Massively Overthinking: Is the MMORPG genre taking a much-needed breather?
Massively OP donor and commenter Tibi sent this epic question to our podcast and kindly allowed me to share it here instead for maximum impact! Tibi wants us to consider the state of the genre and consider that maybe we're taking a much-needed breather from the hectic chaos of a few years ago.
"Much has been said and written about the decline and even death of western AAA MMOs, but assuming that New World and future games end up coming out, I am actually happy with this quiet period. It can give already launched games the time to mature and grow into what was originally promised. I doubt that if we were still getting the onslaught of games from a few years back, Elder Scrolls Online could have thrived the way it does today or that The Secret World could have kept its smaller but constant playerbase. There are so many good games out there and it's great to see them able to keep the lights on and welcome new players who would otherwise have gone chasing the new shiny and miss out. What do you think?"
I posed Tibi's question to the Massively team for this week's Overthinking, but they were all too busy playing quiet MMOs! Just kidding. Batter up!
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I'm all for the industry slowing down and actually building up, not out. I love innovation, but most of the new AAA MMOs we see feel like too little too late. ESO is actually a good example, as I know I should have jumped in and enjoyed it more but got distracted by other games. The problem is that the games weren't even from our genre. MMOs are virtual worlds, and they need time to grow, but I feel a lot of developers (or, more likely, their publishers) rush to get it out and hope people will stick with the game long enough. They won't. You get one launch, even if you space it out into paid alpha/beta, early access, open beta (if a company does that at all), and then release, because to consumers, it's all the same: they can pay to play. A slow down is just what we need.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I'm of two minds on the topic. As a player, I'm always content to just be -- I love the periods when we don't have too much coming that will disrupt the genre, when we can really get into a groove of building up the content and communities of the existing top crop of games. And that's because as a player, I don't like the constant tug between games that my guild always feels. I have enough stress.
But as an observer of the genre and the editor of a publication that depends upon the potency and longevity of the genre, I am increasingly concerned about the long gaps between high-quality new MMORPGs. A truly healthy genre needs a combination of new, AAA MMORPGs and strong existing titles getting buffs along the way, all pouring money and effort and thrills into the existing community and convincing those beyond it to join in. The next generation of games is very thin -- it's that whole "unbundling" that people have been talking about for years and years, as virtual worlds split off into different subgenres that can't quite match the scale of MMORPGs. On our foreseeable horizon, we've been left with a handful of "temports," half-finished crowdfunds, and a scant handful of big titles on the way. So on that front? If we're taking a breather, I hope we catch our breath and get back on the track soon.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I think we're definitely in a lull period in terms of new games, but I also agree that it's given some older games more chance to rise and shine in the interim. One of the big problems with MMOs is that they don't work like most game releases, and many of them can stay relevant and popular for years; we've witnessed a huge influx of new games from around the time I started writing about this industry until a couple of years back, and while that's had several great games come out of it, it also meant that MMOs had no time to find their footing, improve, and learn lessons from early mistakes. That seems to be changing, and I think it's a good chance for games to spend more time investing.
In some cases, it also means a chance to break out of the mindset of MMO/expansion releases like single-player games; they have more longevity, there's no automatic "well, it's been a few months, everyone's going to leave." Re-evaluating subscription numbers in light of that is not a bad thing, and I think to some extent we are seeing a crash that follows the unexpected success of WoW... but we're seeing that crash as even WoW is unable to maintain the once-constant churn that sustained it. So numbers are getting smaller, but a lot of MMOs have shown once again that these smaller numbers work, and they provide a big long-term benefit instead of a quick hit-and-run operation. Expectations are being adjusted, yes, but they're becoming more realistic.
And hey, it gives some of us a chance to enjoy pointing out to people that the dream game they're looking for may already exist out there; they just don't realize it because they're thinking of launch versions.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Personally, I'd prefer more excitement over big upcoming titles, because I think the hype feedback loop helps generate excitement for all MMOs and give a better impression of a thriving, growing genre. As Tibi says, there's a perception -- whether real or not -- that MMOs as a whole are stagnant or in decline. "Quiet periods" don't generally help reverse that.
But I certainly agree that it can be helpful to have some space in which these already-launched games can grow into their own and find footing. Seeing MMOs mature over the years can be one of the most satisfying parts of being a fan of these games, and I'm always up for a good reason to come back to my favorite titles.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): To be honest, I really like this way of looking at it. As someone who delves in to check out as many of the new games as possible for OPTV, a large influx of games is actually really a pain! I can't hardly keep up with new stuff, and it leaves me no time to just settle in and enjoy those titles that I have taken a liking to.
Unfortunately, from my end it doesn't actually feel like there is a breather right now even if we aren't seeing an influx of the kinds of MMORPG virtual worlds I want to play because there are so many other styles of games cropping up. Just look at the survival titles that have shown up over the year or so. So yeah, I'd kind of like there to be a nice lull for a good half a year or more so I can just play and enjoy what is out there right now, and then lose myself in other new games after that.