Some months ago I was feeling nostalgic and decided to dust off a MMORPG that I spent a goodly amount of time playing way back in 2002, Anarchy Online.
I couldn’t find my disks so I downloaded the free client, set up a new account, and logged in.
The first thing I noticed was how bad the graphics looked. After all, I’ve been playing World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, and Lord of the Rings Online amongst others; all very good looking games in their own way.
The second thing that I encountered was the control scheme. I remembered a lot of the interfaces of course — how to allocate skill points, get missions — those sort of things get sticky when you’ve used them a hundred times or more. It was the movement, and other key bindings that didn’t feel familiar.
That’s the problem with nostalgia. In reality it ain’t as pretty as you remember.
Now set the Wayback Machine to a few scant weeks ago and I saw a news item somewhere that Funcom is going to give Anarchy Online a graphical upgrade (there was no mention of a control system upgrade.)
This got me thinking. In fact it got me thinking about something that I’ve wondered for a few years now.
Why don’t game developers regularly upgrade their games?
One of the problems, I imagine, of running a MMORPG is that players are a little like magpies. Oooo Shiny.
When the next bright and shiny new game comes out, there will be a number of players who will depart for the greener pastures. After a few years of increasingly graphically superior games, not to mention improvements in gameplay and control systems, a MMORPG may be at a fraction of its former glory. Look at some of the early pioneers in the MMORPG genre; Everquest, Asheron’s Call, Ultima Online — all getting on or past ten years old. These games no longer command the subscriber numbers they one did.
Another point to look at is that most of the rest of the software industry doesn’t just stop at the first version of the software. Windows is up to version 7, Firefox is about to release version 3, and Photoshop is up to I don’t know what by now.
Game developers on the other hand seem to only ever release the equivalent of point versions of their games. Sure there are exceptions. World of Warcraft has released major client updates for the BC expansion and that included a small graphics update. Everquest 2 has released a graphical update as well.
Sure, there are the patches, but they tend to be for bug fixes and to update content. Even big selling single player games are just left to languish. The next version is never an upgrade, but a completely new game. The original Fallout and Fallout 2 were great games, but players wouldn’t buy them today. Would a full upgrade of these original games put them back on store shelves?
What about the old venerable MMORPG, Everquest? Or for that matter Asheron’s Call?
AC was my first MMORPG. I remember it fondly.
Turbine could give Asheron’s Call a complete graphical upgrade to make it look as good as Lord of the Rings Online. They could modernize a few of the gameplay elements that newer games consider essential, for example, including quest indicators.
Turbine, aside from cosmetic components, could pretty much leave the game itself untouched. There would be no need to do a complete revamp of the gameplay systems, as SOE did with Star Wars Galaxies. Okay, they might need to address some of the shortcomings that many players saw as unacceptable — the chronic macroers for example — but that would only improve the game for everyone.
Would improvements such as these breathe new life into Asheron’s Call? Would the game see not only the return of many former players, but new players interested in what the old timers were going on about?
It seems that Funcom think that an upgrade will help Anarchy Online.
What do you think?