The MMO dark age is ending

Former MMO blogger Tobold (I still say I won that bet) is polling his readers about how long it takes them to hop in/out of an MMO. It’s a funny read as usual, especially the comments.

A comment a made over at Keen’s blog applies here, so I’ll just copy/paste myself:

MMO blogging would sound a lot different if the year was 2004, and we were thinking back on the last 7 years of the genre, rather than 2012 and the last 7. Hopefully the 2019 7 year review is a bit better.

And what we see over at a casual site like Tobold’s is exactly this; WoW players bored of WoW. And they believe that the MMO genre is only that; solo-hero themeparks that you level through and then grind gear with bots/randoms. It’s sad really.

Of course those who have been playing MMOs, who know the genre goes a wee bit deeper than Azeroth, understand the fundamental flaw here. Long-term, themeparks are boring, but themeparks (as they stand today) are borderline MMOs at best, and so it’s not surprising that players don’t stick around for months on end in what is essentially a single player game. SW:TOR is blatant about this, but its peers are not all that different. I love Skyrim, but long-term it can’t compete with an MMO no matter how great of a job Bethesda has done, and Skyrim is one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.

And before you suggest that it’s the players who have changed from 2004 to today, take a look at MMOs that have remained MMOs. EVE is 8 years old and doing better than most. Darkfall is three years old, and despite not getting a real update in about a year, still has an active population and a sequel/overhaul on the way. Wurm Online has its population (with a recently added server). Are people really going to be that surprised if GW2, assuming it delivers, retains players beyond the 3-month themepark burn? Looking outside the genre, how long has LoL been the most popular game out? How many people are STILL playing Counter-Strike or some older version of CoD/BF?

The belief that today all players only stick around for a month or three, regardless of the game, is blatantly wrong. Certainly a subset do, as Tobold makes pretty clear, but that’s just a case of aiming at the wrong target audience. That the recent crop of MMOs, cloned from WoW, are only worth playing 1-3 months, and attract the Tobolds of the world, well, yea, that makes sense. People burning out from SW:TOR in weeks rather than months was predicted by anyone with a clue years ago.

Assuming the themepark trend is finally past us, and the realization that WoW is an anomaly based as much on timing/luck as design has sunk in, the MMO genre should return to being an interesting place going forward.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Darkfall Online, EVE Online, Guild Wars, League of Legends, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, SW:TOR, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The MMO dark age is ending

  1. Hong WeiLoh says:

    Inspiring news in this month’s Game Informer: “Bethesda Wins Rights to Fallout MMO”… sure it’ll take years but if done halfway right, should be “EVE in post-Apocalyptia”. At least one would hope. There’s really no way to make a “Fallout MMO” that’s the “solo-hero themepark” style and still remain true to the core idea of Fallout. :-/

  2. Red says:

    Wow’s greatest gift was how accessible it made the MMO in general. Anyone could pick it up and play and yet it maintain a lot of the richness of other MMOs. It’s gone downhill since it started focusing on driving people though it’s crappy story and content instead of allowing people to work hard enough to overcome end game challenges to make the story themselves.

    Without great struggle the story of you over coming adversity is never becomes your own story. Even if you played wow casually you still looked on in awe at the people who did mighty deeds on your server. This created a sense of hierarchy that we experience in our normal world.

    • Devore says:

      Could WoW have ever become that game though? Wasn’t it always a gear grind and stat mudflation chase?

      When I started WoW, people were just hitting 60, mounts were a luxury, and epic mounts? whoo! who could ever amass that kind of gold! We took 40 man raids to UBRS, and wiped, on trash. Having a blue set was epic in itself, and once Molten Core came out, epics were really epic, and those who had it were really something to look up to, to aspire to, because of the obstacles and barriers to entry a casual player could not overcome. Having a goal to chase, even if you could not reasonably reach it yourself, always felt like you were a part of something bigger.

      But wasn’t it inevitable what WoW became? When tiers 2 and 3 came out, I think the game still retained the spirit, but once the “tier x.5” from the 20 mans came out (ZG/AQ20), was that the beginning of the end? The cries for all content accessible to everyone were getting louder after that.

      Could WoW have been a player-driven sandbox, given such a focus on PvE game? Or destined to themeparkdom?

      • SynCaine says:

        I’ve posted about this a few times, but basically yes, WoW was always a themepark, but that does not mean that the 2004 themepark is anything like the 2012 version. At some point after BC, Blizzard decided it could grow WoW even bigger if they went even more casual, and while it took a while, we have been seeing the results ever since WotLK.

        There was nothing wrong with not everyone having epics. Content available to 10% of the population was not a problem to fix. Asking the players to put in a little effort to get a group is a good thing, etc.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    Most MMOs I ever played and really enjoyed I am still playing. Not every day or even every week, but I have them all on my hard drive and I still log in fairly frequently and chip away at various characters I’m interested in progressing. If they don’t switch the servers off then chances are I will keep playing most of those games for as long as I am physically able.

