What 2012 was, and what 2013 will be

The good for me in 2012 was more of the same (EVE, LoL), while the bad was highlighted by disappointment (GW2) and delay (DF:UW). The MMO genre as a whole continued to struggle with its identity, from massive failures like SW:TOR to mis-marketed ones like The Secret World. WoW’s bleeding continued, although with fuzzy math thanks to Diablo 3, and MoP has fully transitioned the game from vanilla to… whatever it is now. F2P continued its comedy laugh track, be it from the reigning champ, wings factory SOE, to uppity newcomers such as Hotbar EAWare and pony-fun-time Turbine. So what will 2013 bring?

Well, more wings from SOE of course, thought how that will work in Planetside I’m curious to see.

Snark temporarily aside, I do believe 2013 will be the year the MMO genre figures itself out, and a clear distinction is made between games that are ‘real’ MMOs, and titles with MMO-lite qualities that we consume.

It’s funny that in 1997, when UO was releases, it was understood that this was a title you experienced, and the locations and creatures were tools to further whatever you happen to be doing. The ‘end’ was what you made it, and the only sure sign of a ‘game over’ screen was when you moved on. Then came EQ1 and AC1, and while both titles had a beginning and end, the content was such that few if any ever reached it, and again the ‘game over’ screen only came when you decided it was time.

In 2004, WoW was a refined EQ1, and while the path to the ‘end’ was shorter and yes, more accessible, it was still long enough that most did not see it, and the formula still worked. You certainly could see the ‘end’, but it was always just beyond your reach, and the journey was of such quality that even at a very slow pace, you were happy to keep playing/paying.

Fast forward to more recent times and titles like SW:TOR, where not only do you know the ‘end’ from day one, the game is designed such that you see it shortly. Distractions may exists after you consume the main course, but they have little if anything to do with the reason you showed up in the first place, and those distractions are poor-at-best in quality. SW:TOR biggest crime was not its massive budget blown on voice dialog, or its second-rate engine, or even the fact that it’s from EA; it was the expectation that millions would still be around and paying for months AFTER having completed the game.

At least Anet realized this with GW2, and planned around selling just the box to most, and some gems to the diehards. The game still falls into the “play and finish” trap of too many recent so-called MMOs, but at least the here the problem is mainly in how the PR department marketed the game rather than what the devs and bean-counters expected.

Which brings me back to the main topic. I believe in 2013 we will see MMOs that succeed because they are MMOs, and they do contain the months and years of content that an MMO needs. These titles will be ‘niche’ when compared to WoW, but such a distinction is already outdated as everyone finally comes to grips with the fact that WoW has always been an outlier, rather than the standard. With proper expectations and execution, these titles should prosper, especially as general MMO tastes swing back towards something more meaty rather than flashy.

At the same time, along with ‘real’ MMOs, we will see more games with MMO-lite features like GW2, and hopefully like GW2, they will ship with payment models that fit that style of game. These play-to-consume titles will refine their own space, and will provide nice breaks when needed for both MMO players and gamers in general. Their success will be measured not in retention, but in reacquisition; did they leave a positive-enough taste in your mouth to come back when more consumable content is out for sale?

More direct predictions:

EVE will reach and retain 500k subs in 2013.

SW:TOR will shut down or go skeleton crew by 2014.

LotRO will directly sell you The One Ring and a chance to play Sauron.

DF:UW will actually release and exceed the first year of DF1.

GW2 will have 9 tiers of gear by the end of 2013.

A bunch of MMOs will have kickstarter campaigns. Few will actually make it, almost all will be meh.


18 Responses to What 2012 was, and what 2013 will be

  1. bhagpuss says:

    That’s a pretty fair assessment and prognosis. I would say, though, as someone still playing GW2, it has already turned out to be a lot more compulsive and long-term than I expected (or indeed wanted). I have played virtually nothing else since it launched, I have four level 80s and hope to make that eight (one of each class) by Easter. I’d really like to be playing other MMOs but whenever I try I just begrudge the time I could be spending in Tyria.

    WvW also turned out to be far more compelling than I expected. Two of my four 80s did over three-quarters of all their levels there and I anticipate the rest doing much the same. The new dungeons are also pretty good. As for populations, my server (Yak’s Bend) is always busy, even off-peak when I play. Many newbie enquiries in map chat in the starting zones and cities suggest a continuing stream of new purchasers, not just old hands rolling alts.

    I’m very wary now of the pull of MMOs. I don’t actually *want* to get drawn into spending all my time in one imaginary world for months, even years at a time. I was happier when I was spreading my time across half a dozen or more MMOs. I feel that was a richer, more rewarding experience. Certainly gave me more to write about. Unfortunately GW2 is highly compulsive and has me hooked. I dread to think that better niche MMOs will appear (and I think you are right that they will). It’s bad enough as it is.

    Oh, and I have had more pure pleasure out of the wings I bought for my ratonga in the Station Store than pretty much anything I have ever obtained in any MMO through any means. Dream of flying perfectly realized at last.

  2. sid6.7 says:

    I don’t know if I would call SW:TOR a “massive” failure. I would say it was a commercial success in so far that it likely paid for it’s development and made a bit of money. But it certainly didn’t become a “cash-cow” which I guess how we define the success of a mainstream MMO.

    In a lot of ways, it has more in common with a Diablo than an MMO. and it strikes me that many players would come back to for an expansion (and wouldn’t stay for long once they finished).

