Massively Overthinking: Our MMO predictions for 2021

    
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So… 2020 didn’t go exactly as anyone planned. Our predictions for this past year were pretty janked up by that whole pandemic thing and the whole games industry going way off course. And we don’t have much reason to think that at least the beginning of 2021 will be dramatically better. But so what? It’s tradition to do annual predictions – the more weird, the better when we score a hit.

So for this round of Massively Overthinking, the MOP team has come together for another round of predictions about what’s in store for MMORPGs and MMOs and the industry around us for 2021. And you bet we want to hear yours down in the comments below too. After all, if we don’t put it in text, how can we laugh at all our wrong guesses next year?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): MMO-wise, I think Improbable, the company whose platform was supposed to revolutionize the industry, still won’t have a released MMO in the wild.

Crowfall will finally come out but the long development cycle will make it less of a bang than perhaps a bark (I do hope to be wrong about this, though).

ArcheAge 2 will reveal some cool stuff that appeals to the original PvP crowd prior to the US/European release, but I almost wonder if it might not actually be an MMO but some kind of glorified lobby game like Crowfall (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing these days).

The Daybreak purchase will mean “better” news in the sense that the house won’t be on fire, but it may also finally get torn down and sold off piece by piece. We may get 1 or 2 VR MMO announcements but much like 2020, the tech still won’t be used to innovate as much as make current norms more immersive. (Devs, VR needs to be more about experiences than games, especially in MMORPGs. Look at games like The Time Machine, but also look at “weaponizing” voice technology. Headsets have a mic built-in. Give us literal magic words, voice modulators for better RP, or even better, NPCs that react to keywords when we literally talk to them, kind of like with old MUDs. Let us raise and protect wildlife so we have more experiences like Asheron’s Call’s player-made god “Harry”!)

I know they’ve been out for awhile, but aside from demand for PS5, the next-Gen Playstation and Xbox will probably be “all right” until spring or summer. Mobile gaming will continue to eat into the console and PC markets, especially as we get more cross-platform play, which will also attract MMO players because we love big worlds, and what’s bigger than being able to play the same game with the same people across PC, console, and phones? However, Apple supporters may get left out once in a while. Speaking of which, I do feel like we’ll see signs of Epic and Apple coming back together, but probably not all at once. I just don’t think Apple’s top-end people understand gaming trends and needs. When even the console wars are turning cold, it’s becoming more obvious how much more money you can make when you let people play together, as long as you don’t get too greedy. Also, Fortnite will still look like the Super Smash Bros of the battle royale genre, but I’m not sure it’ll be able to draw in older players after spending so much time focusing on kids and that fight with Apple.

I think Overwatch 2 will surprise quite a few of us, and I’m saying that as someone who was really lukewarm to the original at release. I think 2021 is when Animal Crossing will finally give me back gyroids, the funky musical clay dolls that freak out some people but make me melt. Pokemon GO’s COVID changes and Go Beyond Update will make it oodles of money. The Kanto event in particular will draw attention to mainstream Pokemon fans, if only to get the very rare Shiny Mew into their main series games. However, starting with the Go Beyond press conference, Niantic has mentioned players will have events from Professor Willow that will have them revisit the previous five Pokemon game regions. PR has responded to my questions about that feature’s relationship with the Kanto event in ways that, to me, signal that I’ve followed the breadcrumbs they’ve been dropping and hit paydirt. I’m thinking 2021 isn’t just going to see us revisiting those old location, but will finally be when Niantic starts completing holes in previous generations’ pokedexes, meaning we’ll finally see pokemon like Kecleon and Zoroark in-game.

Andy McAdams: In traditional Blizzard style, Hazzikostas will lead the WoW in “two steps back” that inevitably follows its “one step forward.” Shadowlands is fairly well received, so now is the time for it to misinterpret large swaths of data and determine that Raiding is the Future (for real, this time) and quadruple down on the raid-or-die mentality.

