All right, 2019. We’re done with you. We’re moving on. We’re in a whole new decade. We’ve got a brand-new year full of new things to worry about! OK, maybe that’s just me.
For this first Massively Overthinking of the year, I’ve once again polled the Massively OP staff on all of our hopes and fears for the genre in the new year. Our predictions were what we think will happen. But this piece is a summary of our most optimistic daydreams (and our worst nightmares).
Andy McAdams: I’ll start with fears: I fear Blizzard will have learned nothing from the self-imposed trainwreck over the last few months and continue along with the same arrogant “we know better, now just sit down and give us your money and thank us for the opportunity” mentality and that WoW, probably the most iconic MMO, will continue to fade into obsolescence because of Blizzard’s hubris and refusal to evolve as a company and as a developer. I fear Daybreak with either implode and drag the EverQuest franchise into an early grave or worse release an overly monetized exploitative monstrosity of an EverQuest game. I’m worried ArenaNet won’t be able to get over itself soon enough to save itself and will fully implode, taking the Guild Wars franchise into an early grave.
Really, a lot of my fears are around studios not innovating and dying because we know a lot of really great games/franchises are on the edge staring into the abyss. I worry that publishers’ near zombie-obsession with profits continues to result is subpar Fallout 76 quality games. I worry that we’ll spend another year with the same stable of MMOs plugging along with no new blood and no real growth evolution for the genre. I fear that any new games we do get will fall into the tried and true and ultimately tired framework that we’ve been playing for the last 20+ years.
My hopes are simple: that developers remember that making a fun, well made game means good sales. I think my biggest hope for 2020 is that we get a few more games on the market that can think further than next quarter’s earnings call. While I understand the reality of a public company, I would love to have a few games that aren’t beholden to that in a fully released state. My hope is that we get fewer (or no) games that are storefronts with games bolted onto the side and more games that are games first and foremost. I also really really want a wonderful, modern sandbox game that sucks me in and doesn’t let me go for months or years, a really gangbuster sandbox game that’s not an import game with a wink-and-nudge towards the sandbox label. I also really hope for a redemption year for Blizzard. I’m hoping it can let go of their ego enough to start to really make some changes in how it run its business and start to bring its games into 2020. That’s probably a pipedream, I know, but a man can dream, eh?
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): My hopes and fears are pretty simple: I want MOP to keep doing well, and I want the genre to expand and innovate and earn respect. I fear that our genre is losing not just money to other genres but brainpower – braindrain to other genres and industries concerns me. I’m not seeing a broad crop of fresh young MMORPG developers bringing new ideas in. And we need it.
I will say that for all my jokes about worries, I do actually worry less about the genre than I used to. As we just talked about on the roundtable podcast, I think the tide has turned on game preservation to the point that I am not as concerned that everything built in the genre over the last 25 years is doomed. Being able to fully preserve old MMOs is the safety net I think the genre needs to shift from copying old games and into making truly new ones.
I also want to quote myself from our hopes and fears post from last year – in January 2019:
“It concerns the hell out of me that China is willing to wreck its own homegrown game publishers, never mind everyone else’s, in the service of social engineering, so I’m worried about the future effects of autocratic bureaucracy on the industry. I worry that Blizzard appears to be genuinely struggling and WoW is floundering. I fear that the companies and players that acted like complete shitgoblins last year will continue suffering basically zero consequences and that the whole industry will slide backward instead of forward.”
This comment turned out to be eerily on point for 2019. Down with shitgoblins. Support indie developers.
Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I legitimately hope the crowdfunded sector comes up big in 2020. I’m in on the dream and promise of more than a few titles, both emotionally and monetarily, and I want to see these games spring to life and succeed, if only to silence the haters in the short term and inject some truly new blood into the genre in the long term.
My biggest fear, then, is that small games and crowdfunded titles will fall into obsolescence to the point that everyone gets more risk-averse than they already are, both on the business and consumer side of things.
I would love to see more rogue servers flourish and especially be left alone. Which is a roundabout way of hoping for that WildStar server to come online, if I’m honest. I also hope to see continued forward momentum on my favorite crowdfunded titles like Star Citizen, Book of Travels, and Crowfall. And on a personal level, I hope I can continue to find awesome and brilliantly done sandbox MMORPGs; playing them for CMA has been so enlightening!
