Roberts on Generational Evolution

My friend and colleague Jason Roberts (Dymus) is generally a man of few words, so when he says something, it’s worth your time to listen. He recently made a post in the 38 thread on FoH which merits further attention, so I am quoting it here. His post was in response to the notion that “the Next Generation of MMOs is coming”:

I’m quite literal and thus a generation is defined by an iteration and building upon the best of what came before. Since MMO’s take roughly 5-6 years from inception to completion let’s use that with the overlap. Given that, I’d say we’re in the midst of generation 2 and working on generation 3. I’m also keeping the focus to subscription and ‘classic’ style MMO’s, adding the other branches gets unmanageable and I want to stick to one family tree.

Generation 0: IRC, play by e-mail, web games, MUD’s (This is obvious)

Generation 1: (1999-2004) Asheron’s Call, EverQuest, Ultima Online, Meridian 59, Dark Age of Camelot, Anarchy Online, and others.

Generation 2: (2003-2008) World of Warcraft, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Warhammer, Conan, Star Wars Galaxies, Final Fantasy, Matrix Online, City of Heroes, Vanguard, and several others.

Generation 3: (2009-2014) Whatever Blizzard is making, Star Wars: Old Republic, Whatever Carbine is making, Heroes of Telara, whatever else Trion is making, Copernicus, and others.

Now let’s play evolution…
Generation 1: There were three main models that passed on their genes — Ultima Online, EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. There were traits that the second generation inherited from all the other games but the primary evolutions in generation 2 came from those three.

What did generation 1 teach us? MMO’s work. Playing with other people is fun. Raiding is cool. Organized PvP is cool. Emergent gameplay is not always a bad thing. Among a whole host of other things, but it was all new.

Generation 2: What defines generation 2 is a refinement of the main ideas from the prior generation. In this, one game had one very key adaptation: Accessibility. Other evolutions happened they just were not as successful.

But what has Generation 2 taught us? People like to play ‘around’ others but not necessarily always ‘with’ others. Accessibility and polish are of critical importance when there are choices. Focus on what your game IS not what it COULD be. (A corollary is that radically changing a game mid-flight is probably a bad idea). Building massive worlds and system generated content to fill them is bad.

Generation 3: We’re just starting here. But there are now two generations to learn from. Not all the ideas from generation 1 were refined in generation 2 since they were so overshadowed by the one big adaptation of Accessibility and polish. I think those are a given by now, if you don’t have that adaptation you can’t compete in the natural selection. The question is, will Generation 3 hit on anything like that adaptation and be a clear trait to carry forward? Perhaps… a lot of us are guessing what it could be, and it might be that there is more than a single answer.

What do I think generation 3 teach us? Story (personal and world focused) is more important than people guessed. You can successfully apply the working models to more genres than fantasy. You can make a massively single player game and still be successful. If you don’t seriously include socialization as a goal you’ll have a serious retention problem.

Many people are still quick to throw the tired phrase “next gen” around. When I was community manager on EQ2, I had to constantly hear a certain game being touted as “third gen” without any substantive merit as to what that meant, so I really like Jason’s delineation. It’s not about technology or platform, but about key adaptations and innovations. After all, building Pong with fancy 3D assets doesn’t make it a next-gen game. Truly ushering in a new generation is about building upon what went before and adding both polish and some interesting new twists.

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