9. Januar 2010

Blizzards Next MMO

The next game will be a cross over between MMORPG, Adventure, and the Sims in a futuristic cyber punk world with space flight and also dark corners. Here is why:

What's next?

There was always the question what would be the next big thing. But until recently the industry was too busy creating Everquest clones with many different skins. The main movement in the MMO space was to duplicate the success of WoW. We saw very successful games by 2004 standards, which are now regarded as complete disappointments because they failed to reach WoW numbers.

Now is the time to go one step further. The blog-chatter about what's next is ramping up. More and more people are talking what could be next. Blizzard started hiring for the next game some time ago, hinting at a "different massively multiplayer experience". Clearly, the concept of monster beating with the tank-healer-DPS trinity will not be enough for the next generation of games. Repeating the same in a steam punk or wild west universe won't do.

To call it the next generation there must be something really new and different. On the other hand, Blizzard does not primarily innovate. Blizzard perfects. So, we have to look for existing trends which can be pushed to the next level by extensive polishing.

Crossover and Integration

I believe that crossover and ubiquity are the key motives. Not the ubiquity of augmented reality. That will be left for the 2025 generation. The next MMO will break out of platform restrictions and single operation models. The next generation will span multiple platforms, integrate different play styles and address diverse audiences in one game.

We already see many of these developments. CCP is very successful with EVE-Online (by 2004 standards :-). They lead the way into new territory with a console game that is separat from EVE, but still integrates with the PC game. Public character profiles outside of the game client where once a "great" feature. They combine the game world with the Web and are now taken for granted. Some publishers successfully integrated the mobile platform with PC games. Virtual goods and social games made a remarkable splash last year and are expected to explode in 2010/11. Virtual goods are a great way to address multiple platforms at once and integrate casual gaming with hard core play style. Social networks are sometimes regarded as virtual worlds. Not in the 3D sense, but in the sense, that people and all of their friends live there.

200 Million Dollar Production

There is a company that managed to perfect trends so well, that it produced the leading game in 3 genres. Blizzard also is the only company that dares to invest a lot of money into an MMO. After the perceived failures between 2005 and 2008 investors shy away from MMOs. Blizzard surely believes in its own capabilities having proven them 3 times in a row. And we are talking about a lot of money. Not the $ 60 Mio. price tag of WoW. We can expect the next generation to cost as much as a big movie production. Something like $ 200-300 Mio.

Casual and Extreme

So here is my take: Blizzard needs something that captures the masses. For the next thing they need a larger audience than WoW. A demographics like Facebook is the goal and Facebook numbers would be cool. This means normal people. Not only hardcore gamers but average people. Normal people, especially women want to live, not slay monsters. They want to live a life, tend their stuff, socialize, and care for others. Micro-managing a farm or a fish pond is currently big. Micro-managing also has been very successful with women earlier. That's the Sims aspect of the new game: housing, living, socializing. Yep, Sims online failed, but nobody knows why. This time the concept will succeed as part of something larger.

Adventure and Social

There must also be adventure. Story is an emerging trend. Blizzard will capture adventurers with better quests and story driven soloing: a Longest Journey aspect instead of the kill-ten-rats grind. Raiding and end game is and will be important. There must be dungeons. That's the easy part: the WoW aspect. Of course, it's not a sharded server. Everyone will live in the same huge universe. That's a requirement of the Facebook aspect. It is free to play with virtual items driven premium features covering casual and power gaming styles.

To capture the masses, the game will not be limited to a genre. Genre can scare off customers. It won't be pure fantasy, not SciFi, not just underworld darkness. Not Starcraft, not WoW, not Diablo. It will be a new setting. The Sims aspect needs a big bright world. The Longest Journey works well modern setting. However, the WoW aspect needs dungeons and mystery. And when you enter a space ship then you are clearly SciFi.

Cyber Punk and Monsters

Fortunately they can all be combined. Imagine a futuristic city with player housing. This is where you live. The normal game life happens in a hyper developed privileged world, surrounded by technology and lifestyle with current western and Asian street trends. Starting in this futuristic environment players would adventure in the "upper world", uncover conspiracies and safe the world (see The Longest Journey). They could easily switch to cyberspace (Otherland) for parts of the quests. My own wishful thinking would add space travel and combat a la EVE-Online or SWG, including an Elite universe.

And where there is light, there is also shadow. The underworld of the distant future is big, dark and old. It is a perfect environment for a World of Darkness where technology meets arcane arts and monsters. Vampires? no problem: a product of criminal bio engineering or uncontrolled nanotech. Or they just developed over thousands of years in kilometers deep dungeons of a planetary megalopolis. Monsters have been gengineered or imported over thousands of years. The perfect setting for an embedded RPG shooter. But "underworld" does not imply darkness. Future tech will supply lower levels with a virtual sky and enough light, if needed. It's just not as civilized as the upper world.

Genre scares off customers. The basic system will be genre free with a slight twist towards hyper modern reality. Other genres will be embedded. Genre embedding is already happening. We stopped wondering a long time ago about the gnome steampunk embedded into Tolkien-fantasy WoW.

Combat and Farming

Of course adventures in both worlds will have combat with the full range of skills, guns, quests, shooting, nano and bio weapons, field effect, casting, regeneration, healing, vicious enemies, robots, cyberspace hacking, monsters. But also character development, tending the garden, arranging player housing and meeting friends. A world where the whole family can live, do their preferred activity (dad: adventure, mom: sims, son: shooter, daughter: social) and meet for diner. A single access point for an online life accessible from different media like PC, console, mobile, browser.

EVE, Second Life, Sims, Facebook, Zynga: watch out.

Sounds too much? we are talking about a product life cycle from 2015 to 2030, about 64 core CPUs, full body gesture controlled Sims and friends who join your family in their virtual living room with ambient 3-D proximity voice and video. It will be futuristic ... and polished.

_just_guessing()

Update:
Just minutes after I posted, I saw this Massivly article in the feed reader. Massively posted 5 hours after I started writing. What a coincidence. Especially since I copied large parts of the text from my 2 years old "suggestion" to CCP. @CCP: it's not too late.

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