The MMO Genre Needs to Shrink

MMO Population Shrinking

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.


  • Still very hopeful for Camelot Unchained. I need to start looking for a community for that game. Mid Lance forever!

  • I still have plenty of fun in current MMOs, they just all get to the same “whats the point” line of thinking WAY too fast.

    Back in the glory days of ffxi/wow for me the point was, it took forever to do things, so it just was plain “fun” to come home log in and play with friends and try and accomplish things.

    Heck I remember countless times starting an alt in Wow and being excited to run to undercity/stormwind just to train a new weapon so i could use 2h swords.

    Or even spend an entire afternoon looking for a certain hunter pet just because you could stand out.

    Now a days you come home and “accomplish” what would take months back in 2004-2005 on a saturday afternoon.

  • It does feel like there are too many games for the player base to support them all.

    But are there really that many being released, compared to back in the day?

    Seems to me that most of the proliferation comes from awful cookie-cutter Asian F2P garbage than nobody plays anyway, combined with a real doggedness when it comes to old games refusing to die.

  • Agree with your point about fun. And possibly your point about niche. I’m still debating in my head what’s causing the not fun part. Would fewer people making games make them more fun? Eh. In not sure. Something else seems wrong in Camelot.

    And speaking of Camelot, maybe I’ve just been burned too many times but I don’t know…

  • @Werit: That’s what we need to see. The perception needs to be that “AAA” mmos aren’t worth it. That way the companies who would make “AAA” games will go somewhere else and we can get back to how this genre started. Sadly, the talented devs do not get the attention they need to succeed. A smaller pool would help.

    @Ald: Yep, it does. It’s slowly turning that way. Whether or not we make it back may still be up in the air, but I think the sooner things begin to die down after this decade long surge the better.

    @Jadawin: I’m hopeful as well and a backer. I’m skeptical of the RVR only play, but I think there is potential for fun if CSE manages to make a unique game. If we get a battleground simulator, well, we have that already.

    @Table: To me that’s what robs me of the fun. If I can see that point a day or two after logging in then I’m already anticipating being bored. If I anticipate being bored then I figure why bother.

    @Carson: I allude to the fact that things are slowing down and the genre is finally shrinking. The “MMO industry” (or those who lumped themselves in with it) is finally realizing there can be more money elsewhere, and the slowdown we’re seeing is a result of reorganization. The biggest offenders of cookie-cutting in 2015 are definitely the Asian games.

    @Baa Baa Black Sheep: The ‘no fun’ part is stemming from playing the same game over and over and having little or no innovation. There are way too many players and far too many good games and developers to make them.

    @NebulaX: Mark is always an enjoyable read. Unfortunately he updates so infrequently. I think prior to his latest post he might have last written about their Oz game.

  • @Keen Thats my feelings 100%. The game itself is fun, but if I can see the wall at the end of the tunnel. I just stop there.

    Back in the glory days it was just a long tunnel with no end in sight.