The Daily Grind: Do you think the MMO genre is in decline?

    
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A while back, there was a post on the MMORPG subreddit that was basically “the genre didn’t change, we changed” – I’ve seen those types of threads for the last decade and probably before that too as people grow up and self-reflect on their hobbies. That’s not what I want to talk about today, though, especially since the OP then deleted his post. What I want to talk about is some of the discussion under the original piece, whereby a pair of posters got into a debate about the decline of the genre – another type of thread we’ve seen forever.

The way these back-and-forths usually go is that people who think things are fine will point to the fact that there are more MMO players and MMOs than ever with more money in them than ever. This particular poster also noted that the quality-of-life and features in MMOs are stronger than ever as “garbage” gameplay (designed downtime, anyone?) has been “disposed of.” The the other side will argue that the genre just doesn’t feel the same as it used to, the adventure is gone – that the genre is creatively and spiritually bankrupt.

Do you think the MMO genre is in decline? Do you prefer qualitative or quantitative measures to make that call?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Holden Nagata

I don’t think they’re in a decline, but priorities changing to try and chase “the next thing” like what happened with MOBAs and Battle Royales is hurting MMOs more than just being good multiplayer RPGs…

however, the lack of price restructuring when Game Pass and EA Play are on par or cheaper needs to change yesterday. While i’d love to go back to FFXIV there’s no reason to pay 15/mo when even WoW gives you classic along with retail. Hell even SWTOR has released some story without requiring a subscription!

Any mechanical or aesthetic stagnation is not specific to MMOs but to gaming in general, but the monthly subs are the biggest difference that I think hurts the MMO market.

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Robert Mann

Not decline, they just haven’t moved on from the 2000s in many ways.

Focusing all the attention on graphics has killed more than MMOs. Pushing convenience and constant action hasn’t been well received in other genres by everyone either. The lack of caring about new ideas, other player motives, etc. is and has been a mistake on the part of the industry for a long time.

Now, some few games have tried to innovate… but in general they have either tied that to something that goes completely off the beaten path and into areas many people don’t have interest, have tied themselves to the small and fast-changing community of open PvP (nothing wrong with that, but the few relatively stable games in that grouping are either non-MMO lobby based games or have large safe areas that most of the playerbase remains entrenched within), or have lacked enough funding to do anything much (example, project gorgon with graphics that haven’t been updated enough for many, although the innovation there is more wacky ideas than mechanical inspirations).

What the genre has done is put more shiny graphics and convenience in with more aggressive monetization tactics while downplaying anything about the world and social parts. Combat is fun, yes, but the best dungeon runs still involve a mix of traps you can work around in a variety of ways, secrets to find, methods to avoid some of that combat, and other elements that come from being a little more creative. Sometimes that can be hard to do in a game, but there’s hundreds of titles showing how much more COULD be done in MMOs.

Decline? No, this is what one calls rot. It’s the same sort of festering desire for things to remain as they have been, and to profit off that, which caused Kodak to attempt to bury the digital camera in pursuit of film sales. It’s the sort of self-neglect that develops sores from sitting around constantly and doing nothing. That is where the MMO genre is, and those are not decline. These things are willful ignorance and the greed tied to known quantities without wanting to risk anything for something better.

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MasterOfPuppets

They aren’t in decline, as in the actual number of players, but I don’t think we’ll ever see an MMO be as popular in total market share as they were in the early days because there’s just too many of them, and the industry as a whole has just become so greedy for their player’s time and money that people just can’t physically give enough any more to feel as part of a world as they once did.

For instance, I logged into Rocket League (Not an MMO, but come with me for now) for the first time in months last night, to see if they’d handed out the free currency they’d offered as a class action lawsuit settlement as reported recently. On logging in, I saw a Season Pass (grind for months to get rewards) a New Year event season pass (secondary grind) a Level system, a skill based reward system in the matchmaking separate to the levelling, and the currency store/recipe shop on top of all of that.

It was instantly off putting and the amount of time required to even touch upon the monetized progression paths meant if I wanted anything I’d have to play RL as a primary game for weeks ahead. And this wasn’t even an MMO.

