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Syp has been taking a look at which MMO studios can lay claim to leading the industry over at Bio Break. Unfortunately, for good reasons or bad he left out the two who actually released new MMOs this year. Something of an oversight I think, especially since both of them tried to buck the F2P tide and sell us a subscription, and neither can be accused of being a derivative clone of (current state) WoW. Instead, Carbine tried to serve up a fusion of cutting-edge action MMO gameplay with old-school vanilla WoW big ass hardcore raiding, while Zenimax stepped away from the well-trodden path of MMO game mechanics to create something closer to the Skyrim experience without totally alienating the seasoned MMO player. Either of those, if it had succeeded and succeeded big, had the potential to lead future MMO games on a different path from the endless attempts to ‘refine’ World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, neither succeeded all that big.

Carbine are suffering from a really nasty case of ‘slipped halo’ effect at the moment. They had a hype train built up to full steam ahead, for which some responsibility lies with the players and some with Carbine themselves. Then the game landed and turned out to be fun, quirky (and sophomoric – but hey, movie box office receipts suggest that sophomoric sells just fine). However, it turned out NOT to be nearly as revolutionary as it pretended, nor ass inclusive as it should have been. Openly nailing your colours to the “hardcore or GTFO” mast may feel cool when you strike that pose, but it’s decidedly less cool to realise that you’ve told 95% of your player base to GTFO, especially when backtracking on the approach only serves to alienate the remaining 5%. Carbine aren’t aspiring to lead the industry right now – if anything, they’re struggling not to be held up as an object lesson to future developers. While Carbine may claim to have the support of NCSoft West that attitude could be little more than whistling past the graveyard if their Korean masters decide the game is underperforming. It’s probably impolite to mention the words Tabula Rasa within earshot of any Carbine employees…

Zenimax seem to be doing somewhat better, if only because the gamer community had lower expectations and in fact decided to hate the game, sight unseen, for not being their ideal of The One True Elder Scrolls Game regardless of how well their ideal would have actually worked out (pro tip – Skyrim is a single player game. Many things that are cool in single player games are somewhat less cool when some jerk with a mind of his own is in your virtual world). The public berating of ESO has died down as the usual suspects have moved on to crucifying Wildstar for murdering their favourite kittens, the player base seems to have fallen off much less of a cliff than Wildstar’s, and Zenimax are putting out a reasonable pipeline of updates. I think ESO has settled into the same sort of niche as SWTOR and RIFT – a comfortable player base whilst not being anywhere near challenging WoW’s dominance, enough to be profitable with a good-sized community of satisfied players even if they aren’t being raved about by the cool kids. Could ESO have been bigger? Probably, if only they’d sent their interns out to sleep with gaming journalists for better reviews at launch 🙂 However, I don’t think it’s going to be seen as a stain on anyone’s resume.

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