The MMO Industry Isn’t Dying, It’s Just Evolving


I've already evolved passed this diagram

I gotta agree with Syp on this one - I don’t think the MMO genre is dying out. Although one could easily point to abundance of new titles and expansions on the horizon as clear proof of this (which Syp did), I actually think what we’re witnessing these days is simply an evolution of the industry. In fact, I’d be more worried if the genre was just sitting still and stagnating. Sure, 38 Studios went belly up and SW:TOR isn’t exactly proving to be the huge success BioWare was hoping (there’s a shocker) but that doesn’t mean the genre is crumbling. It just means it’s changing.

As is natural with change, it can be a scary and painful process. MMOs are diverging and what it means to be one is altering right before our very eyes. Heck, technically we could call Diablo 3 a MMO as, after all, it’s massive, it’s multiplayer and it’s online. Indeed, with new games on the horizon like Marvel Heroes and the success of free-2-play, I think we’re going to be seeing a new breed of MMOs that change the way we think about the genre. No longer is going to be a realm that belongs to the gigantic budget, triple-A titles or World of Warcraft or Everquest or Ultimate Online or whatever clones.

I think the negativity surrounding around the future of the MMO industry has been tied to the fact that we’ve never witnessed another success story like WoW even though several companies have thrown ridiculous amounts of money at trying to recreate it. We used to think (and perhaps some people still do) that this was only option for MMOs, a handful of 200 to 300 million dollar games that dominating the landscape with tens of millions of users, fighting for all the glory like Titans, leaving nothing but scraps for anyone else. If we’re learnt anything by the death of Copernicus and lackluster success of games like SW:TOR, Warhammer Online and Age of Conan is that this is never, ever going to happen.

(And yes, I’ll take those words back if Titan turns out to be a staggering WoW-esque success.)

What we’re seeing instead though is the marketplace determining the success of different types of games. Smaller budget MMOs with more modest expectations and player-friendly payment models combined with solid gameplay are proving to do just fine and I take my hat off to companies like Trion, Turbine and CCP who can continue to happily run and expand high quality games without the prerequisite of 2 million subscribers plus. Used to be the day when “massively multiplayer online” meant 500,000 players – why do we need it to be 5 million?

So I don’t think the industry is dying, far from it, I think it’s just evolving away from this idea that all MMOs need to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and draw in millions of players. Instead it looks likes we’ll just be seeing a lot more smaller scale games being created on less extravagant budgets and with less unrealistic predictions.

And personally I find this prospect quite exciting as it will hopefully mean more room for innovation and, ultimately, more choice to the end consumer – us, the gamers.

What do you think?


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  1. Tesh says:

    Seems to me to be a maturing market, which naturally diversifies. This tends to be healthy for consumers, since prices are a competition point, and producers have to step up and have good products and smart business plans, which tends to make better games. Sure, that means not as many huge AAA games (whatever AAA means these days), but those tend to be overconservative and boring anyway, despite all their glamour and puffery.

  2. bcdevMatt says:

    Spot on, although I’m a little bit sad at the loss of Copernicus. Not because I thought it was going to be a great game necessarily, but there’s definitely something noble about striving for years to make a huge ambitious game like that. Obviously that’s leaving aside the wasted money and all those out of work etc.

    Should be an exciting time for indies with both Bigworld and HeroEngine putting proven MMO tools within anyone’s budget.

    I just hope we don’t see the big budget “WoW killer” replaced with nothing but cash shop shovelware or indie UO reimaginings.

  3. spinks says:

    Well, is it evolving towards something you want, or away from something you want?

  4. [...] MMO bloggers is “how the genre or industry is changing.” Whether it actually is or not. Gordon brings up the topic today, which is in response to Syp’s similar [...]

