Piggybacking on yesterday’s post about classifying games correctly as MMOs or not, the MMO genre exploded around the time on World of Warcraft. MMOs grew so big and so fast that the industry simply was/is unable to support the growth. Contributing in a large way to this perceived growth was the illegitimate use of the term “MMO” being thrown onto any game that happened to be multiplayer. This continued for nearly a decade leaving us with a huge ill-defined mess.
Now things are starting to settle down, realization is setting in, and developers are realizing they can not only make different types of games again (dare I say innovate?) and not have to attach (wrong) labels to sell.
The MMO genre is once again shrinking back down — slowly — to its proper size. MMOs were never meant to be an all-inclusive phenomenon. By their very nature, MMOs are exclusive to a smaller/focused interest group, and we have all witnessed what happens when they mutate to become something that tries to accommodate everyone. Putting this bluntly, there aren’t enough talented developers to go around to support the number of players wanting this many diverse types of impossible designs. Occasionally we see breakthroughs in design, but those moments are rare. Tech advances have been made, but those I attribute to games in general and not exclusively to MMO design.
We’ve ended up with me-too products from second-rate designers and business people driving the ship. Success has shifted away from providing a unique world capturing the hearts and minds of the players into forecasting business models and trying to figure out how to harvest the most fat possible from the fewest number of whales. Plans to keep people playing as long as possible have been swapped out with exit strategies and converting business models to scrap the bottom of the barrel.
This genre needs to shrink and regain just a little bit of its obscurity and niche status again. The greatest advances ever made were done by small teams on niche games with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Would I love it if the genre could still produce games like Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Dark Age of Camelot, The Realm, etc., and still be the size it is today? Of course, but that isn’t possible. People have to stop wanting the “AAA” (I use quotes because the term AAA has become a joke) bloat, and to do that we have to shrink down to the point where we stop being inundated with them. The sentiment is often thrown around that back in the day people had fewer choices, so each game did well. There’s an element of truth to that, but at the same time each game was unique and provided something entirely new; We can’t even come close to that today.
I think I can speak for everyone by saying that we just want fun games to play. As the MMO genre continues to shrink (and it is — slowly), different types of games will be made (and they are). A more focused MMO genre means the opportunity for better MMOs and a more diverse overall gaming industry. That means more fun for everyone.