State of the MMO genre, 2015 edition

February 4, 2015

First things first, it’s now 2015, and just like in 2014, 2013, and really since the beginning of time, we still haven’t seen an as-successful F2P MMO as we have sub MMOs (WoW/FFXIV/EVE). Until we do, this isn’t a debate. It’s a simple yes/no situation: Is your MMO really good? It’s using the sub model. Is your MMO not that good? It’s F2P, sub, ‘B2P’, or… who cares your MMO isn’t really good. Maybe by 2016 we will have a single example of a really good, as-successful-as-sub F2P MMO. I wouldn’t hold your breath on it though.

Now, moving past that still-dead horse, let’s take a broader view of the MMO genre as we head deeper into 2015. In my view the MMO genre has gone through four major phases. Note that these phases don’t have a definitive “it started on this day” date, but rather are more of a general ‘around this time’ deal.

Phase one (1997-2002ish) was UO/EQ1/AC; the birth of the genre, when we weren’t sure if this whole ‘virtual worlds’ thing could even work, and being online with thousands of others in one world was something new and awesome. Amazingly all three of the original MMOs (sorry M59, but you weren’t big enough to really count here) were solid and brought something really unique and special to the table. UO had an amazing virtual world and sandbox gameplay, EQ1 was the original themepark (I thought I had written a post about what the genre would be if EQ1 had never been made, but can’t find it now, so maybe I never wrote it…), and AC had weird, interesting systems and character growth, along with the awesome patron ‘guild’ system.

Phase two is WoW and EVE (2003-2007ish). WoW blew up what everyone thought a successful MMO could be, and refined the clunky themepark that was EQ1 into a game a lot of people could actually get into, while (in vanilla/TBC anyway) still retaining the core qualities of an MMO to keep people playing/paying. EVE started very small and very rough, but would go on to show that despite aiming to be super-niche, super-niche done better than anyone else can eventually, and naturally, grow into a mini-monster in the genre. It also showed that, if you do it right, there is no timetable on when your MMO should fade or go into maintenance mode. A good MMO really should be able to go on ‘forever’. This is also the time when a great many MMOs failed for countless reasons; the main one being ‘Making an MMO is really, really f’n hard’.

Phase three is the WoW-clone era, or the dark ages (2007-2011?). Post-WoW blowing up, everyone and their dog started cranking out WoW-clones, each thinking they could either be a ‘WoW killer’ or just casually pick up a few million players because ‘hey, WoW did it so it must not be that hard!’. LotRO, AoC, WAR, Aion, Rift, etc. In addition to getting a bunch of ‘bad’ games, the real crime here is that developers who might have been able to give us something interesting instead wasted time trying to be WoW. The genre (EVE-related stuff aside) didn’t advance forward much, and in terms of new offering things mostly sucked.

Phase four is the ‘F2P, ALL THE WAY’ era (2011-2014, hopefully). After failing to clone WoW, ‘bad’ devs all jumped aboard the good-ship F2P. MMOs that were struggling/dying as sub MMOs (because they were bad games made by bad devs) converted and saw ‘amazing’ revenue immediately after the conversion. We got a lot of press releases stating it, so it must be truth forever and ever! We also saw a bunch of F2P-based MMOs released, because the sub model was outdated and ‘everyone’ was going with the ‘new standard’ of F2P. Then the too-predictable reality kicked in, the one-time boost that was a F2P conversion not only faded, but in many cases faded below even what sub was bringing in, and F2P after F2P MMO was shut down or skeleton crewed. SOE being sent to the slaughter house is, one can only hope, the crowning jewel and definitive statement on just how much of a failure the standard F2P model is for MMOs.

Which brings us to today and the original question; where is the MMO genre? It’s not at the high it was in 2005/6, where everyone was making an MMO because it was perceived as a gold mine. At the same time, we are out of the dark age of cloning WoW blindly. We are also hopefully beyond the state of believing that F2P works, but I suspect there are still more Smeds out there who will put junk out and wonder why it’s not working financially after getting a billion accounts or whatever foolish metric they get mislead by.

In some ways we are in a spot similar to 1999/2000ish times, with three big successful MMOs (WoW, FFXIV, EVE), and a new crop of MMOs on the horizon that has our interest (Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Life is Feudal, Pathfinder, to just name a few). But that interest isn’t tainted in believing any of those titles will be ‘WoW Killers’ or dominate the market, nor are the people behind those titles setting such expectations. For perhaps the first time in far too long, devs have a plan to make a game work with 50k subs, which sounds so stupidly simple yet really is a giant leap forward for the genre.

