GameSpot News has been attending some of the Game Developers Conference sessions because we want to. Others we've been attending because the names associated with them are so big we simply have to.
One such session was Wednesday afternoon's "MMOs, Past, Present, and Future," which featured an all-star panel of outspoken massively multiplayer online game designing celebrities. The murderer's row of MMO designers included World of Warcraft lead Rob Pardo, Mythic founder Mark Jacobs (Warhammer Online), Three Rings CEO Daniel James (Puzzle Pirates, the just-announced Whirled), BioWare Austin's Gordon Walton (The Sims Online), Red 5 founder Mark Kern (World of Warcraft), and Areae founder Raph Koster (Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online).
That lineup of brain power and success packed the conference room with people eager for whatever gems they could glean from the assembled intellectuals, but just as the MMO space has been dominated by World of Warcraft for years, so too has discussion of the market settled around Blizzard's runaway hit. And while these creators all offered their insights on the issues, they're largely the same insights and concerns they (and their peers) expressed repeatedly before, typically at events like last year's online-focused Austin Game Conference.
Several panelists mentioned the abundance of level-grinding and an expectation that new styles of MMO play would be introduced in the near future. That prompted Koster--for the first of several times during the session--to ask the audience members if they had heard of multiple obscure MMO games which apparently have larger fanbases than most big-name MMOs could ever dream of attracting.
Sony's unveiling of the PlayStation Home that morning garnered a few mentions from the panelists, but was used more as evidence that Second Life-style "gameplay" is going to become more common in the future than any sort of watershed moment in the MMO genre.
There was ample nostalgia as the names of seminal MUDs were dropped with reckless abandon, and a general acknowledgement that the MMO niche is awash in "dumb money" from outside investors looking to recreate the success of World of Warcraft. As for Blizzard's megahit, most of the panelists agreed it was suicide to try and tackle the game on its own turf (Jacobs scowled and shook his head at the notion, as one might expect from the man behind Warhammer Online). But they also agreed that just like Ultima Online and EverQuest before it, its time as the perceived unassailable juggernaut of the MMO industry would inevitably come to an end.
As one of the last panelists to give his predictions about the future of the MMO genre, James said his basic answers had been taken, so he'd go out on a bit of a limb. James believes that MMO games (probably of the mainstream and social networking sort) will eventually destroy television--which he called "an awesome thing for humanity"--with the downside being that displaced advertisers will then move into the space. He also believes that as yet unforeseen regulatory issues will rear their head due to differences in "what players want and what the government thinks is good for them."
"I find myself wondering if I should offshore my company now so that the US government can't shut it down in a couple of years when they decide that I'm gambling, or porn, or whatever the hell they think I am."