The Daily Grind: Is the MMO genre dead or dying – or something else entirely?

    
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PC Gamer made waves across the MMO genre this week with an article provocatively titled “For MMO diehards, there’s only one conversation: is the genre dying or already dead?” The author deep-dived the “dead genre” threads that plague the MMORPG subreddit to figure out why the people who hang out there (and not, say, on one of the thriving subreddits for a live MMO) are so disgruntled, ultimately declaring that “the era of the MMO is over, but their influence is still everywhere.”

When I asked our team of MMORPG veterans whether anyone wanted to do a rebuttal piece, I got mainly sighs and eyerolls. I mean, some of us have been playing MMORPGs for over two decades (including me!). Our most veteran writer has covered this specific genre professionally for half of that. Massively itself was born in 2007. So “MMOs are dead” is something we’ve heard approximately forty million times along the way from both mainstream gamers and locals, and everyone’s weary of it, especially since the MMORPG genre keeps right on living anyway with new games every year and plenty of patches for the live games we have, to say nothing of the smaller titles and emulators popping up so fast that we who cover the genre professionally (and more successfully every year, I’m pleased to say!) can’t possibly keep up.

That said, if you hang out on MOP, you also know that our writers and readers may be fans, but we’re also obsessively critical of our genre and how it’s developed. We literallyoverthinkand nitpick the genre every week (I could go on linking these debates all day long but I’ll stop now!). Heck, the first editorial I wrote for this version of our site contemplated WoW’s dire effect on the mid-budget MMORPG market – and it wasn’t even remotely a new idea back then that the genre had suffered creatively and financially. So hey, we’re not going to pretend the genre is fine. But while we may be exhausted of the “dead genre” talk, we’re also busy playing aging games and welcoming emulators and legacy servers for games gone by, even as we’re excited to see modern living titles like FFXIV and Elder Scrolls Online kick ass. There’s clearly room – and demand and money – for a huge variety of MMOs, from the purest of the traditional MMORPGs to the weirdest of multiplayer outliers.

I tried to put it all into perspective a few years back, right after EverQuest Next was canceled and hardcore MMORPG players were positively freaking out: The genre, I argued, wasn’t dead or dying but just taking yet another trip around the wheel, one of many since EA pushed out the first beautiful mess of an MMORPG in 1997.

Do you agree? Is the MMO genre dead or dying – or is it something else entirely?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Oleg Chebeneev

“Grass was greener” soldiers can talk doom & gloom all days long. Fact is MMOs are at its peak currently if we base it on number of games available and players online. So genre is healthier than it ever was.

MMOs are still young and there will be alot of experiments and evolution in future. Eventually they gonna switch from theme parks to immersive VR worlds that arent like games anymore and more like alternative life.

Reader
Lethality

It’s absolutely dead.

I no longer consider myself an “MMO” fan because of what the genre and the players have turned it into.

You’ve got people chomping at the bit to get back to “classic” WoW when a short 5 years ago those same people were lamenting what WoW did to ruin the genre”?

Hypocrites.

There’s also no money in it, the audiences are far bigger elsewhere.

There are a few saviors in the green room though, but they’re much more than MMOs.

Reader
Utakata

“I no longer consider myself an “MMO” fan because of what the genre and the players have turned it into.”

Soooo…we won’t be seeing you around much? O.o

Reader
Lethality

Have you lately anyway?

Reader
Utakata

Can’t really say. Your run ins with the moderator pass makes that difficult to gauge. >.<

Mewmew
Reader
Mewmew

The answer is no, the genre is not dead or dying, quite obviously.

You could argue that it’s stagnant without people trying much new, and the costs of developing and maintaining an MMORPG prevent people from taking many chances in trying out that new stuff.

There are lots of games out there people are spread across, but it’s so far from being dead or dying. The players and customers are still there.

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Castagere Shaikura

Not dying but not really growing anymore either. All the new games are from Asia too. The problem is no one is doing anything new.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

It’s fading like the Roman Empire did, people point toward the collapse of the Western Roman Empire as the end or for MMOs the end of triple A funding, how ever Rome continued on until the collapse of the Byzantine Empire much like MMOs will continue to be developed as scaled down indie games filling niche markets.

MurderHobo
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MurderHobo

This has all happened before, and it will happen again. The cycle keeps spinning, and with each turn we push the boundaries a bit further.

MMOs will continue, though I hope they grow beyond what we call MMOs today.

kjempff
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kjempff

Forty million and some…
It is all about definition.

Massively Multiplayer worlds are dead (the oldschool idea of what is a mmorpg), and the final nail was when EqNext died. The idea of “world” is also a part of the massively definition, it does not just mean “many players”.

The single player rpg in a multiplayer setting is very much alive (the current definition of mmorpg). Including lobby games with matchmaking systems. These are not massively, even if it can hold “many players” in one instance.

And then there are the pvp games, of which a few are almost mmorpg like, but the majority are just multiplayer games with rpg features and some shared real estate.