Incidentally, I hope that crowdfunding missteps and mismanagement doesn’t fully dry up the already low well of trust, because I still very strongly believe that this is one of the better avenues for advancement and new games in our genre, and it would really suck if some stupid few rotten apples ruined the whole bushel.
Honestly, my biggest hope this year is for a lot of companies that have been kind of doing a sub-par job to sit up and take a hard look at where the games they control are and where things have gone wrong. ArenaNet and Blizzard in particular are both sitting on fundamentally great products that have been badly mismanaged for a long while now, and I really would like both of them to move forward and pull things together, start pulling on what actually makes their games unique, interesting, and fun rather than pushing high-end progression that narrows and excludes or archaic server concepts that make for more of a museum than a path forward. But it’s not just them; I feel like Bethesda has really stepped in it with Fallout 76, for example. While there are studios that I think are just plain beyond hope, there are also really good ones out there; Grinding Gear, ZeniMax Online, Square-Enix, Pearl Abyss, and Hello Games have all shown how much you can improve on a product over time and make online game better over time.
And my fear? That this won’t happen. That Guild Wars 2 will languish without an expansion or forward motion, that World of Warcraft’s team is not going to pull the important lessons out from Classic or from the negativity around Battle for Azeroth, that Bethesda is going to at this point triple down on its self-made trash fire, that we’re going to start losing games that genuinely do have strong foundations to build upon. We talked very recently about how this year we basically had three MMOs jockeying for a lot of the top spots in our awards this year. I want that number to go up. Lately, it feels like an awful lot of the studios involved don’t care.
Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I hope there are more releases that do well, fewer layoffs, fewer sunsets, and no big scandals. I fear that the release drought will continue, the layoffs and sunsetting will continue, and scandals will erupt in all the major companies. I hope some of the anticipated games without solid dates announced go into testing or get released. I hope more people decide to try MMORPGs or return to them.
1. That more studios will get on board the integrity train and discover that doing things right and listening to/caring about/respecting their fans and devs leads to great profits instead of clinging to corporate nonsense of beating folks down into mindless submission.
2. Those who have passion for the games make the games.
3. Daybreak can break out of its quagmire (cut ties with its overlords?) and return to being a studio that shines as studio of the year.
4. New and innovating ideas happen and people will accept and embrace them (instead of calling for new and then rejecting new because it isn’t like the old).
5. I can find time to play the games!
1. That the gaming industry will continue to equate sandbox and variety with open PvP; if it hasn’t worked yet, what on earth makes you think yet another attempt would?
2. The genre will keep losing talent, ingenuity, and passion until its so badly gutted games become nothing more than the result of spreadsheet analyses.
3. Nothing will have real staying power and I will continue to flit through a variety of games for small bursts of enjoyment instead of finding a home to settle in.
4. Daybreak will totally implode.
5. Gaming as a bite-sized service will expand and large virtual worlds will disappear.
More than anything, I hope we hear more about Amazon’s Lord of the Rings MMO, and that it’s good. There is enormous potential for an amazing game here, but also huge potential for disappointment.
I hope Elder Scrolls Online starts showing a bit more ambition. New zones and content are fine and all, but games need to evolve, not just keep rehashing the same experiences. I’d love to see new weapon skills. I’d like to see the clunky class system dissolved and class skill lines made available to all. I want to see new forms of content unlike anything currently in the game, and I want to see an actual practical benefit to housing.
I realize there’s about a snowball’s chance in hell of it actually happening, but I’d also like to see World of Warcraft get rid of its subscription and drop the restrictions on flying. Do that and I’d start playing again.
I hope that Book of Travels doesn’t turn into the dumpster fire that most every crowdfunded MMO seems to and actually delivers on its promises of providing a truly fresh multiplayer experience.
My main fear is the same concern I always have about this genre: that it will continue to favor tradition and nostalgia over innovation and evolution. We’ve spent enough time worshiping the past. Let’s leave behind outdated concepts like tab target combat, button bloat, mandatory subscriptions, empty sandboxes, and bland quest design. Let’s push the boundaries of what this genre can achieve.