While the burning-circus-tent that is WoW continues to find new and novel ways to ruin a good thing, other parts of Blizzard will release a battle royale set in the Shadowlands where there’s a lore tidbit that Sylvanas is actually good and she was only acting evil to convince the Jailer the trust her so she could replace him and bring the Maw back to being the realm of eternal punishment. Later, Blizzard will drop another lore tidbit in a piece of quest text in a patch to the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans that says that Anduin has actually been possessed by Kael’Thas during his stay in Shadowlands (it was only a setback after all). He’s summarily installed at Warchief of the Horde because Baine likes his new green eyes. Everything is fine until a fragment of a previously unknown old god also possesses him, resulting in Anduin’s body housing three souls. The Kael’Thas soul joins forces with the old god and they consume Anduin’s soul and take over his body, and set him up to be the final raid boss in Warcraft: Wrathful Battle of the Burning Cataclysmic Mists for Draenor.

In non-Blizzard news, ArenaNet will start a slow, painful crawl back from the edge of the abyss. We get more information about End of Dragons, but End of Dragons will suffer delays due to multiple re-orgs within ArenaNet and we won’t actually see it until late 2022. Maybe they finally realize that while raiding is a fun side activity for GW2, that it shouldn’t be core to the game experience.

Daybreak will announce the next installment of the EverQuest franchise, but it won’t launch for years and people will grouse about “too little, too late”

Camelot Unchained will spend another year in launch limbo, but Jacobs will continue to send out weekly progress emails that everyone appreciates but no one really understands.

Crowfall will launch to moderate success.

ESO will announce they are dropping support for Playstation because eff those guys who don’t use Xbox. The latest story arc in the game will be fine. It’s fine. It’s just fine. (I will never not want to use this quote from Eliot).

The hype-machine for Crimson Desert will reach Star Citizen levels, ensuring that whatever the game ends up being, it will be unable to live up to player expectations.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): We will continue to see major gatherings and announcements in an online space, as studios have learned that effectiveness is not affected by non-physical gatherings. Twitch will continue to dominate, but smaller competitors will begin to pop up. Star Citizen will begin selling entire planets (starting price $600) enabling players to establish their own oligarchies, dictatorships, and empires (all available in a future release). Some Star Wars game somewhere will figure out another Mandalorian tie in.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’ll say Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons is a triumph, but the year leading up to it is a bit of a drag. I almost want to say it’ll be delayed to 2022, but honestly they don’t delay that much, so I doubt it.

Final Fantasy XIV Forspoken will top even Shadowbringers in terms of mainstream approbation.

I don’t expect much out of WoW Retail at all, save an expansion announcement toward the end of the year, but I do think we’ll get confirmation of Burning Crusade Classic at BlizzConline, with a launch planned before summer. I kind of think we’ll see WoW Console announced this year too.

New World will actually launch rather well, but I also expect Amazon will need to scramble afterward to keep players happy. It’s my hope that it can pull an Elder Scrolls Online and reinvent itself again mid-way through to hold on to its playerbase.

And speaking of Elder Scrolls Online… we already know the theme is Oblivion this year. The mood from players has been mixed thus far, but I’m going to be hopeful and predict that it actually does better than the Year of Skyrim, but not as well as the Year of Morrowind.

Crowfall and Crimson Desert will both launch and do respectably well, though CD won’t top BDO for retention. Camelot Unchained will not launch, but Final Stand Ragnarok will. Elyon will make only a small splash. Lost Ark will finally arrive in the west carrying the Amazon flag.

I fully expect EG7 to start announcing games under the Daybreak banner, starting with something for EverQuest.

Elite Odyssey will be a buggy mess but will still manage to poach players from both EVE Online and Star Citizen, putting a marked dent in the latter game’s crowdfunding.

I will wind up back in LOTRO farming happily.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Crimson Desert will launch on the PlayStation 7, which will make a great deal about how it simulates dew collecting on every blade of grass and how Macduff’s testes constrict in cold weather.

Elite Dangerous’ Odyssey expansion will slap Chris Roberts awake from his Alice in Wonderland caterpillar-like smoke fog for all of a month until he starts rolling spliffs with video game “luminaries” like Hideo Kojima and Richard Garriott.

Daybreak will finally break from its chrysalis to reveal itself as Mugna Oodrith, Legion of Studios, but will be summarily stomped by EA’s kaiju.

