Chainmail Bikinis

Even if you have not read any of my posts before and even if you have no idea who I am, there is no way that you visited this site, saw this title, and did not at least read a few lines to see what it was about. I mean, there could be pictures, right? Welcome and apologies to those of you who found this article through a Google search on “bikini”, because there are in fact no pictures and this is an article on gaming.

Fantasy is hands down the most popular IP for both RPGs and MMORPGs. It is not even close. An old tracking site (sadly not updating these days) showed in 2008 that fantasy accounted for 94.2 percent of the market share by users. Even if you exclude the WOW juggernaut, which accounts for about two-thirds of the market share, fantasy still accounts for over 80 percent of the market share. EVE, which is a very good execution for a sci-fi game and a personal favorite, is one of the top non-fantasy games but had only a 1.5 percent market share in the data analysis. Even popular IPs such as Star Wars and the Matrix have not put a dent in the fantasy genre MMORPG armor. Comic book IPs, which are kind a modern fantasy genre, also account for only a fraction of the total MMO market.

This is particularly amusing since Science Fiction tends to dominate Fantasy in television and movies, until you delve into it a little. With the exception of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are not a lot of fantasy movies among the all time most popular movies. This is probably mostly due to film production costs. Even with all the advances in computer graphics, it is still expensive to produce realistic looking fantasy creatures and have them interact realistically with actors. However, in other areas of gaming such as trading card games, fantasy again dominates, with the majority of the top titles all being fantasy. For single art pieces, it takes about the same amount of time to draw a fantasy picture as it does to draw a spaceship picture, so the cost barrier that may be affecting movies is not present.

Part of the allure also comes from a fact that any designer or gamer can tell you. Dragons are cool, really cool. There is a reason it is not Dungeons and Sloths, or Dungeons and Penguins. However, if they had decided to go for a more female demographic, they would probably have been more successful with Dungeons and Ponies. In Fantasy, you have fantastic creatures and strange spells that alter the laws of physics in interesting ways. In Science Fiction, it is often just a bunch of humans traveling around with the occasional aliens. While you have empathy with the characters in Sci-Fi stories, the world they live in is usually not nearly as compelling as the fantasy worlds. Superhero properties are the same way, since they are often set in a world that resembles the real world, only with many more billionaires with a social conscience running around. Again, you identify with the Superheroes and usually particular superpowers, but you could care less about the world.

Fantasy also lets you bleed a little bit of the superhero genre in. A spell here or a potion there or an innate ability and your character can fly, shape shift, have super strength, or any of dozens of other “superhero” powers you might desire.

Part of the allure of fantasy also comes from the personal nature of the combat. When I defeat someone, I want him to see my avatar scratching himself as the last thing he sees. I don’t want him to think, “Hmm. I wonder which of those dots on the horizon took me out.” I want my opponent to see the skill with which I do my traditional medieval Macarena victory dance, just like Sir Bedivere used to do in times of old, and they can’t do that if I sniped them from across the board. MMORPG programmers seem to understand this player need. Typically whenever a ranged character class gets strong, they will introduce defenses such as a “first shot” shield or other devices to cut down on the random long range kills in battleground style fights. For the players that like the long range fighting style, there are a number of good options like Tribes, Halo, and many other multiplayer first person shooters, but few have the draw of the fantasy MMOs.

Even the Sci-fi MMORPG properties on the popular end have hit on the need for the up close and personal aspect. In a world with laser blaster rifles and disintegrators, the main characters for some reason use swords made of light as their primary weapon. They justify it somewhat since the characters can deflect lasers with the swords, but for the most part it serves to allow a face to face battle. It is hard to do meaningful dialogue when the main characters are shouting at each other as they blast each other with guns from 60 feet away. The Matrix took it a step further, where the main characters typically end up fighting each other with martial arts skills, mostly for the same reason that projectile weapons are just too easy to dodge in these universes. An underrated cult film Equilibrium has a particularly amusing scene where Christian Bale defeats a squad of soldiers using the handles of his guns. Again, close combat is just way more exciting, and even the famous “lobby scene” would not be as cool without the close combat moves thrown in among the spray of bullets. When you look at first person shooters, however, the list is dominated by sci-fi titles like Halo, Gears of War, Half-Life, and others. Maybe there is a deeper correlation that if you do a top down fantasy game, you get and MMORPG and if you do a top down Sci-fi game, you typically end up with a first person shooter that you layer a story campaign on.

The last reason for the popularity of the fantasy MMORPGs is that they are just more polished. The fantasy MMO evolution has gone from Ultima Online to Everquest to World of Warcraft, with a few others thrown in along the way. Each one has improved on the game and on the world and graphics, making for a better play environment. Often the branded IPs, while occasionally decent efforts, are not nearly as polished and often merely serve as portals to bring players into the MMORPG world, where they then might migrate to more polished and popular offerings. The Blizzard marketing team probably throws a party whenever a new IP branded MMORPG comes out, since as the market leader they tend to be the prime recipients of “trade-up” users.

Lastly and of great importance to the title of this column, since you have settled on fantasy and on up close and personal, why not throw in a few chainmail bikinis and some plate mail with a deep plunging v-neck. It only improves the game. You can’t slay monsters for 10 hours a night without some eye-candy scenery thrown in. At least I can’t, although I have been told by some people that the eye-candy feature is a negative for them. I have to go now. I have to look up some pictures on the internet for, um, research, yes, that’s it, research.

-Mike Elliott