Disclaimer: this is NOT a Guild Wars 2 vs WoW vs The Secret World comparison.

If you look back on the history of MMORPGs [Wikipedia, people, wikipedia] and, by pure coincidence, happen to be reading Richard Bartle‘s Designing Virtual Worlds , you’re struck by two things. One, that Ultima Online Really Changed Thing In a Very Big Way.

Two, so did EverQuest.

Three: so did World of Warcraft.

And then there is radio silence for a while…….. and lo and behold, Eve Online carves a niche. So does rarely-seen titles like a Tale In the Desert. And now we are in the age of the Secret World and …. *drumroll* GW2.

Screenshot from Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn.

How the hell do these things tie together?
Look at it from a gameplay perspective. Ultima: success. EveruQuest: improves Ultima formula, rabid success. Blizzard takes EQ gameplay, refines, viola: World of Warcraft. Even better, over a decade Blizzard refines, polishes and tweaks that Ultima-c mega,meta,super,hyper success: every Tom, Dick, Harry, their dogs, aunts, uncles and even grannies haved played WoW. Basically, these games, in their respective times, took and still take their bran of gameplay to the height. They didn’t just appear on the scene: before these there were other that pioneered and paved the way. Meridian 59: Asheron’s Call: all these came and vanished and left the giants standing. These giants were part of paradigm shift that established MMORPGs as an industry and set in stone a certain type of gameplay. Note that I said part: these three games weren’t the whole deal. There were other games, a series of them that slowly biased the world towards this one, refined experience.

Fast-forward to today.

The Wow-EQ-Ultima model has dominated for a decade. With the advent of Free-to-Play, the gameplay model has spread to all corners of the world. So much that people are getting sick of it, and developers are building new things. Some succeeded: eg: Eve. Most failed. The Secret World, a unique and incredibly immersive title, didn’t do as well as expected. Still, everything culminates. Eventually we reach a point where the whole world is touting a new breed of MMORPG, GW2. The same pattern that the world saw with the coming of EQ is happening all over again.

Basically, we’re on the brink of YET another major paradigm shift, probably one of the three shifts we’ve experienced: 1, the reign MUD [not my specialty, never touched a MUD and therefore I cannot talk at length on this] 2, the Ultima-EQ-WoW model. The 3rd is what’s happening right now. GW2 is not the be-all-end-all giant that WoW was [in the future may be, it may not be] but it’s a road to a new era. Eventually, a game will come that refines and builds and polishes the hell of of this gameplay model and reigns for another decade: and eventually, the cycle will repeat itself.

We ARE at a turning point. The old model is failing: WoW, RIFT and some others are holding on and will continue to do so, because the gaming ecosphere is much larger than it was during the MUD-to-Ultima shift. It’s got waaay more intertia. I believe that the cycle, though, has begun. Again.
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