MMOs ARE Dying

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Bhagpuss, one of my peers with a blog actually worth reading, brought this subject once again to the forefront of my mind.  I would end this entry with the title, but some of you may think my simple yet direct statement implies the entire genre is going away. Wrong. In fact, the MMO genre is here to stay, but in order to stay they are going to have to change so radically that the majority of this generation won’t recognize them. Perhaps the title should have been: “MMOs will be reborn.”

The MMO as most of you know it WILL die. The themepark model WILL be gone within a matter of years. The business models of today WILL change. Why? They aren’t working! MMORPGs (notice the RPG on the end there?) worked for years and the change to the MMO (McMMO even) was only brought on by big business. I have been preaching for years that it was a mistake to change or ‘fix’ something that wasn’t broken. Granted, that “mistake” introduced hundreds of millions of people to MMOs and brought in billions. Speaking strictly about the games, it was a mistake and led to the actual games being worse. Long-term (very long term) that has driven the industry into the ground.

You guys know me well enough by now, but it needs to be said again.  ::Steps up onto his soapbox:: Ahem…

You can ABSOLUTELY go back to that ‘first MMORPG experience’ and MMOs can ABSOLUTELY go back to MMORPGs and a modernized version of the old school mechanics! MMOs ARE Dying because the people who play MMOs are fleeting and moving on. MMORPGs never died and in many ways are still going strong in the hearts, minds, official servers, and player-run server communities.

There’s plenty of money to be made — ridiculous amounts in fact — for those savvy enough to bring back and change this industry once again back to its roots. How messy this whole situation becomes, and how hard it will be to bounce back, simply depends on how long it takes the decision-making side of this industry to wise up.

I’m ready when you guys are. Seriously. I’m ready to finally be able to post blog entries about the games I’m playing and the adventures I’ve gone on that day instead of talking about the same old crap not working. I’m ready to fully embrace a MMORPG again. Someone, please, give me that opportunity. Want help making one and getting people excited? I’m here for that too.

MMOs are dying; It’s not a matter of IF but WHEN. Hurry up already. We’ll all be better off when they do.

  • I don’t think we will see WoW drop below 1 million subs for maybe 10 more years.

    Until then you can’t say themeparks are dead.

  • UO never broke 300k, EQ barely made it over 500k and they were a massive success. MMOs under 1m today are failures. MMOs are dead when they all shut down. This chicken little stuff is sad to watch. Plenty of choice, plenty of success to go around. Every game has multi-player today. I don’t use ICQ. We’ve moved on.

    If you could go back home, then progression servers would make a killing and emulation servers too. Ain’t the case. It’s such a hard argument to defend because there’s no proof, just opinion. No different than the EvE / WoW is dead argument.

    Just be happy in the games you have today. We have plenty to choose from. More than we need. It’s a damn good time to be a gamer.

  • Hasn’t SOE done several of these progression servers? And isn’t Fippy Darkpaw still alive and kicking? I am not aware of any other major MMOs doing progression servers, but I can say there are tons of “unofficial” player run servers that pop up all the time. Heck, P1999 regularly has over 1K playing anytime of the day and I think Emerald Dream is still up and running. So, it appears that the interest is certainly there to me, at least for certain products. I would think it would be pretty hard to make money off of these emulation servers without exposing yourself to some serious liability. But, it doesn’t seem like the owners of the original IPs are going after the free ones or maybe we just haven’t heard about it.

    I am surprised though that WoW hasn’t tried some kind of server like this. Probably afraid that interest in their main servers would diminish. But, if anyone can afford to take such a risk it’s Blizzard. I imagine it might find its way onto the table once WoW’s sunset years are obvious and Bliz wants to take some money from those people who are constantly raving about how great classic WoW was.

  • I agree with the main premise, but disagree that bringing back old school mechanisms will revive it. Publishers and devs need to realize that they can’t keep creating grind fests and think players won’t eventually become burnt out by it. IMO that’s exactly what’s happened and why the genre has been in decline for years.

    You can’t keep telling players to game for 100 hrs, then you might get to something good. I say might because you won’t know if you enjoy the endgame until you get there. I’ve hatted the endgame in SWTOR and Warhammer and quit about a week after hitting the level cap. Playing 100 hrs just to realize I didn’t like their end game didn’t at all make me mad. (sarcasm)

    End game gameplay needs to begin at level 1, period. PvP and PVE can’t be separated and there has to be a single game world, not 50 or 100 separate servers.

