Six Untapped MMO Concepts
by Tyler Edwards, June 13, 2012
For all their popularity, MMOs are a genre with a surprising lack of originality. Not only do most MMOs copy the basic mechanics of the most successful games, mainly EverQuest and World of Warcraft, they also tend to emulate their settings, resulting in an endless array of high fantasy games. But there are so many other potential settings and concepts for MMOs that are going unused because of this obsession. There's a lot of room for some enterprising MMO developer to blow us away with something different. The following list contains just a few of the many concepts that could make for fantastic MMOs.
6: Norse mythology:
Although there are a few mythology themed MMOs out there, there are no prominent examples based on a faithful adaptation of Scandinavian mythology. This is somewhat surprising when you consider that the high fantasy genre is in large part based on Norse mythology. Anyone familiar with old Norse myths will tell you they read like a Tolkien novel.
It wouldn't take much of a leap for fans of traditional high fantasy MMOs to get into a Norse themed MMO, and the mythology has a lot of material with which to build an exciting game. For example, the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology offer a number of diverse settings for epic zones. There's Jotunheim, mountainous home of the frost giants; Nifleheim, the mist shrouded land of the dishonorable dead; and Alfheim, idyllic home of the Elves.
The Norse concept of Ragnarok, their version of the apocalypse, also provides a ready starting point for an MMO story. What could be more epic than a war of the gods consuming all Nine Worlds?
A Norse mythology MMO could make for some very interesting class options, as well. Why play as the same old warrior class when you could be an einherjar, a fallen warrior ascended by the gods to battle for them in Ragnarok?
5: The Wild West:
Considering the popularity of the Wild West in North American culture, it's hard to believe no major Western MMOs have been made yet. It would certainly be a daring departure from the traditional high fantasy mold, and there could be some interesting gameplay diversity if both cowboys and natives were playable factions.
Admittedly, it is a bit hard to picture a traditional PvE "theme park" MMO in a Western setting. The image of twenty five cowboys raiding an Apache chief is a bit ludicrous even by video game standards.
But by the same token, what could be a better setting for a free for all, sandbox PvP MMO? Just give every player a six shooter and a horse and watch the madness ensue. It's not griefing; it's historical accuracy!
If a traditional Western setting doesn't offer enough material for a complete MMO, they could also add some fantastical elements. There is a subgenre of fantasy set in the Wild West, sometimes referred to as "Weird West" or "six shooters and sorcery." Adding in zombie cowboys and lightning bolt hurling native medicine men would certainly turn some heads.
It's a fact: everyone loves dinosaurs. There's just something about giant, long extinct lizard-monsters that brings out the inner child in all of us. Surely a clever MMO developer could capitalize on their universal popularity.
It's not hard to imagine a sci-fi MMO based on a Jurassic Park-like scenario where dinosaurs have been resurrected by science, only to run amok and create a post-apocalyptic world. Character classes could be based upon the various techniques of dino hunting - from brute force users of guns and explosives to more scientific classes based upon chemical weapons and toxins. Of course, you'd have to have a class that tames dinosaurs to use as combat pets. Who wouldn't want a pet velociraptor?
If a developer wanted to be really ambitious, they could even acquire a license to use the Jurassic Park name and base the game directly on the books and movies. Such a popular franchise would surely draw a big crowd, and MMO developers do tend to prefer the security that comes from using an established intellectual property.
Speaking of established properties…
3: Harry Potter:
Developing an MMO is a huge investment for any company, so many developers try to give themselves some extra insurance by basing their game on a popular franchise. This ensures some degree of demand and helps to bring in people who might not normally play an MMO. Many a non-gamer Trekkie has become addicted to Star Trek: Online.
Given that, it's bizarre that no developer has yet produced an MMO set in the world of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels. The books are among the most popular children's novels of all time, the movies were smash hits at the box office, and the franchise continues to enjoy the adoration of countless fans of all ages around the world, but despite being rumored for years, a Harry Potter MMO is still just that: a mere rumor.
Aside from its popularity, the Harry Potter universe would make for excellent source material for an MMO for other reasons. J.K. Rowling created an amazingly vast and detailed universe for her novels that would provide more than enough content for an MMO. Such a game could take us to familiar locales from the books - such as the wizarding school Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic, and the dread prison Azkaban - but also potentially new locations not covered by the novels. Wizards exist all over the world in Rowling's universe, and it would be interesting for an MMO to expand on the novels and tell us about wizarding life in, say, the Middle East or North America.
The only flaw of a Harry Potter MMO is that it's hard to imagine it having a lot of diversity in class options or character customization. You can be a wizard, a wizard, or a… wizard?
2: The Far East:
Although many popular MMOs have come out of Asia, there are oddly not many MMOs that are actually based on Asian history and mythology. Those few that do fit the bill tend to not have a lot of mainstream success or be mere expansions to more Western themed games, such as World of Warcraft's upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion.
An MMO inspired by the medieval East as opposed to the medieval West would be a nice way to bring a new flavor to the genre without completely abandoning its conventional elements. You could still have warrior and assassin classes, but they would be inspired by samurai and ninjas instead of Western knights and brigands. You could still have dragons, but they would be the serpentine water spirits of Asian mythology as opposed to the fiery lizards of Western fantasy.
An Asian-themed MMO need not limit itself to the more commonly known cultures of China and Japan, either. It could also incorporate elements of South Asian culture. Hindu mythology is incredibly complex and could offer a fantastic basis for zones, storylines, and monsters in an MMO. It would certainly be something that we haven't seen before.
If nothing else, an Eastern-based MMO would give some visual diversity. Let's be honest; if not for advances in graphical technology, hardly anyone would be able to tell the difference between games like EverQuest, Rift, or Guild Wars just by looking at them.
Steampunk is an increasingly popular subgenre of sci-fi art and literature based on the idea of depicting modern or futuristic technologies as they might have existed in the past, particularly the Victorian era. Steampunk involves things like clockwork robots and steam powered fighter planes.
Initially a minor subculture, steampunk has become something of a minor fad in recent years, so now would be the perfect time for a game developer to try to capitalize on its growing popularity.
Now, there are many examples of steampunk influence in major MMOs. World of Warcraft has the wacky inventions of the Goblins and Gnomes. Rift has the magical technology of the Defiant. Guild Wars 2 features an entire profession - what most games would call a class - based upon steampunk inspired abilities in the form of the engineer.
But aside from a few little known games, there are no true steampunk MMOs.
Steampunk offers a plethora of potential for a very different MMO experience. A steampunk MMO could get people out of the same old enchanted forests and into industrial landscapes and elegant Victorian inspired manors, and perhaps other, more exotic locales outside the usual fantasy clichés.
It could offer exciting new class concepts. Instead of the usual ranger class, there could be a gunslinger or sniper class. Instead of chanting from a tome, healers could use alchemy and unstable chemical concoctions. Imagine a melee damage class based on clockwork cybernetic enhancements that grant superhuman speed and strength. Imagine a tank class that is literally a tank - a soldier armed with mechanized, steam powered armor.
With all the potential that's there, it's amazing no major MMO developer has yet jumped on the steampunk bandwagon.