

Graphics

We all have our guilty pleasures in seeing scantily clad females hurling fireballs, or a hunk of a man dressed in glorious full plate mail swinging his sword like no tomorrow.
However, what we don’t enjoy is having our computer or laptop take a massive beating because of the specs required to see said figures.
Games of the future really need to take into account that, no matter how good a gamer’s PC is, it won’t take everything they throw at them and sometimes a little toning down of all the special doo-dahs so that we can really enjoy the scenery, instead of doing what I usually have to do and stick the graphics on minimum and be faced with blobs and blocks of colour.

Sound

I’m not 100% sure sound is THAT important but it definitely adds to a game and makes the whole package have that added kick that would separate it from its rivals. There really isn’t anything more satisfying than for you to hear the dying screams of your enemies as you slice and dice your way through, but if that particular sound wasn’t dealt with properly and you got something akin to fingernails across a blackboard, you really wouldn’t want to kill another enemy too quickly, would you?

Content

By far the most important thing. What’s the point of playing a game when, at the end of the day, there’s nothing to DO? What World of Warcraft did so well was scatter some instances and dungeons in the process of levelling to give players a taster for end-game play, and then steadily increase the availability of instances until max level.
I’m of the belief that the first 20% of levelling in a game is the make-or-break point for any serious MMORPG, and that if people have fun in this 20% and at the same time get a taste for everything that is present in the game (so no nasty surprises at max level), players will be hooked.
End-game content is all well and good but when people get bored so easily while trying to get there, they’ll quit halfway through and look for alternatives.

Characters

Your virtual avatar. Not only does the graphical detail need to be spot on, it’s essential that a character, whether it is a melee tank or a ranged caster, needs to have that special something that lured a player to it in the first place. Furthermore, that something has to be present all throughout the character’s development.
Also, the character needs to be playable in all the content that the game has put forward. Time and time again, players of clerics, priests and other healing classes are forced more and more into group quests in order to pick up valuable experience. It isn’t particularly enjoyable when your fluffy angel of a healer takes 2 hits from any random critter and dies, so having both survivability in solo play as well as that extra edge in group play is something that developers need to implement for every class.

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All in all, games don’t need to be unique, not any more. They just need to have the right blend of ingredients, even if it seems that things have been lifted from other titles. Nowadays, originality is so hard to do properly that sometimes, the simple thing is what people look for – just take a look at some of the “groundbreaking” content in recent releases; after a few months of being forced to put so much effort into killing one monster, you’ll be yearning for the ability to press two or three buttons and down something with relative ease.

Paul Park

 

 

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