Will some if any of those games work out? Hopefully. They at least have a much better (more than zero) chance than ‘WoW killers’ and F2P MMOs, so that’s a plus. But as always, making an MMO is hard, and even if you get 80% of it right, that 20% wrong can sink you.

Personally I feel better about the genre today than I have in a long, long time, perhaps even as far back as the early 2000s, in large part because I think more than enough devs have finally figured out that the MMO genre is a niche market, and not the mass-market illusion that WoW’s success tricked people into believing. I also don’t think ‘AAA’ levels of spending are needed to make a great MMO. I’m more than fine with playing something that I expect to grow over time, so long as that initial baseline is solid, and again I think at least some devs are finally catching on to this as well. Not only is gameplay king, but sub-AAA production values don’t mean crude sprites and homemade sound effects anymore, it just means I won’t have to hear someone ‘famous’ during a cutscene, or have a CGI intro movie that’s 20 minutes long that I skip every time after the first.

So while the future of the genre isn’t all rainbows, it’s also not as hopeless as it looked in years past. Baby steps are good, and hopefully at least a few of the upcoming games deliver, while the success’ we have today continue to get better (or in WoW’s case, don’t go full ‘accessibility’ on us again and shed almost half the population).


Looking back at 2014, looking forward into 2015

December 15, 2014

Time to review 2014 and make some 2015 predictions (I don’t get as fancy as some people and do two posts!)

Here are the 2014 predictions:

EQNL will have everyone loving it the first month of release. Shortly after just about everyone will be asking “now what?” and drift away.

Anyone want to comment this isn’t 100% accurate, other than the whole “release but its beta” scam?

EQN will continue to attempt to copy/paste from my design docs, and will continue to SOE them into failure.

Nope, but only because literally NOTHING happened with EQN, because SOE, so 50/50?

ESO will have a big launch, followed by a quick death (F2P). I’d like to pretend that THIS massive themepark failure will teach the industry to stop, but if SW:TOR didn’t, nothing will.

Big launch; check. Quick death; nope. Game isn’t F2P (yet?), and I wouldn’t be totally surprised to hear it has more subs than we expect (not a ‘huge success’ amount, but not skeleton-crew numbers).

WildStar won’t suck. Just throwing a dart here, as WildStar doesn’t interest me personally, but what little I know about the dev team, I like. If they stick to their ideas/goals post-release, I can see WildStar being a solid ‘niche’ MMO. We might even be calling it “themepark done right”.

Mostly wrong here, other than I think WildStar clearly is a niche MMO, although I don’t think the plan was for it to be SO niche.

The GW2 train will continue to roll, although with less steam and more heavy-handedness towards the cash shop. Such is F2P life.

I guess? So little gets posted about GW2 its really hard to follow, but I’m assuming Anet is doing something with the game?

LotRO will continue to provide us with amusing stories, perhaps selling you a character 3/4th of the way into the game, or something equally dumb. 50/50 on being able to play Sauron. 75% chance you will be able to buy the One Ring in the shop.

Guess 3/4th of the way into the game was giving Turbine too much credit. My mistake.

CCP will go bankru… haha just kidding. Best MMO out will continue to play chess while the genre learns checkers. 450k subs in 2014. Edit: Since we are at 500K already and this isn’t WoW, raising this to 600k.

600k didn’t happen, so nope. On the other hand so far CCP is showing what they can do with quicker releases, which is basically more than anyone else, and I think they are in a good spot going forward to once again return to growth after a stagnant 2014.

WoW will bounce back with the next expansion and have a strong 2014. Now that the interns are back to being interns, and the real devs are back from failing to make anything with Titan, WoW will prosper. It will also help that 2014 won’t offer it much real competition (Unless WildStar draws away a significant portion of the raiding crowd, which is a possibility). WoW will end with more subs in 2014.

Other than the WildStar bit, rather accurate.

2015 predictions:

DF:UW will shut down. The population is at an all-time low, AV is completely lost with the title, and Forumfall continues to stick daggers into the one game even trying to give that crowd something to do. I don’t see how the game survives 2015 short of a miracle turnaround or wipe/DF3 plan.

