Massively Overthinking: 2017’s MMORPG zeitgeist

This time last year, I polled the Massively OP writers for their opinions on which MMOs had had the best year, or half year, up to that point in 2016 — which games were the most influential and important specifically in that time period. I was pretty surprised at the spread of answers too. Since we’re nearing the midpoint of 2017, I thought we should renew that question and see whether anything’s changed. So as last time, I’m asking everyone to pick three games that represent the MMORPG zeitgeist, using whatever combination of criteria they wish – revenue, playerbase size, hype, anticipation, update cycle, and so forth. What should we be paying attention to? Which games are a sign of the times? And just who is dominating now in 2017?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): My main criteria is going to be relevance to the non-gaming world. The closing of Asheron’s Call was an absolutely huge moment for me this year, but one that even gaming media sometimes ignored. We don’t need MMOs to be World of Warcraft big, but I do think it’s in our own industry to have people ages 18-35 hear the term “MMO” and think “game” like they probably would if you said “RPG” or “FPS.” Being a niche genre is fine, as long as new blood keeps coming in.

So with that out of the way, I’m going to put Destiny 2 at the top of my list. I never played the first one, but the fact that it was very similar to MMOs but never on PC always struck me as odd. Apparently, Bungie agreed and got none other than Blizzard to help it out. Last year when I was still working in Japan, I wore some promo-shirts on my morning runs to school. Many of them were of games that at least had a Japanese following, if not Japanese language options (and I even joined a Japanese guild in one of those games), but the only one MOP covered that students recognized was Destiny. I’m not saying it’ll be the next World of Warcraft, but I am saying it’ll make people think about virtual worlds again.

While I keep hearing good things about Star Wars: The Old Republic’s updates, I feel like mainstream gamers are paying more attention to Elder Scrolls Online for no other reason than the word “Morrowind.” It’s one of the few MMOs I keep wishing I were playing still, and I’ve barely played the single player Elder Scrolls games. Nostalgia alone is getting people to pay attention to it, which brings me to my last choice:

Pokemon GoPOGO launched last year and continually bills itself as an MMO, even if I currently disagree with them. That being said, it’s looking like the one year anniversary season is when we’ll start seeing at least legendaries, if not the gym rework. I’m not betting that the game will suddenly add player guilds or even a chat system, but having the game signal people around you that something’s going down could make it feel more immersive, and with the kind of attention it got last summer, a big update could really make an impression on lapsed players who noticed the game was, well, absolutely nothing like it was advertised.

If we’re allowed honorable mentions, I’m going to put Crowfall on the list. I was talking to someone the other day about why I’m not into more permanent worlds these days (besides Pokemon Go), and a big one had to do with “snack size.” I really miss being able to sit down for a chunk of time knowing I’ll be uninterrupted, but I’ve had to go to the store, do online jury duty orientation, and juggle emails for E3’s rapidly closing scheduling availability, just while trying to organize some people in Injustice 2 to do a single boss battle during prime time. It’s a largely 1v1 game so far, so players aren’t used to working together. Having that in a snack-sized game could really be something. I’d love to be able to hop in-game with fellow gamers that understand the need for planning, log out at a raid site, and log in to do some damage (or just gather materials for crafters helping with a siege like in my Darkfall days).

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): A year ago, I picked The Elder Scrolls Online, and I’ll pick it again now. Few MMORPGs have undergone such massive and successful transformations after launch, with most of their changes for the better, and here we are with a new expansion to boot. It has its issues (most of which are also in line with the genre’s issues, like its business model), but it’s the best current implementation of a modern AAA MMORPG full stop.

The Secret World, on the other hand, is the dark side of the current zeitgeist. It, along with its maintenance-moded sister games, is emblematic of studios that are struggling to make older MMOs work in the modern climate and even giving up on the bits that make MMOs truly MMORPGs.

Finally, my wild card: Ashes of Creation, which just waltzed away with $3M of gamer money when its Kickstarter funded this morning. It represents the new wave of indies with huge sandbox dreams and pretty graphics but an insistence on an old-school PvP system that is inarguably niche and may be out of style entirely by the time it launches. We have so many MMOs of this style in post-crowdfund development limbo mode right now – probably too many for them all to succeed.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Wow, it’s already halfway through the year. The funny thing is that it’s hard to really pick out which games are totally dominating the zeitgeist at the moment simply because this year is pretty backloaded; a lot of stuff is coming out this month, rather than having already come out. But I think it’s definitely fair to point out a few games that are enjoying their popularity at the moment.

The Elder Scrolls Online: After finishing off last year on a high note, ESO appears to be working overtime to keep chugging along and really keeping itself in people’s minds with the dual punch of its housing update and the Morrowind update. It’s still a prime example of how a game can pick itself up and turn around a less-than-stellar launch, and I’m curious to see if the second half of the year will hold even more big changes for the title or not.

