The blogs reflect the genre

This post about blogging over at TAGN, along with the comments, is worth reading, even if you are only vaguely interested in the topic of MMO blogs. As the posts-per-day rate here has slowed over the last two months, it’s a topic I’ve thought about as well. This blog is almost 6 years old now (yikes), and I still don’t feel like I’m ‘done’ talking about the MMO genre. At the same time, something has happened to slow the content rate here, and not all of that can be pinned to changes in my RL (though that is a major factor). So what exactly is going on?

First, I don’t think the fad that is blogging is passing, if only because it never was a fad to begin with. Sure, blogging might have had its ‘time in the sun’ around the time the Warhammer hype machine was at its peak, but it was around before that and is still around after. So long as MMOs still somewhat resemble virtual worlds, they will be worth writing about.

What is happening is that the genre itself is changing, and right now the change is just not really giving us much to talk about. A little history lesson first.

When I was writing about WoW sucking before writing about WoW sucking was cool, a major reason for that was because Blizzard was shaping the genre, and the direction they were going in was not one I liked (or that works). I don’t really care about Blizzard/WoW now because they are non-factors. No one is building the next ‘WoW-killer/clone’. No one is taking a great IP (Warhammer) and driving it into the dirt thanks to the WoW taint.

Right now, everyone is basically in two camps. You are either in the EAWare camp, where you just believe MMOs don’t work, or you are in the indy camp, where you understand that MMOs work when they are virtual worlds rather than sRPGs with a login server, and that the market for THAT is not millions. There is no “let’s make a bigger/better WoW” camp, and so I no longer need to keep educating people about it. You’re welcome. When WoW goes F2P in 2015, it won’t be a surprise but rather confirmation of about a hundred posts I made in 2007/8. Feel free to look back and just leave a “damn, Syn right again” comment on each one. It’s the least you can do.

Where MMOs are going is both obvious and as uncertain as ever. It’s obvious because EVE is still crushing it and for good reason; it’s the definition of MMO design done right. If only someone had pointed that out in 2007… What’s really scary is that CCP might be doing its best work with the game right now, ten years in, so rather than decline like “all MMOs do”, EVE is still very much on the way up, with the only real question being just how high up it will go. I know I said the market is not millions, but CCP might prove me wrong in a few years.

The uncertain part is, spaceships aside, where does everyone else go? I think Darkfall: Unholy Wars is a much improved version of DF, and the patches Aventurine has been doing are hitting all the right areas, but the game and the company behind it have a long, long way to go before they reach anything close to current EVE/CCP status. The foundation is there, certainly, but the goal is so far away its borderline impossible to even think about right now. And much like EVE itself, DF doesn’t NEED 1m subs to be what it needs to be. The current population in the game is just right; fights can be found, but the world is not overcrowded to the point of game-breaking (as can happen).

GW2 continues to do what it’s doing, but nothing since the 3rd week has struck me as a reason to return. It’s just there, which since day one has pretty much been the issue with the game. Again, there is a reason Anet isn’t asking for a monthly fee, and it’s not because they are just that nice. Similar statements can be made about most other MMOs; it’s amazing SW:TOR has not been shut down, Secret World is what it is, and a few other titles are chugging along or milking the last bits for whatever is left (LotRO).

The genre is evolving and devolving at the same time. It’s evolving in terms of how games are made; Kickstarter being the biggest factor, but even having games on Steam vs requiring a box in a store is a big change for gaming, and MMOs in particular. A niche game for 50k gets made today if that 50k votes with their wallet strongly enough, while just a few years back this wasn’t the case.

It’s devolving in that we are returning to games based off what Ultima Online was trying to do (virtual world) vs what WoW became (sRPG). Designing your game for a target audience vs ‘for everyone’ is once again happening. Games with scale and longevity are being pitched. Catering to the lowest common denominator is once again seen as a negative.

The great unknown right now is whether the above will deliver or not. Will an MMO off Kickstarter release and be what it promised? Are all of the devs that today talk about “not being WoW” follow through, or are we just in another Warhammer cycle where people in white shades talk about bears but really just deliver a crappy knockoff?

And because all of this is unknown right now, we can’t really blog about it at length. The genre, and as a result, blogs covering the genre, are in a bit of wait-and-see mode.

19 Responses to The blogs reflect the genre

  1. I do wonder what CCP will do if the game gets much more popular. Flying with the old hands in null sec, they talk about how back in the day if you had a fleet of 150 ships, you were total bad asses and could handle all comers. Recently, a call for a fleet goes out with the possibility of shooting some bad guys and they have to open up a third fleet because the first two hit their max of 256 ships. I have seen 1000-2000 ship fights happening pretty regularly.

    Now, part of that is alliance politics, with each side bringing in more allies than they would in the old days. Null sec corps also seem to recruiting more, while some low sec corps have used the promise of some null real estate as a reason to side with a faction and get into action.

    But I see it other places. Jita has a cap around 2,200 people, which I have seen it hit on a day with nothing special going on. Amarr, which used to be a sleepy little space town now sees tidi because a thousand people can be found hanging docking, undocking, or jumping into the system around at peak times.

    • SM says:

      Eve will not grow substantially unless it does something to attract a pve crowd, aka care bears. Although CCP states eve is a sandbox, it really only allows one type of play.

      • Mekhios says:

        EVE has been growing steadily over the last 10 years. If you look back at Syncaine’s older posts he argues the point that a deep sandbox game fosters subscriber growth at a steady rate. That is the path the EVE subscriber numbers have taken.

