Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are MMO's really history?

My recent "MMOs are History" thing (here and here)was started as a joke but Khan's recent post on the future of MMOs has prompted me to think about this more seriously. The truth is my thoughts and feelings about the future of mmorpgs are quite muddled at the moment.

In the first instance I should own up to my own prejudices. I got bored of WOW, I got bored of Guild Wars, I got bored of LOTRO. I didn't just get bored of the predictable fantasy settings or the repetitive gameplay. I got bored of the whole "multiplayer experience". I got bored of grouping and raiding. I got bored of chatting to online friends. I got bored of reading and posting on guild forums. I got bored of trying to fit my life around a game's schedule. I got bored of blogging about my gaming. Even though I am now spending a fair amount of time in EVE I am effectively playing it as a single player game. I know I am missing out on most of what the game has to offer but I just amn't ready yet to get re-involved in all the small efforts required for interactive social gaming.

Nothing more than typical mmorpg burnout, you might say. You might also accuse my unsupported predictions about the end of mmorpgs of being nothing more than hubris on the part of someone who thinks that just because he is bored with a genre everyone else is too.


I just can't shake the feeling that mmorpgs as we know them may already have passed their peak. This isn't a logical thought out position, more a jumble of interconnected threads. Some of the key threads are these:

- The people who are blogging about WAR or AOC or any other new MMORPG are the same folk who were blogging about Everquest, or WOW or DaoC. From that limited perspective the audience for MMOs doesn't seem to be growing and the playerbase is just getting older.

- The "time to boredom" of this player base with each new game seems to be getting shorter.

- Gamers' expectations are changing. Perhaps this is due to the dominance of consoles. Perhaps it is evidence of a wider social phenomenon. Attention spans are shorter. People want instant gratification in their gaming. Gameplay is everything. Story is nothing. Effort is a dirty word. The vast majority of the gaming public would prefer to jump up and down on a Wii fit device than play a game where you need to keep several browser windows of help files open in the background to follow what is going on.

- The dominance of WOW, The legion of me too copies, The apparent impossibility of a creative new ventures making a dent in WOW's position.

- The fact that mmorpgs demand too much from their players, particularly in terms of time commitment. This is the Achilles heel of the mmorpg business. When people realise that they can get the same social and entertainment fix elsewhere for less effort they will move on. I guess I suspect that casual social gaming is probably going to be the next big thing.

- The huge time commitment required also means that players can really only play one game at a time. This hugely limits the market for mmos and is very bad news for the legion of WOW me toos.

- Point and Click adventures. I just can't get over the thought that MMORPGs are the point and click adventures of out age. Point and clicks were the pinnacle of gaming for several years back in the late 80's early 90's and yet the audience for them departed almost overnight. People get bored. People move on.

So ... put it all together and "MMORPGs are History". I could be wrong. WAR could displace WOW and go on to break all records (I doubt it). Free to play games could become good enough to actually hold the attention of serious gamers (again I doubt it). Someone might figure out how to shoehorn World of Warcraft into a gaming console ushering in a new phenomenal growth surge in mmorpging. Casual, browser based MMOs might become huge - displacing myspace, bebo and becoming the place for youngsters to hang out online. Actually that last suggestion is quite likely but then again it won't be an mmorpg as we know it, will it?


Khan said...

I think much of what you say is true about MMOs. When someone, most notably WoW, has a success it seems that much of what the successful do right gets filtered into other games. Then the players start recognizing where they've seen x before or that y is just like z but with a different haircut or armor so then the mystery and awe starts to unravel a little bit at a time.

I take heart, however, in noting that the current giant on the block, the World of Warcraft, wasn't particularly inventive in creating new things for MMOs, but in taking the level of polish to new heights. They did an exceptionally good job. So good in fact that many non-MMO players signed on too.

I think any future MMO great has all the tools in the toolbox they need to create the next great MMO. It's all there, someone just needs the capital and drive to put it all together with a neat storyline and maybe a couple new things here and there.

mbp said...

I certainly hope mmorpgs don't die out. Of all the games we play mmos come closest to the science fiction dream of cyberspace: a virtual world where people can actually live and interact.

I still think they demand too much of their players though. As long as these games continue to require such a huge life commitment they will always remain a niche pastime in my opinion.