Fantasy VS Sci-Fi MMORPGs
When most people think of MMORPGs they immediately think of the fantasy genre rather than science fiction. I don’t find that at all surprising considering that not only did MMOs start with fantasy RPGs but also that the most successful and popular of them belong to the same genre. We only need to compare the subscription rates and success of games like WoW, Everquest and Lineage over in Korea to their sci-fi counterparts and there’s a huge discrepancy. It made me start to wonder – is fantasy just an intrinsically better and more suitable theme for a MMORPG than sci-fi?
I can’t speak for others but, personally, I have no problems with the sci-fi theme and, in fact, I actually like the idea of seeing more online RPGs in it. I can definitely say, however, that most of the sci-fi MMORPGs we’ve seen so far have been pretty lacking. Look up reviews for games like Star Wars: Galaxies, Tabula Rasa, Planetside, RF Online and the Matrix Online and you won’t exactly find glowing recommendations. In fact, the two most highly praised sci-fi MMOs are Anarchy Online and Eve and they are both six years old.
MMORPGs all exist around a standard framework. They’re about a huge worlds, character progression and customisation, socialising, trading and combat. All of those qualities are easy to replicate and suitable for any genre… apart from combat. MMO combat mechanics tend to be based around the principle that the thing you’re trying to kill will attempt to get close to you in order to fight back. That’s fine for a fantasy setting but breaks down a bit when applied to science fiction and those pesky things called guns.
You see, in a sci-fi world, the idea of fighting toe-to-toe with something just doesn’t hold up. Maybe I’m just used to playing too many fast paced sci-fi shooters and strategy games but re-skinning the fantasy based MMO combat system for a futuristic setting just doesn’t do it for me. Cloning a fantasy MMORPG and throwing in some guns just isn’t enough.
Quality and polish aside, I think one of the major problems with sci-fi MMORPGs is that they don’t try to develop their own combat systems and instead try to poach mechanics from games from a completely different genre. It just doesn’t work and, unfortunately, as we see games which do try to something a little different flop (Tabula Rasa springs to mind) the more I’m betting games companies will want to play it safe.
I’d like to see a science fiction MMORPG come out that tries something new and redefines the mechanics of sci-fi MMO combat, updating it for the different genre, and being successful at it. It’s a tall order but I think only then will we see science fiction pick up in popularity and start to compete a little better against it’s fantasy brother. Here’s hoping the forthcoming Star Wars and Star Trek games will be the ones to do it.