Now add hundreds of other games all applying the same absolute capture model of player retention, and you end up with players having to choose what their “main” game actually is. In the past, MMOs would be this because they’d be entire worlds, but at that time too, there weren’t many choices. You played Ultima Online not necessarily because you knew the Ultima series, but because that’s where all the MMO play actually was. As the industry developed however, games tailored to more precise tastes appeared, and the community fractured…

… but they can’t easily come back together again because taking a risk on something that you might not like means investing enormous amounts of time, and increasingly insane levels of money too. The switch to Whale Hunting has had a hard to quantify as a whole negative effect on engagement because people feel that they’re constantly getting a lesser experience if they’re not spending at the Whale level. Even those who do have a constant nagging feeling of “but tomorrow there will be something new”; In the past new stuff was a joy, because it would be content you’d all get and could play together. Now? Who knows if you’ll be able to afford it tomorrow, and if you can, whether your friends can as well? Or even want too?

So it’s not just MMOs, although they’re excessively vulnerable to the trend due to size and dependence upon community; I think we will increasingly see the lack of any blockbuster experience in the gaming industry again, at least not with the model it currently loves.

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LITF

I wouldn’t say decline. Stagnation is perhaps the right word here.

Established titles are too complacent to innovate, and so they stick to tried and tested, which in turn feels really uninspired, routine, iterative to the players. Take WoW: at this point you know exactly what kind of experience to expect with the new expansion. Same tropes, same narrative structure, same mix of same systems. You played one expansion – you played them all. FFXIV despite all the praise is also guilty of being extremely conservative in their design – you have a well oiled and timed schedule of content releases with very careful and tiny forays into the unexplored on the side that usually feels largely irrelevant or unrewarding because they were too afraid to put the good stuff behind it. Years since ARR, but still no additional faces for the existing races, rather samey looking gear for the most part with few exceptions every now and then, raid mechanics being reused since ARR, complete lack of attention to some other aspects of the game. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still one of the better MMO, but can totally feel the signs of stagnation.

Designed downtimes were ok when used mindfully, definitely better than FOMO inducing avalanches of content that needs to be done here and now, or it will be gone forever.

IMO a big factor is that a lot of people are used to/want to MMO to be these life encompassing hobbies that leave no room for anything else, and some developers oblige, producing more content more often, but at a lower quality/creativity.

It’s fine to unsubscribe from your favorite MMO for half a year. It’s fine to take a break and play other games. Hell, it’s fine to just have a week when you go out instead. We as consumers should relax a bit on how fast we burn through content, and developers need to go back to designing MMO with people having real life in mind, and with creativity and innovation in mind. Otherwise a lot of MMO and similar games end up where Destiny 2 did – when you come back to the game a year later, see all the new content, but then realize that it’s just more of the same, and it doesn’t matter it got a fresh coat of paint – simply more Destiny just doesn’t cut it anymore. It needs to evolve. And sure, there all the time limited events (that do come back though), but they are mostly annoying – because there is no novelty, and it’s mostly just inconvenience. They might have as well stayed all year round.

Ofc I’m not calling for designing MMO content on a way that makes people unsubscribe for a period of time. I still would say it’s worth striving to make new and exciting content, stuff that will give player reasons to come back and be excited. Just another rep grind with a tiny twist on it won’t cut it. Of you need to put in a downtime by design – just do it, don’t spend too much time on trying to change it up a bit, spend that time and effort on the exciting stuff. We all know by now how those downtimes look like and some are willing to go through them time after time. Especially if we know that there is the good stuff coming soon.

So yeah, I think genre is just stagnant right now, and could use some fresh ideas, approaches. I doubt people want “the next WoW” or “the next Lineage”, etc.. At least I know I want something new and different, not more of the same.

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NeoWolf

Decline.. no, interest is still there and all the closures are just clearing the weeds so the pond can thrive again.

I do however think it is in a slump, it just needs a few standout releases to really get fans of the genre fired up again.

Saluka
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Saluka

It’s actually the same as it used to be with only 5 names to chose from each having a max population of 100k. (sarcastic answer of course)

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Stormwaltz

Inarguably.

