Massively Overthinking: Are we in an ‘MMO hype vacuum’?


James “MMO Folklorist” Crosby recently penned a piece using a term that seems so apt I feel we should all adopt it: the MMO hype vacuum. Essentially, he is grappling with the realization that we have a ton of big new MMOs on the horizon, and yet expectations and hype for the games have bottomed out. The LOTR MMO and the new Warhammer 40K MMO are just the tip of the iceberg; we’ve also got Throne & Liberty, Blue Protocol, Dune Awakening, Chrono Odyssey, Pax Dei, Anvil Empires, Ashes of Creation, Bellatores, Soulframe, ArcheAge 2, Corepunk, Raph Koster’s thing, the Riot MMO, plus gobs of smaller MMOs and borderline titles like Wayfinder and Nightingale and Palia. Some of them are new on the scene just since our last big roundup of MMOs we’re anticipating. It’s a huge range of studios and game types.

Crosby offers several reasons for the phenomenon, speculating that a lack of tangible information (even for MMOs expected to release this very year) has dulled the hype, along with the fact that a lot of the games aren’t actually being aimed at MMORPG players like him.

“Everything that actually feels as though it might be launching in the next year or two seems to be falling into two extremes – gritty Unreal Engine action MMO, or ‘comfy’ wholesome MMO. Do you prefer your MMO Dark Souls or Animal Crossing flavoured?”

Let’s join the speculation for this week’s Massively Overthinking. Is Crosby right that we’re in an MMO hype vacuum right now? If so, is he right about the causes, or are there more? And how many times are we going to misspell vacuum before this column is over?

Andy McAdams: I think the last time I got really hyped for an MMO was WildStar before I realized it was hardcore cupcake and thought it was just a stylized sci-fi MMO with a good sense of humor. Before that, it was maybe Guild Wars 2 with the original developer manifesto that it… kinda kept with? Maybe?

But I think the crux of the issue for me is that there’s nothing that’s been hype-worthy. I’m feeling a little bit of what Crosby is feeling here – hardcore gritty with gtfo carebear and everything is super intense interactions where a single screw up means you get pulverized isn’t really my deal. I do like “cozy” mmos, but tend to get bored easily in them because frequently cozy is synonymous with “drop of water on the counter” level of depth in gameplay and systems.

I think there’s been a derth of really inspired titles coming out. We have eastern ports that get churned out left and right with more or less “mobile game” sensibilities. New World was fun, but not especially memorable in terms of setting and vibe and also arbitrarily punishing. There’s some interesting things coming up with Wagadu Chronicles and Book of Travels, but I’m having trouble getting excited for those as neither really seems to be targeted at me.

I think what would get me really excited about a game is really big and audacious that up-ends the industry. I think something that’s like… WoW was back in the day as it completely changed the industry. Maybe I want Oasis? I dunno, but so much of what we cover is just the same basic gameplay, the same tried-and-true gameplay we’ve had for the last 30 years – it’s not even the same game with a new coat of paint when developers are churning the same game with a coat of paint they found behind the shelves in the garage and are trying to pass off the old and cracked as something novel and new.

I want something to knock me off my feet to get excited about.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): What qualifies as hype? I think studios have altered their methods of communicating about the product since the rise of streaming. I believe the hype is just as prevalent today as it was when WoW was released; it’s just taken a different and less obvious form. When the message is delivered by a trusted content creator, it feels more organic, even if the creator is being paid the same as any in-house PR or marketing team.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Yeah, I think James is correct: This is a real thing, and you see it across the whole genre, the Reddits, Discords, forums, blogs, YouTube, everywhere. Even some of the folks who are hyped about one new game are skeptical about everything else. And I think skeptical is the right word because MMORPG players are right to be skeptical. Our biggest games are a decade old or more, we’ve just gone through a dozen years of Kickstarter schemes that seldom actually resulted in launch MMOs, and the vast majority of MMOs that have actually released in the last decade have been disappointments.

So yeah, MMO players are Charlie Brown right now, willing to try to kick that ball but pretty sure Lucy’s gonna yank it again. It’s hard to get hyped for that.

I also think James is right that just because the games are new doesn’t necessarily mean they’re for you. If you’re looking for a traditional sandpark MMORPG with all the trappings, then no, there’s not much on the menu for you coming. And why would you get hyped for something you know isn’t going to have long-term value for you personally? You might be glad other people are getting a game for them – I always am – but I’m not gonna get hyped.

Finally, a lot of the MMOs on deck have tamped way down on their hype, partly because it’s cheaper and partly because there’s been a strong pushback against the chaotic and unproductive “open development” of the 2010s. Advertising budgets are in a major dip right now too, which means more reliance on word-of-mouth and video influencers, both a major gamble in a genre where neither is particularly trusted or gives that big oomph of ubiquitous fan excitement you can’t escape.

Finally, I want to suggest that being in an MMO hype vacuum may be boring, but I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. Unfounded hype creates jaded gamers anyway.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I don’t know what Crosby is hoping for out of the crop of games on the horizon, but I don’t really agree that the choices are as binary as he would like to believe, so I think he’s generalizing a bit too much here.

Despite that, he might be on to something insofar as there does feel like a vacuum in place, but mostly because there seems to be a general malaise regarding who is steering the ships right now: Daybreak is sitting on its laurels, Amazon is widely distrusted both as a publisher and especially as a developer, Square-Enix is hungry for NFTs, Blizzard is Blizzard, and the indie scene that was probably meant to “save” the genre has perceptibly fumbled the ball.

That all said, I don’t know that there is cause for despair. I think Blue Protocol has some legs, I really think a cozy game or two is desperately needed (especially for escapism’s sake), and a few of the old stalwarts being steady as bedrock isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even so, I would agree that a new cannonball into the pool would be welcome, if not absolutely necessary.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): For me, the hype vacuum is less about the quantity or quality of the information or the types of games coming out and more about the fact that I’ve been burned too many times. Too many games are either a buggy mess that just needed to cook longer (Magic Legends) or were cancelled before they even came out (EverQuest Next) or had their scope cut so much they weren’t even trying to ne MMOs anymore (Torchlight 3/Frontiers). It’s hard to get excited about something when players have seen so many disappointments.

These days, I’m a lot more hyped by an existing game that is making big improvements than something entirely new. It shows me that the devs are actually committed to the product and aren’t planning to just cut their losses and shut it down.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I personally do feel a bit like I’m in a hype vacuum. It probably does have something to do with the huge letdown I had from both Crowfall and New World. Crowfall’s shutdown speaks for itself. New World I really expected to come out swinging. Instead, it didn’t hit any of the notes I wanted from it. Of course, it is finding its footing recently, from everything I’ve read, which is great. But the hype I had for those games, among dozens games before them, has left me bummed out and hype-free.

Nowadays, I’m still looking forward to several games. HPWU is probably first, then Blue Protocol, and down the road maybe the new LOTR game. But I wouldn’t call it hype, just hope. I’m not getting myself revved up only to be let down, so instead I’ll just be hopeful that they turn out good

Tyler Edwards (blog): I always think “vacuum” has two c’s for some reason.

Anyway, I don’t see what he’s describing. I’ve seen plenty of excitement around Blue Protocol, Dune: Awakening, and Palia. Most of the others mentioned are too far out to form strong opinions on. An optimistic part of me would like to believe that people have perhaps learned to moderate their hype a bit. The MMO community has a long history of over-hyping games and setting themselves up for disappointment.

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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