Of course most of that growth comes from World of Warcraft which has now become so dominant in the MMORPG field that it is hard to see any new game ever displacing it. Its simple economic logic, a virtuous cycle:
1. Blizzard have the best MMORPG out there so they attract more players.
2. They attract more players so they make higher profits (much higher profits)
3. Higher profits give them more money to invest in developing the the game ensuring that their game remains the best MMORPG out there.
4. Go to step 1.
Curiously this brings me back to my "passing fad" post because I still think the core argument of that post makes a lot of sense. Current generation mmorpgs (including World of Warcraft) force their customers to make unpleasant compromises (particularly spending a long time doing boring stuff) in order to maximise the game companies profit. The best way to compete with a business model like that is to offer a product with similar benefits that does not force the customer to make those compromises.
In a post today Tobold imagines a game where:
Imagine that once you leveled up to level 70, you could get a set of blue gear with useful stats for your class relatively easily by various means, and that this was the best gear available in the game. No raid epics, no PvP epics, nothing. It would mean that if you entered an arena, you'd be sure that your opponent had exactly the same gear as you do, and suddenly the whole system becomes skill-based instead of gear-based. It would mean that all raid dungeons from Karazhan to Sunwell Plateau would necessarily be much closer to each other in difficulty level, and your guild could go raiding whereever they wanted, just based on your skills in beating the various boss encounters, not on your gear. The only rewards would be things like titles and trophies.
Of course the more astute among you will realise that Tobold has just described Guild Wars. While Guild Wars has been very successful it is nowhere close to dethroning World of Warcraft. Maybe this is because of all the stuff Guild Wars doesn't have: It relies on instances and therefore lacks a real "World" feeling. It doesn't have crafting or music or mounts or houses any of the other peripheral stuff that gives richness to an mmorpg world. It doesn't have a monthly fee! While many would see this as an advantage it limits the game in several ways. It limits the amount of money the developers can spend adding cool stuff to the game. It probably also means the game has a less mature player base which may be off putting for many core MMORPG players.
So where does all this lead: Perhaps a new type of MMORPG with a Guild Warsesque model can save the genre from its not very obviously approaching doom. On the other hand perhaps I was right the first time - the whole thing is just a passing fad. I am off to play COD4 until the fuss blows over.
PS. DM Osbons latest initiative has prompted me to also to sign up for a three week trial of Eve. I've done the trial before and I don't expect to last beyond the three weeks this time either but I may get a post out of my experiences.