Massively Overthinking: Hopes and fears for MMOs in 2020

    
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Massively Overthinking: Hopes and fears for MMOs in 2020

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.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): My hope is to have a burrito bowl. I’m afraid I won’t get to have a burrito bowl. Is that enough? What? Not everything is about genre! Oh, fine.

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.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): My hopes:

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!

My fears:

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.

Tyler Edwards: I already covered some of my hopes in my NSM column. Beyond what I already said there, there are a few things I hope for.

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.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!

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Godnaz
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Godnaz

Hopes:

ArenaNet will find a focused direction within it’s management ranks so that it’s staff have worthy goals, making Gw2 a more meaningful play experience and from it’s shortcomings. Poor proprietary game engine design, lack of communication with it’s community and lack of proper planning for it’s content. So much potential, wasted.

This will not be the breakout year for Star Citizen but more people are beginning to pay attention and the new money (not established backers) that CIG made in 2019 shows that they are getting closer to fleshed out experience. My hope is that this will be the year occupational gameplay mechanics make a splash in the PTU so those observing, can get something meaningful to do if they choose to participate.

Ashes of Creation, Pantheon and the other hopeful MMORPG’s make huge strides toward their release goals. I want New World to be a pleasant surprise.

Reader
Toy Clown

Hopes & Fears:

1. I would love to see developers create inclusive content for players with disabilities. As developers push toward more “engaging combat”, what they’re really doing is creating combat that our hands aren’t designed to play for long periods of time (or should I say less damaging). Older combat systems utilized pushing keys on the keyboard, which was less damaging to joints and hands. My hope on this issue is that developers will create choices for players. (To expand on this, hopefully peripheral ware developers will create less jarring, damaging hardware to play games with.)

2. Sexism is at an all-time high in MMOs, with some popular MMOs leading the road down hyper-sexism in such a way that male outfits fit into the scope of an MMO’s setting, but female outfits fit more into the scope of a brothel setting. When both gender outfits are identical, male outfits will have pants or plate, where female outfits will have bikinis or shorts instead. I would like to see choices added here. I’m not asking to take away skimpy outfits. I’m asking for male characters to have the choice of wearing skimpy or full outfits, and female characters able to choose between skimpy and non-skimpy.

3. So many MMOs have fallen into dailies and other content that is repetitive and mind-numbing. How can an MMO have such an engaging story and gameplay until endgame? I hope to see innovative ideas implemented to pull MMOs away from this type of content.

Those are the biggest ones for me.

Reader
Jon Wax

Be nice to see autism friendly games, too

Reader
PanagiotisLial1

Even without any disability the push for action-only combat creates games that can be tiring over long sessions. Another thing is variety – if all games got about same combat then it significantly lowers the differences between them.

There used to be action combat, casual combat(the one you describe) and more strategic turn based combat on mmos. Now the turn based is almost extinct(only Dofus, Wakfu and Atlantica remain I believe), the casual combat is almost only adopted on older games and most new titles come with action combat but we dont need all games combat to be like Tera and BDO

Another problem is devs think too much within molds/boxes. For example sandbox devs mostly believe sandboxes shouldnt have expansive storyline just because 95% previous sandboxes didnt and themepark games devs believe their crafting system should be a hobby cash sink that gives products that dont matter(other than looks) just because WoW and EQ games done it with ALL useful coming from instances only – I would prefer a balance

Reader
Jon Wax

Evolution is messy. Fits and starts. Dead ends. Gambles. Losses. Occasionally wins. Gaming has no immunity from the whims of the world. It’s been complacent for years, patting itself on the back. The things that work do so because they start from good intention. For better or worse, gaming is a form of art. Art created with hidden agenda or corrupt intention leads to pandering and pop culture money grabs. Art created for it’s own sake lasts. The industry needs a modality change away from celebrity chasing and profit margins or it will become a parody of itself if it hasn’t already. Get away from the idea of mastery and end game because those aren’t working. Go back to making a challenge that’s enjoyable and not tedium. Ditch leveling entirely. Make worlds that take skill to exist in and teamwork is the standard if only based on environmental difficulty. Make maps the entirety of which cant be streamed in a weekend. Make a game that folks want to play for a lifetime, not 6 months and out. If the industry doesn’t evolve, it could dwindle down to a few very expensive games that rich people play to show how rich they are.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Java Jawa

Hopes: Pantheon and Camelot
Fears: continued degradation and eventual closure of swtor, gw2, and eq franchise

Even though I don’t play and won’t GW2 it’s be a shame for such a huge franchise to go bye bye.

EQ well the company just plain seems to mismanage all they touch, if they could sell of the franchise then maybe it’s for the best.

SWTOR, I feel it’s just been bleeding players since it’s F2P conversion, I wanna like it but it now entering into it’s 9 year, it has a serious lack of content. How many times can you roll new characters in that time span.

