Developers Should Steal More
There are brilliant ideas in every MMOG, so why is it that developers are so unwilling to steal ideas from others (to then iterate on them) and instead choose to go it alone with often poor results?
I recently approached the EverQuest Next and WildStar communities, asking them the question: “If you could steal one feature from an MMOG and place it into EverQuest Next/WildStar, what would it be?”. Expecting only a handful of replies, I was actually inundated with responses. In total over 300 were made and what I found incredible was the consistency across both communities in the features the users had all experienced in the past.
The Lord of the Rings Online music system, the Tome of Knowledge from Warhammer Online, Huttball, class specific quests from the likes of World of Warcraft and many, many others. Even more interestingly was the fact that no one massively multiplayer game came out on top in terms of “must haves” and instead it was a generous spread across the entire genre.
It's fair to say that no one knows MMOG's more than the communities that live for the genre and as an individual who has played the genre almost exclusively for what must be approaching fifteen years, those of us who engrained in these games likely know a thing or two about them.
What I find so surprising is how little attention still seems to be paid to existing systems by developers and a willingness from them to steal said ideas and improve on them. Considering Blizzard have been doing it to great effect for years by iterating on the shoulders of others, I struggle to understand why it isn't much more common.
I'm a firm believer in iteration and massively multiplayer games, in modern times, have undoubtedly been the front runner here. Where the likes of Half Life set the ground work for all to follow (with Valve building on all FPS games before it) World of Warcraft did the same for MMOG's. Since its launch we've seen quests evolve into tractable activities right up to the dynamic events offered by Guild Wars 2. We've done away with the trinity, targeting and attached skills directly to weapons you wield. Some of it hasn't been for the better and some of it hasn't been fully realized, but I don't yet feel developers go far enough in their designs or in their willingness to learn from what works and what doesn't.
It must be difficult from a development perspective to craft a massively multiplayer game because in many ways, its a poisoned chalice. Waver too much from the tried and tested formulae and players go wild but stick too rigidly and you're criticized for copying World of Warcraft. We're a bloody hard bunch to please and yet, part of the reason for this is because developers simply don't listen to what we want.
The worst case of ignoring the player base and rejecting already amazing ideas has to stand at the feet of ArenaNet. As the creators of Guild versus Guild (single handedly one of the best creations in any MMOG) they haven't implemented in Guild Wars 2. Worse still, they've no intention of doing so. I continue to face palm at least once a day at this blind sided development as the company continues to concentrate on other projects. While I can happily accept they want to do other things, ignoring an entire communities pleas to implement one feature (that would catapult the longevity of the product) is beggars belief. Having also interviewed the president of ArenaNet and many of its developers, I've yet to be given a genuine answer on why they've shelved their true innovation.
ArenaNet aren't the only offenders here, many developers are, but it remains the best example of ignoring a player base (at your own peril, if you ask me). While ArenaNet would inevitably be stealing from themselves were they to implement and iterate on Guild versus Guild, I truly believe developers should be more than willing to steal from others and iterate, just as Blizzard do, instead of always trying to go it alone. WildStar has recently done this with its quest system so it would be more than welcome to see other developers follow suit.
Most of us don't ask for developers to reinvent the wheel, we just want them to learn what we love. Is that a bigger challenge than I think it is? I don't believe so.