That post, which I found myself mulling over yesterday, after the sad and arguably unnecessary demise of City of Steam, was prompted by another from SynCaine, that infamous pillar of the Axis of Blogging Evil. The Evil One was bouncing off yet another post, this time from Wilhelm at TAGN, which itself derived from what was probably no more than a routine space-filler for a slow starting year at PCGamer.
So the circle turns. Often lambasted for negativity, SynCaine is more an agent provocateur, a satirist even. Like Keen, who professed rather bizarrely only yesterday that "there’s nothing out right now except for EverQuest that comes even close to satisfying a TRUE MMORPG experience", the register is often closer to disappointment than contempt.
Theirs are the voices of gamers who are not easily satisfied. As Azuriel explains, that makes them a bad fit for MMORPGs in the first place: "I’d wager that most people that stick with the MMO genre long-term generally find one game and settle in. And why wouldn’t you?"
|Sometimes you just have to find a new home.|
SynCaine, in common with many other long-time bloggers and commenters and countless millions of players who choose not to share their opinions with the world, has drifted away from the genre altogether. Keen, after many, many attempts to find a home elsewhere, has ended up back where he began, or as close as he can get.
It seems most long-time MMO fans don't do that. They settle in. They settle down. They never leave.
The frenzied years of WoW tourism left us with a different impression: MMO players as a vast swarm, filling the virtual skies, whirring and scrabbling as it descends on each new, bright hope, stripping it clean and wheeling away, leaving the bones to bleach and crumble.
It happened. It still happens. Look at Blade and Soul. Game developers even expect and plan for it. People do like a new shiny. But when the swarm moves on do those bones really lie still and forgotten?
|Another road to take.|
It seems not. Mostly those MMOs pick themselves up and go on. Remember the hype trains of the last half-decade and change? Allods, Aion, Rift, SW:ToR, ESO, just to name a handful. All still with us. MMOs are very hard to kill (although Trion seems always to be working on new ways to test the boundaries of extinction).
Those that drop seem often to have been culled rather than to have met a natural end. Rubies of Eventide sits in someone's wardrobe, a ball taken home. Tabula Rasa and Helgate:London lost their nerve. Star Wars Galaxies didn't fit the portfolio. City of Heroes was making good money, well-populated and popular, just not enough for corporate targets. City of Steam was scuppered by technology and poor decisions.
WildStar may be the next big beast to fall. It probably won't make it, so everyone says. Missed its market, misjudged its targets, mismanaged its way to the cliff's edge. Take your pick. It's not gone yet, though. Nor is Firefall, another of those MMOs you wonder just who plays and which underwent many of the same trials and still does.
I played it for a while. I might again. I never gave Red 5 any money, though, because I am the problem not the solution. I pay money every month to Daybreak Games, whose games I don't play all that often because I'm busy playing every MMO that catches my attention for free. That great long list of installed MMOs I have, growing week by week, earns no-one anything much. I'm not a rational consumer. Don't survey me.
|It's no good looking back.|
And yet someone must be paying, somewhere. As I was thinking about this yesterday I remembered a few MMOs I played long ago. With sunsets in mind I thought perhaps I ought to revisit a few before the chance was past. Perhaps the chance was already past. That's happened to me before.
Not this time. Anyone remember Eden Eternal? I doubt it. I mostly remember it because it let me play a giant cartoon mouse. Well, it's still there if I feel like doing that again. It's only five years old though, a mere stripling. What about Regnum? Once also known as Realms Online and now known as Champions of Regnum but still the same game. I had a short and happy frolic there and look, here it is. Next year it will have been running for a decade. It's even on Steam.
Ah yes, Steam. There, perhaps, is a partial explanation for this fountain of youth the genre seems to have found. Only partial, of course. The core reason for the insane longevity of even the most apparently unappealing MMOs is surely, as Azuriel says, that some people never leave. Even so, attrition must wear them all down over time. An infusion of new blood is necessary if the corpse is to keep on shambling.
|Even when it seems you're all alone.|
I'm new to Steam but I'm fast beginning to see its attractions, both to players and producers alike. My Library, which stood at no games at all for years, then one for twelve months, now has three. Thanks to SynCaine (him again) I downloaded Sunless Sea, which is not an MMO, even by the broadest definition. Its predecessor, Echo Bazaar (later known as Fallen London), which I played for a while and for which I made my Twitter account, something then required, arguably was. Is. It, of course, is also still running.
I played 19 minutes. By the time I got around to playing again my free weekend pass had expired. I'm not sure I'll play Sunless Sea again - it's a bit more of a "game" than interests me and a bit less of a story - but I'm sold on the ease of access.
One of the annoying things about trying new MMOs is all the form filling, the registering, the passwords and so forth. Steam circumvents much of that and if for no other reason I will likely end up using it as a portal for MMOs that use it. Like, perhaps, Knight Online, a game I have never before considered trying, a game that launched in the same year as WoW but which has only arrived on Steam in 2016, a dozen years later.
|And your past glories mean nothing.|
This isn't going anywhere in particular. I'm just talking out loud, working things through. We'll come back to this, over and again, I'm sure.
There are all these MMOs, you see. Some people start playing them and never stop so the games keep rolling along and as they go they pick up more players as others drop off. Meanwhile game companies look at them, see them there, keeping on going, and think "we'd like some of that" and make more. And people start playing those and some of them keep playing...
There are a lot of people in the world. The internet is endlessly accommodating. There is no clear reason why any of this would stop unless the critical mass of people interested in playing this type of game falls below a viable threshold and who knows what that threshold might be? It's clearly not very large if Istaria and Ryzom can survive and even prosper.
|There's always a new dawn just over that hill.|
The whole thing clearly isn't going to come to an end just because a lot of people lose interest, get bored or disenchanted and wander off. There are, after all, as noted, a lot of people in the world, more every day, and most of them haven't even had the chance yet to be bored by an MMO. They still have that life-experience ahead of them.
So, yes, some MMOs will go under. As the years wear on more ghosts will walk. Changes in fashion, taste, technology and definition may slow the flow of newcomers from production and consumption both but will the stream be dammed entire? I wouldn't bet on that.
I'm thinking the trick is to attach to the genre and not become overly infatuated with the individual games but that, of course, is impossible. It's always going to hurt when one you love falls. It's comforting to know there are so many but there's always that one, isn't there? Not to love isn't a response.
The more I consider this the less I understand. It's magic, after all. One morning I'll wake and like fairy gold it will all be gone. Until then, we're rich. Let's enjoy it.