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.
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.
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.