Some time ago, a friend who works at Gamestop told me of an encounter with a fan of Oblivion. The fan was trading in the copy of Oblivion, and was talking about the fond memories he had of the game, lamenting that he had to give it up. When my friend asked him if he wanted to preorder Skyrim (which had just been announced at the time) the fan turned almost violent. “Fuck no! That game looks like GARBAGE!” he screamed.
This happened a while ago, but I mentioned it to a friend recently, and started to think. There were so few details of the game released at the time that this was clearly not a logical action… but what could’ve prompted this kind of response? The first conclusion was obviously “Because it’s different. People hate different.” But the game isn’t THAT different, just some new features like dual wielding and dragons.
Then my mind wandered to World of Warcraft, and the semi-recent Cataclysm expansion. At the moment, WoW is bleeding players by the hundreds of thousands. Then it occurred to me that it’s possible that human instinct is at play here. Perhaps when you spends hundreds of hours in a single environment like WoW or Oblivion, you subconsciously begin to develop a connection to it. Players left WoW because their home had been destroyed; this raging fan pre-emptively hated Skyrim because it felt like his home in Cyrodil was being replaced. This is just speculation, of course, but I think it holds some merit – take New Orleans, for example, and all the people that wouldn’t leave their homes even after Katrina. Maybe there really is an evolutionary function at play here that these games have managed to simulate.
Unless your ancestors were nomads, like mine most likely were.
In games like Skyrim, I don’t think there’s really a lesson to be learned here. Expanding the scope of the world is something that SHOULD be done, lest the series get stale – people who are attached to one province of Tamriel can stay there if it’s that much of a problem to them. But this evolutionary habit might prove to be toxic to one’s game when you modify the game to keep people from returning to the home they loved. I doubt that MMOs or other constantly patched games will learn from WoW’s mistake until it’s been repeated ad nauseum. Most won’t even take the risk, for that matter, but last I heard, SOE was working on their own Cataclysm for Everquest 2, which sounds like a worse and worse idea the more I think about it.