Nostalgia Blinders

Everyone who has ever played a massively multiplayer game gets nostalgic at times. Ah, remember that time when we all got naked and put on red capes then ran around like idiots for hours? How about when we all jumped off the side of the city to create a pile of lag-inducing bodies? What about when we fired arrows imperviously at mobs we shouldn’t be able to kill? We all have fond memories, and designers want to recreate them for other people.

But nostalgia is dangerous. More dangerous than many of the dangers we face as game designers. You can try to base an entire game on your fond nostalgia only to see it blow up in your face and fail. At some point, every MMO designer who ever played EverQuest back in the day has wanted to recreate that experience word for word. Some have even tried and failed.

The problem is that people move on. The genre marches to the uneven beat of the massive drum of the internet, and developers have to do the same. Or, they must be prepared to create a niche game that some people will absolutely love and others will avoid like the plague.

Let’s go back to my original example of EverQuest. If you were to recreate the original EQ or, better yet, release EverQuest in its original form (even if you updated the graphics), it would fail. I’m sorry, but it would. Experience and level loss as part of a death mechanic is now out the door. It is niche. Monstrous travel times are out. Requiring players to group at almost all times to be successful is out. EverQuest in its original form is simply out. It is niche. It can no longer be wildly successful like you want it to be. Even EQ has evolved past its original self.

Another example is Ultima Online. If you were to recreate the original UO or, better yet, release Ultima Online in its original form (even if you updated the graphics), it would fail. I’m sorry, but it would. Equipment and inventory loss as part of a death mechanic is now out the door. It is niche. Wolf and sheep PvP is out. A world full of exploitative possibilities is out. Ultima Online in its original form is simply out. It is niche. It can no longer be wildly successful like you want it to be. Even UO has evolved past its original self.

I hate saying things like that because they are both true and offend part of my soul at the same time. Games have to evolve with the genre and its players or they will do significantly worse than you might expect them to. Just because you think something ruled back in that game you once played doesn’t mean it actually does rule or that anyone would accept that something anymore.

The hard truth of it is that players now have options. A wolf and sheep PvP world can literally not exist anymore because the sheep have dozens of viable options and won’t stick around. Sorry, but it can’t even if some of us wish it could (believe me, I am a bloodthirsty dire wolf if there ever was one).

If I were to try to recreate the nostalgia of EverQuest, I’d try to recreate the deep, rich, fantastical, big, unpredictable, flavorful, and all the other positive experiences I had while avoiding the mechanics or evolving them to present. I would try to recreate the spirit of the game rather than the gameplay of the game. Doing anything else is financial suicide.

One of the many challenges a designer faces is fighting through the fog that nostalgia creates to identify what exactly you were really nostalgic for and if that can be recreated. If it can’t, it has to be set aside. If it can be recreated in some way, life is good.

13 Responses to "Nostalgia Blinders"

Comments are currently closed for a server migration!



Return to Ryan Shwayder's Nerfbat »