The MOP Golden Yacht will finish its final engineering phase and become a golden airship, which we will name The Indefatigable.

I will get to hug Eliot again. The first time was super good and I would like more Eliot hugs, please.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons will be a good, solid expansion, and a lot of people will return to Guild Wars 2 to play it. It won’t blow anyone’s mind, but it will be on par with Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire. EoD will add no new class, no new race, but will add new elite specs for each class and a new mastery that won’t be as game-changing as PoF’s mounts, but will add something that’s fun and useful throughout the game. It will contain three new raids, a new set of legendary armor for each armor type, a handful of new strikes, and a couple of new fractals, which roll out over the course of several months. The final boss of the last raid will reveal that the ArenaNet game director position was a mesmer illusion all along.

LOTRO will have a better year in 2021. (It kinda has to, right?) The Gundabad expansion will be successful, and restore some of the goodwill they lost this year. All of the long-time players will complain about the new class, but play it anyway because it’s new. A new legendary server will launch in the summer.

New World will delay one more time, then launch to moderate success.

Battle royales will decline in popularity, with the bubble bursting and a bunch of BR games shutting down, but Fortnite will continue to be a major player.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): World of Warcraft: Shadowlands starts to cool on the hype once it becomes clear that while the expansion is worlds better than BFA, the endgame is a bit undercooked once you actually get there. Unfortunately, the team still thinks that the solution to this is more raiding and pushing that harder… but this time, the push back actually gets traction. There are rumblings of leadership changes and different people stepping into roles as a result of player dissatisfaction. Some actual optimism is in place by the later half of the year, even if the expansion itself continues in the “unexciting, but fine” vein.

Final Fantasy XIV announces its fourth expansion and players are thrilled. It launches in early August due to the existing delay. While it’s not Shadowbringers (nothing could be), its two new jobs are well-received and the game continues in its vein of being highly competent, beloved by fans, and generally fun. There are rumors about a follow-up by the end of the year, maybe a screenshot or two of the game supposedly coming after Final Fantasy XVI.

Guild Wars 2 winds up slipping its next expansion until very late in the year, maybe even falling to 2022. Still, player excitement is much higher than it has been for a while, especially as one big marquee feature for the expansion involves housing as players had long dreamed of.

Crimson Desert continues to have kind of confusing messaging around its multiplayer vs. single-player aspects, but when it launches people praise the multiplayer side for doubling down on sandboxy stuff since the straight story is all much more segmented. There’s much more flexibility than is found in Black Desert, but that game continues to be well-received and hum along rather nicely.

The Elder Scrolls Online, to everyone’s surprise, really flubs its next expansion year. It shouldn’t, especially after 2020 failed to quite connect, but it still happens. It’s a blip, not a crucial failure, but it’s very clear that the more the game tries to mine out old content the more it gets stuck with diminishing returns.

Elyon releases to notable and sizable praise. Seriously, no one expected much for it by this point, even me, but the game is solid, fun, and playable. People are calling it a real sleeper hit.

Blue Protocol gets a US beta and it winds up being an exceedingly niche title, but that niche really likes the heck out of it.

PSO2: New Genesis turns out to be enough PSO2 to please current players, but still basically more of the same and thus not able to quite attract as many new faces as Sega would have wanted.

Star Citizen continues to Star Citizen and gets no closer to anything even pretending to be a launch.

Daybreak manages to put out promises of a couple new games, neither of which really wow anyone outside of the folks devoted to Daybreak. They’re both years away, though.

New World launches to good reviews and Amazon being totally unprepared for that fact. It’s actually fun, and you almost immediately get flailing promises of more after the studio had never planned for an MMO-sized success like the one they’re clearly sitting on.

RIFT gets new content! It’s only decent, but hey, new content!

At least one Kickstarted game completely collapses once again.

I will buy another shelf for my Transformers.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): You want some 2021 predictions? Admit it, you just want some 2021, period! So say we all. After the “can’t predict this!” pandemic and ramifications of 2020, I am side-eying 2021 and not too keen on offering any predictions. Instead, I’m focused more on wish-ictions. Wait, those are for a different New Year post? Fine. Here goes my of-course-I-know-what-to-expect-because-I-have-a-magic-8-ball list for next year:

The new Daybreak overlords Enad Global 7 will make a bold move. Will a new true member of the EverQuest franchise finally be born? Or will it all go up in flames? Whichever, it will be bold!