        EVE does not succumb to the tourist MMO effect. People tend to play it long term. Carebears aren’t the type of people you want playing EVE as they tend not to engage in the core aspects of the game, ie. PvP. EVE at its core is a PvP game.

  2. Jenks says:

    When I read that yesterday, I had almost the same response. Why wouldn’t mmo blog numbers be down, considering how bad mmo’s are now. On top of that, the ones “thriving” are designed for people with ADD who enjoy hopping in and out of f2p garbage – do you think those people want to read opinion pieces on the genre?

    If you want hits, you need to cater to the same people the current generation of MMOs caters to: stupid people. Just start writing about all the awesome sales going on, for xp boosts and cool armor skins. Awesome! Your traffic will skyrocket as your faith in humanity all but disappears.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    Blogging’s just another outlet for my need to write. I’ve been writing for considerably longer than I’ve been playing computer games and I’ve been playing those for almost 35 years. If I had to choose between writing about something and doing it…tough choice.

    Lucky that doesn’t usually arise.

  4. Mekhios says:

    The mainstream MMO market is now all about F2P, cash shops, and microtransactions. Neverwinter, LOTRO, GW2, RIFT, and others are all heading down the same path. The other side of the MMO genre that is booming is the World of Tank style games and the proliferation of all types of action MMO’s using that model.

    And now we have CCP hiring Sean Decker who is commonly known as the king of microtransactions. I assume he is tasked with shaking up the ailing Dust 514 game and maybe CCP’s next game. It remains to be seen if he will be allowed to tinker with EVE.

  5. Endest says:

    So the fact that WOW may go subscription free after 10 years and a $billion+ in profits proves that you were right all along about it sucking?

    And good old Eve has convinced the same set of suckers to go from dual boxing to quad boxing…. That is the path to MMO promised land?

    Dude I want some of what you have been smoking….

    • Xyloxan says:

      Just in case you are just a very casual reader of this blog – Syncaine was a hardcore WoW player during vanilla years. He stopped when Blizzard started making WoW more accessible to lazy and unskilled casuals.

      • SynCaine says:

        “Oddly” right around the same time the sub numbers began to stagnate. Burnout, yo.

        • Solf says:

          I somehow thought that you (Syncaine) quit when TBC hit? Over the gear reset issue? Am I wrong?

          For me, in fact, TBC was the ‘golden era’ of WoW and I think users stats lean in that direction too.

          Or, in other words, TBC wasn’t about dumbing down things at all. At least not initially — it introduced heroics that were brutal (again, at least initially) etc.

        • SynCaine says:

          First quit was right after finishing Nax40, just prior to TBC. At that point it was less about the gear reset and more about the 40->10/25 change.

          But then I came back and did some raiding in TBC, saw most of that content, but did not get into the game as much as vanilla. WoW subs stagnated towards the end of TBC, remained the same during WotLK (they dropped in NA/EU, WoW was released in other regions globally), and have been dropping since then.

        • Solf says:

          Ah, fair enough then.

          Must’ve missed your TBC return.

    • msp says:

      High sales do not always correlate with quality, and “sucking” is a very subjective term. WoW has split into two separate games: the ball-breaking hard high end raiding/PvP “eSport” game and the very casual “trophy for everyone” game that rewards players just for showing up. If you’re in either of these groups, the game doesn’t suck. If you’re looking for a virtual world to live in and long term goals to work toward, it does. With the recent hints of an in-game cash shop and P2W features “coming soon ™,” it’s time to call it a day as far as WoW is concerned.

      This leaves me with EVE. Sorry to say, but I’m not nearly as optimistic as Syncaine is on that front either. CCP’s attempts to simplify the game are starting to smell more and more like dumbing down for the same zero-effort crowd WoW’s been chasing (and losing) since TBC. Hiring of EA’s Sean Decker doesn’t inspire confidence either, unless Mr. Microtransaction is only here to save DUST. There are also mini-games and added services for cash… er.. PLEX. if EVE does hit millions of subs in a few years, it could be for all the wrong reasons.

  6. Mekhios says:

    “And good old Eve has convinced the same set of suckers to go from dual boxing to quad boxing…. That is the path to MMO promised land?”

    Sorry to disappoint but some of us are only running three accounts in EVE.

  7. Kyff says:

    Just write about your adventures in DF:UW or EVE or whatever. For me as a user those well written pieces are more interesting than general observations about game design anyway.

  8. Rohirrim says:

    the problem of the opposite side of wow, the virtual worlds, is that all of them more or less focus on pvp. There are many people that are stuck in themeparks(myself included) because ffa pvp is gamebreaking for them.

    My hopes for the future of MMOs is in the PVE Sandbox you describe on your blog

  9. kalex716 says:

    Great post.

    I’ve always said that its very easy to design a game that looks amazing on paper, but its a whole other thing to execute on it.

    Sooner or later, challenges find your process, prototypes fail and just don’t ever quite feel “fun” or work, leads and directors disagree, all the while the clock is ticking away and the coffers are draining….

    If you want to ship, and difficult challenges are stacking, the inevitable question will arise “well what did WoW do?”

    Mediocrity just may hold sway.

  10. Bob Newell says:

    I read the article in 2007. Its funny how its still applies today. Actually the funny part was the comment on how the guy was looking forward to the World of Darkness MMO, which we probably wont see in 2013 either. They should have prioritized that over Dust 514.

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