I’m going to employ my mystical powers of clairvoyance, now. With no pre-existing knowledge, I am prepared to swear that someone, somewhere has proposed or is developing the idea of a Game of Thrones MMO. I will now Google this and see if I was right. (alt-tab typey type alt-tab) Oh, what do you know?
Pattern recognition is a useful skill in the art of video game industry clairvoyance, and this particular pattern is a fairly easy one to spot. The more popular a franchise gets, the more characters it establishes and the more the larger fictional world of the franchise is realised, then the probability of someone starting work on an MMO based on it approaches one. Whether or not the MMO is ever actually finished or released is a more complex matter left to the capricious hands of fate.
But if you’re the creator or anyone with any kind of investment in a large or ongoing work of fiction, I think that an MMO is the very last thing you want. I’ve made the point before that multiplayer is almost completely incompatible with linear storytelling on a fundamental level. Other human players are too much of a distraction, whether you’re concentrating on hunting them down in Titanfall while completely ignoring the dialogue, or watching them hilariously teabag the things you’re supposed to be frightened of in Dead Space 3. One of the few exceptions is (all together now) Dark Souls, where other players are more of an occupational hazard than a constant distraction. And in that case it’s all carefully worked into the story to intentionally create the feeling of being stuck in a world that’s coming apart at the seams to the point that it’s under constant threat of invasion by dickheads from beyond time and space.
But an MMO in particular is a cruel thing to subject an intellectual property to. For one thing, it hardly seems to matter what kind of wallpaper you paste onto an MMO, sooner or later all MMO experiences are reduced to going to a place indicated on the map, touching the things you find there, and enacting endlessly repeating combat sequences until you get carpal tunnel syndrome.
Secondly, all MMOs take place in a frozen moment of time, where the status quo can never change, for the sake of all the other human players who are going to want to come along and do the same quests as you. You leave what might have once been an ever-changing political landscape of intrigues and frequent struggles (as with Warcraft pre-WoW) in a state of permanent “and things basically went on like that”. Barring the odd expansion like WoW: Cataclysm that changes things up in a not-particularly-changing-things kind of way. And you can’t have that with Game of Thrones in particular, because Game of Thrones is characterized by all its characters being in a constant state of movement and fluctuating allegiances, with twists and deaths constantly changing the game (of thrones) every time things have been too quiet for too long. And however it might claim that, no really, significant things are totally happening you guys, sooner or later an MMO has to have characters A, B and C permanently in locations X, Y and Z or it can’t operate.
Maybe this indicates that the natural partner to the MMO is the superhero comics universe, where status quo is also carved in stone and all moments of interest and adventure must eventually return to the default state. But in that case, why was DC Universe Online so crap?
I can see how it might be an attractive proposition to creator and fan alike. MMOs are attractive to an investor in theory because the really popular ones make completely absurd amounts of money, and the fans may be finally given the opportunity to dive into and explore the world they have so much investment in. But those dreams die swiftly when we see how so few new MMOs attract a loyal audience, and the wonderful world of the franchise is presented through the medium of latency issues and incredibly stiff characters standing perfectly still making gestures only tangentially related to the words they’re saying.
Elder Scrolls Online is the kind of thing which, when announced, causes a lot of people to say “That could be interesting.” And the use of that phrase is something I have decided to petition to be banned, alongside describing yourself as “fun-loving” in your online dating profile. Nobody doesn’t like fun, dumbass. I’m trying to figure out if my definition of fun syncs up to yours. Do you like playing violent games while holding a vibrating controller against the front of your trousers? No? You don’t sound terribly fun-loving to me.
But I digress. “That could be interesting” is a phrase I keep hearing in video game previews and when discussing new announcements, and it doesn’t mean anything. You might as well be emitting white noise from your mouth. Of course it ‘could be interesting’. The international chess championship loser’s bracket ‘could be interesting’ if the Martians from War of the Worlds invade and set fire to all the competitors with their deadly invisible heat beam, but I don’t hold much stock in potential scenarios. It’s like when I criticize a game and someone argues “Well, it would’ve been really good if it had just fixed X, Y and Z”. Oh shit, you’re right, 9 out of 10. No wait, let’s take this to the logical conclusion – this game would’ve been really good if it’d been a completely different game called Silent Hill 2. 10 out of 10.
It’s such a wishy-washy statement, “it could be interesting”. It goes hand-in-hand with a pre-rendered trailer with no gameplay footage; something that tells you bugger all and exists only to fill space, so that whatever it’s selling can occupy your attention for just a little bit longer. So please join me on this campaign. If you ever hear anyone use the phrase “That could be interesting,” with no further embellishment, immediately ask “Why’s that, then?” And do not let them leave or change the subject until you have a satisfactory answer. Hopefully they will then be given cause to analyze their words, and then themselves, and eventually become better people.