The Soapbox: No, the MMO genre is not dead – but it could use a little positivity

Other people helped make unforgettable memories for us. Let’s pay it forward.

    
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My expectations weren't that I would be jumping into this right away, but...

One of my favorite idioms is “dead as a doornail.” It always reminds me of the time I got sent out of my 10th grade English class the week before holiday break because I couldn’t stop laughing at how “Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” It was literally the funniest thing I’d read at the time and prompted my teacher to push me towards a career in writing and education.

Now, I’m no expert on doornails, but I do have some experience with MMORPGS. And I’m pretty sure that the MMORPG genre is not a doornail. And I’m especially sure that the genre is not dead.

A recent post on reddit’s r/mmorpg asked, “Is the MMORPG dead?” It’s such a common question on that subreddit that it’s almost beating a dead horse, but what elevated this particular thread was when PC Gamer got involved. That publication used it as a springboard for a loaded question: “Are MMOs dead or already dying?” To imply that my favorite genre is on the cusp of turning into, or already is, the gaming-equivalent of a doornail is absolutely absurd. This genre is not dying, as we argued in rebuttal. and it exists in what I’d say is the happy medium of not being under the limelight of the mainstream – but also being loved (and profitable) enough to be a mainstay of gaming culture.

What worries me more is the negativity and the implications negativity has on potential players. If you want to turn people away from the genre, just show them this paragraph.

“In retrospect, the MMO apogee was about as intense as it was misguided. Just look at some of the names on these tombstones: Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa, Warhammer Online, The Matrix Online, Everquest Next. What about the MMOs that remain online, toiling for a splinter of the boom? Star Wars: The Old Republic and Final Fantasy 14 recovered from famously ignominious launches. Elder Scrolls Online is still telling new stories. Plenty others fight for tiny scraps of the MMO population. But many more have died. As the body count piled up, it became clear that there could really only be one World of Warcraft.”

The writer filled his article with words meant to downright make you feel sad – it just oozes with the idea that it’s a serious struggle to survive as an MMO in today’s landscape. For example, apparently Final Fantasy XIV is “toiling for a splinter of the boom.” But we know from investor reports that Square Enix is doing great and credits FFXIV’s subscriptions and expansions. Shadowbringers has been the darling of MMO players this summer and widely regarded as a storytelling triumph by mainstream press too. Before Shadowbringers, the buy-to-play game counted 16 million registered players – imagine what that number is now! It’s not simply toiling away for scraps.

Black Desert, the game I cover most here on Massively OP, is raking in cash and even expanding to a wider, younger audience through its console releases. Its parent company, Pearl Abyss, did so well with BDO that it’s been buying up other MMO companies and working on half a dozen new games. RuneScape is crushing it and Jagex is worth half a billion bucks. Elder Scrolls Online just pumped out its third major expansion and counted 13.5M players. WoW Classic is already blowing up and it’s not even live yet. Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR have major content coming this fall. And that’s not even touching on the gobs of mid-budget MMOs that are still going strong and all the new ones waiting in the wings of development.

But the greatest asset for our genre isn’t a vanilla server or an expansion. Nor is it the next Richard Garriot. It’s you.

You have so many options, giving one more away won't kill ya.

And this is the crux of my argument: We have to be positive about our genre, and we have to recognize that we now have a responsibility to attract more players and make people want to play here. Part of that responsibility is recognizing that no, we do not actually live in a wasteland of dead MMOs. Many of us have become experts of the genre. Through countless patches, raids, sunsets, rollbacks, and party wipes, we collectively know a lot. We know what works, we know what doesn’t work, and we know how to best implement a certain person’s playstyle into a game. We’re also have more control of the genre than we let on. The 15-year-olds who played MMOs back in 2004 when WoW launched – and the 30-year-olds who helped kickstart the genre in 1997 when UO hit the shelves – now have the technical know-how and the funds and the free time to do the impossible and resurrect pretty much any game. The wide field of emulator projects proves it.

