We’ve got a number of new, smaller scale, independent fantasy MMOs in various stages of completion on the horizon – Pathfinder, Shroud of the Avatar, Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, Pantheon – as well as some larger scale efforts – EverQuest Next being the notable, though the sale of Sony Online Entertainment to Daybreak Gaming Company has many players doubting that game’s future. The one thing in common between all of them is a latching on to traditional fantasy tropes – elves, dwarves, swords, dragons…you get the picture. Sure, we have some space games coming too with Star Citizen and the recently released Elite: Dangerous, Defiance, Destiny, and Planetfall 2 but we seem to be caught between swords and spaceships (ok, some superheroes and zombies are in there too!).
Can we try something new? I’m the biggest fan of fantasy there is, but I’m thinking our settings could use a good kick in the pants. Or is D&D-style, Tolkienesque fantasy the only financially viable (e.g. safe) option when investing millions of dollars to build out a game? My guess is that a solid idea, excellent gameplay coupled with good marketing could take some other ideas further than they have gone to date. Just a few ideas this week to mull over, even if they never get built!
How about a gritty game of migration to the West, with dusty mining towns, gunfights, saloons, wagon trains, ranches, and all the drama of settling an uncharted territory could bring? Players could choose one of many styles of play – entrepreneur, settler, outlaw, sheriff, native – all with the goal of taming and settling the territory (or conversely driving the settlers away). Plenty of opportunity for PvP, managing of land, building towns, exploration and factions. Combine it with a bit of Sim City, old-west style and I think you have lots of opportunity for drama and adventure. You could even work in a questing path that helps establish the different roles in their place – entrepreneur questing would be very different from outlaw questing, and could involve much more than the typical MMO shooting stuff.
The popularity of Sherlock Holmes to this day holds strong, and this genre continues to capture imaginations. The difficult part here is extending it to a large player population, and for this there would need to be underground factions, clubs, societies and associations all vying for power. Couple it with magic, superstition, dark cults and strange alien technology and you start to build a world that can contain large numbers of players. I suppose the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an example here, but it would be important that there be an underlying set of sinister secrets for players to discover along the way.
Post Apocalypse Updated
Fallen Earth is an MMO that won quite a few awards back in 2009 and has since gone free-to-play. Many love the game, but also point out its dated graphics, bugs and poor execution in its systems. H1Z1 recently released, and the jury is still out on how well the zombie apocalypse will play. There’s an opportunity here to update this genre with some real world re-building, and one tabletop roleplaying game with real potential here was The Morrow Project, first released back in 1980. The idea was that a group of scientists, foreseeing the upcoming war, create special facilities underground, and then go into suspended animation before the nuclear blast. 150 years later, they are awakening with the small task of rebuilding civilization. The world they awaken to is a much changed place, of course, and although players have excellent resources at their disposal, the challenge of rebuilding the world is huge. I do believe The Repopulation, currently in development, is aiming for some of this gameplay, so keeping an eye on it.
Espionage with a Twist
What if players were agents of numerous factions – perhaps an invading alien race ala X-Files, or inter-dimensional travelers with unearthly powers? A magical race hidden among us? Human agents in the know working to prevent them, or perhaps double agents alongside them. Occasionally full-on melee breaks out, but much is a chess game of discovery and the uncovering and prevention of plots. There’s lots of untapped inspiration here, from Fringe to The Invaders to James Bond to Harry Potter. The war takes place underground but is no less serious than tank squadrons destroying towns.
How about taking some of those fantasy tropes and inverting them? What about a top heavy magic society, where standing is completely based on your magic prowess, and everyone grows up using spells? Or a heavy, cult-based society, where religion is all, and players must constantly carry out the will of their gods? A society where dragons are so prevalent and integrated with society that everything revolves around them? A world of weather and environment extremes? Instead of the standard templated fantasy backdrop, take one of those elements and emphasize it to such an extreme that the trope is put on its head. Make a world so strange that it’s almost unrecognizable from standard fantasy.
Well, just some thoughts and stubs, but fun to think about. The niche for these games might be small, but execution, polish count for a lot, and with the right hook, you’ve got an audience and something that’s a bit different from your average elf and bow. Other ideas you’ve been having? Tell us about it!