I still don’t have an answer for how SWTOR will do. But increasingly I think the playerbase for MMOs won’t ever let another game do a WoW, they just have lost the patience we used to have for long term goals in games. And these are games which, at their outset, relied on people quietly getting on with progressing towards long term goals. – Spinks
The above is a comment from a Tobold post declaring hardcore gamers dinosaurs that the market no longer caters to. I like that through the power of the internet, I’m able to read blogs from different dimensions, because on planet earth, ‘hardcore’ games seem to dominate pretty hard.
For instance, take a look at the top 25 games on Xfire. It goes something like this: hardcore MOBA, shooter, WoW, SW:TOR, shooter, shooter, sandbox MMO, shooter, sandbox game, sandbox RPG, hardcore RTS, gold ammo, hardcore MOBA, shooter, shooter, shooter, hardcore RTS, shooter, shooter, indy TD, sandbox MMO, shooter, PvP MMO, shooter, EVE.
Who knew dinosaurs were so numerous and had so much time to play games?
Or take a look at last year’s best-sellers according to Amazon. Yes, Just Dance 3 is there, as are The Sims titles, but the rest? A pretty hardcore list eh? (Who the hell is buying FF11 in mass quantities?)
And most of us know that every year, in the console world, games like Madden and FIFA dominate the sales charts, along with console shooters like Halo and Gears. Madden is too hardcore for me folks, and I like football.
You know what games we don’t see dominating? Trash casual games. As the owner of Zynga, I can safely tell you that fad is over. People figured out that trash games are trash, and without the ability to scam you out of money, the model does not work. You know what does work? Quality casual games like Angry Birds, which are easy to pick up yet ‘hardcore’ enough to offer the kind of depth and enjoyment one needs to get from a game to tell a buddy about it.
And I’m pretty sure 2012 will only continue this trend. As the gaming scene matures, gamers as a whole get smarter. They get better at picking out the trash, at seeing through the smoke and mirrors of the hype machine. The more educated gamers get, the harder it will be to trick them into playing Farmville or knockoff clones. The age of some mom going into Walmart to pick up a random bargain bin title for little Billy based on the box art is over. We live in the age of Steam recommendations, of buddy bundles, and of every game for sale having dozens or hundreds of reviews right next to it (Amazon stars, Steam showing Metacritic, etc).
This brings me around, finally, to the initial quote from Spinks, who seems to suggest that MMO gamers have grown tired of playing titles long-term. Again I’d point to the top played games as counter-evidence to this. How many of those shooters are ‘old’ games? Why is it that Battlefield 3 players are so excited to get a re-release of an old map? Look at the top game, League of Legends. How is it that the most played game of the year, one that is printing money faster than Riot knows what to do with it, is basically a game from 2003, played on almost the exact same map? (And a game which, btw, is putting a lot of effort and money into courting the most hardcore of hardcore, from multi-million dollar tournaments to things like observer mode) What about a game like Skyrim, which is basically Oblivion in terms of gameplay but with dragons instead of demons? Minecraft and Terraria anyone?
Point being, gamers, be they MMO gamers or otherwise, are more than happy to stick with a title and repeat gameplay if, wait for it… the gameplay is good. If you take a game with previously great gameplay (WoW) and milk it by having the yearly update be an intern’s summer project, sooner or later people are going to notice and move on. Not because they have ‘burned out’, or because they have ‘grown out’ of MMOs, but because what they are playing today is worse than what the originally signed up for. And if you spent 300m recreating that summer intern’s project, and slap voicework on top of it, it’s still going to be a flawed product. Or more accurately, a flawed MMO. SW:TOR is, by most accounts, a pretty fun RPG if you enjoy blasters to the face. It just sucks as an MMO, kinda like WoW sucks as an MMO. Skyrim sucks as an MMO too by the way, but the difference is Bethesda never planned their budget around retaining Skyrim players for years, or hyped the game as such.
I find it really sad how the dominance of World of Warcraft has led so many people to believe that the way WoW does it is the only possible way to make a MMORPG.
Oh wait, the above is a Tobold quote. I think he slipped into this dimension for a moment. But it’s a good point right? Pretty insightful? If only someone had suggested earlier, like, back in 2007, on another blog, that WoW being so dominant is harmful to the MMO industry, that perhaps we could have avoided failures like SW:TOR? Ah well. Better late than never right?
And like I said way back in 2007, I don’t think a game exactly like 1997 UO would work. You need more structure. But there is a lot of space between more structure to UO and current-day WoW/SW. EVE and it’s Empire space is of course one good example, and EVE having the track record that it has shows that such design ‘works’. Which is why I still believe that something like EVE, but more mainstream in terms of setting (fantasy), gameplay (less Excel), and, well, no multi-hour shooting at static objects stuff, would do very well. Assuming, of course, that the core gameplay is solid. Not the amount of voice acting, not the total number of pokemon, and not whether it’s F2P/sub/runs-on-gumdrops. No, the gameplay, the design, the long-term “this is what you will be doing for years” vision. Maybe GW2 is that title? At worst it’ll cure cancer, right?
I don’t believe the desire to be part of an online world is lost. I don’t believe the general want to be part of something big, something evolving, something living and unpredictable, is gone. I don’t believe the ‘hook’ that only a real MMO can have on a player is something that is no longer possible to create. I just think a lot of people are having trouble see it past their solo-MMO that won’t stop talking. Let’s give it a month or three.