And sure, resurrecting MMOs and running events (like the one Guild Wars 2 players are organizing right now) are great ways to help the genre, but for everyone else, one of the best ways to show love for the genre is to focus on why you’ve stuck with the genre through thick and thin and then spread that love. How can you spread that love? The answer’s simple: Play with other people. And I don’t just mean start an LFG on a party finder. I mean do a few dungeons with some rando and add them to your friend list. I mean seriously build that friendship like it’s 1999. Take a player under your wing, escort him or her on quests, and become a friend. Be that positive experience for that person. Be the glue that keeps someone around! For a lot of us, our fond memories of the early genre came from those authentic human interactions. And just because the genre has changed doesn’t mean the people’s desire for connection dissipated. It just needs to be expressed.

Never hurts to bring some friends along.

Amid the dailies, limited play time, and grinds, it’s easy to forget that you can play your favorite MMO for the sake of making a new friend and building a community. Forget the fact that you’re playing some P2W game that you’re totally addicted to; forget about practicing your rotation on that training golem. Just play with people for the sake of playing with people. It might be difficult at first, but it gets easier. If that comes off as daunting, just remember the lengths players in Ultima Online went through just to make sure newbies didn’t get PK’d. Remember the zone overwatch events of EverQuest, the newbie taxi services in City of Heroes, and the refuelers in Elite Dangerous that rescue lost souls. I’m pretty sure it’s easier than that.

Enjoy the friendships you make. Recognize that the MMO is no longer the sole means of communicating with your friends when we’ve got social media and discord to keep in touch, but know that we have to work beyond them. While the genre and how veterans perceive the game have changed, people will still want to visit Middle-earth, Azeroth, and Norrath. It’s our responsibility to help them make these worlds their new home. Other people helped make unforgettable memories for us. Let’s pay it forward.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

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kgptzac

we now have a responsibility to attract more players and make people want to play here

I want to pick this statement apart. I absolutely agree with the latter part where we should make others *want* to play here, but I absolutely disagree with the part where we have a *responsibility* to *attract* more players.

A hobby can’t be forced, and must not be preached like some kind of religion, because the negative consequences far outweigh the positive.

And of course, since we can agree MMO’s aren’t dying, there is no logical reason acting like we have to save it from death. A low quality PCGamer article that reads like one of the longer reddit threads lamenting author’s personal taste is no longer fulfilled is not an existential threat to anyone.

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Bruno Brito

Nah, it isn’t dead, it’s “evolving”.

If that’s good, bad, or whatever, i’ll leave it up to each one to decide.

I do think tho, that the way the gaming industry is arranged right now is unsustainable, and most games are more about taking instant gratification together with a few bucks than building anything worthwhile.

So, while MMOs will keep trudging on, the age of MMORPGS may be finally over, except for some niche titles.

And to be fair, that actually may be a good thing.

SkullOfYorick
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SkullOfYorick

The industry is destroying themselves by increasingly not producing games but creating manipulative skinnerboxes which exploit our neural functioning to milk our wallets, instead of deliviering the true potential of the medium. In mobile games it’s even much worse.

The real issue imho is, that when money and greed come in, the playful aspect of playing a game gets lost. There are numerous very positive examples not doing this, but I see these mostly coming from indie studios. Even in the dreaded mobile sector there are positive counterexamples.

If we ask ourselves, why we are the “homo ludens”, the human that wants to play, and what could be a deeper dimension of gaming I don’t find answers in the mainstream. Most MMOs I tried out were simply horrible or boring and did not even scratch the surface of what’s possible. And more and more perfection on graphics surely isn’t it.

Which games allow you to truly play, try out new things in this protected virtual environment and explore this space of imagination and discovery? Which games allow us to be kids again and remember what it means to be in a playful mood?
From what I recall the best example still is Minecraft, as limited as it is. The overwhelming movement in the player community it kindled is an example, that it can be done.

If the industry doesn’t try harder to be creative, produce better AI (in that area can a lot of good stuff still be done) and get more inventive about gameplay and the big picture of what a game actually is they shouldn’t be surprised players lose interest.

Just my $0.02 …

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I’m currently being that ‘newb’ all over again after going back to SWTOR. Trying to resurrect my old characters/figure out where I even was story-wise and asking nooblet questions.

