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For years, World of Warcraft has been the dominant idea of what an MMO should be, but it's just about 2020 now, and it's time we move forward. Because if we don't, the entire genre is going to die.
But it wasn't always this way, in fact, in order to move forward, we need to look to the past; to look to the originals that started a phenomenon. I'm talking Ultima Online, Everquest and a more niche title many have likely not heard of, and my personal very first MMO, Anarchy Online. We need to look in this direction, because although digital themeparks were and have been fun, they're becoming stale. At least, if the landscape I see across social media is anything to go by (a look through this subreddit should give you an idea).
Now, over the years, each of these three MMOs have undergone massive cosmetic and structure changes that unfortunately caused them to closely mirror ... you guessed it, World of Warcraft. But, and I cannot stress this enough, they weren't always this way.
MMOs in their original form were less about picking up quests, acquiring endless bags of armor and weapons, and then leveling up to the endgame where the real game starts, and more about living in a fantasy world. But, what do I mean by that?
In a time before even the slightest mention of roleplay would set off jokes in global chat channels about erotic Goldshire adventures, the idea of imagining living as your character in a game like, say, Star Wars Galaxies, was quite normal. And it was quite normal because that is the basis in which Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Games evolved from. It's how this all started; it's what all of this used to be.
Sure, leveling up and obtaining gear, doing missions or quests, these have always been options in every single MMO to exist, but their importance and integral core of an MMO never really became a strong selling point until World of Warcraft. I'm sorry Blizzard, but you screwed it all up.
Part of living a life in a virtual world is having options. Options such as leveling up and carrying out quests, if you should choose to, but also roleplaying, getting into your character's head, participating in a community, making friends, making allies, and even sometimes enemies. It's about crafting, providing to yourself and others sources of income in order to fuel a pretend economy, and if we look to Star Wars Galaxies again (one of my obvious favorites), things such as dancing, and instrument learning as a way to entertain and even buff other players for their chosen profession. It's about ... making a home, and sometimes even a literal home for yourself, in a virtual world, and having a place to simply escape whenever you should choose.
Imagine that. Having a home in a virtual world, something Blizzard has refused to do for nearly 20 years, while other successful titles such as The Old Republic have given players all of this and more, and retained a healthy playerbase (and is, coincidentally, one of the current MMOs I've been playing, as of late).
But even still, if the MMO genre is going to survive, and even thrive, game developers must shed themselves of the chains of ... the World of Warcraft. Or maybe we'll all shamble like zombies from level one to fifty billionth level content, ignoring each other for quest objectives, not talking through entire dungeons and only speaking up when someone's shouting at you for the umpteenth time in order to compensate for their own failure in a PVP battleground.
To wrap things up, I want to end this article with probably, or at least, in my own opinion, one of the best examples of past-looking, forward-thinking developers, even if I don't find all of their content pleasing—Black Desert Online, a game that really seems to get what it means to live in a virtual world, even if a heavy amount of its content is solely focused on guild content (which is a topic for a completely different time and day, and EVE Online is a much guiltier perpetrator of guild vs. solo player content).
Feel free, though, to check out all of these examples, especially the older ones if you're newer to the genre. Because, although their content is overshadowed by changes that now mirror World of Warcraft, there are still specks of what they used to be, and it's worth taking a look if only to see the history that brought us to where we are today.
Author: Meryl S.K.