Massively Overthinking: The 2023 MMO trainwrecks (almost) nobody noticed

    
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This might be one of the most important Massively Overthinkings we do all year, and it’s a pretty salty one. We always come away from our awards season having picked out some of the worst imbroglios and scandals and disaster trainwrecks of the year, but there are only so many awards and fauxwards to go around to highlight those, meaning some of the genre’s dirty laundry never gets aired. I mean, would you have remembered EVE Online’s CCP Games tried to get away with so much in 2022 if we hadn’t timelined it? We barely even remembered! Obligatory:

So it’s time to do some remembering and airing. Tell me about the MMO genre fiascos, shenanigans, and minor messes that slipped under the radar and didn’t get the attention they deserved. What were the biggest 2023 MMO trainwrecks that (almost) nobody noticed?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): My biggest personal disappointment has been the continued trainwreck of Pokemon GO. It’s not just been Niantic being toxic to its own community (I won’t even be covering the company’s Monster Hunter game, despite being a series fan); it’s also been pumping out low-quality events and updates while asking for more money, not in-game earned currency. And that’s ignoring feature bloat (a phrase I normally don’t use but is warranted here), refusal to put out sufficient paid storage, and “sales” that are often simply A/B testing to rip off their own consumers. It’s why that whole “actions speak louder than words” quote I mentioned has basically been the studio’s theme for 2023 and is already trending that way for 2024.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I don’t know if it’s fair to say that nobody noticed, but certainly very few people outside of the Grand Theft Auto Online RP community said much about Rockstar acquiring FiveM, the mod that makes RP worlds in GTAO possible. Since very little has changed with FiveM since the deal took place, we’re all left wondering “why?” The most likely answer to that question is that Rockstar sees another avenue for revenue from the RP world but has not figured out exactly how to monetize it yet. As we players know, a monetization strategy can make or break a game, so there should be cause for concern that whatever they come up with will squash the RP community. After all, Rockstar’s track record with online play is middling at best.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): You know, I had originally planned to use this space to point out the fact that Blizzard spent the first part of last year promising to find a new partner to replace NetEase after the collapse of almost all of its MMORPGs in China at the top of 2023, but the company barely breathed a word about it throughout the rest of the year. However, we finally got a hint about it in the last days of 2023: On the eve of Bobby Kotick’s departure, somebody leaked that Microsoft and NetEase had reopened negotiations, which made perfect sense since the (highly credible) rumor was that it was Kotick who’d tanked Blizzard’s fortunes with NetEase in the first place. So if that’s all true, I understand why the companies probably just agreed to sit on it until he was out and they could proceed again. Which, honestly, is good news for both Blizzard and Chinese gamers.

So instead, let me point to a few other trainwrecks that were pretty small this year and didn’t make much of a splash:

  • The time Funcom abruptly and without warning or consultation canceled Anarchy Online’s player advisor program two weeks before the MMO’s 22nd birthday, claiming it was simply too expensive to support, though it seemed less about money and more about studio manpower.
  • That time the volunteer player-led dev team operating The Realm Online under license from Norseman Games tried to acquire the IP to save the game from going under and were instead effectively told to scram because Norseman was selling the franchise to a third company that turned out to be new startup with a super weird papertrail.
  • And let us not forget that time a Metin 2 ripoff called Magic 2 Master went to Kickstarter with fake “testimonial reviews” including a fake one from our own website, prompting a bizarre rash of legal feuds with Gameforge, entanglements with The Repopulation’s Idea Fabrik and Hero Engine, DMCA abuse, and the whole “necessary features tree” ridiculousness. Not only petty, but stupid!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Donkey Crew dropping Last Oasis for something else instead. I don’t know that I was ever going to be interested in Last Oasis, but at least its setting and some of its ideas seemed to be interesting. Regardless, the studio – and its leader in particular – seem to be incapable of sticking to a vision and went chasing money… which ultimately led to the studio deciding to try the same trick with Bellwright and hope that nobody would notice its original game hasn’t been talked about since September. And they were mostly right, but only insofar as Last Oasis ended up being forgettable if player headcount is any indicator.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): Not so much a scandal as a disappointment that flew under the radar for me is that Spellcraft was sunset after only a handful of accessible betas. This was the game that was being built by a new studio with former members of ArenaNet and Riot as well as others. It was sort of like a 1v1 tactical arena game. I played during one of the early access betas and found it enjoyable enough, but I guess the response wasn’t strong enough for them to keep up development.

Often my mind will group up some games that sound similar or announce around the same time. So I always had Spellcraft and Evercore Heroes bundled and had hopes for them to be really cool games. And of course they both failed before they really even started.

Maybe the real thing that flew under the radar was the fact that early releases or alpha access can cause games to disappear before we ever even see them.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I won’t say nobody noticed it, but I’m surprised there wasn’t more blowback over the shambolic state Palia launched in. I feel like people are less willing to criticize it because of its wholesome aesthetic.

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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