I've been playing a lot of WAR, lately. I'm enjoying it, but I'm also struck by how familiar it all is. Now, before you snort knowingly and mutter "Warcraft did it," let me explain - I don't mean it feels like Warcraft. It's really more about how... old... it feels.
The chat function is rudimentary, for example. It's functional, don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about its quality, but rather its lack of utility. Where's the loot link? I admit it could be me, but it sure seems like it doesn't have it. For that matter, why are my emotes so limited?
A colleague of mine brings this up constantly. He always asks, "how can you ship with so little character customization, after CoH? The bar was set, right?" Usually that's followed up by, "Samedeal with housing, right? Housing as good as EQ2's should be a no brainer after that game shipped, right?" I tend to think he's right, so I wonder why it always ends up that way.
Is this a "tradition" thing? Did they carry over the conventions of DAOC, without ever once stopping to look outside their own backyard to see if there was more they could do?
I sort of suspect that it is "tradition." It seems to me there's a lot of that "tradition" in this industry, and it concerns me. We have so much freedom as game creators, why limit ourselves to what we've done? It strikes me as hubris to assume that your solution was the right solution, just because it worked, once. Aren't we too young an industry to be that confident in our past choices?
Shouldn't our games be sufficiently different from each other that every solution needs to be re-examined, regardless of its past success?
I mean, just because your last game didn't need voice chat, doesn't mean your new game is as lucky, right? Times change, players change and… here's where I wax a little strident… games change, too! If all we do is apply the solutions, the "traditions", of our past how are we going to advance our industry and our games?
I think WAR is a really good game and I'm happy to be playing it. I wish them all the best, but I wonder if it couldn't have been even more than it is. There's so much more they could have done, isn't there? From housing to the UI, there are countless improvements or additions that could be made. Of course, I'm sure the WAR team and its members know all this -- I'm sure they consciously decided to not include features or to stop polishing beyond what they did for reasons of money, time or resources. Making MMOs is hard, as they say and you have to make hard choices as to what stays and what goes just to launch them live, at all. Still, I can't help but wonder if we always make the right choices, when the time comes.
All too often, I suspect, we turn to our old solutions, even when they may not have been solutions at all. How many of the choices made in EQ, or DAOC were actually good choices? Surely they made some mistakes, right? Else wise, WOW wouldn't have been any better than they were. The tricky part, and the part I think we as an industry often fail at, is figuring out which of the myriad choices you made last time were actually solutions and which were just good enough to not stick out as an absolute failure.
Huh, maybe there's a hidden benefit to having worked on Auto Assault. It's a game the industry considers a dismal failure (the numbers certainly back that up), a fact that makes me examine every choice we made whenever similar problems occur in my job, again. I can't assume I was right last time around and I tend to keep that in mind all the time, but shouldn't that be true of everyone who has done more than one MMO?
Somehow, I doubt it is; I'd expect a lot more evolutionary changes between MMO launches... not more of the same old choices, endlessly recycled.