Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dead MMO Society

Tobold couldn't resist giving another few whacks to a poor old, dead, horse as he passed by, although it may have been despite his own better judgment if the opening sentence is anything to go by. Jeromai provided an admirable rebuttal. It was admirable not just because he quoted me while he was rebutting, although that always helps, but for the clarity and insight of his argument.  

Syp, while not referring to either directly, was surely inspired by one or both when he offered his own, equally instructive, oversight of the situation. Finally (until I wrote this and twenty other bloggers no doubt wrote their pieces that I have yet to read) Tobold (him again) moved the discussion away from the "problem" and on to the solution.

So, what is this problem, anyway. Oh yes - just the death of the entire genre that brought us all together to begin with, without which I wouldn't be writing this and you wouldn't be reading it. The reason, supposedly at least, that anyone reads or writes any of the blogs you see descending into the past in the column to the right. The reason anyone knows who Tobold and Syp and Jeromai and Bhagpuss are in the first place, always supposing anyone does.

MMOs, that is. MMORPGs even.

It's all too easy to swing too far to the other extreme when contending with naysayers. People who don't buy into the whole doomsday scenario are apt to say things like "MMOs have been "dying" for about as long as I have been playing them". I nearly said it myself then. I'm not entirely sure it's true.

When the Everquest forums were riddled with angry threads demanding "Server Splits" (when did any MMO last have one of those?) to deal with overpopulation and SOE was adding what seemed like a new server every few months, were there really prophets of doom out there claiming the whole edifice was built on quicksand? When WoW was experiencing exponential growth long after launch, were there cynics advising us it would never last?

I really can't remember. I was having too much fun playing.

When did the rot set in? At what point did bloggers, commenters and forum warriors decide that the game, the Massively Multiple Online Roleplaying Game, was up? Wilhelm surmises that the failure of Vanguard might have been that watershed moment. There's certainly also a case to be made that the failure of Warhammer Online represents the day the idol's clay feet shattered. Maybe it was when Bizzard were forced to release falling player numbers for WoW.

Whenever it happened, at some point it became the received wisdom: the MMO genre was dying. Worse yet, each extant example of the genre was, at best, moribund: living on borrowed time, scrabbling from payment method change to game mechanic revamp, like a starving bear leaping from one shrinking ice floe to the next, in a desperate, flailing struggle to stay afloat for a few months more before the inevitable "sunsetting".

Someone (was it SynCaine?)  [EDIT - Oops! No, it wasn't. It was Keen] coined the term "three-monther" and after that we heard nothing else, ever. Any new MMO that hadn't driven WoW whimpering into also-ran status within a week of launch was "a three-monther", whose many servers, rashly opened to accommodate the launch-day crush, would be three-quarters empty in 90 days and three-quarters closed as soon as the hapless developers swallowed their pride and acknowledged the inevitable.

Which happened. Sometimes. And sometimes, although really not very often, a game actually closed down. Mostly, though, on they went. Still trading. Still adding content. For months. For years.

A list of MMOs that have closed down over the last decade and a half would be considerably shorter than a list of those that are still running. If you remove the F2P shovelware from that equation, a lot shorter. If MMOs are dying why are there so damn many of them still around?

Nope. The genre isn't dying. It's not likely to, either. It's changing, sure, and it's going to go on changing. A lot of people aren't going to like that. Some of them won't accept it. Sometimes you have to kill the father. There may be blood.

Others will just accept that it's not for them. Plenty of former MMO players are going to reach a point where they've had enough.  People go through phases. They grow out of things. It's natural if not always comfortable.

Plenty of people, like Liore, believe you can't go home again. I'm not among them. I wrote a song about it once. The chorus went like this:

"They say you can't go home again
Don't believe it
You can always catch that train
When you need it"

I didn't say it was a good song. It said what I believe, though, which is that you can find your way back if the need is great enough. MMOs are dead, yes. They're dead to those who no longer need them or believe in them. For the rest of us they're still there, still doing what we need them to do. Long may that continue.

And if SynCaine can get a second wind, surely there's hope for anyone.


  1. I think, though, that it may be fair to call traditional MMO business models dead. I cannot think of a subscription based MMO that came out in the past few years that is really doing well. Maybe I am missing one?

    I think from a business standpoint - it may be that the traditional thinking is going to have to be reworked.

    1. The problem is so few MMOs give any real details about player numbers or profitability so most of what we think we know is, at best, educated guesswork. FFXIV probably counts as doing "really well" provided we aren't using WoW as a measuring stick. WildStar and TESO are anyone's guess - too early to tell I would say. If either goes 12 months without dropping the compulsory sub I would call that a success but who really knows? I work for a company that hasn't made an operating profit in over five years and yet is still expanding so it all seems like Alice in Wonderland to me.

    2. It's fascinating to me that FFXIV is basically ignored in the 'established' MMO blogger circles. people mention ESO and Wildstar as 'recent' games and there's not a peep about FFXIV, or how it's a large part of why SE's quarterly profits are up. Maybe because it's Japanese and not part of the Western-dominated MMO sphere?

