I’ve been seeing, off and on, a subject being talked about over the years that irritates me, “The Death of the MMO.” I’m very protective of my favorite genre to the point that I’ve decided to throw my own little rant about it. My own little Death of the “Death of the MMO.” I’ve even called my post today “The Life of the MMO” to thumb my nose at it.
Doing a Google search on the subject, many major sites tend to show up; PCGamer, GameSpot, Eurogamer, etc. The only people I don’t see talking about it are the ones who make it their jobs to eat, breath, and live MMO’s - Massively OP and Massively-that-was. I did a search on the topic for both and came up empty. True champions of the genre, in my book.
The MMO genre is all encompassing, so it confuses me why people think it’s failing. Just about everything and the kitchen sink is in an MMO from other genres, plus some stuff that isn’t. If this genre fails, it’s because no one likes games anymore. But the essence of this post is not about death, but life - as a wise god of thunder once put it.
MMOs have been around since the 70’s, meaning it’s been around longer than many of us have been alive. These early MMOs were in the form of MUDs or multi-user dungeons. Even though they didn’t have millions of players at the time, their frameworks were in place to make them an MMO in my book. A game that plays online with other players that allows all players to work on personal goals independent from each other, while allowing for them to interact and help each other to work on the same goals. This is what separates MMOs from lobby shooters to me, or online cooperative games like Borderlands. By my definition, I see games like League of Legends and Call of Duty as not being MMOs because they are all basically working on a single goal, dependent on each other’s actions, while games like H1Z1 and Guild Wars 1 as being MMOs because they allow for personal goals independent from other players.
Years ago, when I started playing EverQuest, the term MMO was widely unheard of. Even when I talked about them with other gamers, they’d have to question what it is. That is until World of Warcraft brought the term into almost every gaming household. People who’ve never played an MMO have heard of WoW.
Also since Everquest, there were only a handful of MMOs available to play - like Ultima Online. Again, nowadays there are bookoos of MMOs out, and more in development on the horizon, and even more being localized across different countries. Same for the population for these games.
Games back in the day were healthy with a few ten thousand to just a couple hundred thousand players in them. Today, many large games host many hundred thousand, to over millions of players. I’m sure there is plenty of overlap of the population between games, but that is mostly because of the free-to-play monetization that’s taken hold of the genre.
The genre’s monetization is, and has always been, the genre’s weakest point. With most other games, you buy the box and can continue to play that game for as long as the medium is physically capable of playing it. That means if I bought a copy of Tomba! and a playstation 1 or 2 that still works and can read it, I can play it right now (or if I download it and an emulator to run it). Later, there would be a sequel made that you’d buy to continue playing that game in another story. Sequels later became DLC which added onto the original game, but all this was still a buy and play for as long as you can monetization.
MMO monetization is much different than what most gamers are used to. Going from a buy and play monetization, you have to figure out if the MMO you want to play is subscription only, or is free-to-play, or has some sort of hybrid model. If it’s subscription, does it still have cash shops? If it’s free-to-play, are the cash shops going to be exploitive of certain playstyles? There’s a lot to take in when you are used to just buying the damn box and shoving it into the system. Luckily, some games have decided to stick to the traditional model, calling it buy-to-play. Guild Wars 1 and 2, and The Secret World uses buy-to-play. But they do come with cash shops and TSW has DLC like packs you can buy. If anything hurts this genre more, it’s probably because of this overly complicated monetization scheme being used and modified between each game. If they could develop them to be bought once with buyable DLC/expansions, then this genre would be in a far better place with the rest of the gaming industry.
When it comes to this genre’s strength, I would say it’s their inherent ability to be a cooperative multiplayer game. I’ve spent many hours in the past constantly searching for games that I can play with my brother, and have become dependent on them being MMOs. Being able to create a character and knowing I can join up is a big plus to me, and is usually my biggest wish for many single player games of the past. This could be another point in how an MMO hurts itself by segregating their population between silly factions that either don’t or no longer make sense and have no way of changing sides. Biggest culprits of this are WoW, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Wildstar. For whatever reason the developers decided to do this, it just adds tension and stress on their communities, forcing them to choose a side they may not actually like because all their friends are there. Games like EverQuest 2 have factions you start out in, but it’s not permanent. You can do a quest to change sides, plus you’re not prevented from grouping with players from another faction.
The MMO genre has always been on the up and up as I’ve observed over the years. The new games of 2014 had a rough start, but I’m seeing them change and fix their mistakes. That’s because MMOs are in it for the long haul, something that other genre’s don’t seem to concern themselves with. I don’t see the death of this genre any time soon, as a matter of fact, I see other genres trying to copy them. So the MMO is a safe bet, in my book.