This article has been in my head for ages. Massive multiplayer online games, any subgenre from sandbox to themepark, do not show well at conventions. I’m not one to make blanket statements, but I’m fully confident with this one after traversing the convention circuit for half a decade. MMOFPS combat the notion, but ultimately falter.
Let’s set the stage of your general show and showgoer. There’s an insane amount of visual and audio noise when you hit the floor. There are options left, right, upside down and in every nook. Most of the offerings are visceral experiences that focus on the hook, something in the game that you’ll remember, ideally, when the game approaches release a few months down the road. Perfect for single- or normal multiplayer games.
The most disciplined of showgoers will get to their target games early and camp the line, assuming there is one. Finally, the moment comes where showgoer gets to jump on the open desktop. For most MMOGs the machine is set to offer some combination of: grind a few mobs, kill other showgoers, play with some new abilities or a character class or roam a new area. Before showgoer knows it time is up and the flabbergasted gamer is ushered out the back door. Maybe showgoer had 30 minutes. Probably less than 15 minutes.
This isn’t effective at all. There’s rarely a hook in MMOGs that grab a player’s brain and won’t let go. It’s the combination of parts – lore, world, social, competition – that shine in MMOGs. For the most part, the MMOG camp offers such engrossing worlds that 15-30 minutes is far too little to touch upon the core advantages of the genre, let alone a single representation. Even for an expansion the limited frame is difficult. Yet, time and again, the developers present a booth with too few attendants to steer players in an interesting direction, or, at least, turn on the marketing charm and begin discussing the bullet points to be on the back of the package (they still have those, right?).
Blizzard and SOE figured this out some years back and decided the best use of their resources was to create their own conventions focused solely on disseminating the information and experiences of their online worlds. Their conventions spend hours on lore, art, cinematics, design changes, player challenges and much, much more. BlizzCon and SOE Live are far more productive because their focused on the community, not the industry or necessarily making headlines. Along the same lines, fewer and fewer publishers are bringing their massive worlds to E3; one of the main reason I didn’t attend the annual tradeshow this year. Instead, you’ll see LoreHound covering Gamescom, Europe’s E3, as German gamers love their MMOGs. A convention that Blizzard will attend even though there’s no BlizzCon this year. And, of course, PAX.
Those of you that have seen an MMOG at a show, any show, how did it strike you? Where you excited more about the conversation about features than the play? Did you have your hand held while playing? Was there any hook presented in the demo or were you dropped in a random spot with random abilities and told go?
*Reposted from June 2012.