    Starting a new MMO because it looks new and interesting i completely understand. What I don’t get is why that means you have to abandon whatever you were playing before. If I liked it once, chances are I will like it indefinitely. The only limiting factor is time available to play, which obviously begins to stretch thin once you have an ongoing emotional attachment to a dozen or more MMOs.

  4. Stratagerm says:

    Interesting juxtaposition: “The MMO dark age is ending” with “Blizzard to axe 600 jobs”

  5. Professer says:

    An optimistic post about the state of the genre? 2012 must really be the end of an age

  6. I am like Bhagpuss in my MMO choices. If I like an MMO, I am really never done with it. I may put it on the back burner for a while, but I always go back for a visit now and again, and I will make alts, craft, do holiday events, and basically find ways to use and reuse the content available.

    On the other hand, if I do not like an MMO, I leave long before I ever get close to running out of content. So, yeah, I played EverQuest on the day it launched. I think I might go back and visit again this year. I played STO the day it launched. I cannot bring myself to log in even though it is free.

    • Anonymous says:


      I have recently started playing STO again. I bought a lifetime sub when the game launched, Trekkie that I am, but found I did not like the game all that much.

      Feeling at a loss with the cancellation of SWG, however, (/shakes fist at LucasArts) I started playing a new character about a month ago.

      I know they have changed some things since launch and added others, but for whatever reason, I am really enjoying the game this time around. Them again, maybe my subconscience is just trying to console myself for buying a lifetime sub.

      Long story short – you might think about giving it a shot again if you are ever looking for a new mmo. For whatever reason, it is a lot more fun for me than it was before.

      • I have a lifetime STO subscription as well, which is why I keep rubbing salt in that wound. I have the game installed and patched up. But I cannot BS my subconscious, which just does not want to play that game. I log in, I go bleh, I go do something else. It is clearly my problem, but there it is.

  7. Anti-Stupidity League says:

    I’m really glad that tor is so blatantly non-mmo and can easily be a pure single-player experience as that’s what theme parks are pretty good at. I’m still enjoying leveling my alts and I have only one week to go before Mass Effect 3 release, so the game has fulfilled its purpose for me already. And I think I’ll reopen my sub after finishing ME3 a few times.

    About that Tobold piece, it was so self-centered and out of whack that I’m pretty sure there’s no one else but Tobold who could have written it. “When I played wow for 4-5 years, it was perfectly normal, but after I stopped playing wow, I think that anyone who spends more than 3 months is delusional and seriously weird.”

  8. loller says:

    Bit early to talk about single player themeparks as the past.

    Wow still has 10 million subscribers, and from what I understand actually managed to increase it’s playerbase in 2011. Only by a few 100 thousands but still.

    And judging swtor is pretty hard with no numbers on the table. I don’t think it was a surprise that people who were bored with WoW didn’t stick around in what is essentially the same game. But if it turns out they still have more than a million subscribers then it can’t really be classified as a failure.

    And in all honesty SWTOR isn’t really suffering from being a copy as much as it’s suffering from not offering the tools the single player MMO player person want. There is no queue for small groups or raids like there is in WoW, but if there were I don’t think they would have had any problems.

    Likewise Lotro and Rift are doing better than every non-themepark out there.

    GW2 isn’t going to revolutionize the genre either, it’ll be a single player themepark where you’re sent out to kill 10 rats just like all the others. It’s main advantage is that it’ll actually have thoughtout pvp, and no monthly fees.

    I’d love to see a AAA eve-online, and I honestly think there is a market for it but nobody is going to make it for the next 7 years.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “The belief that today all players only stick around for a month or three, regardless of the game, is blatantly wrong. Certainly a subset do…”

    Or is it the subset that stick around for more than 3 months?

    To put it another way, there are more people who have quit WoW than play all sandbox games put together.

    It is great to see that EvE continues to grow and that Darkfall and Wurm have found their niches. But it also seems that there are enough casual players to sustain a large volume of scripted themepark titles.

    More choice = everyone wins

    • SynCaine says:

      Well the MMO genre is a subset of gaming, and considering how ‘hard’ MMOs are, not a dominant one at that. Remove WoW from MMO history, and what are the most successful games all time?

  10. spinks says:

    “the MMO genre should return to being an interesting place going forward”

    I guess the proof will be in a year or so when we look at what’s under development. I think GW2 is going to be pure themepark tbh. I don’t have a problem with themepark games but I still don’t see it offering a wide range of in game roles other than combat or encouraging in game communities to grow up, or even housing outside personal player instances. (I’m not that gung ho on housing but letting players build stuff in MMOs is the sort of interesting advance I’m looking for.)

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