    Planetside 2, despite not being a very big success, got a lot of things right. It’s the only MMO I still log into from time to time and have any interested in playing, but it’s still not where the genre needs to be at.

    Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen are really the only MMO games I’m looking forward to because they’re giving theme-park gameplay the finger, doing it in one game world and with gorgeous graphics.

    It’s funny how ESO before SWTOR launched was all about storyline then after SWTOR failed all they could talk about was how the game was a sandbox. It’s a joke, ArcheAge is a joke, Wildstar has been a joke imo since it was announced. They’re all the same game, but slightly different.

    There’s a reason why Eve Online is the only MMO that is still growing despite being 10 year old. It’s because it’s an actual virtual world that changes, not something static where you have to wait a whole year for new content that is nothing but a grind. Then you get to spend the next 12 months rerunning the same 10-20 dungeons over hoping you get some loot that will be obsolete in the next update.

    MMORPGs today are on the same level as Zynga’s games. They are money pits where your actions mean nothing and once you realize that you never want to play another Zynga game again. That’s why players are flooding out of the genre.

  • I said this on Syncaine’s blog the other day.

    MMO is a feature and it is doing extremely well in many genres – space sim, casual/mobile, fps, etc.
    MMORPG is a genre and it’s pretty much dead, since no one has innovated significantly since WoW 10 years ago. As soon as someone creates something new that’s actually good, there will be a renaissance.

    M59->UO->EQ->EVE->WoW was a span of 9 years.
    WoW->2014 WoW clones is a span of 10 years.
    Look at the leaps between those games for those 9 years. What an astounding run. We were so spoiled. When you consider that run vs 10 years of zero real innovation, it’s no wonder the MMORPG genre is ‘dead.’

  • I think one way to breathe life into MMO’s is to have them make sense. Although this may sound like sarcasm, it isn’t.

    Try to remember back to your first day in your first MMO.

    For me the first hour was spent just looking at things, being astounded that an interactive 3D digitized world was built where perspective was accurately modelled. I could hide behind a tree, amazing! I could jump down from a ledge and injure myself, amazing! I could fall off a dock as a ship was leaving, amazing!

    This was amazing because I could relate to it.

    The rest of the day was spent figuring out what was going on with these really mentally dull visually-impaired monsters. There were open fields of one species of monster that relentlessly paced back and forth oblivious to all of the players in plain sight killing their brethren. I guess there were a lot of out of work homeless monsters who out of necessity had to spend 24 hours a day loitering in fields.

    This was confusing because it made no sense whatsoever and I couldn’t relate to it.

    Rapidly I learned how to kill them and since it was so fun to actually be able to fight monsters in a virtual world, I initially overlooked the absurdity of this fish in a barrel mechanic. Eventually I stopped questioning it and just accepted as a norm that mob existed in discrete areas having no purpose other than to wait to be killed, and then magically respawn out of thin air.

    It is only through habituation that this glaring nonsensical inconsistency isn’t even broached as a major problem in MMO burnout.

    So in my early MMO years I was mostly amazed that I could do anything at all in a virtual world, but over time this novelty wore off, being replaced with a more addictive drive fostered by Skinner Box reward systems reskinned with every new MMO launch.

    I kept looking for something akin to that feeling of wonder of my first MMO, but factors such as slightly different game mechanics, different environments, and different storylines (most having to use that term loosely) were never able to recreate it. This isn’t too surprising as so much of that unique feeling in retrospect was the surprise at being able to walk around in a virtual world, much like the feeling of playing Pong for the first time (an analogy perhaps lost on younger gamers) where you couldn’t believe you were actually interacting with your otherwise passive TV.

    So where are the innovations going to come from to stimulate one’s imagination with a novel experience? It isn’t going to be a new double tap dodge mechanic, modifications of the trinity, or semi-destructible terrain.

    I think one way is to foster immersion. This could be through actually dynamic storylines, perhaps by hiring DM like storytellers to run unique events (like GW2 launch events), or the actual point of my post, by making mob dynamics make sense, as if they had real virtual lives.

