I’m of the firm believe that the MMO genre is struggling primarily because there hasn’t been a good MMO released in years (insert “since EVE” or “since Darkfall” joke here). The struggle isn’t about gamer tastes changing to loves MOBA titles, or now Battle Royale titles, or that people in 2018 won’t pay a subscription for a service, or that because there are a million ‘free’ games on the iPhone, people don’t need an MMO anymore. I’m not saying a good MMO hits peak WoW numbers, but I am saying a good title could be a top 10 game in the year its released.
So why hasn’t it happened in a long, long time? Part of the problem is a drain on talent; there just aren’t a lot of brilliant MMO devs willing and able to make the kind of MMO that would work. Kickstater MMOs lack the funding and talent to make that happen, even when they are on the scale of a Star Citizen. Major studio titles play it too safe, which ultimately never works because ‘too safe’ isn’t a winning recipe in this genre. Plus with each failed title, the odds of the next studio being willing to give the genre a real, risky shot decline.
Another factor working against the genre is the continued influence of the F2P model, which straight up doesn’t work for an MMO that wants to be anything more than a short-term cash grab (or for older MMOs, the occasional nostalgia tour spot). This is made all the trickery because F2P does work for other genres, be it MOBAs or BR games, so I’m sure its hard to sell someone who could potentially fund development on going back to the ‘old’ subscription model. At the same time, you absolutely need the subscription model (with or without a cash shop alongside it) to truly sustain and grow an MMO long-term.
Why do I think the genre can still work? Because at the core, a real MMO is about endless progression, and today just like yesterday, gamers love progression. The sad part is so many MMOs today, like Life is Feudal, fail at this basic principle, with a very real, and very abrupt end of progression, which just kills the game regardless of almost anything else they have going for them.
I also think that today, more than at any other time, people are ok with paying a subscription for a service. When Ultima Online came out, it was a very, very weird concept. Today paying monthly for Netflix, or HBO, or Hulu, or the countless specific streaming platforms is very common, and very successful. Both the XBOX and Playstation have subscription services, so even console gamers accept the concept.
Technology is also on the side of the MMO genre. Server costs are lower, server power is greater, and basically everyone has high-speed internet now at nearly uncapped data amounts. As with subscriptions above, there has never been a BETTER time for something like an MMO from a technology standpoint then today.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about one title I think can take advantage of all this. Spoiler: If you’ve been here for a minute, you can already guess the title.