I next read an article by Bakker called the Skeptical Fantasist which I felt was relevant to us MMO players. In the article Bakker argues that epic fantasy is the other side of the coin to science fiction - that where sci fi uses science to explore the future, epic fantasy uses science to explore the past.
What's that you say? This guy thinks Hobbits are derived from science? That's nuts.
Or is it?
The sciences they and other epic fantasy tropes derive from are anthropology, sociology and human psychology. Humans have a tendency to explain the universe and we do so according to specific and identifiable rules. The Bible is based on the cultures of the people that wrote it, our affinity with Elves and Rangers is based on a cultural weight that those tropes possess that far outweighs completely original and distinctive creatures.
The best MMOs, like the best epic fantasy novels, select and refine those tropes. We see Elves Goblins and Wizards as anthropomorphic representations of the past; we see Space Marines and X Wings as anthropomorphic representations of the future.
Further it's by adhering to these tropes and refining them that games best appeal to us. Games based on unfamiliar creatures and weaponry will have less appeal because we are wired to accept the familiar even if intellectually we know it's nonsense. That's why we don't see games based on the work of China Mieville and Michael Moorcock - their tropes are too original, unfamiliar, and obscure.
Rift designer Gavin Irby recently said:
Interesting eh? Although we see ourselves as individuals what we like can be extrapolated and delivered to us. Of course we already see advertisers doing this online - all those Like buttons are to collect information to improve product development and advertising.
Now this doesn't mean that competent game designers will never give us anything original. There are plenty of unexplored tropes that would make great games. How about a Sherlock Holmes MMO, requiring players to exercise deduction and intellect? Sure third party sites revealing solutions are a problem for that style of game but that's a technical hurdle. How about a UFO MMO? XCOM had a lot of fans back in the day. How about MMOifying the Romantic Novel genre? Spurn v Seduce pvp ladies and gentlemen, red roses are a weapon in the right hands!
But I think what it does mean is that we'll never see a mainstream game where the ffrggnn of the Planet Xredfg have to use their Nurghyst to Xmorgify the Qeff of the Anterwunni. And if you're a game designer you probably should avoid making such a game.