Story is the big deal these days. It's the fourth pillar that will hold up the Star Wars MMO and set it apart from WoW. It's what WoW lacks, with its static NPCs that ask you and the next person (and everyone after the two of you) where their wife is, somewhere out in the Barrens. It's this holy grail of MMO goodness.
It's this.... cake... that, once achieved, will thrust us as players out of the dark ages, into the holy light, and shower us in its magnificent glory.
I don't want to burst bubbles here, and I hate to use the cliche, but the cake is a lie. Story won't save the genre.
I'm not going to pretend the genre is on a downslope, but I will say that story is not what anyone wanting to dethrone WoW should be focusing on. You want WoW's subscriber base? Christ, half of them can't even spell. What are they going to do with reams of story? If you want them to sit through it, you'd better hide the "Next" button, or not even have one in the first place.
WoW has, over the last five years, been refined down to it's purest crack cocaine form. You don't sip lemonade on the veranda watching the sun dip slowly to the horizon with a nice book in your lap while smoking crack. You don't reminisce over fond memories of smoking crack last Tuesday while a cool breeze blew through your lover's hair. You run out, get some, and smoke it. Then you chase a laser or something. With QuestHelper, GearScore, and the random dungeon finder, I'd say the analogy is pretty clear. We aren't smelling the roses, we're snatching them up and putting them in the glass pipe to see if they'll get us high, too, because we've already smoked all the crack that our weekly RaidID limit will allow us.
To ask us to slow down and read some shit (or listen to some shit being read to us, even) is not where the genre is headed. The genre is headed towards SmashTV co-op with 25 players. To be brutally honest (with ourselves, and each other), that isn't a horrible thing. The genre may have been founded on the fantasies laid forth in books, but it's moved past that. I view WoW as a game above all else. It isn't a book, and it certainly isn't a lifestyle. People might get fussy when I poo-poo on their hobby, or they may point out that I write predominantly WoW posts on my predominantly WoW blog, but around the time my first account got banned, I stopped holding WoW to some ideal. When I play it, I play it to have some fun.
I don't want it to be a moving piece of fiction. I want to slay some internet dragons. I want to jump around on flying platforms shooting fire out of my hands, not be moved to tears at the holy union of Prince Dinglenoob and Princess Whateverlips. I don't give a shit why the dragon is in our kingdom, just get me my sword, dammit, and lets get to slaying it already. To be honest, I would get a lot more excited over seeing the team responsible for Mario Galaxy spearheading a new MMO than some stuffy bookworm that gets all huffy in forum flamewars over minor lore continuity errors.
At the same time, I've read a bunch of the WoW books, and know quite a bit about the general timeline. I know about the guardians of Tirisfal, and how Archimonde put Malorne down with a Camel Clutch that would make the Iron Sheik break out in a cold sweat. Okay, maybe it was closer to Ted Dibiase's Million Dollar Dream, but still...
I read these books because WoW was an enjoyable experience in the first place. Clunky games that don't engage me in the first place don't allow me to reach the level where I want to find out more about the backstory. If the controls are bad, and combat is boring, then there goes 98% of the game out the window. Fuck the story, I just won't care enough about it because the game isn't FUN in the first place. Story can help make a game more fun, but it can't make a bad game good. Did I lose anyone there?
So.... why Penny-Arcade in the title?
Penny-Arcade, like WoW, is an avenue for entertainment. It's a comic strip. Like WoW, I used to read Penny-Arcade's quest text (aka Tycho's post), but now I tend to just jump in there and get the fun part done. I raid PA. If it's funny, I get some some lols (loots?), and if it's not, I just move on with my life. Penny-Arcade is in this weird position where they need to be these quasi role models all of a sudden because they have this huge following. So they do PAX and Child's Play and Ubisoft comic books, and a ton of other shit I really don't care about, Tycho's posts get longer and more convoluted, and every day he makes some "word joke" I don't get or care about. Rather than saying he went to the store, he embarks on a constitutional to the local purveyor of fine comestibles. You got a huge vocabulary, I get it. But every day I get closer to just making http://penny-arcade.com/comic my shortcut to teh funnies instead of just http://penny-arcade.com/
Am I a bitch? Sure. Whatever.
Should I buck up and begin to give a shit about their convention, or force myself to read Tycho's little section like I used to force myself to read Family Circus or Marmaduke because they were part of the comics page, and I should read the whole thing? I'm old enough, and comfortable enough with myself, to be honest and say I just don't give a shit and I just want to see teh funnies. I also usually just accept shared quests when they pop up on my screen, rather than poring over every written word. I want to play. My Kindle is by my bed when I feel like reading.
The worst part is when Gabe gets sucked into it, too, and they go off on a weeklong tangent about boyscouts with Shakespearean quatrains instead of words, and they ending throwing rocks at a chicken for the finale. Or they out-clever themselves with Cat and Twixby or whatever. Where's the dick and fart jokes? Where's the Penny-Arcade? They can't make jokes about Dickwolves anymore without concerned mothers writing them upset emails.
Let me wrap this little tirade up by saying I love Penny Arcade. They are one of four treasured internet web comics that I bother to read with any regularity. When they make me laugh they have done well, and I wish them luck in their towering Seattle mansions. I won't ever attend a charity dinner or buy a tee shirt from them, because I like them for what they are, not what they might as well do too since they have a horde of followers.
WoW has a horde, too. I know, I play that side.
But WoW needs to stop pretending that phasing is the answer to the imaginary problems it faces. WoW needs to put on the apron, and focus on cooking more crack for me to smoke. These little pebbles they're shitting out down in Gnomeregan and the Echo Isles are lame. I want a big fucking hubba rock. I personally don't give a shit that Mankirk asks the guy right after me to find his wife. I want to be too busy jumping from out of underneath the claws of the five dragons I'm simultaneously tanking to even see that the next guy is getting the same quest. SHare the quest, who cares, I'll hit okay and we can get to the stabbing.
The Kindle is by my bed for when it's time to read, dammit!