The Soapbox: Facing an industry of change


Right now I believe that we are on a threshold of change in the MMO industry, and it feels a little uncertain and a lot scary.

While there are MMOs being made and developed as you read this, it seems as though there are less of the traditional big-budget titles with highly recognizable IPs and more indie projects that are operating outside of the normal paradigm. We have games that are funded entirely through fan support. We have spiritual successors instead of sequels. We have MMOs that are also single-player titles. We have devs over here jumping on the Minecraft wagon, devs over there trying to get a piece of the League of Legends phenomenon, and devs designing for a specific audience rather than a general one.

The tech and development process is in flux as well. Oculus Rift? Will that be the next wave of how we interface with MMOs or a passing fad? What about early access, with its trend of allowing players to come in and play while the game is being built around them? We’re in an era where beta is launch, alpha is beta, and pre-alpha is the new normal.

It’s enough to boggle the mind.

I’m enough of a traditionalist that I do wish that we could go back to how the system used to be — only without the post-World of Warcraft stagnation. But I’m enough of a realist too to recognize that change is and has always been a key part of our industry.

When you step back and look at the history of MMOs, dating all of the way back to the MUDs in the early 1980s, you’ll see an industry where the only predictable trend was unpredictability. Business models have changed, from charging by the hour to by the month and then to the myriad free and freemium options that propogate our field. Technology has advanced as well, allowing ever-greater groups of players to congregate and moving from text to 2-D sprites to lush 3-D graphics. At one point in history, socializing was a key part of online gaming; at another, it is all about raiding and player-killing.

In fact, the reason for my traditionalist streak is rooted in the fact that a bulk of my MMO experience has existed in the post-WoW era when everything has settled down to attempt to emulate the industry leader rather than strike out in experimental (and riskier) directions. It’s what I’ve known, and maybe I’m at a disadvantage to those who played far before World of Warcraft and knew an industry where MMOs varied wildly from title to title.

And while I fear change, I also welcome it. After all, we’ve been crying out for the industry to tear itself out of this rut and get to trying new things again, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing happening (along with dusting off old ideas and bringing them up to date). Just the other day I was having a discussion on change with a friend, and I noted that while it can sometimes be painful to get out of your comfort zone to learn or try something new, you can also find your life enriched by the experience.

My greatest hope is that as the industry groans and shifts through these changes, it will bring a fresh, vibrant future that will rejuvenate our love for MMOs in a way we haven’t felt in a long time — and in a way we haven’t experienced ever.

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