Final Fantasy XIV: Come on, like I wasn’t going to be thinking about this game. The second expansions is gathering steam, and when World of Warcraft times its raid launch to try to kneecap your expansion release, you know you’re doing something right. While this one has long held the title for “improving from launch” with its whole relaunch shindig, at this point it’s really more of a case of continued quality than anything else; the game has been rolling out solid and loved content updates regularly enough that it’s just a straight-up example of how to do things right.

Secret World Legends: Capturing the zeitgeist is not always a good thing. I think everyone who reads the site has opinions about SWL and its relationship to The Secret World by this point, and many of them aren’t positive; some are downright critical and rather baffled by the way Funcom is handling the title. That’s also launching in June, so that was a good decision.

Honorable mentions go to Destiny 2, Ashes of Creation, and Conan Exiles. This is the first time that I can think of in a while that a MOBA wasn’t anywhere near the cultural zeitgeist meter; I’m hoping that’s a trend rather than a hiccup.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): This was very difficult, but if I had to pick three MMOs that have had an exciting and promising start to 2017, as evidenced by rollouts and community discussion, I’d probably say these:

Lord of the Rings Online: This was an MMO on the wane a year ago, but what a difference the last six months have made! Standing Stones’ acquisition of the title, Update 20, the housing changes, the 10th anniversary celebration, all of the interviews, the news of Chance Thomas’ return, and the anticipation over the Mordor expansion has brought back players in droves and upped the profile of this game. It’s a renaissance at a great time for the MMO, and I hope it lasts.

Ashes of Creation: MMOs are dead and the community has moved on? If anything, this Kickstarter campaign is a sharp counter-argument to these rehashed attacks. Whether or not you think that this fledgling studio can make good on these ambitious promises to build a next-gen MMORPG, players were strongly taken with the vision and voted with their wallets to make it succeed. It gives us another huge MMO to anticipate, and I certainly miss getting excited about upcoming games.

Guild Wars 2: I debated strongly about this one, but I’m going to include it for a few reasons. First, it still gets a lot of coverage in social media and has a thriving population. By all reports, Season 3 has been well received and seen as a step up from Heart of Thorns. And there’s just SO MUCH anticipation over the expansion, partially fueled by ArenaNet’s broad statements and those infamous leaks.

Honorable Mentions: Anything Amazon Game Studios is doing, although we haven’t seen/heard much about that yet. Elder Scrolls Online and FFXIV will undoubtedly shine over the summer, but the spring was spent building up to those expansions. World of Warcraft had a solid if unexciting spring, with microholidays and a couple of decent-sized content updates.

Your turn!

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27 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: 2017’s MMORPG zeitgeist"

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MeltWithYou

I admit, I fall into the camp of Destiny 2 hype remains to be played. I hope for the best, but I fell victim to the hype train the first time around…those damn lore cards you had to read on a website and every mission ending with a stand your ground horde mode heh, I’m still salty about it but not to the point that it can’t redeem itself. There’s a piece of my heart that hopes D2 will be everything the first game was and wasn’t, so heres hoping.

Ashes…remains to be played. Anything Amazon puts out…remains to be played. Anything unreleased…remains to be played

ESO – they’re kicking ass. Still not my thing, but you have to give credit where credit is due.

FF14 – I kinda fell out of love with this one, but its without a doubt the best FF released in years and Yoshida San has his team running like a well oiled machine. I may return for Stormblood, but once burnt out, it’s tough to return

BDO – kind of the same as above, I still log in and do my thing for like an hour…I have zero drive to get the coveted gear required for the high level stuff but every time I log in every server is crowded…and chat, for better or worse…is uh…chatting…you honestly never know what youre going to get with BDO chat, reminds me of Barrens chat from back in the day

No one mentioned Neverwinter – I don’t play this but that game is pumping out content left and right.

GW2 has been moving along too

Zeitgeist? IDK, but mmos seem to be doing pretty good in 2017

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rafael12104

The Zeitgeist (spirit of the age or spirit of the time) is the dominant set of ideals and beliefs that motivate the actions of the members of a society in a particular period in time.

So first, my dear readers, a great deal depends on us. As mentioned, quite astutely btw below, MOP is one of the few sites, that takes our tips, our info, and what we think is relevant news, and generate articles of interest. While not every tip is news, they follow up, and they take our feedback in emails and generate content which is relevant and news worthy. Thank you MOP!

And yet, of course there is inherent bias here. Take Overwatch for example. This game is hardly an MMORPG. It is, quite simply, and arena shooter, which gets more coverage than other lesser known MMORPGs. Why? Editorial license and of course because it is certainly a part of the on going “zeitgeist” as it relates to gaming in a broader sense. You may not agree with the coverage, but there it is, and it is hardly an MOP exclusive.

