But a crop is a crop, and who’s to say where the harvest shall stop?

The wait continues. Like wheat anticipating the harvest beneath a rich blue sky, as the sun makes its repeated arcing passes overhead, the field of MMO adherents stands still, in quiet anticipation of the next major releases the genre has to offer. Occasionally a gentle breeze of hype brushes the ears, making itself known through the ripples and swirls it leaves in the bending swaying stems of opinion. In the meantime, opportunistic smaller games –field mice and yellow wags– make comfortable nests within the vast golden sea of consumers, content to do so in the knowledge that when the harvest comes the verdured crop belongs to the Colossi of MMOdom, who will come with giant metal fingers and reap the reward of their careful cultivations. Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic between them will thresh the wallets of the multitude, where a bumper crop of revenue is all but guaranteed.

I’m almost to the point of anticipation with respect to the release of these two games, not through any great desire to play them but because I want to know the extent of their impact. Will they strike with a force that sends shockwaves across the landscape of MMOs, or will they fizzle and burn in the atmosphere and provide little more than brief brush strokes of brilliant light across the canvas of the sky? In this melancholic MMO climate, even a good game is not guaranteed to launch with a mass and velocity great enough to set the world on fire when it lands. I leave my excitement for the games themselves until I’ve had a chance to play them, whereupon I’ll see whether they have that ineffable spark that keeps me hooked beyond the initial marital bliss of the first twenty levels. For me, World of Warcraft had accessibility and scope, Lord of the Rings Online its source material and graphical splendour; I’ll have no idea if either GW2 or SW:TOR has a compelling hook until I play them, so for the time being I remain objectively pleased with the facts that have been presented so far (races and classes, for example) but I’ll leave any judgements until after the honeymoon is over.

Other games still ping softly at the edges of my radar, the blips for Funcom’s The Secret World and CCP’s World of Darkness still hover around at the periphery of the genre no matter what turns it takes. They remain small signatures for now but probably shouldn’t be ignored, lest they creep clandestinely into range before slowly surfacing and revealing the previously hidden extent of their behemoth nature. It might be considered that these games are destined for a niche status, but it’s always worth remembering in such analysis that upon taking World of Warcraft out of the MMO pool, the delineation of nicheness assumes a vastly different size and shape; World of Warcraft is a slow aging whale, and it will only take one lean efficient shark to take a successful bite before a feeding frenzy ensues.

Back in 2007 I wrote:

“So here we are in the tree of MMO life, where Everquest saw the graphical MMO genre explode out from its roots, and World of Warcraft brought it into the branches of mainstream popular culture as perhaps Half-Life did for FPS games. And now we begin to see the influx of MMOs released in the wake of this success, and the weight of all this extra growth that isn’t needed begins to damage the tree, it weighs it down and forces it to spend resources in keeping these branches alive which would be better spent in growing a few stronger and healthier branches. And if nobody comes along to prune it, eventually it will wither and fail, until it is a gnarled trunk unrecognisable from its former glory.”

I think we’re looking at that gnarled trunk. The question is: do Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic represent the last vestiges of new growth on that aged foundation, or do they represent saplings formed from that original tree’s seed, from which a whole new generation of flourishing growth will bloom?

I stand in the field beneath the rich blue sky, awaiting the harvest.

5 thoughts on “But a crop is a crop, and who’s to say where the harvest shall stop?

  1. Melmoth Post author

    A most excellent response!

    Although in light of that, the post’s simile does take a rather darker turn than I had perhaps intended, damn your magnificently malign moustache.

  2. Straw Fellow

    I’m afraid I’ll have to err on the side of the negative here. Though I am positive both games will be successful, sell lots of copies and have their own followings, what I am not sure of is that they are tilling new ground in order to cultivate these followings. The formula for SWTOR is far to reminiscent of its predecessors to say that this apple has fallen far from the tree. Guild Wars has a bit of a unique nature that made it more like Diablo than a traditional MMO, but that still meant is grew from an existing plant.

    No, personally my hope lies in the farmers of other fields, who decide that cross pollination would yield a new and interesting crop.

  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    I have to agree with Straw Fellow. People continue to pin their hopes on new games, but they never quite live up to their potential. The two big upcoming games will certainly be successful if the pre-launch hype is any indication. But, I suspect that in a little bit of time we’ll see that the games settle down into standard patterns, perhaps with a bit labeled either “innovative” or “out of balance” depending on how well it’s received.

    I think we’ll need to look other places for real innovation. But, then again, I’m completely, utterly, hopelessly biased in my opinion. But, there’s a reason why I’m working with Namaste instead of beating down the doors to Bioware or ArenaNet to work on those games.

    And now, back to listening to Brahms on a Monday morning. Damn, this blog is just too awesome for words some days.

  4. Melmoth Post author

    @Straw Fellow, @Brian: My general impression is that GW2 is trying something new, but I haven’t played it so it’s not something I’d put money on, especially having been burnt in the past by game developers claiming their game was going to break the MMO mould. TOR seems to be a standard WoW-a-like with Bioware story, and as long as one approaches the game with that in mind, I think it will be enjoyable enough, if not groundbreaking.

    I do agree, however, that the true genre jump will probably come from an unexpected quarter now: most of the big players have had a shot and been found wanting. I expect it may well be one of the smaller studios that finds a new path.

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