    • SynCaine says:

      Zero point zero chance SW:TOR made back its original cost on box sales. With George taking 30% and retail cutting another 20% (being generous on that), the game would have had to sell 10s of millions to get back the 300m+ that was spent, and we know it did not.

      No, the plan all along was to hit 500k+ (EA originally threw out 1m+ as the target remember) and keep it for months/years like WoW, because EA truly thought they had WoW. That the game is already a F2P afterthought, and EA themselves have already downplayed it’s importance on earnings calls (not that it helped the stock), SW:TOR is most certainly a financial failure. Perhaps the biggest in the genres short history considering the scale.

  3. Joc says:

    I haven’t seen many people predict sw:tor’s not seeing 2014 which is strange because it seems a fairly safe bet. I can imagine them being even more ruthless than NCsoft was with CoH.
    After the many vague disappointments in 2012, 2013 isn’t looking all that stellar. Just the usual unfounded hype & fanboys circlejerk > paid ‘beta’ > inevitable launch problems > lack of end game content failure > population nose dive> bitter recriminations cycle for TES online.
    Hmm can’t wait…

  4. gwjanimej says:

    @Sid: I don’t know that TOR was successful to the level desired(needed) by EA; that was almost certainly the drive behind the F2P conversion, which was clearly aimed at being a blatant cash grab on their part to increase revenue for viability; the scaling back showed that it didn’t work and generated bad press. EA was pretty clear that they’d need continued 500k+ subs to make it at all, and I don’t know that I’d say straight up that they’re maintaining that.

    As for the predictions writ large, I think you’re lowballing EVE; if they close out 2013 with less than 550k I’d be surprised, and they can definitely clear 600k next year. It’ll be interesting to see what they have for growth potential beyond that.

    On SWTOR, that’s low-hanging fruitand there would be a massive shift for the One Ring to be a cash store item; same for Monster Play as Sauron. Beating DF1’s numbers is also pretty low hanging fruit. And MMOs on kickstarter are already a dime per dozen, and 90% meh.

    • sid6.7 says:

      RE: SW:TOR- All I’m saying is that everyone I know bought the game and played at least one toon all the way through to 50. I have a hard time calling that a “massive” failure.

      On the other hand, it certainly didn’t become any kind of cash cow (i.e. decent revenue stream) for EA. And since that’s how everyone (EA and players) seems to want to measure success, it’s hard to disagree with any of your points.

      I just don’t know if i like that measuring stick any longer since we use it to call every new MMO a failure. And in retrospect, many of these games we are calling failures were fun — they just didn’t have any longevity.

      That’s SW:TOR in a nutshell. Great game. Then it ended. If it were a solo-player game, we call that a success and look forward to the sequel.

      • wloire says:

        Nobody I knew bought SW:TOR. See how anecdotes work?

        • sid6.7 says:

          LOL. /agree on anecdotes since you can always find someone who has a contrary opinion. “Everyone I know likes money.” “I don’t like money.” “That’s because your a dipshit.”

          See how that worked? :P

      • Paul says:

        I preordered SWTOR and didn’t even make it through the bonus week for preorder players. At least I never had to pay any sub money,

  5. dirtysouth says:

    Rift nailed the “niche” mmo this year. It was a wow like sure. But they realized enough people were sick of azeroth and blizz. Rock solid performance. Tons of content with very challenging raids and a nice take on talent trees. I simply consumed it all but Trion kept my left ass cheek in line with my right far more than any other company in 2012.

    In 2013 I would like to see a game with no vendor npc’s. Repairs, food, drink, top of the line gear should all come from players imo. Perhaps have raid bosses drop patterns or very small percentage chance legendary’s (like baron mount chance).

    As much as I wanted GW2 to be my game, it was simply a distraction this year…

    • Zyref says:

      Repairs, food, drink, top line gear all come from players?

      Try Eve Online :-p

      Also, Everquest Next is said to be a pure sandbox. (Smed was very taken with EVE).
      Also, Pathfinder Online is said to be a pure sandbox. (They even hired a few development leads from EVE).

      Also, You should have tried Star Wars Galaxies while you had a chance. Another pure sandbox game from SOE with a 100% player driven economy.

      • sid6.7 says:

        My problem with EVE is that it’s boring. Blips on your scanner and little red cross-hairs aren’t exactly my idea of exciting combat.

        I’ll grant you that flying around in 0.0 space with a ship worth the price of a subscription is it’s own type of nerve-wracking excitement.

        Ironically, it’s too realistic and not enough arcade style action. I would compare it to being a submariner in WWII. Lots of anxiety and stress — but you don’t “see” anything and all the excitement comes from the fear of dying. :P

    • Paul says:

      Rock solid performance

      Inadequate client performance is the main reason I no longer play Rift.

  6. tithian says:

    I’ll be very, very very surprised if your SWToR prediction comes true. So far it seems that the cash shop items are bringing EA tons of cash (probably more than the subs themselves) and they have an expansion announced for Spring/Summer.

    I mean, even Cryptic hasn’t gone down yet, even after a series of fiascos.

  7. It takes a lot to kill even a bad MMO because there will always be a segment of morons that just love it to death. Especially Star Wars fans

    • SynCaine says:

      It is, but one tied to an IP, or with outside pressure, and it becomes more likely. Its why The Sims Online was shut down, even though it probably had more players than a lot of current MMOs.

  8. […] is always saying that Turbine is going to sell you a copy of the One Ring in the cash […]


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