I mean, I’ve already seen some negative behavior which if I’d known how to do something or other I could’ve done something about. (For example, there’s still kill-stealing in this game…and all it really takes is a quick invite/drop party right after to not make someone sit there waiting for a respawn. I couldn’t even remember how to do that…)

Of course, I am way too wary of people nowadays, so I tend to just be rampaging through the areas quickly knocking down the tasks. I somehow managed to hit lvl 50 (The old max) just playing a random new character through trying to catch up to where my old character was. Been throwing some unlocks at the legacy (Up to lvl 16 legacy already, and already threw piles of credits to unlock all quick travel/fleet pass/most of the social unlocks I used to have as a subbed player.).

I did talk with some random that was trying to guild recruit me, who actually bothered to MESSAGE ME instead of blamming me in the face with a invite…and realized I could get around a lot of the obnoxious F2P credit blocks/mailing stuff by making a stronghold/placing legacy storage…and now I’m using it to transfer stuff around my characters…and managed to buy second tab even. Did say thank you, and told them I’m not good with people/a fan of guilds.

Still haven’t even recovered half the server worth of my toons either. (Lost most of my names, and can’t think of what I want to name em…) Or dealt with figuring out how to get my light side characters over to my legacy from the other server…since they for some reason stuck my light side characters on the other megaserver…from my dark side characters…when they apparently server merged a second time after I’d left. (I had 17 characters when I came back…’Preferred’ status only allows 12…and I MIGHT be willing to buy more character slots if I was intrigued enough to stick around long term..)

Not sure I’d necessarily have much to offer others since I’m basically running around like a dunce relearning things…

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Anton Mochalin

I think MMO genre is just fine. It was maybe a bit bigger 5-10 years but that was due to other genres not having reached their full potential yet at the time. Most of the players just play different genres and some former MMO players were attracted by Dota and LoL and some by PUBG or Hearthstone or Subnautica or Warframe. And as already mentioned millions of people are playing MMOs and even smaller titles are profitable.

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Bruno Brito

even smaller titles are profitable.

You do know why, right?

Because most MMOs right now are microtransaction shitshows.

When one of the biggest companies to date fires 800 employees to keep a profit on the books, it isn’t “Fine”. Gaming isn’t fine, right now. It’s a mess.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

It’s both the loud mouth minority and the article writers wanting to cause sensations and views that will claim MMORPGs are dead or dying. When you look at the actual facts, it’s just very very far from true.

People forget just how many active MMORPGs are out there. I was reading an article earlier this year that was talking about the 40 best MMORPGs to play this year. 40. And that’s just their suggestion of 40, there are many more than that still out there operating.

The top 5-10 hold many millions of players, but there are huge numbers of players across many other MMORPGs that keep them profitable and getting updates. We are spread out, we’re not gone. Tastes vary and there are many different types of MMORPGs for many different people. But MMORPGs are still king in the online PC world. The numbers of other games don’t come close when you add up all the players across the huge number of existing MMORPGs.

There are those whos individual tastes change and then they start to proclaim how tastes are changing and MMORPGs are dead, looking only at their own feelings rather than the big picture. The big picture shows that the vast majority of online PC players are still playing “normal” MMORPGs.

Considering the number of active profitable MMORPGs it isn’t that hard of a concept to grasp. Most people just don’t really realize the sheer number of them out there still active, profitable, and getting updates.

Considering the hundreds that have opened, sure, some are going to close down and not work out for various reasons. There are different reasons some of them fail, but it’s not because the genre is lacking players or is dying. There are more active MMORPGs out there than ever before, so how is it dying?

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psytic

Its dying in a sense that there isnt any triple AAA companies focusing on the WoW like D and D inspired quest grinder anymore. GW2, ESO, FFXIV and WoW are pretty much it. There are lots of mid sized or indie projects being made in all genres its moot. The major players outside of 4 or 5 dont bother with it. There is a major difference in the level of investment in the genre now versus the 1999 to 2008 hey day. I dont like it but while mmo rpgs are profitable the reality is that big money outside of WoW is made in other genres and we arent going to see the same big investment boom again. Fortnite made 2.4 billion last year.