Dead ? the answer is both yes and no, it is all about your definition of mmorpg.

Reader
memitim

It’s pretty much done, nobody with the big bucks is interested in making an actual game and not a pretty front-end for a cash shop anymore. I hope Pantheon and CU are good because those and EVE Online are basically all that’s left of the old school at this point. As for the new school…well the furor over classic WoW tells you where that’s going and it seems everyone else went off to make MOBAs/survival games/battle royales etc when it became clear cloning WoW wouldn’t work.

I don’t really see how there’s an argument for it not being basically dead at this point, even if you count pseudo-mmos the list of big releases over the last 5 years and coming over the next 5 is very short indeed and how many of those from the last 5 are you still playing? For me it’s 0 and that might not be a bad thing if all the 10 year old ones were doing really well but…they aren’t…when GW2 turned out to be not all that it seemed to be pretty much the end for the AAA MMO and it’s been 7 years since then with basically 0 to get excited about, just trashy ports of eastern P2W games…it’s now up to those who created the genre to save it as it seems nobody else can…no pressure or anything… :D

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Kickstarter Donor
thalendor

In regards to some of these hot, new games in comparison to MMOs, I have this to say: when 20 years old, you reach… look as good, you will not.

Reader
Anstalt

You need to nail down specifics before you can really answer the question! First, define what an MMO is. I define it as:

“A game that supports 500+ players within the same virtual environment”.

That definition is based on correct english language, the original definitions used by Richard Garriott and Raph Koster, plus a comparison to other current multiplayer titles. You can also apply it to games really easily to see whether the definition works. It works for WoW, LotRO etc, only just works for ESO (without Cyrodiil, ESO wouldn’t be an MMO), and doesn’t work for SWTOR (player cap of 75 is just standard multiplayer, nothing massively multiplayer about it at all!).

So, using that definition:

1) There are more MMOs now than ever before (genre not dying)

2) There are more people playing MMOs now than ever before (genre not dying)

3) Average spend per player has dropped dramatically (genre is dying)

4) Churn rates have shot up loads over the last 10 years (genre is dying)

5) Large development companies and publishers are pulling out of the market (genre is dying)

So, on the surface it looks like the genre is doing OK: we’ve got more games and more players than ever before. But, you don’t have to scratch the surface much and you realise it’s in trouble. Very few titles in development period (compared to other genres and to itself 10 years ago). Very few AAA budgets for games. Players arent willing to spend their money on the genre. Games can’t retain their players for long either.

Thats bad news and points to the stagnation of the genre – if players won’t spend money or time on your games, it means the games themselves arent good enough, either because they’re derivative or just poorly designed.

But, it’s certainly not dead. I wouldn’t even say it’s dying.

What it is, is the end of an era. We’re seeing the end of the current themepark design paradigm. It’s been played out, we’ve seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt. Themeparks are basically just single player RPGs that you can team up with your mates for. It doesn’t leverage any of the power of being MASSIVELY multiplayer! The one unique selling point of the whole god damn genre and virtually none of the games make any use of it!

The question is, will there be a next era for MMOs?

I really hope so! There is a ridiculous amount of potential that is almost completely untapped. The difficulty is going to be designing new gameplay systems that actually make use of large amounts of players.

For example, take a battlefield game, but allow 250 players on each side. That would be an MMO, but it’d be completely different from anything we have now. What gameplay systems would they need to change to make it fun for 500 all fighting at once?

Or the sandbox idea. We’ve still never had a AAA sandbox MMO developed by a western company (im not sure about eastern companies, I see a lot with great graphics but it sounds like the gameplay sucks, so not AAA). Literally never, it’s never happened. Yet, virtual worlds are perfect for being massively multiplayer!

How about GTA? We all seem to love that game, so give us a GTA world that lets 500+ of us inhabit it at the same time. None of this lobby-based shite that the current GTAO gives us, let us actually go massively multiplayer!

How about Gears of War, or Assassins Creed? Both have IPs and gameplay systems that could be easily scaled up to be massively multiplayer. You don’t have to add the RPG elements just because its an online game, you can keep it simple like these IPs and just scale up the number of players.

There is just a huge amount of potential for massively multiplayer online games. And virtually no-one is tapping into it. It just seems to be an excuse to make a game a service and thus charge money for longer. Actually leverage the power of the genre, tap into that unique selling point and that’ll keep the players engaged and shelling out cash.

The biggest danger is that the technical difficulties of making a game actually massively multiplayer will continue to put devs off. Without the devs, we don’t get the games. Without enough games, we can’t see what works and what doesn’t and the genre never matures.

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memitim

It’s just really hard and it costs a fortune and you might spend that money and it doesn’t even work in the end. There’s probably others researching it but I think CCP have put more into it than anyone, just check out one of their articles about the server hardware they use…why pay for all that when you could just make some peer2peer junk and put a cash shop in it?

I’d play all of the games you mentioned but nobody has the stones to make them.