WoW will lose subs. Yea, going for easy points here. I think the WoD bounce will fade, and I’m not sure New Blizzard is capable of really fixing the game to return it to growth.

FFXIV will gain subs. More easy points. With an expansion coming, a solid foundation, and a studio not called SOE or Trion supporting it, I think 2015 will be an even better year than 2014 was for this gem.

EVE will gain subs. Again more ‘in the right direction’ thinking here, although less confident in this predication than I am in FFXIV, especially if Star Citizen launches (it won’t) and isn’t completely horrible.

LoL will continue to sit atop the gaming world. I don’t see Riot slipping in 2015, I don’t see any game challenging its popularity, and the MOBA genre has a long-established history of longevity. The eSport side of the game will also continue to grow and dominate that segment.

CoC isn’t budging either. Similar story to LoL; solid developer, solid foundation, no serious challengers, CoC will finish 2015 as the top mobile game, just like it finished 2014.

Hearthstone will continue as Blizzard’s least-successful title. A weak foundation, core design flaws, and a complete lack of long-term hook will continue to see the title float between unknown mobile titles on the revenue list, while occasionally getting a jump when new cards are released and the whale famewhores dive in, only to drop back down shortly after. Won’t be much of a factor in the 2015 eSports scene either.

ArcheAge will continue to be comically mismanaged by Trion, giving us as least half a dozen “Trion being Trion” moments in 2015.

EQN won’t release. Nor will Landmark move out from under it’s ‘beta’ tag.

The rest of the ‘that’s still online huh’ F2P junk titles like LotRO, SW:TOR, EQ2, etc will float on in who-cares-land. None will be put out of their misery, but none will move up either.

I think game funding via Kickstarter will see an uptick as more Kickstarter-funded games launch and are well received. Pillars of Eternity is the one that has my eye (and money), and the continued positive development of MMOs like Camelot Unchained will show people that the platform, when used correctly, does work.

I honestly don’t see any MMO in 2015 shocking us and restoring faith in the genre. It will be more of the same, with some good (FFXIV), some bad (pick a F2P MMO), and most being meh.


Burnout is a myth

November 25, 2014

When WoW was declining due to one crappy expansion after another featuring accessibility-inspired dumbing down, some people tried to write this off as not being about the content, but just due to ‘burnout’. They would have you believe that after 1, 2, or 4 years, people were just getting burned out on WoW and that’s why sub numbers were declining. The counter point the entire time was EVE, but now you can toss WoW itself into the mix.

Related is this recent info about Payday 2. The highest activity in the game, which is now more than a year old, just occurred this October. Perhaps FPS gamers are just immune to burnout? Or maybe its because the content that is constantly added to Payday 2 is fantastic. Deathwish difficulty raised the bar and gave even the most experienced players a real challenge (or for most people, an unreachable/impossible tier, which sounds vaguely familiar to something else…), the mix of paid DLC and free updates have been solid and steady, and the game today doesn’t just have more ‘stuff’, but it has more stuff that fits and actually expanded all of the original content, rather than replace it (now where have I heard about that approach working long-term…).

LoL (4 years+, peak numbers), CoC (2 years+, top grossing app today (oddly Hearthstone didn’t show up in the top 150 for either downloads or revenue, wonder why)), DoTA2 (crazy growth this year), etc etc etc. I think you get the point.

If a game is great and keeping being great, while giving you more of that greatness, you don’t get burned out. If a game stagnates, or especially if it gets worse (hi Trion), people leave because of that, not burnout.


EVE: 10/10

November 22, 2014

Great new video by CCP, kinda adding on to the recent Rooks and Kings video. Both are great due to the player voice recordings. Basically video form of the sandbox peaks I’ve talked about in the past. I also like towards the middle-end the part with the miner, explaining why that rock worth 120m was special for him. Nice little bit most EVE players can relate to.

 

Edit: This ‘blog entry’ is a perfect example of why it’s not smart to wake up and post right away. Get it together self…


Some people play MMOs, some play EVE

October 20, 2014

To say that EVE is a different kind of MMO is perhaps the biggest understatement in gaming. Year after year events happen in EVE that no other game will likely ever come close to replicating, and the game’s depth, complexity, and sheer scale draw and hold some of the best and brightest players. There is perhaps no finer example of this then the most recent Rooks and Kings’ masterpiece, Clarion Call 4. It’s over an hour long, and my only criticisms is that it isn’t two.

