Gaming trends are fairly consistent. It may not feel comfortable to admit that consumers tend to continually buy the same game, but it’s a fair assessment. Quick online games have always fallen into this category, and now it seems that long-term massively multiplayer online games are following suit. Without fail, all Massively Multiplayer Online games have fallen into two categories: scifi and fantasy. Why all the attention to these two genres?
It could just be that making a personalized version of World of Warcraft is an easy copout to game design (Requiem Bloodymare is nothing more than a dark fantasy reskinning of WoW). But why are Warcraft’s themes and genres coming across as well? WoW *is* a very popular MMORPG, but it gained its immense popularity for gameplay, not its fantasy/scifi themes. True, it translated the fantasy theme extremely well, and has generated a large amount of interesting storylines. But the fantasy theme is not what makes Warcraft successful; the efforts by the developers to produce captivating gameplay have won WoW its time in the sun.
So some developers may be riding on Warcraft’s coattails, but that doesn’t explain why *all* developers are sticking with its genres. It could be that it’s impossible to separate the MMO from the RPG. The RPG genre immediately lends itself to long-term gameplay; games like Duck Hunt or PacMan are short-term games. Placing RPG elements into a multiplayer game seems to be the quickest way to ensure longevity in ones online game. And longevity is an MMO’s greatest challenge – a gamer does not want to play in a world devoid of other players. Unfortunately, bringing in RPG elements forces even the most well-meaning of games to follow standard RPG themes.
Websites like Facebook and Club Penguin are pretty much non-RPG versions of MMOs, but they’re not games (they’re social interactions). Games can contain the element of social interaction, but must contain some gameplay elements. Hopefully in the future we will have a selection of MMO games that do not follow in the well-worn fantasy RPG style. It doesn’t seem like that goal is unreachable; there are plenty of non-fantasy themes that would make excellent MMOs.