The MMO genre isn’t dead, its just lacking good MMOs

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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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6 Responses to The MMO genre isn’t dead, its just lacking good MMOs

  1. Asmiroth says:

    But they already made hello kitty online.

  2. zaphod6502 says:

    I am still playing WoW on and off since release. It’s the only MMO I play now and suits my casual gaming. I simply don’t have time to play other MMO’s now as I have a wide variety of gaming interests and play other genres.

  3. Kobeathris says:

    The subscription is a funny thing. I don’t have the time to commit to a game now like I used to, so I would probably play something like WoW casually, but at 15 a month, I don’t feel like I get my money’s worth as it were. I almost wish pay for time had taken off here, but I totally realize that I would have hated that when I was younger. Maybe a two tier system could work, something like box price gets you 100 hours, then 15 a month, or 5 bucks for 50 hours. Obviously the numbers would have to be bounced around, but I’m sure that I am not the only one that thinks the appeal of buy to play or free to play games is the feeling of not being locked in because of the sub. I know that you view that lock in as something of a perk, but honestly, that’s probably what killed so many other games that tried to compete with WoW. Something had to justify either a 2nd sub, or dropping WoW entirely to survive.

  4. Chris Ochs says:

    If you think it’s frustrating as a player, try being a dev with skills in this area that wants to work on a good mmo. It’s basically impossible to get funding. Kickstarters can’t get you there. And as you said large studios are just risk averse.

    It’s content costs that have really made it difficult. Large studios keep pushing better visuals, and that bar applies to mmo’s as well. And they need more content then any other genre.

    A lot of the things that used to make mmo’s hard have changed. For instance my specialty is everything backend, and in the last decade we went from clusterfuck architectures everyone doing it differently, to pretty much a defact0 standard approach that has made that part much easier.

    I could take 2-3 good dev’s and build out all the functionality you see in most mmo’s today in under a year. The content would take 20x that cost and probably triple the time. 80% of that is just tedious detail work that is basically impossible to speed up significantly. The code side there is always significant room for improvement and automation. I look back on when I entered the game industry and how much has improved on the development side vs the content creation side. The latter is basically no different from where we were 20 years ago. We have more pixels and faster gpu’s but the process and tools, roughly the same. On the development side it’s changed hugely, we are just so much better now and able to do things in far less time.

    • SynCaine says:

      Which also talks to the ‘wrong’ approach in making MMO content. You can’t do WoW, because even Blizzard struggles with making enough of WoW. Devs have to be smarter about assets (the same few weapons/armor models have to be viable long-term, not for a month until a new tier is released), the same monsters need to stay relevant, the same area of the world must remain active. Basically… what EVE does. That same design can be made to work in a fantasy setting, it’s just crazy we haven’t seen it.

      • Chris Ochs says:

        Space content is relatively easy in comparison to typical fantasy settings. You need far more content to provide the same sense of scale when most of the world is on land. Art style is also an issue, space art ages pretty well. With fantasy if you go with a more realistic look, it’s going to get dated really fast. So you pretty much have to stick with a heavily stylized look. That or face major costs for upgrading rendering in the core engine and content overhauls.

        I always thought a good design for a fantasy Eve would be one that has a strong naval combat component. So the oceans are the equivalent of space and you have a bunch of islands of different sizes. The key being that the focus is on the core combat plus higher level strategic metagame. Take attention away from the pve content itself and how unique that is. So you could live with a lot of repeating patterns in pve content, as long as they were all stitched together in a way that provides good higher level strategic value.

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