Will There Ever Be Another MMO?

05 Nov

I was just reading Darren’s fun rant about the hype surrounding Tabula Rasa. This autumn has been interesting in its lack of interesting things happening. I was offline for a goodly few weeks while I moved and got settled and apparently I missed nothing.

Not entirely nothing, but in retrospect the continuation of an alarming trend– game delays, cancellations and industry consolidation. Almost seems like the U.S. sub-prime mortgage meltdown has slopped into the MMO space. Warhammer and Conan delayed and continuing to slip, TR sort of being delayed or repackaged as something other than an MMO (or should I say less?). Alarmingly, Perpetual ate its first born, Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising to save its powder for the ever-cursed Star Trek MMO.

This year has really seen only Vanguard and LotRO released so far. I’m not sure I can count TR as either an MMO or released– maybe its been released for “press”… Pirates of the Burning Sea says it will be out in January 2008 (and kudos to Rusty for being honest and direct about its evolution, status and progress to date), but I wonder whether the money that has rushed into the MMO space and fostered the many highly and eagerly anticipated projects might be getting a little squeamish…

Are they afraid that anything less than Better Than WoW(tm) will be considered a failure? Do they think its even possible? Did WoW suck all the air out of the room such that for all the millions of “non-MMO gamer” types that made its success possible there simply is no “me too” game that would garner the same kind of attention that WoW was able to exploit initially and even now finds hard to recapture? I wonder.

With the repositioning of Tabula Rasa and the frequent and digestible releases of popcorn games like Mythos, Dungeon Runner and myriad others, will anyone actually try to make money in the true MMO world? Have we all witnessed the high water mark of the genre with WoW circa 2006? Are Raph and Linden and HL Mencken right? Will the next “game” world be more about targeted advertising and social networking than creating a living breathing other place?

As I sit in the autumn game doldrums looking forward to nothing in the immediate future, I wonder whether we’ll see anything like what we’ve seen in recent years. Even WoW, with TBC and presumably with WotLK look like not enough new wine in old bottles. What will fans and backers of other games say if a game like Conan or Warhammer goes the way of Gods and Heroes or worse, Vanguard? Can Bethesda save us? Will they be allowed to or will the console calculus of immediate gratification sweep the hubris of those pushing the Next Big MMO aside?

With bigger money playing the game, I wonder if anyone will really be developing MMOs anymore. Food for thought for Monday morning.


Posted by on November 5, 2007 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,

7 responses to “Will There Ever Be Another MMO?

  1. Talyn

    November 5, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    Back in the day, there wasn’t much choice. You had UO, EQ, and… maybe AC? So you pretty much stuck to one game for quite some time.

    Now we have plenty of choices, and statistically the “average” player will put 18 months into a game if he really enjoys it.

    What I’ve noticed bloggers doing is “ok I saw five minutes of Game A, when the #@$# is Game B coming out already?”

    Who gives a shit if WAR is delayed? Maybe it will be better for it, maybe it will just be WAR and that will have to suffice. WAR will not be the Second Coming, regardless how much charisma is used to hype it. AoC will be an internet kiddie’s wet dream.

    Out of all the choices we have now, is it too much to ask that people actually choose one or a few and oh, I dunno, play them rather than immediately looking for a new shiny?

  2. p@tsh@t

    November 5, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    That is the multimillion dollar question. If it is too much to ask of today’s players (or more correctly, if developers and investors think it is), then game developers will accelerate the trend we’ve seen– games that are much less immersive, have much less depth but with much wider appeal, lower cost of development with a quicker time to market.

    All decisions based on the assumption that they will not be able to have success with an MMO unless it can grab a million subscriptions and hold them for 1+ years. All because the ADHD generation can’t stay focused on a game for longer than 5 minutes.

    Three years out, I’m still playing WoW. Friends are still playing EQ2 three years out. But what are the millions of WoWers that blew through BC in 6 months doing? They didn’t run to EQ2 or Vanguard or LotRO.

    What if the millions were the exception and the relatively small number of long term players like ourselves was the rule? What if you built a game for a market that didn’t exist?

    This is what must be keeping Richard Garriott (and his brother) up at night.

  3. Talyn

    November 5, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    On the flip side, how many players and bloggers (sometimes not the same thing, ironically) have been griping for how many years that all the games are identical?

    Games like TR may not fit the EQ veteran’s definition of an MMO but at least someone is finally creating different types of games and pushing the envelope in ways we’ve not seen before. Even if I end up not playing their game, I will support someone who goes for the gusto rather than someone who plays it safe and just repeats a tired formula.

