Did Guild Wars and others get it right? Is it in part why WAR failed? Is the mainstream desire for MMOs actually based around instanced personal content, as opposed to the generic open world content that the genre began with?
World of Warcraft’s LFD tool has many people now levelling their way to the cap pretty much exclusively through instances; Lord of the Rings Online has a large chunk of its population now tucked away in Skirmishes as well as the instanced book, dungeon and raid content. Warhammer Online has many failings, but a major one seems to have been that many players preferred the instanced scenarios over the open world RvR; granted there were many reasons for this outside of the nature of the way the content was partitioned, but it can’t help but be noticed that the instanced game worked, and worked well, where the open one failed.
I wonder if Syncaine’s general lament that real MMOs are a niche market rings true, and that what we are currently experiencing is an evolution of a new branch of gaming which tends towards the instanced solo and small group content that has been available in WoW and other MMOs for some time, but like Guild Wars, is now becoming more prevalent and in many cases the focus of further development of these games at the sacrifice of an open world design.
I have to wonder if Blizzard’s Cataclysm expansion isn’t a massive blunder on their part, because it appears at first glance that a huge percentage of their player base is not interested in open world adventuring as anything other than a way to progress their character to the end game as quickly as possible; when given another viable alternative, as the new LFD tool now does, will there be enough critical mass in the open world zones to make them work for any considerable length of time after release, or will it be a lot of wasted effort on Blizzard’s part to provide new content to the apparently small subset of solo players in their community who are actually still interested in that sort of content?