The Future of MMOs

Black Desert Online is all the rage among the blogger circuit lately – in some cases, literally all the rage. It appears that the Korean MMO, which is free to play overseas but buy-to-play (i.e. a regular ass game) here in the States, features a cash shop with some rather ridiculous prices. Costumes going for 30 bucks ridiculous.

There is plenty of debate on the subject of that cash shop, which you can find here, and here, and here, but that’s not necessarily what I wanted to talk about. Instead, I wanted to pick up a thread laid down by Wilhelm over at The Ancient Gaming Noob – mainly:

“…So in a genre where there are only so many people who will even hear about any new MMO coming out (MMOs are no longer news unless EVE Online has another big space battle or WoWlaunches an expansion), a subset of which would be willing to commit the time that an MMO requires, and where a good number of those players are already in a long term relationship with their favored MMO, any new title shows up has a steep hill to climb for success….”

The whole post is well worth your time to read, but that sorta gets at the heart of the matter for me. That quote touches a bit on the Great Fear, which is that Eve is Dying but So Are All The Other MMOs. Eve is Dying is a joke with some legs among the Eve community – I know I heard it when I first started playing eight or nine years ago (I think closer to nine) and it was already old by then.

However, there’s a lot of sideways discussion about the fact that MMOs are a niche market and no one’s got time for that anymore. The young teens and college-aged demographic of WoW and EQ’s launch windows are older now – 12 years older, to be exact. They’ve graduated, sometimes more than once; they’ve settled down, perhaps even gotten married; a significant portion have children now, and full-time jobs, and, well, lives. Perhaps it is natural for MMOs to die off.

There’s one problem with this idea, though, and that is the fact that MMOs aren’t dying – they’ve just changed. Wilhelm and I may automatically think of MMOs as WoW, Eve, Everquest, SW:TOR and the like – but honestly, those aren’t the only MMOs out there. You might think that there have been no truly successful MMOs launched since 2004, but I know at least a couple titles that would disagree.

Destiny, for one. The Division, for another. It isn’t that MMOs are dying, it’s that the concepts that made MMOs revolutionary and distinct from all other gaming experiences in the days of 2003 and 2004 are now bread and butter for the gaming industry as a whole. Persistent progression for characters, always-online requirements, levels, loot, dungeons and bosses and raids? All those things exist in varying forms and ways in a half dozen AAA titles at this point.

Sure, you know and I know and every blogger knows what you mean when you say ‘MMO’, but honestly we’re just the old fogies holding onto old definitions that are being constantly undermined by progress and innovation. The fact of the matter is that the MMO market is, as Mark Jacobs predicted, quite a lot larger than what it was back before Warhammer Online came out – because it’s actually about the size of the video game market, give or take a handful of Telltales and Bethesdas.

Wilhelm Arcturus
Wilhelm Arcturus

I think I made clear somewhere in one of the posts I did yesterday that I was specifically referring to the classic, old school MMORPG. (And EVE is sort of an outlier in that model.)  There are plenty of those and only a limited amount a people interested in, and spread out amongst, those titles.  And part of what limits the audience for that particular sub-genre is the fact that there are a lot more MMO and MMO-like and otherwise online multiplayer game options available to us.

As an example, Minecraft is not a classic MMORPG, nor even an MMO as most people measure the term, but it definitely scratches some of the same itches that my favored sub-genre does, and I speak as somebody who has spent more time in the last six months playing Minecraft than any classic MMORPG.  My Minecraft time even beats my EVE time.

So I think you could argue that Mark Jacobs was both right and wrong.  I think there is a limited audience for what we considered an MMO back when he was telling people the potential market was huge.  But what we consider an MMO... and people rope in MOBAs and things like World of Tanks and the like... has expanded so that the old definition is itself a bit archaic.