  5. Ahtchu says:

    Actually, title is incorrect. The ‘M’MORPG industry is dying, if not dead. There is nothing ‘massive’ to much of any of the games listed here, or elsewhere as current offerings. It’s multiplayer, it’s online, there might be roleplaying elements and there might even be a sliver of gameplay as a backdrop to developer’s story, but it’s lost it’s first ‘M’.
    Something is massive when it is dense for the volume it occupies. This means a high concentration of players in the same area. A simple indicator is how raid sizes have trended over the past 10+ years: 72, 56, 40, 25, 20, 16… Look at how much further we distance ourselves from the massive concept with raid/group finders and the like: the spark of bringing in more bodies is snuffed out before any chemistry can happen as we embrace the anonymity such tools provide.
    No, the ‘M’MORPG industry is on life support, the MORPG industry is the one that’s evolving. Convenience saw to that.

  6. People are just bummed out about these recent failures. For those of us making smaller games, there’s really no impact.

    Ahtchu – gotta disagree. Building a game with a concurrent number of players > 300 is a massive undertaking. Developers aren’t going to give up that M.

  7. Derrick says:

    Semantics aside, ahtchu has it right. Call it what you will, the trend in mmorpg’s has been decidedly downwards in numbers. It may still be a massive undertaking to do, and devs may be unwilling to change the moniker, but the reality is that the scale of these games has contracted dramatically.

    This isn’t a good or bad thing really, it just is. There are several morpg’s of various stripes that are extremely successful – Eve being the most obvious, but Several others fit the bill. The key is to plan for a small subscriber base, and budget for that. You can count on millions of subs, it simply won’t happen, but if you aim smaller and target a specific niche, you can succeed.

  8. I think the people who are calling the death of the MMORPG genre are really saying ‘They don’t make games like they used to’.

    This is true and is not a bad thing.

    Most of us aren’t playing UO any more for one reason or another. The games have changed, and so have we.

  9. bhagpuss says:

    As someone who hasn’t even opened his Blog Reader since Friday because of spending the entire weekend in the GW2 Beta, and as someone who anticipates doing exactly the same next weekend in the TSW beta, I heartily concur that the MMO Industry is not dying.

    To answer Spinks’ question above, MMOs are very much evolving into something I want. I’m more excited about what’s on the slate for the next couple of years than I have been since I was waiting for Vanguard more than half a decade ago.

    The faster we get back to an industry where all but the very biggest players count success in hundreds of thousands not millions, the better.

  10. hellfire says:

    The MMO genre is finally maturing, but I can understand how some might misconstrue this is dying. If they don’t consider the MMO family tree to be part of the family they won’t see true depth of the marketplace. If WoW-styled games are your benchmark you can rightly state that there hasn’t been a success SINCE WoW and could draw the conclusion that MMOs are either WoW or they’re closing.

    WoW will remain an unstoppable juggernaut, GW2 will be *huge* and there are a host of AAA F2P titles from all over the spectrum (and world!) that are quite well executed. Not to mention the tangential titles like Diablo 3 that offer a TMORPG (Tiny Multiplayer) experience.

    I certainly have a far, far more positive outlook on the industry after BWE2 than I did after TOR launched and it hasn’t even been half a year! The approach taken by ArenaNet (and others) to make a great game first and “compete” second is key. Iterate and innovate as needed to make a great player experience and people will play and pay – no matter what kind of business model you happen to operate under.

  11. Rog says:

    First, there’s this too-literal interpretation of a common phrase at work here. Seriously, folks who call themselves writers are taking Death / Rebirth rhetoric into stats and charts land. STOP THAT (and I don’t mean you directly, I mean the all-encompassing trend of this topic).

    Getting to the rhetoric and past the simplistic negative / positive spin:

    Evolving sounds slow, glacial and boring. Death sounds like cataclysmic change.

    The worst part is that evolving probably is more accurate. That’s just disappointing and depressing though, because that’s the slow downward spiral that the MMO industry has been travelling for the past few years, where each game tweaks a few features and mechanics to a well-polished hue that’s just not much of a change.

    It’s probably not a downward spiral of sales, but I’ll anecdotally say there’s a downward turn in fan enthusiasm. It’s an increase in blandness and generic wide appeal, but a decrease in quality and certainly on my personal fun meter.

    So I’m going to say Death and be damned glad to say so. Screw your depressing evolving paradigm.

  12. Rog says:

    Adding to that (and yes, I’m intentionally trying to be perverse to make a point): The reason the 38 Studios debacle brought about this rhetoric is that it smells like disruption. The kind of disruptive change that many of us are not-so-secretly hoping for.

