Massively Overthinking: MMO predictions for 2016
Now that we've all had a good laugh at the things we got wrong and marveled at the things we got right in last year's predictions, it's time to issue our MMO genre predictions for 2016. Massively Overthinking will even be joined by some Patreon contributors for this edition!
Let's do this.
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): The downward trend in global MMO subscriptions will continue throughout 2016, with World of Warcraft getting a spike when Legion is released but falling down to below 4 million subs. EVE Online's subscriber numbers will naturally track with this trend, but I predict that daily peak logins will actually rise in 2016 following the Citadel expansion and we'll get some more awesome sandboxy news stories out of it. With global subs decreasing, I think we'll see some more big crowdfunding-style innovations in MMO business models throughout the genre in 2016 with schemes similar to Dota 2's TI5 Compendium or the creative rewards in Path of Exile's founder's packs.
I think we'll see some big movements in e-sports, with more sports channels picking up coverage of major MOBA tournaments and more official e-sports organisations and academies popping up. There'll be intense competition in the competitive team-based shooter market as a lot of very similar games like Overwatch, Gigantic, Paragon, Battleborne, Paladins, Wildfire, Battlecry, and Lawbreakers, start to release and try to find their feet. Some will attempt to capitalise on the idea of being a MOBA-shooter hybrid, some will focus on e-sports and competitive gameplay, some won't release in 2016, and some will end up as smaller casual shooters that we all forget about by 2017. There simply isn't enough capacity in the market for all of these games to thrive at the same time, so I would predict that the games that throw money at e-sports will survive and those that don't will quietly disappear.
Finally, I know I predict this every year, but Star Citizen's crowdfunding will finally dry up once it's past the 100 million mark. Pledges have slowed down dramatically throughout this past year and were given the final push to 100m by a combination of factors including the Alpha 2.0 reveals at CitizenCon, the Derek Smart drama, and a series of aggressive sales and marketing pushes. People also have a strong psychological attraction to round numbers, so there's been a lot of organic movement within the community to help it hit the 100 million mark and we won't see that same fervor in the future. If we go by the current development schedule, I would expect passive organic growth will push it to 105 million by launch, and with aggressive enough marketing it could top out at 120-125 million, but that's just an educated guess. On the development side, I predict that Star Citizen will see slow but steady progress throughout the year and the sky will not fall on us.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I think World of Warcraft will see another huge boost in subs when Legion launches in, let's say, September, but we won't know about it because Blizzard isn't talking about that anymore, ahem. It'll lose almost all of them within six months. That's just how it goes now.
Star Wars: The Old Republic will double in size by summer thanks to the movies. Expect a tie-in expansion. (Hey, Star Wars Galaxies shoehorned in Mustafar. It'll happen.) TERA, Path of Exile, and Marvel Heroes will continue to rake in absurd piles of money and everyone will continue to not notice. WildStar won't. Lost Ark will be the surprise import hit of the year.
Something big will happen for Turbine. Either it gets a new game or it loses one. I have a bad feeling about it on the whole. Trion will announce two more pseudo-MMOs, one an import and one home-brewed. Final Fantasy XIV will get another expansion. Guild Wars 2 won't, but it'll get plenty of hefty patches as it tries to reclaim all the loyalists it alienated in 2015. Crowfall and Camelot Unchained will go neck-and-neck trying to maintain their hold on the PvP and RvR crowds; meanwhile, Lord British will calmly launch Shroud of the Avatar and mop up the roleplayers and PvEers, and Revival will continue to mystify everyone.
Multiplayer sandboxes like ARK and OARPGs like Marvel Heroes will continue to pull attention from the MMORPG market. At least 10 more MOBAs, MMOCTGs, and online shooters will be belatedly released and fail to gain any traction whatsoever. VR will continue to earn skepticism rather than consumer dollars. Destiny will finally get a PC port. The Division will continue to not launch.
Daybreak will announce that it's starting EverQuest Next from scratch. Again. OK, just kidding. I actually think we'll get a ton of EverQuest Next info next year, and it's a pity they'll have scared everyone half to death in the meantime.
On the whole, I see 2016 as another recovery year like 2015. It's not going to get a ton of traditional 2005-era themeparks. The games that exist will buff up or wither, and the new games are blending genres.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): World of Warcraft: Legion launches in July of 2016. While its systems are praised and the leveling game is strong, the endgame model undergoes some hasty revisions in the wake of negative feedback, with challenge mode dungeons becoming queueable and more token-based rewards moving in. There's no indication that the content droughts are going anywhere, however, and by the end of the year people are already steeling themselves for another year without any content.
Final Fantasy XIV will announce its second expansion near the end of the year after more regular and well-received updates, continuing to chart more or less the same course while quietly gathering momentum. A major push to improve the existing housing system will be one of the big centerpieces around the middle of the year, allowing players more freedom to purchase a house compared to the existing limitations. The game begins to market more aggressively as the year goes on as well.
Guild Wars 2 stumbles on the post Heart of Thorns update, with players clamoring not for the first time that the game is lacking in much to do once you're done with the core experience. Little is done with raiding as a concept, and by the time the game announces its next big content update they seem to have been quietly dropped.
Star Wars: The Old Republic continues along its new story course before introducing another expansion mid-year that focuses far more heavily on allowing players to form teams of two for challenging multi-stage content. It also diversifies its reward structure to encourage playing with another player as your companion.
WildStar has a hard time capitalizing on its popularity post-business conversion, but it does continue to bring out updates and there are rumors of a free-to-play expansion for the game. Star Trek Online starts discussing another expansion of its own, bringing in parts of the Gamma Quadrant into the game. The Elder Scrolls Online announces its first buy-to-play expansion. Elite: Dangerous continues to quietly acquire the features that Star Citizen promises without half of the fanfare, while the long wait for Star Citizen in a playable and consistent form begins to finally dampen enthusiasm. The Repopulation has to do some major work to turn itself around after its engine woes persist. Blade & Soul launches a bit modestly, but also does well enough that its future on these shores is relatively assured.
Meanwhile, this is a year of stuff to be excited about. Two new MMOs are announced, big titles like Crowfall move into more large-scale testing, and existing games try to break out of ruts. If 2015 was a year of recovery, 2016 is one in which we're all looking to tomorrow and feeling excited.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Let's engage in some serious wishful thinking and bizarre speculation, shall we? Funcom will announce that Anarchy Online 2 is in the works to mollify the three commenters we have always begging for it (plus, it'd be pretty cool). Daybreak will finally get its act together, shore up Landmark, expand H1Z1's survival mode, and start talking about EQ Next again. Trion Worlds will announce that it's bringing back one formerly dead MMO to life -- but which one will be a total surprise! Blizzard will make money and World of Warcraft's subscriber count will end the year at 7 million. Cryptic will announce its new game that's been in development, which will dote on a popular IP and release in early 2017. RSI will delay Star Citizen several times, sending the fanbase into a tizzy. ArenaNet will announce the second expansion for Guild Wars 2 called "We're nuking Cantha so no one can ever go there ever again, just because you wouldn't stop nagging us." BioWare's final chapter in the new SWTOR storyline will hold a shocking revelation and jump us forward in time so that players will be right alongside the new movies.
Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): My predictions are clearly just wishful thinking, and I know these things have a high probability of never coming true. When it comes to MMOs, I'm not ready to be a realist. I am still holding out hope for the genre because it's really the only genre of game that I thoroughly enjoy anymore. I like the occasional RPG, but they don't hold my attention like they used to. So my first prediction for next year is a hopeful one: We will see an unexpected resurgence in the MMO genre.
The genre is primed for a revival, and leading that charge will be Star Citizen. The funny thing about my prediction about Star Citizen doing well is that I'm likely not going to play the game. I believe that Star Citizen will probably have a huge boom. I don't think it will launch like a triple A single player game or even the console launch of Elder Scrolls Online, but it's already exceeded expectations. All it has to do now is meet expectations to be successful. By the end of the year, it will have settled into a niche very similar to that of EVE Online: a hugely loyal playerbase that only plays that one game because it holds everything they've ever wanted in an online game.
Lastly, I believe that Daybreak is about to surprise us. I believe the company has been healing. It’s been sitting back, waiting for the air to clear. Sometime next year, we will hear about a major shake up in its suite of games, and people are going to believe that the company has its game-face back on.
My last prediction is that everything that I said will happen in complete reverse. I view 2016 as the make-it-or-break-it year for MMOs, and despite other companies having successful MMOs, I believe those two companies hold the keys for the future of the genre.
One last negative prediction: World of Warcraft’s Legion will fall flat and the game will continue to bleed subscriptions.
Matt Daniel (@Matt_DanielMVOP): I'm really terrible at following trends and making predictions about them, so I'm really just gonna be making stuff up. So here we go: I think a whole lot of MMO Kickstarters are going to promise awesome things then run out of money about a quarter of the way through development and ultimately become vaporware. I also predict that I will get my hopes way too high for most of those games and be crestfallen when they inevitably fail. Also, I probably will still remain unable to just pick a damn game and stick with it for a change. So more of the same is what I'm saying, basically.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I'm not one for predictions. I'm more of a take-life-as-it-comes kind of person -- and then see the positive in it, of course! And if there's one thing that 2015 has demonstrated it's that some things come out of left field and totally surprise you no matter how much thought you put into the future's possibilities. But Bree wouldn't let me have any Christmas cookies until I yanked out my +3 crystal orb of possible future seeing and gave a report. So here goes!
In 2016 I see games. Lots of games. MMOs and ARPGs and WTHs will be spawning like invading alien pod critters taking over the planet. Well, at least our free time. With so many games out there, I see folks having to hire personal assistants to keep track of their gaming schedules and commitments. New software will also be Kickstarted to facilitate the collection and prioritization of raid times, special in-game events, guild meetings, PvP ambushes, questing follow-through, resource gathering expeditions, and daily log in rewards. These assistants will be making the big bucks keeping folks on a tight schedule to make the most of everything... and just plain make it to things! (Remembering all your passwords will be an extra charge. Reminders to eat can be negotiated on a per diem basis, but food and beverage delivery services, as well as I.V. caffeine hook ups, are only available as the highest premium add-on to a monthly subscription package. Any third-party communication with family to let them know you are alive, to remind kids to do their homework, or to tell your S.O. "just five more minutes..." will be paid per interaction. Like I said: This new career path will be the way to riches!)
I see the whole debate over what constitutes Massive in that first M of MMO finally resolving. From 2016 on out the M will stand for Many. That's right -- Many Multiplayer Online. Or Maybe Multiplayer Online? It doesn't matter the number of players really, because the industry will embrace the private shard idea of games and anything that will allow you and at least a few friends to play together will be all the MMO you need. In fact, it might as well just be My Multiplayer Online! Sing it with me! "My little Multiplayer, my little multiplayer, what is gaming all about..." Great, now I want a pony.
I also see Dragons There will be dragons. Mark my words, there will be dragons. A-yup. Dragons. And maybe dinosaurs in tutus.
Patreon donor Archebius: In terms of general industry trends, a lot hinges on The Division. If it performs well, then we’ll start to see a broader group of AAA games pushing for the experience that Destiny and The Division represent: KMMO, or Kinda Massively Multiplayer Online. We’ll probably see a fantasy KMMO get announced. More games will focus on small-team tactics, and pin it on like multiplayer used to be. If it fails, then most of the major multiplayer development will go towards trying to catch lightning in a bottle with the next Hearthstone or LoL.
New MMO development will largely be dominated by indie studios pursuing ever more fragmenting divisions in the community. New Kickstarters will be launched for the hardest of the hardcore. Some will be new MUDs for those who remember the good old days before graphics; others will be dedicated to gankers, with power level entirely dependent on time invested. It will have a minimal UI, with most of the budget going towards humiliating emotes.
The Neutral: Guild Wars 2 will putt along, never really capturing the e-sports market that they’re seeking. No new expansion will be announced, just a few content patches. EVE will hold steady with their quality-of-life improvements; CCP will give more details on its VR game and start building hype. ARK will reveal that the entire game world is actually built on the back of a huge dinosaur; if you manage to tame it, you can use it to attack other servers.
The Bad: Black Desert, stripped of several unique features, and despite being a decent game, will fail to capture the hype it generated. Chronicles of Elyria will continue to weird people out with its Pay-2-Reincarnate system, despite being a promising game. Destiny, without much new content, will hemorrhage players until Destiny 2 is announced later this year. Everquest Next won’t be canceled, but without much new information and with fierce competition, it will fail to stir much interest. LOTRO will rush to get to Mordor before its playerbase evaporates, then go into maintenance mode until a Ringwraith puts a Morgul Blade through its server racks.
The Good: 2016 will be a building year. Star Citizen will move steadily, if slowly, towards being what they promised. Some features will be scaled back due to technical and expense issues, which certain quarters will cry about, but SC will generate enough goodwill just by not being vaporware that no one will really care. Crowfall will take shape, alienating some, attracting others, but proving that you can make an innovative MMO on a budget. Camelot Unchained will continue to develop promisingly. The community will start holding its collective breath because it’s up to three or four crowdfunded games and a couple imports to prove the viability of new MMO development.