Firefall boss feels MMO developers have “killed a genre” by catering to accessibility over achievement

Saturday, 29 June 2013 17:28 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Red 5 Studios CEO, CCO and former World of Warcraft developer, Mark Kern believes that by making MMOs accessible to causal players, developers have “killed a genre.”

Speaking in a guest blog on MMORPG, the Firefall boss pondered the “cost” of omitting traditional MMORPG systems.

“It all started with the drive to make MMOs, which in the EQ and Ultima days were a niche and hard core game, more accessible,” Kern wrote. “Accessibility was the mantra when I was leading the World of Warcraft team. We labored over the user interface for the game, going through many iterations, to find one that would be easy and intuitive for players new to the genre. We created a massive number of quests to lead the player through the world, making sure that they never had to think about what to do next.

“But even that wasn’t enough. As WoW grew in population, reaching ever more casual gamers, new expansions introduced even more refinements. Quest trackers were added, and xp was increased so that it was easier to level through all the old content to get to the “new stuff” of the expansion. Gear from the a new expansions first quests made raid gear from previous expansions a joke. And the level curve became faster and faster until we reached a point where everyone is just in a race to get to max level, and damn everything else in between. Why care about level 20 gear when you would blow by levels so fast it was obsolete before you even logged off for the night?

“And it worked. Players came in droves, millions of them. But at what cost? Sometimes I look at WoW and think “what have we done?” I think I know. I think we killed a genre.”

Kern said one of the many ways the genre has been “killed” is the sense of achievement players felt when overcoming a difficult quest or mission. When the difficulty curve is lessened, so is the sense of fulfillment.

“When the bar is lowered so that everyone can reach max level quickly, it makes getting to max level the only sense of accomplishment in the game,” he said. “We lose the whole journey in between, a journey that is supposed to feel fun and rewarding on its own. Nobody stops to admire a beautiful zone or listen to story or lore, because there is no time to do so.

“You are fed from a fire-hose of quests that you feel compelled to blaze through, whose content is so easy and quick to accomplish, that you are never in one place long enough to appreciate the incredible world around you. We feel bored by these quests, simply watching numbers on our quest trackers count down to completion before we are fed the next line of quests. And you don’t feel satisfied from playing the game because it never challenged you.

“And since these quests are so easily and quickly accomplished, the developer is not motivated to spend any time creating rich quests or events for players, since they will only be done once and discarded in the blink of an eye. Developers have no choice but to rely on kill 10 rats, fedex or escort for nearly every quest, and to do so with the least amount of work possible, lacking in depth or story. Its simply not worth it to do anything more.”

Kern feels this makes things even worse, as these quests chains become simpler and more cookie-cutter which ultimately causes the “moment to moment gameplay” to suffer.

“As content gets easier in order to appeal to a wider market, it at some point also pushes that market away. We feel bored by the same formula over and over. We never explore the world, having been indoctrinated to just follow a laundry list of tasks,” he said. “It may be great for relaxing and having a fun couple hours of gameplay, but it doesn’t last.

“No wonder we have such a huge crowd of jaded and bored MMO players. Every MMO that follows the WoW formula is a trivial exercise, dominated by rote and convention, trading off the joy of the journey for a series of meaningless tasks. And when we race to the end, we expect some kind of miracle end-game that will keep us playing. It never does.”

It’s an interesting perspective from someone with plenty of MMO development experience, and Kern said with Firefall, the team is concerned about such trappings; therefore, it is focusing on the “journey” instead of end game.

Firefall goes into open beta on July 9, and Founder’s Packs will be available through July 8.

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