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There’s No Shift Back to Old School MMORPGs

I had a friend ask me what I thought about the MMO industry going back to the old school style of games. Then I saw this question from the Pantheon twitter account. What do you think about the industry’s recent shift back to older school games and vanilla re-launches/servers?

MMO industry going back to old school style of games?

Industry shifting back to old school games and re-launches?

I’m not living in the same world, I guess.

The MMO industry has not shifted anywhere. In fact, the MMO “industry” is quickly losing its “industry” status altogether. The MMO genre has been dead for several years now, with a handful of strong titles still living on to keep that flame from going out.

Some of those stalwarts have released vanilla servers, but that’s not new. EverQuest has released plenty of throwback servers over the years. Some of the nearly-dead or dying games throw back to the old days for cash grabs like LotRO and Rift. Some companies rekindle the past because there’s a billion dollars sitting on the table for something the fans want — that, of course, could only be WoW.

Most of the games out there that could truly shift back to the “old school” ways have changed ownership too many times or simply don’t have the players to even make the news if they did — or they’ve done it 10x already to no industry-touching effect.

Sorry, but I don’t agree with some of the tweeterbirds that this any sort of response to Pantheon or Camelot Unchained, or any big desire for the industry to go back to any bygone era. Those are niche games for niche audiences, and not creating any sort of vanilla-inducing fear in the gazillion lb gorilla.

Vanilla / Progression / Throwback servers are cool. I enjoy a healthy dose of nostalgia, and in some cases I even prefer those eras over modern eras entirely; EQ, UO, and SWG being ones I preferred, and WoW definitely not.

I do not believe that they are indicative of anything beyond satisfying their existing players.

The industry, if it is ever going to shift anywhere again, will do so in new directions where it learns to embrace what worked in the past and present to evolve into something new. Individual games not representative of the industry will continue to release older versions of themselves and satiate our desires for various niches — which are still wonderful, enjoyable experiences.

  • Jeromai says:

    If anything, it smacks of an attempt to combat natural player attrition over time by playing on nostalgia and offering a ‘reset’ button, without actually having to make new content at an unsustainable pace.

    That is, attempting to keep their existing players entertained, rather than moving on to greener pastures when bored and running the very real risk of never bothering to return once distracted elsewhere.

    • Keen says:

      Exactly. Every MMO is a niche now — even if it’s a WoW’s playerbase. Compared to Fortnite or other genres, WoW truly is a niche.

      Anything they can do to keep the attention of their players is something they -must- do.

  • I think you’re missing both a genre and a generational shift. Survival games, which certainly are a vibrant and viable genre, reflect the significant change of direction from the decade folowing WoW’s launch and the subsequent move away from subscriptions that arose from every other game company’s inability to retain customers in the face of the WoW juggernaut.

    WoW moved the whole MMO “industry” towards a much more solo-friendly, casual, drop-in model, where commitment either in time or money was delayed as long as possible. Survival games, although they haven’t, by and large, affected the trend towards F2P payment models, have hugely changed the expectations of players in terms of difficulty. As in, players now expect to have to do a lot of things for themselves, at considerable risk of losing progress, and to have to work at progression rather than have it spooned out to them.

    That’s a change of mindset that feeds back into an interest in and acceptance of the kind of less-forgiving mechanics and slower progression common to older MMORPGs. It doesn’t necessarily mean those new players are interested in revisiting old-school MMOs, with their aging graphics and frustrating legacy systems, but it does represent a new willingness to be inconvenienced.

    How long it will last is another matter. MMORPGs didn’t become easier because developers got soft; the games softened because players demanded an easier ride and demonstrated their willingness to go where the leveling was faster and the gear easier to get. These things tend to be cyclical. Whether Pantheon can time its launch to surf the peak of the wave or whether it will wipe out as the suf hits the sand is yet to be determined.

    I think they need to get on with it. If they don’t at least hit Early Access by 2020 I suspect they might be too late and the wheel will have started to turn against them. They do, though, stil have the niche you and I inhabit to rely on, although we’re all getting older…

    • Keen says:

      If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying WoW shifted the mindset of the industry toward a different type of genre — one that isn’t MMORPGs. I don’t think I missed that at all. I think that’s what I”m alluding to when I say that the MMO industry is hardly an industry at all anymore. The gaming industry as a whole moved away from MMOs to a more widely-accepted and wanted type of game.

      I completely agree.

  • bartillo says:

    Not sure how you can say this? Old school MMOS are back! We have camelot unchained, panetheon, wow classic, etc..
    I dont see any wow cloans being made? only oldschool sandbox mmos.

    And since Old School Runescape launched on mobile its seen double the amount of active players at a time.

    The MMORPG genre is about to blow up and bring us back!

  • Yotor says:

    MMOs as we knew them are dead. The next big thing will continue to be online services. Games like fortnight, CoD, Assassin’s Creed, GTA… ect have all moved to these models. WoW was lightning in a bottle, right place right time. Next truly MMO we will get won’t be anything we expect now, and it won’t be big for atleast 10-15 years. VR will happen it’s only a matter of time.

    • Keen says:

      I do not have my money on VR in this space, but I agree that we’re a significant amount of time away from the next lightning in a bottle. Perhaps 10 years.

  • diltz says:

    These new “old school” games are fighting over an ever shrinking niche market. maybe 1 of them will survive if it cannibalizes all the others, but if this niche is what you’re calling the “MMO industry” then yes, that industry is dead, actually it was barely alive to begin with.

    If you’re calling WoW and the playerbase that it created and still commands, if you call that the “MMO industry” then that industry is definitely still alive and well. It just hasn’t had any developers capitalize on what made WOW great originally. it’s sad that vanilla wow 14 years later is still a better MMO than all the wow “clones” that have followed it. But this industry is definitely still large enough and strong enough to be considered alive, and worthwhile to keep developing games for, it’s just that everyone that has tried has screwed it up.

    You could literally take vanilla WoW, upgrade the graphics, make a few design tweaks and add a few features, flesh out the world a bit better, add some more content, and it would be the best selling game in this space and probably overtake modern WoW… it still baffles me how no other company has been able to figure this out. they all screw it up. they all ignore the things that should be changed, and then change the things that should be left the same.

    • Keen says:

      If the MMORPG industry is still to be considered an industry and not just a large group of players surviving in one game, then I think I would personally consider that “dormant” for the industry.

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