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Louie

This is my take as well. It’s a little disheartening that the last large-scale, hype MMO release was ESO over 5 years ago.

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rosieposie

The tone is set by publishers and to some extent developers. If they give us a good reason to feel positive about the MMO genre, we will. The incredible surge of goodwill and positivity following the launch of Shadowbringers proves it.

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Witches

It’s hard to know for sure until we have 10 or more large scale MMOs that are not the mandatory mediaeval grinder with raids.

GTOA or RDR could easily be MMOs and those are doing just fine.

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psytic

Its not dieing its just evolving. The “WoW like” is dead for sure but you got games like GTA Online with hundreds of thousands of concurrent people playing in a persistent lobby based world.

You have battle royale usually with 100 players in a match with hundreds of games and tournaments going with hundreds of thousands watching via twitch. You can add thousands watching chatting and participating in League and WoW streams. Its all a massively social experience I would argue… but yes kill 10 rats is probably dead outside of the current major players.

Almost every game now has some sort of online component supported by micro transactions usually with twitch viewers participating. The whole industry has gone online and competitive because its easier to produce than story driven content. The distinction is at what “participation” count and on what medium do we consider something “massively online,” considering people don’t even necessarily “play” games now but watch others.

For me Monster Hunter World pretty much replaced GW2 if I feel like beating on massive monsters. Its all lobby or map based online games now.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

But that’s *you*. You’re talking about games you moved to as if the entire genre and playing population felt that same change. It didn’t.

Lobby based games, while not doing poorly, very much hold the minority of players. The *vast* majority still are playing the big world based MMORPGs.

It’s ridiculous when someone marks their own changed playing style as if that’s what most of the players have done. They haven’t. In both the West and the East the very large majority of PC players online are still playing the big world based MMORPGs.

Do lobby based games and open world games that have multiplayer options have a healthy population? Sure they do! But not nearly what the normal MMORPGs are still holding.

There are so many MMORPGs out there that we’re spread out a bit, but when you take a look at the populations of games like ESO, BDO, FFXIV, and yes even still WoW, they’re loaded with so many millions upon millions of still active players. Those are just the top ones, there are many many more MMORPGs still running with majorly active populations that are still making them lots of money. STO, Neverwinter, Tera, Eve, Runescape, Guild Wars 2, Maplestory 2, the list just goes on and on.

I remember reading an article recently about “The best 40 MMORPGs to play this year” – 40! And that’s just “the best 40” – there are many more than that out there still running. We’re spread across so many, people tend to forget just how many MMORPG players there are out there that love the genre and are still playing.

Don’t use your own change in taste to make the statement that what people want is changing. What you want and like is changing, what the vast majority is still wanting to play and enjoying are the “normal” MMORPGs (not lobby based stuff). The lobby based games hold a small minority of the MMORPG playing population. They’re still doing well, because a small minority of that population is still fairly huge, which should tell you just how many people are still out there playing the normal style MMORPGs.

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Anton Mochalin

I think you underestimate lobby-based games. Warframe was in the top category in Steam sales results for 2018 while no open world MMORPG made it to that Platinum tier. Yes WoW and GW2 aren’t on Steam but BDO, ESO and FFXIV are.

micedicetwice
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micedicetwice

Top 10 most playable games on Steam says as much. Classic MMORPGs aren’t there, while “lobby-based” games are.

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psytic

The most profitable and played non mobile games are online pvp games like Fortnite, League of Legends, pubg and GTA online they arent mmo rpgs. My most played game is FFXIV but that doesnt mean im completely oblivious to the change in tastes of the majority in gaming today. Your welcome to look at steam charts or read superdata. this isnt a personal attack although you seem greatly offended its just the reality of the industry today.

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Anstalt

Could you link that “40 best MMOs” article? I’m curious! I’m not sure I could name 40 MMOs full stop, let alone come up with a top 40!

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Joey

I think the monetization is causing a lot of the negativity among MMO gamers. When you hear stories of BDO players spending $5000 in one month on the cash shop, it just makes you kind of sad what has become of your hobby.

That and a lot of modern MMOs have been too streamlined in an effort to cater to a mass audience.