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Hot take: MMORPGs began in the west and will end in the east. The west has done ZERO innovation in the genre since it’s grass roots decades ago.

Meanwhile for almost a decade and a half now all the innovation and new tech that has been introduced into the MMORPG genre that has pushed limits all came from Korea/China/Japan.

It most certainly isn't simply limited to better technology or graphic fidelity either. The east has been leagues ahead of the west in regards to improving and iterating gameplay, and coming up with new, unique, and interesting ways to play and even perceive what we know as "MMORPG".


Obviously it goes without saying that the greatest success story of the West is World of Warcraft and how it revolutionized the entire industry by introducing a beautiful seamless 3D world with incredible levels of verticality and detail while simplifying and streamlining obfuscated and dated mechanics from its predecessors.

But after that, the west– as far as I'm concerned– has never produced any future titles that would push the boundaries of what we thought MMORPGs could be capable of. It quite literally stopped with WoW.

All these eastern titles that came after WoW, in my opinion, have served to push the genre forward and expand on the design space in some capacity or another whilst the west has not made any further advancements.

These titles, while some are in decline or life support currently, I believe in a vacuum have absolutely contributed to the expansion and growth of the genre and its design space.


The Korean MMORPG Flyff (Fly For Fun) in the same release year as WoW, introduced the ability for players to quite literally fly (obviously as part of its namesake) in their own seamless 3D environment. This was absolutely revolutionary at the time as no other 3D MMORPG even had the ability for players to traverse through the air in their game. Even WoW at some point added this into their game many years later.

Even from as early as 2003, Maplestory redefined the scope of MMORPG, showing us that we aren't limited to simply top down games such as Runescape Classic or 3D worlds like Everquest and that side-scrolling was a unique and perfectly viable means of presenting the genre. Dungeon Fighter Online as well, showed us that an MMORPG can absolutely be presented in an old school arcade style design and still be wildly successful.

Later on, Aion further pushed the the notion of aerial movement with their iteration of flying and vertical maneuverability. They introduced the ability for players to outright COMBAT while in the air and flying, even making it a core gameplay function in their PvP zone.

The east has also pushed the boundaries of HOW we even play MMORPGs, with titles like Vindictus and Dragon Nest. Before these titles, the combat systems in 3D titles were all stuck with tab targeting functions due to limitations in technology. These titles showed the world that it was absolutely possible to get up close and personal with opponents instead of simply watching numbers tick down after clicking on them.

Mabinogi was an MMORPG that showed us that you don't have a linear leveling system to be an MMORPG, with their own incredibly unique take on progression systems. Their "Rebirth" system showed us that it is absolutely possible to have satisfying and permanent progression even if it means breaking "normal" MMORPG conventions.

Further iterating on action combat in MMORPGs, TERA (The Exiled Realm of Arborea), showcased to us that it is entirely possible to have seamless action combat, with skill shots and crosshair aiming and all, all while still in a seamless 3D environment. An incredible advancement from Vindictus and Dragon Nest as moving forward it was completely possible to have action combat while not in a session based environment like before.

Ragnarok Online broke conventions again, and showed that us that MMORPGs don't have to be locked down with the notion that every "class" available to players has to be a variation of a-typical archetype like "warrior, mage, healer, archer" from DnD roots. They introduced real bonafide classes for players such as "Blacksmith", "Alchemist", "Dancer", "Super Novice", etc. That broke the mold in what we can consider to be a "class".

Lineage showed us that the idea of "class" doesn't have to be based on a preconceived notion of design, but rather what a player is capable of doing based on their choice of loadouts. The ability to create your own "class" by specifically curating your own skill list from a huge roster of choices demonstrated that a "class" does not have to be made by design by rather can created by the player's choices.

And lastly, but certainly not least– and as far as my knowledge is aware– Archeage iterated and combined an incredible amount of previous MMORPG game design to include in their game and even created NAVAL combat with bonafide ships, boats, and cannons in their own unique ocean environment. They took and improved from Star Wars the Old Republic the notion of PERSISTENT PLAYER HOUSING that is present in the overworld and combined all of this into their single game. Archeage even plays their part in breaking the mold of "class" convention, with their three spec system and even has a mercantile goods delivery system that feeds into it's other designs. The concept of trade packs or perishable goods to be transported for profits was revolutionary and taken from Silk Road Online.


Looking at all these titles, it's absolutely staggering, how much the east has developed and pushed this genre and it's embarrassing how fixated and stuck the west is on WoW and crusty old conventions that people can't seem to just give up or forget.

There has been incredible design space that has already been developed and dipped into and so much possibility yet the majority of the western audience and designers only care about instanced raids ad nauseum. It's tragic, to say the least.

Let me know what you think.


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