Are we approaching a new golden age for MMOs?
One thing that we, as MMO players, tend to agree on is the fact that it is impossible for a developer to produce content at the same pace players can consume it.
Obviously this causes many challenges for a team intending to provide the service we call an MMO—if players don't feel like the game is offering them anything new, players will leave.
We all know, or know of, someone who 'went back to WoW'. I am one such person, just in case you were the one person who thought you didn't. Don't say I never do anything for you. Of course, people don't go back to their old MMO because they're excited at the prospect; it simply acts as a comfortable place to maintain the holding pattern.
The trick for MMO developers then is to find systems that keep players playing and feeling engaged with the content without adding too much expense. This is the reason you have to run the same raid over and over; it's nothing but a timesink designed to keep you on the treadmill.
It's a tactic that's worked for many years, and adding extra goals and rewards into the mix kept the illusion of progression or mastery, and there's nothing wrong with that. Everything we do in these games is designed to give us this illusion, all we're doing is pressing buttons.
The problem comes when the players see behind the curtain—we’ve we've spent years doing laps of this circuit and we've got wise. We know it's a ploy, we know it's all smoke and mirrors, and once the trick is revealed, the magic is gone.
Anyone who played World of Warcraft during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion will remember the backlash as the curtain fell, and I'm not sure Blizzard could have done much more than they did to prevent it. After all, despite the seeming outrage from the community, subscriber numbers sat higher than ever and WoW was the game everyone played. (Accessibility and social factors were integral to this success as well, of course, but we press on regardless.)
I often wonder, because I'm a massive nerd with an unhealthy obsession, if it was coincidence that led to Minecraft and League of Legends being released within the year after Wrath became the fastest selling game of all time.
Now the game everyone talks about is Minecraft, and the game everyone plays is LoL. Perhaps the secret to multiplayer success is palindromic acronyms. I am aware that joke isn't funny, but how many times do you get the chance to use the word palindromic in life?
Of course, the inertia of the industry meant that many companies would still be chasing that big WoW money for years to come. Now we're starting to see the shift; WildStar may well be 'the last AAA Themepark MMO' and more and more developers are chasing that big LoL money instead.
When all is said and done, we shouldn't be surprised that the 'WoW-Killer' of legend wasn't an MMO—it wasn't even League of Legends, really. You would be hard pressed to find many objective reasons as to why LoL is a better game than WoW, but thinking of ways in which the cultural context of gaming has changed over the last 5 years or so should be no trouble. Think about the last 10 years, or back 15 to the infancy of online gaming—the landscape has changed beyond recognition, and change was not only necessary, it was inevitable.
Now the MMO genre has been left in the dust by its MOBA cousins, does that mean the party's over? I like to think it means we're about to see who arrives fashionably late.
Like a giant tree falling in a rainforest, the patch of light is clear again for new contenders to rise. To be clear, in this analogy the tree isn't WoW, the tree is the attitude that an MMO has to be like WoW to be successful, or even the idea that an MMO should consider itself in the context of a 10 year old game that is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Even Blizzard treats WoW as a nostalgia property these days, an attitude made incredibly apparent by the premise of Warlords of Draenor, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm.
Now the Titan has fallen, the industry and the genre are becoming free to breathe again.
Next time I'd like to talk to you about our new frontier, how games like No Man's Sky are set to redefine the standard for multiplayer games, and how Landmark and EverQuest Next are uniquely positioned to capitalize on the emerging paradigm.