    Think like an ogre to design an ogre encounter. They sleep in caves, they go out in hunting parties, they set traps for travellers.

    Think like a mage to design a mage encounter. They study and sleep in towers, they forage for herbs, they hire mercenary to gather monster bits.

    Basically I want an MMO where the devs put as much thought into mob environments and psychology as I did way back when as a DM. Ask why would this creature be doing this at this particular time and to what end?

    I have slaughtered countless mob with different skins and unfortunately the thrill is gone; elves of ill repute, slobbering aliens, mutated garbage bag pickers, killed it, and re-killed it over and over for years.

    The next frontier for me (at least until Oculus launches) is true immersion. Make me forget that I am playing a theme park, and instead have me interact with a living sensible world where mob have lives, mob see me coming if I don’t sneak, where there are consequences of killing an ogre’s uncle, where events get disrupted if I rob the caravan carrying rare herbs to the wizard’s tower in the next town (I know the latter chained events have been promised, but implementation has been lackluster in my experience)

    …in short give me D&D modules run by DM’s who ask why and how.

  • I am with you Gank. When and where did the games start to deviate so far from D&D?

    I would love… just love… if somehow Dragon Age gave people the tools to build their own persistant worlds. I actually thought that would make a nice ruleset, with a few tweaks, for a person to design a gaming world.

  • If there was a huge market of people crying for an old school MMORPG, it would exist. Or people would be flocking back to the classic MMOs that are all still around. Or there would be huge hype around one in development. Except none of that is happening. I get that you love the original Everquest, but remaking the game isn’t the answer you think it is.

    MMOs are phasing out because new (better?) genres are replacing them. For the casual MMO player there are MOBAs and other less time intensive games. For the hardcore virtual world type there are games like Minecraft and DayZ that offer more player agency and creativity than MMOs.

    I personally have no interest in bringing back old school MMOs. I don’t have the time, or desire, to ‘invest’ my life in one the way they require. I want a game I can hop in and out of at short bursts, without coordinating my schedule with anyone. Of course, not every game has to cater to my desires. It’s good to have variety. It just seems like most people seem to agree with me, or the market would be different.

  • I’ll have to agree with Fidjit on this one. If the market is so big for an old school MMORPG, how come we haven’t seen a successful one yet ? All game producers can’t be that dumb and miss free money. I often bump heads with people on this, but I feel the nostalgia thing around old school MMORPG is overblown on the internet. It’s niche market that think of itself as being THE market. I see several possible explanations for this :

    – The younger generation of gamer was never introduce to this type of game, online or not. I might not be up to date on the matter, but I don’t remember classic single player RPG game having a huge success in the last years. Or at least outside older gamers. You can’t expect gamers to like a MMORPG if they never have enjoyed a RPG before.
    – Blogging is by definition a hardcore medium; you gotta have a special passion for your subject. Therefore it’s not a good way to survey a market.
    – Moreover, blogging is so 2000. The younger generation has moved to other form of communications.

    This doesn’t mean there can’t be an old school MMORPG. There’s a couple in development and I wish them the best. However everyone involved must tempered their expectations. WoW was a perfect storm and it will never be reproduced. The measuring stick should probably be something like EVE. Quality gaming delivered with low development costs, don’t pretend to hit anything but your market segment, cater to your players to increase their fidelity.

    Oh and F2P isn’t going away either. The model needs to be tweaked, it’s easy to completely mishandle its delivery, but it’s just good business if executed right. The ideal revenue maximizing scheme is full price discrimination (aka charging every player exactly what they value the game) and a game shop is a good way to steer in that direction. Usually the problem is not the game shop, it’s a piss poor gaming experience. Put a quality game out there and people will be willing to spend money in the shop just as some players would probably pay more than the standard 15 bucks a month for their favorite subscription game if they could as they love their game so much.

  • I think there will always be a market for themepark MMO’s, but it is shrinking. As time goes on, it seems like players attention spans are shrinking. With something new always on the horizion, lots of people can’t sit still.

    I’m pretty content at the moment with my themeparky SWTOR (housing!). There is nothing on the horizion that I really care about. When it comes to sandboxes, I want to like them, but the truth is they require a lot of time. I’m looking for more bit sized experiences.