AdventureQuest 3D will put on another mega Battle Concert, bringing more musical talent into the virtual world. (Can I request RUSH?!)

Star Trek Online wraps up the Klingon Civil War just in time to meet the threat of a new alien species.

Grapeshot crumbles as Atlas sinks. The hype train of ARK 2 to speeds down the track with very little to show development-wise.

Conan Exiles launches Isle of Siptah, and either a new map or an expansion of the current Exiles of Siptah map gets announced.

A new ArcheAge rebranding or relaunch happens. Of course, you have to buy it separately.

In-person conventions will resume by the end of fall — even if it is just one crazy studio/group who want to get ahead of the game.

MOP will finally take Torchlight Frontiers off of the upcoming MMORPGs list.

MOP’s Stream Team will release a new form of entertainment. It will really happen this time!

The survival genre will slow down even further, but one new title will surprise everyone. Does Blizzard jump on the bandwagon? At least two small survival titles will go into maintenance or shut down completely.

Funcom’s DUNE game enters early access. The spice will flow.

Bree and Justin (and any guest stars) do an all musical podcast a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Once More with Feeling episode. The entire show will be in song. (MJ is forced to leave MOP for her crazy ideas… er, creative differences. Or maybe just gets a time-out and grounded from the golden yacht.)

One new title is announced that becomes the next “I CAN’T WAIT!” — but you’ll have to because it will be slated for far, far in the future with plenty of time to overhype so it can’t possibly meet expectations.

Remember how Frostkeep wanted players to keep playing Rend on personal servers even after shutdown? Rogue servers get a big boost in acquiring legitimacy in certain circumstances.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I think we’re going to get a bunch of actual, factual releases in 2021.

This time for real! Albion Online’s mobile update, including fully Google Play release will pop – for sure.

Crimson Desert is queued up for a big one. I think this will be the game we’re still talking about come 2021 rewards.

Black Desert’s Shadow Arena will shutter. I only played it a handful of times when it was launching, several matches with Carlo too. We rocked. We rolled. Then I didn’t log in again.

ArcheAge is going to straight pop by allowing some kind of transfers between Unchained and the other version. That, or we’ll see an expansion called ArcheAge Unchained: The Binding.

New World’s going to release too. It’ll be worth playing for a couple of months.

Crowfall will really release too! It might be… a little late but it’ll be here. If they can get the performance issues for the large battles under control, it’ll be a contender.

Camelot Unchained will drop the NDA. This time I’ll be right!

ArenaNet will announce they have a game director… haha kidding. But Guild Wars 2 will be chugging along nice and healthy. We might even see a boost in the playerbase when the expansion arrives.

I also think we’ll see more traditional PvE games come out or announce. So many years it’s be a ton of “old school, hardcore PvP” style games. 2021 will be the year for PvE.

Tyler Edwards (blog): New World may or may not suffer yet another delay, but it will launch at some point in 2021. Despite Amazon’s best efforts, it will be a bit content light at launch, drawing criticism. However, strong underlying systems will be enough to keep it going, and aggressive post-launch support will see it improve with time, ultimately becoming a bit of an MMO redemption story similar to Elder Scrolls Online.

Speaking of which, ESO will start to see its reputation begin to tarnish a bit as it continues to play it safe with consistent but predictable content updates that fail to move the game in new directions.

GW2 will launch End of Dragons, and it will draw praise from the GW1 nostalgia crowd but receive a lukewarm response otherwise.

Magic: Legends will launch to reviews that are mixed but lean favorable. Like Cryptic’s core MMOs, it will find a comfortable niche as a modestly successful mid-tier title.

We’ll hear more about Anthem’s reboot, but it won’t launch, though we may see some large scale beta tests.

People will keep giving Star Citizen money, for some reason.

We will get a release window for Overwatch 2, which may or may not be in 2021 itself.

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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