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 Go. POGO 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.