by Paragus, co-leader of Inquisition and MMOcrunch writer
Darkfall is on the verge of becoming a reality. Shockwaves were sent through the MMO community on Friday as Tasos Flambouras announced that Darkfall will be releasing in European markets on January 22, 2009. This announcement was followed by the deafening silence of “vapor trolls” who were once over-spoken forum activists convinced the game would never see the light of day. Not only is Darkfall coming out, but it is only 6 weeks from going live.
Every MMO player who loves this genre even a sliver as much as I do has a vested interested in seeing Darkfall become a success. If you have been playing MMOs for any length of time, you are no doubt feeling somewhat disenchanted with the state of the genre over the last few years, especially if you are a veteran like me who remembers the way things used to be. You might remember a time where a new MMO didn’t look exactly like the one before it, a time when innovation was profitable to a developer.
The Death of Innovation
It is easy to figure out how and when innovation died. A certain company made an MMO some years ago that made unimaginable amounts of money by using a model that dumbed down the game to appeal to a wider audience. MMOs are expensive and risky business propositions, and in the last few years we have seen 40-80 million dollar debacles that have brought their developers to their knees or out of business. The safest route for profit is to look at the industries most profitable game, and build the same dumbed down model for mass appeal they used. The profit being rewarded to the companies who follow in the footsteps, combined with the innovative games being debacles, has sent a dangerous message to new developers and helped fuel a trend of linear copycat theme-park MMOs.
Sandbox games have traditionally offered their players freedom, something that most of the more recent games have been lacking and some newer-school players may have never experienced. The freedom is yours to go anywhere without being boxed in by mountains that always seem to mysteriously bottleneck into a loading screen. The freedom is yours to pick a character that is yours to shape, instead of being pigeon-holed into some specific role where for some reason can figure out how to use a single type of weapon. These are the promises that a sandbox game makes, but unfortunately there has not been a successful one made since Asheron’s Call.
Ending the Cycle
Whether you believe that Tasos will deliver what he has been promising us for years or not, before you jump on bashing bandwagon, stop and think about how a successful Darkfall will affect the MMORPG genre. If a sandbox game like Darkfall is financially successful, it will send a message to developers that not only is there a market for sandbox MMOs, but there is money to be made in innovation. Think back and imagine what this genre would look like today if Asheron’s Call and Everquest 1 had switched places in terms of who came out on top financially. If any of the sandbox games from then until now had done well, I don’t think we would find ourselves in a market full of copycat games.
When was the last time you played an MMO where the death penalty really made you fearful of dying? When was the last time you could explore in an MMO without hitting an artificial wall of mountains, or you actually were completely lost? These are the type of things that have long been gone from the genre. Now most of developers making the big name MMOs don’t even have enough innovation to make their own world. Is anyone else as sick as I am of watching these stupid prepackaged MMOs come out that are based on some old franchise? Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Conan, and Warhammer are all games you are supposed to be excited about, and I feel like these devs are the same guys who used to play Dungeons and Dragons and buy those little premade box adventures because they didn’t have the originality to come up with their own.
Darkfall deserves your best wishes, even if you don’t plan on buying it. It is a vessel of hope to try to stop the madness that has turned what was once the best genre in all of video gaming and reduced it to an experience that is akin to sitting on a ride in Disneyland. You get in, you sit down, you go the one way there is to go, you watch the dolls dance, then you get up and exit with probably a lower IQ than you had before you got on. If you’re on the fence about buying Darkfall, think about the money you spent on MMO ideas far worse than this one. I think it is worth the chance to finally show support for someone who is willing to take the big risk, and show other developers that we are willing to pay for something that is original.
I know some of you will flame me and try to brand me a fanboi, and I would argue that I am a fanboi of the genre and what it should represent. I also know that for a lot of you reading, Darkfall is your last stand in MMOs. I can’t blame you for going all-in on this game after all that has happened. If you have read my words here and agree with me, I ask that you make sure you tell a friend and pass the word along; we are going to need it now more than ever.