Sensationalized blog title for all of the clicks!
Except not really, because WAR really did kill the MMO genre, at least in terms of being a mainstream genre similar in popularity to say RPGs, Sports titles, or FPS. Now don’t worry, that’s not actually a bad thing, but more on that later. First lets travel back in time and, with the power of hindsight, explore why Mythic killed the genre with Warhammer Online.
Prior to the release of WAR in Sept of 2008, the general view of the MMO space wasn’t whether a title would be successful, but how much money it would print. WoW was in its prime with TBC, and wouldn’t see its design take a turn down the ‘accessibility’ death-path until WotLK in Nov of 2008. And while WoW was king, other titles were still going strong. LotRO wasn’t a joke back then, for example.
WAR however was a different beast pre-release from anything before, and anything since (for those not around back then, take what is happening with Star Citizen today and multiply it by ten, if not a hundred). From the insane hype generated by Mythic (oh those bears…), to the fact that here was a title from the developers of DoAC, (arguably one of the greatest MMOs ever), using the Warhammer IP (the greatest IP ever, fact), it wasn’t just a case of printing money, but of ‘killing WoW’ and being the best thing of all time. Stack on top of all of the above that, initially, WAR was fun as hell in beta (in large part because the limited beta hid the later flaws oh-so-nicely), and you had a hype train running at light-speed.
Then release happened and not only did the train come off the rails, but it crashed into the town known as “the MMO genre” and burned it down. A lot of the hype from Mythic wasn’t real (hi bears), the game was horribly flawed in terms of end-game (a key strength of DAoC), and we had that whole ‘WoW tourists’ thing that didn’t help either. Mythic wasn’t able to put the fire out in any of their post-release updates, WAR was never ‘fixed’, and would ultimately get shut down.
Why WAR was so flawed is a point of contention to this day. I fully believe it’s because the vision that Mythic started with was highly tainted by trying to make WAR more like WoW late in development, rather than releasing DoAC 2.0 with a WAR skin (that game would still be online today). But even had WAR been a better-designed MMO, it still would have ‘failed’ in the eyes of the masses, because no matter what it wasn’t going to ‘kill’ WoW, or even rival it in terms of subs (12m). That 12m number is a pop-culture bubble effect as much, if not more, than a testament to WoW’s design at the time, and it wasn’t going to happen again for WAR.
We still saw big-budget releases after WAR, but none of them came close to the hype, the expectations, or the big-eyed dreams of WAR. SW:TOR cost a lot more, had a more popular IP, yet prior to release the ‘hype’ was to maybe retain a million subs, later scaled down to 500k (and it failed to do even that). WAR was the last time anyone seriously thought of an upcoming title as a WoW-killer, and with its burning destruction, so went the genre as a mass-market vehicle, as did the idea that MMO blogging could become a really big deal (whatever that meant).
But as I said at the beginning, the genre ‘dying’ in terms of the masses isn’t a bad thing. The mass-market is more WoW-clones, and not only do WoW-clones not work, who amongst our niche today even wants that? As for blogging, more page views are nice, sure, but again, who really cares? So long as posts get comments and a decent discussion going (and they still do), do any of us really miss developers sending us hype care packages or providing exclusive interviews? I don’t. (Though I do miss the millions I made off pimping Darkfall, I must admit. Fueling the old Ferrari is a real pain these days. 1%er problems are still problems, yo.)
The MMO genre was always going to be a niche market so long as it stayed true to the core ideas of living in a virtual world. That not only isn’t for the masses in terms of complexity and design, it simply takes more time than the average gamer is willing to dedicate to one title. And again, that’s totally ok. We don’t need games with mega-budgets and 12m subs to get quality titles and keep good developers employed. Maybe we gotta shell out some cash early via Kickstarter, or buy into Early Access, but is that really so different from pre-ordering a $75 collector’s edition of WAR and ultimately being disappointed even though beta was awesome?
2016, even with the expected slate of interesting titles, won’t be a rebirth of the genre in terms of returning to the pre-WAR days. That time is never coming back, and not only am I ok with that, I’m outright happy about it.
PS: Mark Jacobs very briefly had a blog he put up during the pre-collapse days of WAR titled “The MMO genre is a niche market”. The joke behind the title was that Mark was once told by some venture capitalist that MMOs would never be a huge deal, and here was Mark, releasing a mass-market world-beater title in WAR. Irony is a cruel mistress.