Looter-Shooter: a Post-mortem, Part 1 — History and It’s current form
Hellgate: London is the debut project of the new studio Flagship Studios founded by former Blizzard masterminds including David Brevik, the director of Diablo II. 2007 was a time when first-person shooters dominate the world of gaming; Hellgate is a natural extension of this trend, but with Flagship Studios’ expertise in making a loot-focused RPG. It might be a game has been quickly forgotten after its release, due to its very mediocre reception and the disgusting Games for Windows requirement that is also featured on its box-art, but it is also a monumental moment of game design that marks the birth of a genre, a genre is massively popular today that basically all major game publishers try to create their own franchises from this genre. It’s called “Looter Shooter”.
Several days (yes, it is THIS short) after the release of Hellgate: London, Tabula Rasa was released, directed by another big figure of RPG genre Richard Garriott, the creator of Ultima series that can be considered as the father to all RPG video games, whose name is in the game’s official title Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa. However, Its lifespan lasted merely a year and the game had quickly been forgotten just like Hellgate. The game is essentially another MMORPG that follows the trend created by the king of video game at its time, World of Warcraft, with its own take on utilizing third-person shooting combat as its primary attraction. Considering the fact that the revolutionary Resident Evil 4 has been released for 2 years at this point, as well as the original Gears of War released a year before, Tabula Rasa’s combat feels already dated at that point. Nonetheless, Tabula Rasa can be considered as the world first “looter shooter” MMO, barely.
The real pioneer of looter shooter MMO that is similar to today’s looter shooter is Defiance, released in 2013 as part of the transmedia franchise of the same name. Compared to the previous two games, Defiance has a much better fate, even though its initial reception and sales were underwhelming based on its massive 80 million budgets, which is higher than something like Metal Gear Solid V (released in 2015) or Mass Effect: Andromeda (released in 2017). After quickly shifting its $60 price tag to free-to-play, Defiance enjoys a loyal, although limited play base that is sufficient to support its live-service development to today.
None of the three aforementioned games meets its projected popularity; two of them should be considered as flops. Being the pioneers of their genre doesn’t make their kings; the thrones of this two genres belong to Borderlands and Destiny, whose first games came out about one year after the release of Hellgate (and Tabula Rasa) and Defiance respectively. They become the Diablo and World of Warcraft of the single-player and multiplayer looter shooter games. Unlike the action RPG genre, single-player looter shooters quickly fade away as multiplayer ones rising up and prove to be the definitive form of the genre. In fact, neither Borderlands nor Destiny is designed as single-player or multiplayer only, or even Hellgate, which was marketed as a mix of MMO and single-player RPG.
MMO is the true form of modern looter shooters: there is no end of these games, only the endgames. I’m going to use Destiny for example. When players finish Destiny’s campaign, they don’t stop playing; they go to play Strikes and Raids to see the many more contents offered in the game. When they played every Strike and Raid, they don’t stop playing either, because they need to play them again and again for grinding up Legendries and Exotics. Especially for Exotics, players are not supposed to get all of it by just playing it non-stop; usually, they are behind some weekly challenge that if players miss it, they will miss the gear forever. When finally players get all the items they want, Destiny will release an expansion to kick off another year of grind. All of these are very similar to the structure of MMOs.