Around this time of year, most blog authors will do year-end posts (hopefully I’ll get one up as well, but no promises), and I think a trend we will see this year was that 2013 was pretty blah for the MMO genre, and that 2014 isn’t looking much better. To say the genre has been in a rut of late would be an understatement; the two most ‘successful’ games (in terms of interest, design, and countless other factors) are still WoW and EVE. Those games were released in 2003 and 2004. A decade ago.
Ten years is a long time. It’s long enough that someone who was 15 when WoW was released is now 25 and (hopefully) working. They might even be working at a game studio, perhaps on an MMO. And like Keen posted about here, maybe all they know of an MMO is WoW and its clones.
Furthermore, how many MMO players today have solid experience with an MMO that’s not a WoW clone? I don’t mean they tried something different and left after a month; I mean how many players today have actually made significant progress in non-clone MMOs? Is it a million? Compared to the tens of millions of clone players?
All of the above wouldn’t be a problem if the average clone was somewhat successful, but for the most part they are not, and I don’t get the sense that the average MMO player is happy about the situation either. Again, how many ‘year end blog posts’ are going to be glowing with praise for 2013 and pumped for 2014?
I think the two factors above, clone devs and clone players, are the core problems with the genre; the ‘talent’ to produce something different, interesting, yet still enjoyable and playable is generally lacking. But how do you learn what makes a good MMO? You certainly don’t go to school for it, and what few books exist, how many of them are really relevant? Playing different titles works to an extent, but if you can’t correctly see what works and why in certain titles, it’s only going to take you so far.
The MMO genre is also more difficult than say, making a shooter, because the more things your MMO tries, the more human nature plays into it, and on top of limited knowledge/experience in MMO design, how many developers can correctly analyze what the masses will do with feature X or function Y? If you look around, the answer to that is few, oh so very few.
Finally, as if the above wasn’t difficult enough on its own, players are also the genre’s worst enemy. More and more these days we are seeing people asking for X or Y, because they are sick of clones, yet on day one those clones get gobbled up only to be dropped in a month or three. Worse, players ask for X and Y but don’t understand why what they are asking for is going to doom their game. As inexperienced as the average dev appears, it’s far worse for the average player, and yet far too often we see devs listening to said players to ‘give them what they want’.
The genre is a mess. An ugly, complex, recycled mess. Happy 2014!
Edit: And now the post has a title…