A Brighter MMO Future

neo…oh yes, so bright, Neo has to give me some of his cool shades for me to wear.

Two posts made me feel a disturbance in the MMO force today. One was Kill Ten Rats’ Ravious, who uses a restaurant comparison to paint a bleak picture of WAR, and perhaps MMOs in general. Spinks is not so doom-gloomy, but has an equally sobering opinion on 2010 perhaps being the last of the “AAA MMO titles”, citing lack of success for recent titles as evidence that MMOs are moving in another direction.

Obviously, I’m planning on shoving myself into this whole discussion with a bit of fresh morning sun, because I really do think that MMOs are evolving into a market past the WoW craze and into something that has a variety of options for potential players.

I’ve used restaurant analogies before in reference to MMOs, but I usually do so with regards to kinds or quality of food served, rather than the black and white comparison of success vs. failure that Ravious portrays. While there’s a high perception out there about the “failure” rate of MMOs out there that might match the high failure rate of the restaurant industry, the reality is that most MMOs don’t close up shop. Only a small fraction of those that have launched in the last two years have actually shut down (Tabula Rasa and Hellgate London), while the rest remain open. Where others see the crash and burn of recent releases, I see the maintenance of a market that now has a lot of choices for us players. Does this mean players can afford to be more discerning and make developers pay for that with their wallets? Absolutely. Does this mean that developers now need to create more realistic and unique expectations for their titles? Certainly.

If we’re talking restaurant food (damn you Ravious, now I’m hungry), the MMO business ultimately benefits from a omelette despite the inevitably broken eggs it takes to get there.

As for the lack of big budget titles past the 2010 year, the rise of social networking-related games and what that means for “MMO” as a definition, again, I really see that as a means of evolution in the MMO genre. It’s part of why I don’t really mind microtransactions, and don’t think of them as the pariah that lots of others do.

It’s just a part of the overall process of not just figuring out what the players want, as Spinks says, but the players themselves figuring out what the players want. It’s hard to tell what players want, post-WoW, which may partially explain why all of the titles released in the last two years have experienced a surge and a dropoff. If there’s been something silly about the big budget titles, it’s that they’ve created expectations for themselves that they ended up falling short to meet. This, however, does not mean that big budget titles are going away – merely that they will probably take a more cautious slant towards their hype machine. This is already apparent in Bioware’s approach to SW:TOR.

Certainly, my predictions of the future could most certainly be wrong when it comes to MMOs – but I’d like to think that despite hardships, the genre is in a place where there are tons of choices with players that can make them intelligently. You can’t really complain about that.

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