There is just so much to love here. There is of course the utter brilliance of the tactics used, and the razor sharp execution of those tactics. But almost as amazing is the begrudging respect you hear from the victims. The name “Rooks and Kings” means something (usual quick death) to tens of thousands, despite the group being very small by EVE Corp or Alliance standards.

That kind of earned respect, over many years of excellence, just doesn’t happen in other MMOs. In WoW the ‘top’ raiding guild and roster changes yearly, if not monthly, and the excitement or respect generated by being a world first is both short lived and quickly forgotten. In LoL, which just had it’s amazing world championship (more on that in another post), who is king also changes year to year, and while the names and teams impress, they also quickly burn out of view. Who won season 1, and who was on those teams? Would even 1% of all LoL players know? Because certainly far more than 1% of all EVE players know R&K, and have known about them since before the first game of LoL was ever played.

That R&K have been around in EVE for so long isn’t an accident, just like the CFC being so large and dominant is no accident. It’s a reflect of what CCP has created, and a reminder that no one else is even close, and haven’t been for more than ten years now.

Edit: H/T to TAGN for reminding me to blog about this video.


PvE-only servers don’t actually work

October 17, 2014

Would CCP be better off if they created a PvE-only server for EVE? Some carebears would argue yes, because since EVE only has a PvP server, they don’t play. On the surface that makes sense; PvP-only games are indeed locking anyone who sees PvP and runs in the opposite direction out. But lets play this out a little further shall we?

On that PvE-only EVE server, the economy would be a total joke. Ships would rarely be lost, everyone could fly around perfectly safe in all-officer fit ships, the most lucrative PvE (null, WH) could be farmed without risk, mining afk would never end negatively, and all those multi-billion-ISK-in-a-transport traders would never be ganked. So unless you also expect CCP to basically completely change the game on almost all levels, the economy part of EVE wouldn’t work on a PvE server.

Furthermore, the PvE challenge on such a server would also be a joke. Remember, everyone is flying around in all-officer fits, which makes them far more powerful than the standard PvE ship found in the game today. Beyond just that, outside of high-sec you can now use a Titan to farm all day without a single fear of a hot drop. Are the carebears expecting CCP to fix this as well? How, tune PvE to officer-fit Titans in terms of difficulty? Just accept that all PvE would quickly become faceroll in difficulty (more so than it already is in EVE)?

And now the biggest question, why the hell are you going to play EVE for years here? You are sitting in an officer-fit Titan, with a wallet full of ISK, a hanger with every ship and fitting you ever wanted, and having safely explored everything there is to see, with all content being trivial and with nothing else to do. What’s your motivation to keep playing/paying?

There is a reason EVE is the only MMO out to grow and maintain sub numbers for more than ten years, and that reason is directly tied to PvP. So while yes, certain carebears stay away, the game has proven that other carebears stay, year after (10) year, because of what PvP brings to the game (among other things, a sink that keeps the economy and basically the whole game going).

A lot of those currently playing WOULD switch to the PvE server, because most people are child-like and would eat candy until they died if you let them. They WOULD get bored and walk away from the game. That is why you don’t open a PvE-only server; because it would allow MMO children to spoil themselves into quitting, and in the long run that’s bad for business.

So help save the kids, and your MMO; don’t go PvE-only and kill yourself and everyone playing!

PS: The same applies to AA. Think about how many of that game’s core mechanics rely on PvP to balance or keep them interesting. How many seemingly PvE-only activities would lose long-term value or purpose in a completely safe world?


Can we close the book on ‘accessibility’ now?

September 18, 2014

File this as example 164,239 of “difficulty is good for everyone, faceroll is bad”: EVE Burner missions killing people make them enjoyable. This is pretty good timing too, given that Blizzard just confirmed example 164,238 (WotLK, the ‘accessible’ age, was when WoW started declining), and Tobold is here to provide example 164,240, where he had to stop face-rolling in Destiny (a ‘casual AAA game’ everyone) due to running into something with a challenge, and actually had to think up a way to get around it. Oh the horror.

Not that this is news to most. The most popular game out overall is based on scaling PvP difficulty (LoL), the most popular and profitable mobile game is based on scaling PvP difficulty (CoC), and the most popular gaming franchise (CoD) is based primarily around PvP of scaling difficulty (server selection). It’s almost like people are trying to tell devs something, and they are saying it with what counts (money rather than words).


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