In my view, truly, BDO deserves to be on the list, so does ESO, FFXIV. TSW, certainly should be on the list here, but mainly because MOP fosters affection for this game. And I’m not so sure that in the broader landscape, its evolution to TSWL is a negative given what newer generations of players want or need.

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Little Bugbear

1. Final Fantasy 14 – FF14 has continued to show that MMO’s are alive and well. The success of FF14 proves that there is still money to be made in MMO’s.
2. Destiny and Destiny 2 – For bringing new players into the MMO genre.
3.The Elder Scrolls Online – For continuing to fix ESO into a solid game.

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Melissa McDonald

true, FF has gotten quite a bit of coverage. I totally forgot to mention that one.

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Sally Bowls

It is true that FF gets a lot of coverage; a lot of people really like it. I am in no way criticizing the game or its fans.

But I see no good argument that it reflects the zeitgeist. It has a lot (majority) of customers in Japan, which has not been strong for PC MMOs. It has a lot (majority?) of customers on console, which was not common at all pre-TESO. It has a mandatory subscription, which is not common amongst MMOs. Similarly, it lacks near as aggressive of cash shop as many other MMOs. Again, these differences are why many prefer XIV. I see XIV as an outlier in the MMO space and the MMO market moving away from it. Ergo, not reflecting the MMO zeitgeist.

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Sally Bowls

To answer the title, not best 3, biggest 3, my favorite 3

TSW – I wish SSG/LotRO were the model for aging games but …
BDO – It gets the Asian theme (does anyone expect a new AAA, non-Asian MMO?) as well as the new “B2P” – get the extra revenue by selling to the sanctimonious I-Don’t-F2P crowd. After that peaks, use subs and cashshop to show them that the difference between B2P-with-cashshop and F2P is $40.
Destiny 2 – Witcher made MOBA and Card but not MMO. Destiny, TESO, and even SWTOR PR verbally back away from “MMO.” Customers prefer something different than I and the businesses need to sell to them. Unfortunately. I see the retreat of “coulda, shoulda been a MMO” projects from traditional MMOs

I thought about AoC. It is part of the “sitegeist” – currently discussed a lot on social media. But will their impact on the actual MMO market match the current rhetoric? They are doing a masterful funding campaign, it has at least another month left. They raised over quadruple their “goal” yet it was still only a tenth of what they estimate it will cost to make the game. IDK, is that enough to run the Wildstar team for a year? Last year, four hundred video games divided up $17.6M in crowdfunding. This is half enough to make one AoC. KS as free PR for an otherwise funded game works well, at least for Kickstarter and the Dev. KS as free PR to sell the company – e.g. Oculus – also works for the same beneficiaries. I can’t see the MMO slice of $17.6M crowdfunding getting much out the door; the project scope tends to be much larger than Tabletop or Card. But if AoC has the $27M in external funding, they certainly have a chance to be a player. TBD. GL.

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Robert Mann

ESO and FFXIV on how to go back and fix up games that are not doing well. WoW is still massive, but perhaps more important is how far it has fallen. Asian MMOs for their utter failure to adapt to the western audience still. Some of the other things named above, sure.

BDO… well, it does well. I still find the crafting systems to be nothing more than adding some steps to the same old same old. I detest the RNG, the node wars stuff, and the standard ‘hit this thing and not really see anything change’ gathering. But I must give it props for being a force in the genre still.

However, to me the biggest MMO story right now may well be independent studios making a push for new mechanics, old mechanics, and just change overall. In a genre that has been essentially stagnant for over a decade, that’s a huge thing.

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Melissa McDonald

BDO, ESO seem to be leading the pack based on coverage. The rest are hopes and wishes for new things coming out. GW2 and LOTRO would get honorable mentions for older games that have created new content and buzz around that. SWTOR and WoW and STO have a 3rd tier of interest and new things happening.

The rest are games we are looking forward to.

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Arktouros

Once again BDO continues to dominate in the MMO scene (was even trending on Reddit as a whole last week) and once again BDO continues to go largely ignored by the writers here. I mean there’s a wealth of topics there of what BDO’s success says about our current MMO market as a whole. When you see the positive things people cite about BDO, it’s all about it’s deep, inclusive game systems as comparison to the vapid, “by-the-numbers” garbage that other MMO developers continue to churn out.

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enamel

I have noticed there are big blind spots in MoPs coverage of existing games, simply because none of the writers are playing them.

When contrasted against the amount of pre-release coverage of games that are years away from launch (or that may never launch), it becomes clear how much of a factor a game’s PR plays into getting written about on this site. It’s easy to regurgitate a press release, it’s hard to write about a game you aren’t interested in playing.