    Instead, you’re probably right. It probably just means some tightening of the purse strings while MMO development continues to follow the same (tired) paths.

    Now I’m really depressed. Thank you. =P

  13. Matt says:

    MMOs aren’t dying, because dying is a loaded term. It implies that in x years there will be no more MMOs. For an analogy, take Japan. In the 80s Japan was going to take over the world, there was no stopping them. And then the 90s hit, the economy ground to a halt, and all that hysteria faded away. But it isn’t as though Japan went back to mud huts or something…the narrative is what died.

    Similarly with MMOs. Ever since WoW, the narrative has been that MMOs were the way to make a huge amount of money with a given IP. Single player games are limited, since people only buy them once–MMOs are where the action is. But SWTOR has, I think, killed this narrative off for good. There will be more MMOs but they will be smaller in scale, and the investers will ask tougher questions.

  14. Michael says:

    I agree with what you are saying. Ever since Everquest 1 days, MMORPG’s have stuck to the same design and news games are just trying to polish and improve that. I think WoW did it the best, they mastered that type of game of the era but its time for something new. Its kind of like how japanese rpg’s were the thing to create for PS1 and PS2 but now FPS own the market. Its time for a change in style to give people what they want. The game I think that will be able to do it is The Elder Scrolls Online. The Elder Scrolls game is very popular for being an RPG because they do something different. No linear questing line, no limiting players characters because everything is preset. Allow people to develop their characters freely and explore the world without invisible barriers is what people really want.

  15. John says:

    I agree. I welcome all the innovations and changes that are taking pace right now in the MMO gaming world.

  16. Fumbles says:

    The second person in the evolution diagram is out of step with the rest. Just sayin’

  17. Imakulata says:

    @Rog, I’m not sure whether I read it well, but is it “the industry is dying because it sounds cool”? I understand it might be why some of the people claim so but I really don’t think it’s right…

  18. [...] pretense of a terrible gaming future, while others hold out hope that the future is still bright.  Gordon at We Fly Spitfires had a wonderful piece about how the MMO genre is poised to progress in the years to come, while Scott over at Pumping [...]

  19. Shadow says:

    I can only hope you’re right. Also, I’d love to see a strong and powerful divergent offshoot from the branch of themepark, quest-hub, coin-slot design. Hell, if DayZ can introduce innovative sandbox style elements into a SHOOTER of all genres, MMOs can do better.

    We deserve better.

    However, I feel there is a very significant point of contention that needs to be laid down. One that I think you and Syp both miss by a good measure.

    So many games are NOT MMOs. And no, Diablo could not be classified as one. It is just barely multiplayer, and by no stretch of the imagination is it massive. DDO only just squeaks by on the MMO authorization chart, seeing as how it’s 90% instance-based.

    Beyond just an evolution of the genre, I think we’re also seeing a…buttoning down, of sorts, as to what the genre actually is. I think we’re in the middle of figuring out what it means to really be an MMO. There’s a lot of other games out and about that are multiplayer games, but astoundingly fail the litmus test of a virtual world, and only slightly blues the paper of an MMO.

  20. Simon says:

    I guess it depends on what you call dying, it certainly appears to be in worse health than it was a few years ago. It no longer appears to be actually growing, WoW lost a chunk of subs, SWTOR pretty much failed (yes it sold well, but then managed to lose a lot of subs very quickly), Rift is down a fraction of the servers it once had & at lower populatins, LOTRO logins have consistantly been falling since the inital bump in figures when it went f2p, and where are these people going, doesn’t look like Tera or TSW, EVE is trundling along, even once strong f2p games like ROM are looking very empty.

    This is even more apparent if you just consider it from a western perspective, where games like WOW have had their sub numbers held up by Asia.

  21. [...] The MMO Industry Isn’t Dying, It’s Just Evolving | We Fly Spitfires …Jun 10, 2012 … A blog about MMORPGs like World of Warcraft (WoW) and Everquest 2 …. Getting to the rhetoric and past the simplistic negative / positive spin: … [...]

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