  4. tipa

    November 7, 2007 at 4:05 am

    EQ1, EQ2, DAoC, LotRO and WoW *are* more or less identical, and I *don’t* think we need more of the same. Doesn’t mean I don’t like playing the same old kind of game — cuz I do — I just don’t see why people want to make another. I definitely applaud TR, et al. Make general games that appeal to masses, and niche games for those who want a different experience and will be satisfied with merely 500,000 players :)

  5. p@tsh@t

    November 7, 2007 at 6:21 am

    I’m hoping different/niche will survive. Like independent film v. Hollywood. The problem and source of my angst is that MMOs are more like TV than movies. They are driven by injections of new content and a loyal “subscriber” base. With movies, if X million people saw my movie once, I’m a success. With TV, unless X million people saw all two dozen episodes throughout the season…

    Content is king and quality, innovative content consistently delivered is hard.

    We’ve seen GREAT indy film in the last 20 years, but have yet to see any truly indy TV. Even on cable. The infrastructure cost is too high.

    My hope is like yours Tipa that with the development of increasing sophisticated development platforms that someone can make great and interesting games for a dedicated audience of fewer than 500,000. Likely fewer than 200,000.

    I suspect there is a “long tail” of the curve where there are millions of differentiated gamers in 100-200k blocks that would play and pay for a variety of games. The problem is that many of the best and brightest artists and developers may be blinded and tempted to the darkside by Big Bucks(tm) in pursuit of the fat part of the curve.

    SOE seems to have decided to go horizontal rather than vertical– try to grab most gamers into one of their offerings rather than all gamers into a single offering…

    Maybe many eggs in many baskets is the way to go… Its certainly not the business plan of companies like Blizzard. But maybe slow and steady wins the race in the long run…

  6. mrmitra

    November 7, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    I believe the golden ticket for an MMO is creating an environment for a community to thrive. I am a confessed MMO nomad, traveling from title to title. The only three games that have been able to hold me for any length of time are WoW, EQ2, and CoH. I must have a similar taste to your average Joe Gamer because those are 3 of the most commercially successful MMOs of the current generation (which I have starting at the release of EQ2). I believe the game industry faulted itself by incorrectly copying the richest kid on the block.

    I’m going to use the soft drink business as an analogy. Blizzard has the Coca-Cola of the industry right now. What I saw the industry doing was trying to hurry and create Pepsi. Something just a little bit different, but in the end it’s just a cola like Coke. I can’t see people leaving an established community like WoW where they have made countless friends and have grown attached to their character(s). You are going to have to develop a game that blows WoW out of the water to get a sizable amount of people to switch. That is an incredibly daunting task and many have failed trying to compete.

    However not everyone loves Coke, and the industry could use a Mountain Dew, or a Dr. Pepper, or an orange soda. The amount of interest in the betas for innovative ideas like Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa I believe proves this. But where did these games go wrong (specifically Auto Assault but I feel Tabula Rasa will suffer a similar fate)?

    Even when you are trying to create the proverbial Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper, you still need to look at the leader for a core formula. What core fundamentals does WoW offer that Auto Assault didn’t? The first thing I see is individualization. In order to feel like a part of a community you need to feel like you are a unique individual. The amazing costume creation tool in CoH is likely the game’s biggest selling point. Argue if you want about cookie-cutter builds in WoW but in the end your character feels like your own.

    The second is customization of your character’s abilities and powers. We all love it when our characters do cool things but it takes away from the coolness factor when every single other mage does the exact same thing. Again look at City of Heroes and the blaster class. All blasters essentially have the same role in a group but since there are a wide variety of “flavors” that have different characteristics and personality you still feel unique and that your powers are your own, not just what the developers gave to you. I believe this is the biggest area of opportunity for someone who wants to make a spash on the MMO market. However the dreaded game balance scares developers away from doing anything too ambitious in that department. My theory is though is gamers are more likely to deal with balance issues than suffer through an underwelming and bland set of abilities.

    Hmmmm I just might need to flesh this out into full fledged article.

  7. grouchygamer

    November 8, 2007 at 3:37 am

    I hate switching from game to game. Hate it. I played EQ for about 3 or 4 years. I’ve been playing WoW since beta. I was suckered into the Sigil thing, and was hoping that would be a game I could play for years.

    The reality of the market today is that it costs a lot to make an MMO, and there aren’t too many people that are good at it. Most of them are on someone’s payroll, and independent studios are finding it harder and harder to make it to market.

    Something has to give, and what is being compromised is commitment to the game. The game, not the concept or the property. What makes a game is how you interact with it and what it gives you to do.

    I’m hoping there is another great MMO in the pipeline. I don’t see it yet, though.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: