Massively Overthinking: Our 2017 MMORPG predictions
With 2016 drawing to a close and 2017 rushing up to meet us, the Massively OP team has regrouped for another round of bold and goofy predictions for the year ahead. What's in store for the MMO genre next year? Here's what we think.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Well, I'm pretty certain this site will only be mentioning a Turbine-that-was except for referencing how it changed. Daybreak will continue to piss off fans of what was SOE as the EverQuest IP slowly follows Next's fate. H1Z1, will either of you survive the year? I'll be optimistic and say "Yes," though I won't be surprised if I end up eating my shoe for non-survival purposes.
Crowfall will start allowing more people hands on with it, but something tells me the soft launch will be very, very soft. It will probably remain a rather niche product but will have design choices other game media applaud out seeming uniqueness while MMO critics will love the return or re-imagining of features we miss. Worlds Adrift may capture everyone's imagination, and its art will probably give it an edge on attracting more casual gamers, but Killers eager to exploit the game's physics may drive off a lot of early players, as the MMO genre has become more about catering to single player action and casual gameplay, not creating societies in a virtual world.
Chronicles of Elyria's nobility titles may have given some players motivation to create and manage virtual societies, but the early focus on old school communities and projects like their MUD will probably delay the actual game. What is released this year will probably cater to a much older crowd, but I'm not sure if it'll be innovative enough to hold their attention. Speaking as one of those old MMO vets, I love a lot of the game's ideas, but am struggling with making enough play time, and I'm probably on the younger end of that scale, unmarried, and without kids. Like Wildstar before it, the CoE team may realize that what people say they want isn't always what people will actually enjoy.
Pokemon GO will get Generation 2 and possibly legendaries/events like the Mewtwo one in the original preview. Niantic will find it causes more problems than they anticipated, but they're also working on a larger scale than they did with their original IP, Ingress. I don't know if battles or trading will make it in since most people have shown interest in collecting and keeping gyms, so events that involve a little battling and rare Pokemon seem the safest bet, even if it threatens to create mass foot traffic situations.
VR will be popping up more, but true innovation will be few and far between, not just in general, but for this genre. Most of it will be separated from the actual MMO space, like character viewers, single player experiences, or lobby games. If we're lucky, first person POV for action based games may occur, or at least be planned for (VR ESO options?).
The genre as a whole will continue to slow down in its core them of virtual worlds and socialization while expanding in terms of casual, multiplayer action. There's a reason we cover games like Overwatch, League of Legends, and No Man's Sky. We'll get more MMO-like games like Sea of Thieves, with smaller, tighter action and guided activities that involve socializing. This will continue to frustrate guild leaders everywhere, but especially in newer guilds that didn't play a single game together for 5+ years. The "boring" parts of MMOs that drove us to seek fellow humans to make them more interesting are being replaced with less grindy, more interesting mechanics. However, we're losing the human touch, and beyond a few tactics like PoGO being in meat space, Ever, Jane's focus on RP/drama, or CoE attaching money to life and liberty, we'll continue to march towards smaller worlds with less options, seeking to scratch certain gaming itches with different games rather than different aspects of a single game. Except for Star Citizen that will release with a satisfying space sim but bare bones social space and an FPS aspect.
Brendan Drain (@nyphur): I always love this one, every year we seem to get a few things spot on and it's always interesting to speculate on where the market is headed. I won't predict that Star Citizen's pre-launch crowdfunding and pre-sales will dry up this year as I've been consistently proven wrong on that front, but knowing my luck this will be the year that it actually happens. I could definitely see free-to-play as a business model dropping off substantially in popularity and usage in 2017. People seem to be more accepting of subscription and buy-to-play games with cosmetic/convenience microtransactions lately, and true free-to-play games have had to resort to some really shady business practices to compete. Both EVE Online and World of Warcraft will maintain steady playerbases throughout the year, with EVE floating between 45,000 and 50,000 peak concurrent users.
The law in at least a few more countries will finally start catching up with gambling systems in video games. It'll probably start with age ratings for games with loot boxes and other gambling mechanics to help prevent minors being exposed to gambling, and possibly a clamp down on third party casino-style sites that use game items and currency. Valve will be caught up in the legal tug of war due to the official marketplace for Dota 2 and CS:GO items, and will announce changes to make its games gambling-friendly. In e-sports, The International's prize pool will drop for the first time in several years while Overwatch's competitive scene will explode and it'll get its first million dollar tournament.
On the media side, streamers and other internet personalities will grow in influence throughout 2017 and become a more potent driver of game sales while the traditional games media will lose influence. Gaming websites will either start to focus on individual personalities and rely on Patreon-type business models or double down on the clickbait and reactionary "news" designed to provoke an emotive response after half a headline. Gamers will continue to ignore undisclosed conflicts of interest and obvious paid content placement in streams, videos and written articles because they only actually care about ethics in journalism when it's a hammer they can use to bash someone's head in. One of the major gaming websites may even close its doors this year.
I think World of Warcraft's numbers are already declining sharply and will further decline after Argus, when I fully expect WoW to go dormant once again. But! I'll be bold and say that I think Blizzard will announce both the next expansion and pristine servers at BlizzCon -- in fact, I wouldn't be shocked if pristine servers come out in 2017 as a way to stop the whining about the third major drought in a row. Oh people will still hate them, but they'll exist.
Guild Wars 2 will announce the expansion it's working on: Tears of Elona, which'll take us back to the Crystal Desert and be stuffed full of nostalgia.
SWTOR will continue to make money because Star Wars, but MMORPG vets won't be fooled.
LOTRO will see a nice resurgence of interest thanks to the new studio support. Standing Stone will do just fine, at least in 2017.
It was a miss last year, so I'll try again: Trion will announce two new MMOs, one an import and one in-house.
The Elder Scrolls Online will announce a major expansion pack post-housing update, far above the scale of DLC. I love the Morrowind rumors, so I'll throw in with them.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): World of Warcraft's updates do well through the first half of the year, but by August we're finished up with the patches... and surprise, there's another big content gap looming all over again, even though we do know the name of the next expansion. It's back to focusing more on the Horde/Alliance conflict again, but there are also heavy internal conflicts for both factions, so it's not as simple as "the Warchief is the villain." Meanwhile, Final Fantasy XIV launches its second expansion in June to more positive reviews, with the new jobs in particular earning widespread praise; there are some people who wonder, however, how long the game can maintain launching expansions that keep all of the same core mechanics in place. Guild Wars 2's next expansion gets a full reveal and promises of almost nothing that was in Heart of Thorns.
The Elder Scrolls Online's housing launches with some nasty technical problems at first, but that gets polished off by mid-year and doesn't impact the game's next major updates, which focus much more on fleshing out the world and systems therein. Rather than introducing new systems like crime and the like, these installments are much more focused upon storytelling and new regions of the map. Star Trek Online also launches its next expansion in the summer, with this one bringing another widespread overhaul to game mechanics like the Delta Rising level buff. Unfortunately, it doesn't really capitalize heavily on the new television series, which prompts something of a widening gap between the franchise faithful and the game itself.
Under Standing Stone's management, Lord of the Rings Online gets plenty of development while Dungeons & Dragons Online languishes badly. Black Desert Online struggles to keep up with the pace it set in 2016 for updates, and starts rolling out some more conservative PvP options that infuriate die-hard PvP fans while making the game more accessible to a larger base; it ends out the year in a good place and with a stable playerbase. Final Fantasy XI's mobile version seems to enter a perpetual development hell. Blade & Soul continues to carve out its own niche, while WildStar flounders and eventually announces a shutdown by the end of the year.
Daybreak finally launches H1Z1 to poor reception, resulting in talk of shutdowns almost as soon as it's out of the stating gate among the community. EVE Online sees some falloff after the free-to-play shift, resulting in more options for free players around the middle of the year; the game doesn't struggle to keep the attention of its fans, but shifting alliances begin to wear down even the faithful. Overwatch gets a dedicated PvE Horde-style mode that proves enormously popular. RuneScape continues to do surprisingly well for itself despite the fact that literally everyone (including me) forgets that it exists on a regular basis.
Star Citizen launches Star Marine, but little more than iterative improvements on existing content through 2017; the fans remain fans, but behind-the-scenes issues start to come more into the foreground as the year wears on. Chronicles of Elyria fails to deliver much of anything. Crowfall's initial launch earns mixed reception, but patches do journeyman work on improving reception and fixing issues. Camelot Unchained launches a newsletter long enough to kill an entire redwood if printed, and the game moves into beta and does well for itself in its clearly defined niche.
We get at least two more pieces of unexpected and alarming news by the end of the year, but we also get our first looks at New World and Ashes of Creation, and both look pretty darn good. We also hear about a couple of new titles in the works that capture interest. 2017, as a whole, starts building momentum back in a positive direction, and while some old standbys have fallen by the wayside like Daybreak and Turbine, the landscape of MMOs feels pretty healthy by the time December rolls back around.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): With the change to Standing Stone, LOTRO and DDO's development will pick up pace and communication about both titles will increase. LOTRO's expansion will briefly but brightly return the game to the spotlight while DDO's expansion will be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it event.
WildStar will survive to see the end of 2017. It won't be doing great, but it will hang on there.
We'll start to see the collapse of interest in survival sandboxes with the over-saturation of the market. Conan Exiles will do all right, but past that there won't be many other success stories.
The failure of Hero's Song will unfortunately end up closing down John Smedley's studio and send the former MMO exec into another period of self-induced exile.
One formerly shut down and somewhat popular MMO will return under new management. There will also be an announcement of a new major IP-based MMORPG (Star Wars, perhaps?).
Star Wars The Old Republic will relent on the command XP restrictions and mildly open up the game once more to the F2P crowd. The next expansion will return to a more open world experience and center around the Mandalorians.
Guild Wars 2 will announce its newest expansion, Shards of the Crystal Desert, along with a full class revamp and a more aggressive cash shop model.
Despite fears to the contrary, World of Warcraft will keep its patch cadence going for most of the year without a significant drought.
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood won't be the huge hit that Square-Enix is hoping for, but it'll do decently enough to keep the whole train rolling. Red Mages will cover the land.
Daybreak will actually announce a new EverQuest-related project. It won't be EverQuest Next, of course, but fans will be happy to get something rather than nothing.
We still won't have firm release dates for Star Citizen by December 31, 2017.
Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): I am pretty terrible at predictions because I like to remain positive. I like to think that the MMO genre is going places and its audience rewards innovation. But the opposite is actually true. The biggest game this year wasn’t even really an MMO, but we cover it because there is a lot of audience crossover with Overwatch. And if we are completely honest about the game, it’s just a reskin of Team Fortress 2 down to the strong character archetypes. Even the most successful MMORPG expansion this year, World of Warcraft’s Legion, hardly does anything new. And that makes me just a little sad.
Although I want to say that a game like Crowfall will launch to amazing numbers and players will flock to its unique gameplay and art style, but the truth is that I think it will develop a small following of players who really enjoy what it has to offer, but most of the community will quit after the first month of launch. It will be exactly the same for Star Citizen and the other indie-like games that have met their crowdfunding goals.
What I want to happen is for people to get out from under the nose of negativity and see the great little games like Trove, RIFT, and Atlas Reactor that Trion is making. I want Daybreak to get back to being a place of taking risks with its game design and making immersive worlds like it used to. I would like for BioWare to stop pretending that it’s not making an MMO with Star Wars: The Old Republic and hit on the other pillars of MMORPG design like exploration and socialization. The success of Rogue One should prove that not everyone wants to be a Jedi flashing his lightsaber.
However, I predict that next year my wishes will fall flat. Corporations need to do something that is guaranteed to make money because their real audience is the shareholders. And indie devs will always be so niche that it will not appeal to a mass audience. But I’ve been wrong in the past. Maybe -- hopefully -- I will be wrong about 2017, too.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): By now I think we all know I am not the biggest fan of making predictions. I prefer to be surprised as life and stuff happens. And I can assure you that stuff will happen! But making predictions is a time-honored tradition/punishment here at MOP, so I will give it my best go. I predict things will happen in 2017. And some things won't happen. More specifically, there will be a mega totally-out-of-nowhere announcement that makes everyone's jaw drop open. I can't tell you what it is or it wouldn't be such an astonishing surprise, now would it? It might be studio-related, as we know things come in threes, and we've already had two surprises. Oddly, both involve Daybreak.
I also predict that the trend of focusing on shards and player-run servers will continue. Personal settings will trump mega servers; players want to congregate in like-minded smaller communities. This is basically the new form of guilds.
Patron Archebius: Well, I looked back through my predictions last year, and I was pretty wide of the mark. And this year I got married, switched jobs, got a couple new nieces, worked on a novel, and helped my brother with a board game, so that means this year's predictions will be even worse by comparison. But hey, I'll give it a shot. Let me find a curve that goes on forever, and I'll look at myself in the future.
2017 will not be a year that sets any big new trends. Kickstarter is in a holding pattern, waiting to see how Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Dual Universe, and others manage. The good news is that none of the big ones will fail. Crowfall and Camelot Unchained, which have always been very focused in scope, will continue to develop - but their target audience will probably wander a little bit until they get closer to launch. Star Citizen will roll out pretty impressive features, but I continue to believe that some ideas will be scaled back, or at the very least will not be as fully realized as many are hoping. The usual factions will emerge - defenders, haters, and people who just want a decent space sim and don't care one way or the other. Some Kickstarters will undoubtedly show signs of trouble, as is typical of game development, but since people have already spent money there will be demands for action and increased regulation.
AAA development will be largely limited to New World. More information will start trickling out, especially in the second half of the year. It will be neat, but not groundbreaking enough to convince other big companies to throw their hats back in the MMO ring. It may help generate indie interest in Amazon's software development services, however. A few more imports will arrive, make a big splash, generate cash shop controversy, and continue to find a core group of players that like it. All in all, a quiet year for new MMOs.
Not counting kickstarted games, I expect there to be more closures than new game announcements.
The Division was a middling success; last year, I predicted it would kick off a new genre of Kinda Massively Multiplayer Online games, but that doesn't seem likely. However, there has been much success around small-team tactics games. My most hopeful prediction for 2017 is that someone will take the best parts of Destiny, the best parts of Overwatch, and the best parts of MMOs, and make a persistent game universe that is still heavily centered around short gameplay loops, cooperation, and competition. What would this look like? Heck if I know, but watch for it.
Guild Wars 2 will finally stop chasing the e-sports market, but with a lot of momentum lost, will struggle to piece things back together. If they make another expansion, it will have the future of the game riding on it. World of Warcraft, with people back in its corner, will invite controversy by continuing to frown on private servers. Elder Scrolls Online will make up for the lockbox controversy by announcing new classes. Black Desert will slow down a bit, but retain a good group of players.
All in all, it will be a rest year - but one that will, in its own undramatic way, help shape the future of MMOs for years to come.