So yesterday Massively posted an interesting commentary on leveling in MMO's. It reflects something that I have been saying about MMO's and MMO developers for quite some time. The companies that make MMO's are no different than any other company. They want to make a profit, and to do so, they are going to create products that we want to consume. What do we want to consume? Tried and true, quest and grind, leveling games. I can already hear most of you exclaiming, "But I hate to grind!" Do you? Apparently not enough to demand something different from the market. It is the same argument I always make to the world PvP fanatics, the sandbox fanatics, the role-play fanatics, and all the other "niche" mechanic fanatics. If any of those concepts were as popular as their fanbois think that they are, the market would be full of games based on those mechanics. Had a look around lately? What do you see? Tons of open PvP sandboxes? No. You see quest and grind, quest and grind, and quest and grind.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the market is simply giving us what we want. People like games where they kill ten rats, gain a level, become more powerful, kill ten uglier rats, and so on. It is predictable, it is comfortable, and it gives a highly visible metric to determine your progress. People like that sense of progression. Why do you think the "gear treadmill" of raid instances has become the dominant paradigm of endgame content? Because it provides a visible and tangible metric of progress. Tier 1 leads to Tier 2 which leads to Tier 3. The guy in Tier 3 is clearly better than the guy in Tier 1. We like this. Even the least competitive amongst us enjoys the sense of being more powerful today than he was yesterday. Level based games are the simplest way to provide this.
So the question then becomes, should we demand more? The answer to that will vary from person to person, but if you do want something different, the only way to get it is to vote with your wallet. You can rant on your blog, spam forums, and tweet all you want, but the only thing a company will truly "listen" to are its profits. As the author of the Massively article notes, you could scream at Bioware till you are blue in the face that Star Wars: The Old Republic is a bore, and they will point to their buckets of cash and laugh. Obviously a significant number of people found it interesting enough to buy it and stay subscribed. The market spoke, and it said that SW:TOR was just fine, thank you very much.
If we want the market to change, then we have to change it. We have to stop buying every "quest and grind" clone that comes down the road and demand that companies produce something else. And then when that "something else" arrives, we need to actually support it. And again, this is what all the "niche fanbois" don't seem to understand. When a game that truly is different comes out, no one buys it, or at least not enough to ensure it stays active and supported. This is the market at work, and this is why companies don't make games that are different, because they fail. Companies want to be World of Warcraft. They don't want to be Vanguard.
As I have said before, I think the MMO market as a whole is reaching a tipping point. The number of high quality games is increasing. The current market leaders are facing uncertainty. If there was ever a time when a new concept could take hold in the upper tier of MMO games, now would seem to be the time. Whether you a fan of "quest and grind," some "niche" concept, or something in between... just remember that the only thing companies are really listening to is the ringing of the cash registers. The only thing you can control is where you put your money. So when something shows up that you really do like, support it, and quit paying that WoW sub just because your girlfriend still digs her night elf hunter.
Just kidding guys, avoid GF aggro at all costs. ;)