  • I agree with Gankatron to a degree. My first MMORPG experience in The Realm was one of astonishment that something like this was even possible on a computer. I spent a lot of time socially focused in The Realm, and could spend hours simply decorating a friend’s house.

    That feeling of astonishment at the technology, was continued when I migrated to EQ, because it was leaps and bounds beyond anything The Realm, which was basically 2D, could do. I remember logging in for the first time being lost in the elf city in the trees (Kelthin?), and it took me hours and several deaths from falling before I finally got out of it.

    But eventually in EQ my simply goggling at the technology lost its attraction, and I migrated more fully to embracing the Skinner Box of advancement and progression. And I was good at it, because grinding/time equaled advancement and power, and back then I had a lot of time and didn’t mind the grinding. If I played all day every day my power and my gear was leaps ahead of what everybody else had. Especially if I raided. And the skinner box worked even better because the game was hard. Dying could take you an hour or more to recover from. You couldn’t just decide to get a random group together and go tackle a dungeon because it was pretty likely you would all die horribly and then take hours to get your corpses back. Having lots of time and being smart made you way more powerful than the average person in that game.

    But games today have broken the skinner box model, which was the only thing keeping me going after the technology glamor faded. Even though I don’t really have the time to commit like I used to, I like to know that there is a reward hanging out there if I did grind.

    And there just isn’t anymore. Everybody gets to max level in a month or two. Every body who is level 50 is basically wearing the same armor, or is at least working on the same set of armor. There are no extremely rare mobs and everybody can just LFG up a dungeon crawl and get all the best loot. Levels are basically worthless.

    The skinner box is broken. That’s the problem.

  • My small two cents worth is
    A) To some extent we are jaded with the experience.
    And B) Games, and in specific MMO’s, are now made for the not so serious, common weekend warrior fantasy player.
    In my far distant past when I was introduced to role-playing games and computer games (Commodore 128 anyone?) These games were considered for nerds. These games had definite rules of death and reward, and we played them for the challenge and difficulty of obtaining such reward at the risk of certain death. Certainly for me half of the fun of playing was re- rolling a new character and who would they turn out to be.
    Wonderful original games like oubliette ( French for dungeon) Wizardry and other early games, death was permanent, unless you were able with your new characters and party to reach your previous characters dead bodies and equipment. So a lot of times the risk was greater than the reward and rarely was the reward equal to or greater than the risk.
    Nowadays for me MMO’s anyways, are out of reach and out of touch for me because I no longer have the time to devote hours upon hours and let other real life people down by having to leave or not make it to a planned party. I have grown up and now have responsibilities of work, wife and children. So I focus on solo playable games so I disappoint no one. And now MMO’s are out of touch in regards to they have been watered down, Painted in pastel colors, And Provide handholding so much to the degree that any person that knows how to work a keyboard and mouse can play these games. All for the sake of money. These games are no longer made For those of us that truly love fantasy games. For those of us who have picked up 20 sided die and probably can recite half the players handbook by memory. These games are no longer created for those of us who genuinely want to know the lore and culture of these other worlds we wish to visit. By understanding the world and the culture we gain The motivation to care.
    I feel that until these games are made for us hard-core, fantasy loving, Risk taking and death defying People, We few, we happy few, we band of Brothers, We will labor and complain in vain.

  • “All for the sake of money. These games are no longer made For those of us that truly love fantasy games. For those of us who have picked up 20 sided die and probably can recite half the players handbook by memory. These games are no longer created for those of us who genuinely want to know the lore and culture of these other worlds we wish to visit. By understanding the world and the culture we gain The motivation to care. I feel that until these games are made for us hard-core, fantasy loving, Risk taking and death defying People, We few, we happy few, we band of Brothers, We will labor and complain in vain.”

    This is spot on, and completely in vain as far as AAA MMO outlets are concerned.

    Many of the people interested in reading gaming blogs are the old guard. People who in their heyday never had to deal with the oxymoron of “free-to-play”. A time when I like to think devs made a game primarily to be enjoyed by gamers and hoped to make a profit.

    Everything coming out from AAA MMO developers has monetization tactics in the forefront, and is heralded by pre-purchase incentivization and dramatic cinematic trailers.