To quote a far better writer than me, Stephen Totilo:

“For too long gaming coverage has focused on the vague future, the preview mindset of possibilities and maybes. And when it’s involved the present it has been drenched in the dreary falseness of empty interviews, bland producer-speak and executive-hype. It’s neither been real enough nor true enough to what is actually happening now. For too long games reporting has involved staring at what is opaque, maybe glimpsing something through it and reporting about that possibility, all the while ignoring so much of what is clearly visible and exciting around us. “

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Arktouros

Bravo. Perfectly said.

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Robert Mann

True, but one of the things that is cool about this site is you can send them tips about things going on in other games. Which they use. So… for games that you don’t see them covering but play, if something interesting is going on, well, there’s a solution to the issue.

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rafael12104

Very true. They will check it out and if there is news there, and quite often there is, they will cover it.

Thank you MOP. I love ya!

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BalsBigBrother

This is an opinion piece and they just have a different opinion is all, its not personal nor have they any agenda against BDO. The game just hasn’t really clicked for most of them to any great degree

It is certainly a good looking game but it is also one I personally haven’t clicked with either and I have given it a good few tries with various trial accounts. Looks nice but pretty much non of the things in it have ever worked together to be any fun for me. If you have fun good for you but not everyone does and that is all there is to it :-)

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Arktouros

While everything you said is technically correct, it’s kinda side stepping the point of the conversation of talking about what are the trends happening currently in the MMO market. I don’t care or like Final Fantasy XIDVMCMDIVIV but I can’t deny it’s a successful driving force within the MMO market as a whole. It, alongside ESO, both games that have gone through re-launches/major shifts in their game show that it’s possible for game companies to be successful after dramatically altering their base game. You can even see this with other game titles now discussing similar such as SWTOR. However at the same time you can’t ignore, regardless of reason, the rock-steady continued success of BDO. Here we have a game that has weathered immense amount of drama over it’s business model and simply has continued to plod forward with immense success. As games attempt to shift their game models around will they try to adopt some of the depth and multiple viable ways of playing their game that has brought Black Desert such success?

Ignoring Black Desert in the MMO trends, successes, and future is just odd currently.

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Robert Mann

BDO is an odd duck. People talk about the crafting system as if it was great, but my own experiences left me feeling like it was just throwing a layer of ‘do this before this’ in there.

It still essentially uses nodes. It doesn’t have any particularly deep effects (although the dry/sunny thing for drying is cool.) I suppose things like the horse taming are interesting, but so much of the higher end is RNG upgrades and breeding.

Other players, as somebody who would never bother with node wars, just don’t matter to me in BDO. It doesn’t feel much different than any other MMO, just a little less of the ‘random node’ in trade for ‘constant nodes with timers.’ Which is sad, because after all the hype I had hoped for something more in much of the crafting/gathering stuff.

I waited for a sale based on a number of things, and I’m very glad I did… if you have a different opinion that’s fine. I did note it myself, because it is part of what is popular right now. I just don’t agree with the statements about depth regarding so many of the systems.

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Arktouros

BDO’s lifeskill system, or crafting system if you will, features a large number of fully fleshed out systems that allow for a player to go as deep as they want with them. Some system s are, admittedly, deeper than others. Gathering only gets so interesting, for example. However many systems have a variety of levels of involvement.

For example Fishing. You have the most simplest form of fishing anyone can get into: AFK fishing. You also have the more involved forms of fishing by taking a boat out, look for hot spots, and fish up fish for higher chances of better fish rewards. There’s also Harpoon fishing, but I’ve never done that and can’t speak to it.

What’s interesting in the dynamics of BDO is how the crafting system is competitive with simply grinding from an economic standpoint. This means being a crafter is financially viable. More over since a good deal of it is done AFK or over long periods of time it means more players seem to be inclined to stick with the game because they aren’t forced to grind forever with many high end (60+) players shifting over to lifeskills for it’s income rather than continuing to grind all the time. This means players can remain competitive in the game without having to no-life grind all the time but instead rely on crafting for passive style income.

It’s features like that we see to the continued success in BDO. We also see other games like Crowfall coming up with their own passive progression system. What impact will BDO’s success with it’s system have on those?

No one is ragging on anyone for having an opinion or that their opinion is different. What’s incredulous is that such successful game doesn’t even rank worth mentioning at all as potentially having an impact. I mean have the opinion it won’t have an impact, even, but not worth mentioning? I just don’t know about that.

Zander
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Zander

Wow, not one writer brought up Black Desert Online, which really tells me none of them are really playing it. Not to sound hypocritical because I don’t really play a lot of myself. BDO has released two free expansions, 3 new classes and has reworked it’s UI and tutorial systems in the past 6 months. They have a more popular player base in the west than they do in its founding region of Asia. They have well over 20 servers, not including the new Steam servers and all of which are always at high or maximum capacity. While grinding is not my thing so I don’t play much, it’s neat to admire how popular the game really is but really never hear about it because the devs shy away from accolades and chest puffing.

Now back to GW2 for me :)

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