(At least in the West – I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about the state of gaming in the East to judge.)

As I’ve said before, the most popular aspects of MMGs have been integrated into other genres that can execute on them with greater focus.

Those who came for world-immersion and socializing now get that from smaller-budget games with personalized, friend-group servers – Minecraft, Conan Exiles, Valheim, No Man’s Sky, ARK.

Those who wanted skill-based group combat and equipment progression now get that from massively-budgeted cross-platform games like Destiny, The Division, and Monster Hunter World.

The MMORPG genre was always a niche of a niche of a niche. The circles on the Venn diagram have been broken up and are being individually serviced.

I don’t think the door is closed on classic MMORPGs, but going forward they’ll need to be anchored by a pop-culture IP that can draw those diverse interests back into the same pool. Marvel, Star Wars, LOTR, Star Trek, Final Fantasy, and Pokemon are big enough.

Original MMG world-concepts like Asheron’s Call, Rift, Fallen Earth, and Wildstar have even less chance for success in the current, fractured market.

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camelotcrusade

I’d say decline, at least for what I consider an MMO, the “theme parks” of old. I think we’re stuck with the venerable set because new entries simply can’t compete with them in breadth and depth of what they offer (including, and especially, the relationships).

A new MMO that wants to be the next Warcraft would have to be more than new, different and fun; it also has to hold you there long enough to form the relationships that keep you coming back, to say nothing of actually stealing them from the games where they are already.

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Ironwu

Not in decline, but changing.

The old Tab-Target, 100 skills on 10 bars, long global cooldowns (sorry FFXIV), and everything else WoW style MMOs bring to the table are fading away.

To be replaced by…? I don’t know. But things are changing in the online gaming world. Faster, stronger, better. Companies seem to be feeling their way carefully on this.

But, we are seeing younger companies doing some innovating things with multiplayer. Things beyond CoD and Fortnite.

Interesting times coming, I think. :)

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LITF

Definitely agree that most of the things you listed need to go. We need to leave the old age of MMOs and enter the new age: with better moment to moment gameplay, better netcode, more immersive worlds and stories. Honestly I hit the point where I can’t tolerate the same old “tab target, action bars, global cool downs” gameplay. It feels too archaic, too clunky, too lazy. BDO shown what modern MMO gameplay can look like (and yes, it has many other shortcomings, but the gameplay itself is really good). We need to stop dragging along that old and clunky skeleton that EQ/WoW clone blueprint has become. Modern gameplay, please! Better storytelling (as was demonstrated by SWTOR and FFXIV)! Full-page quest texts need to go as well – we have already seen that it’s entirely possible to have voice acting in MMO games.

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Robert Mann

Skill bars are dying due to console crossplay (tbh I miss having more situational aspects, and situations that actually needed or benefitted from them, as much as many titles failed at that).

I think some things need to go, but I fear that the genre will focus exclusively on one aspect again. Combat has been king, with graphics, for so long… that the people who want more than just combat have long felt left behind.

I think this is where a huge problem with MMOs is easily seen. They all try to be the same, with a different IP and twist. There’s 2-3 designs at any given time, copycat after copycat, and meanwhile most of the potential players sit around less than thrilled.

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Anstalt

Yes, it is in decline at the moment.

That is based on the definition of “Massively Multiplayer Online Game” meaning that the game supports 250+ players within the same virtual environment .

The older MMOs are in a population decline – totally natural given their age – but there is a distinct lack of new MMOs being developed and released.

If you narrow your interest to just Western MMOs, the situation is really bad! Asia has been releasing MMOs relatively consistently (though, as I don’t play them, I can’t verify whether they’re actually massively multiplayer or not), but in west we’re screwed. The last AAA release from a western studio was Wildstar…. nearly 7 years ago! And apart from a couple of indie games (albion + ??) we’ve had nothing.

Despite the decline, I still have hope!

It may be that once the crowdfunded games start releasing, that’ll renew interest in the genre. Maybe New World will actually be a success and inspire other big studios to return to the MMO genre.

The potential of massively multiplayer is still almost completely untapped, so there is loads of room for a new hit that will reinvigorate things.