    I think this is a reason why more idealistic gamers don’t understand why games are often not optimized for gamers. The games feel broken and gamers can’t understand why devs just don’t get it. The fact is they do understand their market better than gamers; their primary concern is not to build the most enjoyable game possible, but to foster addictive behaviors, and in the F2P segment, break the game so consumers need to spend money to ameliorate the “fun pain” they design into the core mechanics.

    There was a paradigm shift when companies realized that video games could be marketed outside of the relatively small nerd demographic. The older dedicated WoW players were used to support the game through the early stages and then were insidiously discarded for the more lucrative larger population of casual players.

    The simplification of MMO’s is working as intended, and old guard players will need to find refuge in indie titles until the AAA bubble pops.

  • I think thats a pretty incorrect statement. MMOs will always be produced if a profit can be created. Even if 80% of the mmo players disided to not play mmos there will still be, mmos.

    Im sure that there will be a down turn in mmos and the profit margin to be made will become more limited. Forcing many companys to abandon there big “wow like mmo” dreams. The market will stop being flooded by mmos no one wants or cares about and hopefully we can all move on.

    But will that mean all mmos will end? no

    Plus there is one thing that could make mmos even bigger then they are now, VR. Im not talking about the rifty thingy or sonys new headset but the next step beyond that, That will bring so many people to mmos you wouldn’t believe it.

    But who knows. We are just guessing, But its quite a statement to say mmos are dead, want to make a bet on that? >_>

  • I think the genre is not necessarily in need of “old school” fundamentals. I would love for it to make a move forwards. It is kind of interesting following EQNext. Initially, it sounded like they were really going to push the barriers. After numerous Dev roundtables, the game seems to be becoming more WOWish every day.

    My big problem with todays games could fall into these categories
    1) A grindy economy with too many currencies. Instead of being able to play how I want, I have to do what the dev’s want me to do to in order to make progress. A lot of things like Ascended Gear in GW2 seem to be put in to simply add grind to the game. If you had a simpler economy, then you could manage your own risk vs reward by doing areas with smaller groups for greater rewards.
    2) Risk vs Reward – With no serious death penalties there is no risk any more. Death should be inconvenient if not painful to the player. There is no reward for increasing your challenge. You get the same reward for doing the dungeon with 5 people as you do with 3.
    3) Poorly designed outdoor areas. Most outdoor areas are a total bore. The most interesting outdoor areas I have seen in the last little while were the Elite Areas in Aion. Areas should have a mix of creatures, with a mix of strengths and weaknesses, that have to be defeated with differnt strategies… not just a bunch of bashy and throwy creatures grouped on a hill.
    4) Nonimmersive. People don’t roleplay anymore. As such the games are not immersive.
    5) No character building. Except for Archeage, every game I have played has had the character building on rails. Even Rift with like 8 classes per archetype only had a couple of good builds and a horde of useless skills. Bring back the good and bad points of GW1.
    6) Small worlds. I can run across some of these worlds in less than 10 minutes. That is not very big. Rift and Aion were pathetically small. Along with point #3 the open world combat is hardly interesting enough to make running across it worthwhile.
    7) Reputation. There used to be a time when risk was higher and your reputation counted for everything. I remember one guy who sat around town because no one would play with him and he would get you killed with his foolish actions. Similarly there were people you could trust and loved to party with. Now it doesn’t seem to matter much. Someone said that combat tells the story of the game. Well with more intriguing combat that carries some risk, finding people to party with and developing a reputation is very important.

  • I agree with Gankatron. I, and I think most of the readers of this blog, are in the minority. Games are not being produced for us anymore. I do not think making an old school MMO would work either. New innovation is needed and unfortunately I do not see many upcoming games that have figured it out yet. Part of that they will always have to come up with something new is that they ultimately have to please the shareholders. If they got on the conference call and said we are making an EQ clone, the stock would start dropping. It is always about what new thing are you going to do.

    And you can not just say they can make a game and it will be profitable. It is the same concept I just posted on your last blog post, return on investment. A company will always want to spend their money to maximize profit. It they made $1 it can be said to profitable but that is obviously not what they are looking for. Take SWTOR for example. They put in a ton of money to produce that game. It is probably making a profit by now but the everyong sees the game as a failure because they could have spent that money elsewhere and probably made a lot more money. I may be off on this example, I do not know their numbers. It was really just a hypothetical example.