Gamers have been throwing around the notion of a new massively multiplayer online game from World of Warcraft developer Blizzard for years. From the oft-rumored Titan to the more recent trademark of Overwatch, there has been no shortage of speculation. Following the recent report that Blizzard may finally unveil their next MMO at this year's BlizzCon, all those years of waiting could be about to pay off.
With genre heavyweight World of Warcraft continuing to perform well, one is left to question what direction Blizzard might take their next project in. Having expressed an interest in annualizing the game's future expansions, it's a safe bet that the new title will take the developer in a different direction, under a different IP. But what could that direction be?
With the MMO sphere becoming more and more crowded each day, the task on Blizzard's shoulders is a tough one. While reinvention of the wheel might not be necessary, a thorough remodeling both inside and out will be required if the game is to live up to its pedigree and stand out from the competition. As such, the following represents six of the features that we feel would contribute to a strong MMO framework.
A New Blizzard IP
Anyone who has spent even a short amount of time immersed in the world of PC gaming can attest to the wonderfully fleshed-out worlds crated by Blizzard. From the deep lore of titles like Warcraft to instantly recognizable races like Starcraft's Zerg, it's undeniable that Blizzard has a knack for developing strong intellectual properties that can stand the test of time. This has led to many gamers clamoring for a Starcraft MMO and even going so far as taking development of a game into their own hands.
If Blizzard is to surprise gamers at this year's event though, they need to allow their existing franchises to stand on their own merits and present the world with a brand new IP. Sure, a 40-man raid against the Queen of Blades would be incredibly exciting for fans. Being given the chance to explore a wholly original and fresh world though, would help to elevate the game from simple fan-service to an engrossing experience worth investing the time to become absorbed in.
Our suggestion: A massive world blending traditional fantasy elements into a futuristic landscape. A Blizzard take on Shadowrun anyone?
An Evolution Of The Free-To-Play Model
Whereas at one time it would have been easy to justify the inclusion of a monthly subscription model, games like Guild Wars 2 and Hearthstone have helped to shift the public's perception of monetization within games. Blizzard's recent card game in particular has proven that a free-to-play model can still be a success without hurting the experience of the free user.
Taking the skills that they have learned here and will likely be bringing to next-gen consoles, it's not very much of a stretch to assume that Blizzard's next MMO will act as the next evolution of their bid to shake up players' expectations without outwardly threatening their wallets. Having stated that a subscription-based MMO is unlikely, Hearthstone could in fact be a sign of things to come.
Our suggestion: Take a cue from Guild Wars 2 and charge a single entry fee in addition to Path of Exile-style cosmetic microtransactions.
Emergent Inter-Personal Gameplay
Even though they may be light on content in their current states, DayZ and Rust have managed to carve out a considerable player base. This is in part due to the advent of emergent inter-personal gameplay within those game worlds. Buzzwords aside, allowing players the freedom to interact with each other however they please is akin to opening Pandora's box. There can be both good and bad experiences, but either way they make for interesting stories.
Arguably the best example of emergent gameplay in the MMO sphere is EVE Online which quite literally allows players to lie and manipulate other players - and the galactic economy. It makes for a more hostile environment, but one where choices carry a greater degree of weight. Whereas most MMOs fail to achieve this depth, opening the floodgates of the human element could be the shot of adrenaline that the genre needs.
Our suggestion: Do away with simple black-and-white conflict between 2 or 3 large factions and allow players to decide how and with who they want to group up. Will there be small bands of mercenaries fighting for territory or large groups of peacekeepers bent on protecting peaceful players from griefing?
Play The Game However You Like
With Wildstar's release quickly approaching, one of the most intriguing aspects of the game is the promise that it will offer vastly different methods of play. Players will be able to able to choose a "path" that will provide them with specialized quests geared towards exploring, killing, building or experimenting with science. It's an intriguing concept for sure, and one that more developers should embrace.
Providing rewards for achieving notable goals outside of combat is nothing new to the genre but if the rewards became more enticing, players would not have to feel as though they are being shoe-horned into a single play-style with smaller, tertiary elements. Instead, players would be able to have a noticeable affect on the world whether they choose to fight, develop the world's economy, or discover new vistas and locales for other daring adventurers.
Our suggestion: Encourage players to take on different roles than simply fighting with more tangible rewards and an equal chance at helping to affect the game world.
Truly Action-Packed Combat
This one's for the brawler-types in the MMO sphere. For years, various titles have been promising that they will break the mold and provide players with action-packed gameplay. There have been varying degrees of success, but in the end most simply end up feeling like slightly more hectic returns to hotkey hell. Not all hope is lost in the realm of multiplayer combat though, as evidenced by games like Chivalry or Mount & Blade: Warband.
Some MMO purists are sure to point out that this style of gameplay in a game like World of Warcraft would be too simplistic - that hotkeys are a necessary evil. From first-person shooters to the aforementioned Mount & Blade, simplicity oftentimes trumps the overly-complex in terms of pure fun. Rather than relying on bars upon bars of hotkeys that eventually becomes a mindless macro, a smaller set of more meaningful enhancements and actions that augment a simple core mechanic could make for a more enjoyable and engaging experience.
Our suggestion: Rethink the need for an excess of abilities and synthesize the list down to the essentials that best complement a core, underlying gameplay mechanic akin to Chivalry or Mount & Blade.
With a pedigree such as their own and an almost decade-old game continuing to receive regular updates, it's clear that Blizzard has a masterful hold on the whims of the PC community. Preparing to make the jump back into a genre that they arguably revolutionized, there are high expectations riding on Blizzard's next foray into the world of MMOs. If their past accomplishments - both near and far - are any indication though, gamers have nothing to worry about when it comes to them WoWing us when BlizzCon arrives.
What would you like to see Blizzard change for their next MMO? Would you be willing to pay a monthly-subscription fee or would you like to see Blizzard take on a different payment model?
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ThatRyanB.