    3. FFXI was just as ignored during EQ1 days so nothing new there.

    4. Just speaking for myself, though I don't know if I'd count as an 'established' MMO blogger, FFXIV came to my attention during its first hype cycle, which was a good two years ago?

      It made a big negative splash, which solidified my nebulous impression of it to 'don't bother trying' - since I tried FF11 and didn't like it, and offered ye olde standard holy trinity raid formula with story locked behind group events, with a box price and a monthly sub. Its only redeeming innovative feature to me was the ability to swap and level different classes - but imo, that reads as 'extra' grind for just one character. I also had nightmares with the subscription system for FF11 and didn't feel like jumping through those hoops again.

      When it rebirthed itself in the 'new and improved, non-buggy' re-release, it made a smaller splash and captured less mind-share. It was also about a year ago (an eon in MMO time and not-really-recent), as contrasted with ESO and Wildstar which were released this year, within the past three or four months or so.

      For me, I've just mentally filed it away in the same box as RIFT, Everquest 1/2 and LOTRO. Established, with its own community, trundling along and not really talked about.

      Folks who are playing it can always talk about it and hype it up if they want to. :)

    5. All the things you list there (except the trinity) are reasons didn't stick with FFXIV. There was (and is) a lot that I love about it - the characters, the races, the lore, the world, the music - ad plenty that I like - the quests, the combat, the crafting, the story - but the linear progression, forced grouping and content gating were enough to outweigh all of the positives.

      Commercially, though, I suspect it's doing a lot better than "trundling along".

  2. Great post, fun read. Glad you posted this and did all of your links before my "WildStar is dying" post I have queued up for tomorrow =)

    MMORPGS don't die, they just lose their subs!

    That isn't very eloquent and wouldn't fit on a coffee mug.

    The gamers and the games are changing and that is hard to come to grips with. Especially for us old blogger types.

    Excuse me while I go log into EQ.

  3. MMOs aren't dying, they're returning to the niche-status they had before WoW tricked everyone into thinking it was possible to get tens of millions of players in your average MMORPG. Instead of recognizing it as a fluke and a perfect storm of popular IP and accessibility, people thought it was the new standard of success for the entire genre. Folks (and dev studios) who think less than a million players is a failure and a dead game are being unrealistic, imo. If we learn anything from the last decade of the market, it should be to build games (and have expectations) a lot more modest and fitting for a niche genre of game, instead of considering that as a 'death' or 'decay' of the genre.

    At least, that's my interpretation.

  4. It feels like were in a negative cycle again in the blogosphere for whatever reason. I've felt this before in the past, especially around the early F2P era with all the doom and gloom surrounding DDO and then LOTRO's future. Maybe WoD's launch will change the mood, maybe not. There's not much else I'm aware of MMO launch wise but the existing games have some good content coming out so I'm feeling optimistic personally. I'm still very happy with the genre and two games in particular, Neverwinter and FFXIV.

    As Pai notes above very few people are blogging about FFXIV, perhaps it's a language/regional thing as I can't read Japanese? In any case at least we have Blaugust to lift the blogfeeds out of the summer lull...

  5. I've always been one to say that things won't change until they crash, burn, and fail.

    The essence of what built this genre and made it great has been lost. Hopefully we get back to a more niche market where community and accountability mean something again.

    1. @Ald, Pai and gamingsf

      There certainly is a lot of negativity around but then when isn't there? It's very hard to make comparisons across time; especially comparisons of experiences. Was the intensity of my reaction to hearing The Velvet Underground in 1973 in my early teens in some way superior to how I felt when I first heard My Life Story in the 1990s when I was in my very late 30s? Dunno.

      I can say categorically and objectively that The VU are incomparably more significant in the history of popular music in particular and pop culture in general but that doesn't devalue in any way the impact hearing MLS had on me at that time. In the same way I 'm not sure how to compare holding down North Boats for Teq in GW2 with healing for a group fighting through Chardok to the royal chambers.

      I have a kind of steady-state view of this kind of thing. Something used to be fun, it went on being fun, it's still fun, it will always be fun. Occasionally I go off things bt it really is the exception. I realize that's not a fashionable approach but it means I don't just like MMOs as they are now in theory, I like them as they are now in practice. And I still like them how they used to be too. And with a bit of luck I'll like whatever they turn into next as well.

  6. *ahem*

    I coined the phrase three-monther. :P

    1. Doh! I knew that! Sorry! Blame it on my advanced age. Correction added, but I left the original error in for comedy value.

  7. If you listen to the naysayers of EVE Online, that game's been dying for 11 years. 11 years and 9 days to be exact :)

    And I have a good excuse for not trying out FFXIV. I just reached the NPC housing vendor in Wildstar. I have to try out that housing first!

    1. I was trying to work in a link to your "EVE is Dying" piece but I had a feeling I linked to it in a post the other day and I didn't have time to go check so I left it out. Looking back now I'm not sure that I did so here it is .


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