Every so often, one inevitably reads about how such-and-such genre of gaming is dead, or dying, or should be put to rest. Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) titles have had their share of doomsaying, none of which have ever been true. A discussion of MMOs today requires that we begin with World of Warcraft (WoW).
Blizzard’s foray into the MMO genre was not the first of its kind, nor the last, but one could argue that it has had the largest impact in evolving the genre since first releasing over fifteen years ago. Star Wars: Galaxies, Shadowbane, Ultima Online, and Everquest all came before Blizzard, and contributed in their own way, but none saw the same cultural popularity.
Over the past fifteen years, one can see the influence wielded by WoW by looking at how often a new entrant into the genre was described as a “WoW killer”, meant to finally dethrone the popular game. Prior to its release, Rift was considered the definite game that would leave WoW desolate and with empty servers, but this was not true. The Elder Scrolls Online, too, was touted as the game that would bring everyone over and away from Blizzard, and it did no such thing. Countless others were described in similar ways as well, and none were true.
There Will Never Be Another World Of Warcraft, Which Is Past Its Prime
Today, there is no need to call upcoming games “WoW-killers,” not because any single game has proven itself superior to Blizzard’s product, but because the market is saturated with MMOs. In addition, we have seen a shift in other genres towards long-term progression that mimics the MMO model, which keeps players tied up for longer in certain games.
The first point is evident when doing even the most cursory of searches. Today, one can play Guild Wars 2, The Elder Scrolls Online, EVE Online, Final Fantasy XIV, Black Desert Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Lord of the Rings Online, Tera, Rift, Star Trek Online, and very soon, WoW Classic, which we include because it should almost be considered its own game, as a sort of reboot to the series alongside its current version.
The second point, that other games have adopted or mimic qualities of long-term MMO progression to maintain player interest, is also easy to observe. Destiny and its sequel did not at first embrace the genre of MMO, but what else can we call it? Although the weapons are futuristic guns and combat is done in a first-person shooter style of play, players are sent on daily quests, they raid and upgrade their gear to marginally increase their power levels, and more.
While Destiny is more obvious in is MMO themes, Grand Theft Auto Online has embraced many of these points as well, at least in terms of committing to a single character and their long-term progression, though in that game, the aim is more cosmetic with vehicles and property acquisition. This is not to say that GTAV is an MMO, but rather that it has borrowed those points that best keep players involved, and spending cash, for as long as possible.
Final Fantasy XIV: An Example In Success
When it comes to traditional MMOs set in high-fantasy settings, Final Fantasy XIV is proof that there can be modern-day successes, despite initial stumbles. Its initial launch in 2010 was universally panned with negativity to critics and fans alike.
Unlike some developers, Square Enix took immediate responsibility for the problems and got to work on rebuilding the game from the ground up. Naoki Yoshida was assigned to lead the project, constant communicated was kept up with players via a blog posted by producers, and a relaunch of the game in 2013 as FFXIV: Realm Reborn.
Why has the game done so well with its base? In a word, trust. When there was a problem, there was no passing the blame from one person to another, or saying that consumers have expected too much from a launch. Fallout 76 and Anthem, meanwhile, are textbook cases of overpromising, underdelivering, and ignoring the most basic considerations of their fan base in favor of pushing out a product quickly.
The Evolution Of MMOs And The Rise Of Mobile Games
While the MMO genre as we knew it years ago is not dead by any means, it has certainly evolved. The earliest MMOs such as Ultima Online, Everquest, and World of Warcraft were difficult and required immense grinding to acquire the necessary items to progress in the endgame content.
Somewhere along the way, developers saw the benefit in appealing to a wider player base by making the game more casual. The earliest forms of the Raid Finder feature in WoW is a testament to this, allowing players who were not in guilds to enter into the same raid content as the most organized of raiding guilds.
The difficulty was scaled down, and so too were the rewards, but at first, it was still possible to get full set-bonuses from the items found. Since then, this has been adjusted significantly, but the idea of providing as large a portion of a player base with some kind of the full endgame experience persists, and it has extended to other games as well.
While this may be fine for PC and console games, the rise in smartphone technology has made it incredibly easy to create a bad MMO game on a mobile platform. This is not to say that all mobile games are bad, only that the barrier to entry is so low that the worst games enter the market too easily. Revelation Online, League of Angels, and Conquer Online are all example of games that require little skill, but demand a cash investment to advance, with clear pay-to-win mechanics.
Play On, Players
Instead of considering the MMO genre of game as dying, it is more useful to examine how it has evolved, and how its long-term progression mechanics have spread to other genres in an effort to keep players interested.
Even if a new, well-made MMO were to launch today, the question is not whether the genre can still compete, but how to draw consumers into a new game from another in a saturated market. Players today have access to so many great AAA games, but also a flood of well-made indie games accessible on console, PC, and smart devices.
We may never experience MMOs in the same way as the early 2000s, but expecting to do so would be anachronistic.
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