Reader
rafael12104

Hmm…

My hopes: The BnS UE4 launch occurs in the west opening the game up to new modes of play while maintaining the old combat. Surprise mechanics’ once sure footing continues to erode as more countries fall like dominoes restricting the practice. Cyberpunk 2077 lives up to half the hype. More studios take the hints from Warframe and PoE and realize huge profits by maintaining their integrity. Anthem gets a new lease on life.

My fears: More games will be released before they are ready in order to turn a quick buck. A huge scandal brings down another studio highlighting that the stupidity of execs is often at the expense of employees and or players. The Wilson loot box continues its success unchecked.

Mordyjuice
Reader
Mordyjuice

I think Zenimax, SE, will keep the MMO genre in the game through IP recognition and solid game development; how ever I think Amazon will revitalize the whole MMO genre with New World and Lord of the Rings.

No matter how dark things get for MMOs there will always be Developers in the east developing new titles and millions of Koreans willing to keep it all alive by gaming them selves to death.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
thalendor

Hopes: Pantheon enters alpha. Shadowland hits it out of the park on all fronts. No one’s most beloved MMO sunsets.

Fears: The opposite of the above.

Reader
Sorenthaz

The MMO slowdown was kind of inevitable since practically everyone was trying to create one in order to be the next WoW or rake in millions of subs after WoW showed it’s possible, and that whole era of “me too” MMOs led to several of them dying and others limping/crawling for life. As a result we had such a stupid over-saturation of casual themepark MMOs in particular and that led to the gaming industry trying to find ways to essentially get the $$$ MMOs can potentially generate but with less effort and more monetization schemes. Aka the “games as a service” or “live service” model. I guess mobile gaming had influence on that as well, but we basically saw a bunch of pseudo-MMOs that didn’t want to be called MMOs.

Now basically most games try to act like MMOs without actually putting the same level of depth into it that’s required for an MMO. An example would be something like Sea of Thieves where they neutered its potential in favor of making it focused on casual jump-in/jump-out sessions. Or Fortnite’s Save the World which was/is plagued with several mobile game design choices including the “collect them all” gacha aspect.

Then another problem is we lost a lot of the talented studios and people in the West that were doing MMOs regularly. Turbine is gone, Funcom’s trying to explore the wider gaming market to stay afloat, SoE is gone, Mythic is gone, Trion is gone…

Most of them basically got retirement home companies to take the present MMOs in and keep them afloat or kill them off. Then the creative folks have either formed their own indie companies or got hired by places like Amazon.

And right now outside of Amazon throwing money into the MMO space, most of the stuff to look forward to comes from the indie/Kickstarter scenes which will take a lot longer to manifest. I think we were kind of spoiled with the MMO rush earlier in the past decade (god that feels weird to say it like that) where we basically had an MMO coming out every quarter or every other quarter.

Maybe we’ll see that again once enough MMOs start hitting an expiration/maintenance point and companies like Blizzard/Squeenix/Funcom try to move on to the next big things. Maybe we won’t. Who really knows. I think now that most games try to have online multiplayer embedded in them, the desirability of MMOs for major companies has died down because they can just get subscriptions or MTXes out of the suckers who buy into the predatory practices found in most AAA titles these days. But that potentially encourages more stuff like we’ve been seeing where smaller companies try to create MMOs built more outside of the box and we start seeing creativity flourish again.

Reader
Utakata

My hope is that Blizz get’s it’s act together with WoW, and Shadowlands will be the next Burning Crusades. That CoH Rogue will become legally legit. Ditto for WildStar. The UE4 upgrade to B&S will do it miracle wonders. CiG will release a fully completed Star Citizen. EQ and EQ2 will find a way better host. And that New World will be the next big thing on the block. As well as, BDO will suck me in, and I consider that a good thing…

My fear is that none of these will come to pass. :(

Reader
Friend

I played Black Desert Mobile for a week before new year, it has automated battle, simplified crafting and housing system, and a lottery for upgrading system.

And for a week I just clicked on everything when it’s available, I saw my character leveled up, build things, gather things but I never understand most things, I was just like click click click, more auto battle, click click click done, is anything on? Everything greyed out? Why is this button glow? More clicking and so on

And after exactly a week I woke up and forget about that game entirely, for days, until two hours ago

My fear is this, I got addicted into something because iit’s convenient enough to play,it’s also very convenient to discard, if I played WOW or something similar I probably like I haven’t done dailies,should I farm more tomestone before caps and reset?

Is this a future for MMORPGS, or general online games? A future where everything is so covenient you play without thinking and the next day you’re just done with it and jump to the next available game that gave you 1000 gems in exchange for adding your 10 facebook friends. This actually my biggest fears, I’m a MMO jumper myself but I discover warframe and FFXIV because I jumped around and at that time there are like 20 something MMOs to jump around to

Well my hope is just more friends to actually play what left of MMORPGS, die together in a last minute of a server final gasp seemed right