The Death of MMO’s has been greatly exagerated

So, perhaps it’s my fault for wandering the internet far and wide, but I came across this article on the other day, and the more I think about it, the more it infuriates me.

The author posits that MMO’s are dead in the traditional sense, though he fails to define what he means by traditional.  He then drops quotes from a bunch of studio heads he’s gotten access to, on why the traditional MMO is being abandoned faster then your friends when the bar tab comes due.  The whole thing comes off as a screed against WoW specifically, and there are more then a few holes in his argument.  What’s particularly infuriating to me is that in all this doom and gloom, there’s actually a bit of hope for MMO’s to be found that the author can’t quite seem to mention until the very end.  Where he undercuts his entire thesis.

Getting into this mess, his process for detailing out why MMO’s are dead or dying seems to be to:

  1. Remark about how every game that’s not WoW has lately gotten hammered trying to follow WoW’s business model (despite the well-acknowledged fact that WoW caught lightening in a bottle and it’s not something even they think they can duplicate, but lets all blame them for their success anyway).
  2. Get inane, bitter, and entirely useless quotes from former and current studio heads about the state of existing MMO’s.
  3. Talk confusingly about the way new properties are either just like WoW or nothing like WoW.
  4. Find successful niche online games that never followed the WoW model to begin with and talk about their superiority to that model.
  5. Mention MOBA’s and how they aren’t the same model but don’t provide any additional context in how they are superior or different.
  6. And finally, find one last obviously disgrunteled ex-WoW developer comment to tie your whole thesis together.

Oh and don’t forget the undercutting.  He saves that for the very last line in his article:  “Perhaps ‘Mark’ Kern’s right to a certain extent, then – World of Warcraft did kill a genre.  But only in name.”

So they’re not dead?  They just faked their deaths and are now lying low?  What did I just read?

So let’s dig into this a little bit.  In his first argument,  the author goes right for the throat of Bioware.  He cites Star Wars: The Old Republic as evidence of someone trying to follow the WoW model and failing at it badly.  Now, I could argue that SW:TOR fails because it’s unimaginative with it’s license and it fails to do several basic MMO things correctly (teaming, travel, crafting being a few).  But SW:TOR is still undergoing active development.  It also has a vocal and vibrant community.  Should I mention that SW:TOR doesn’t follow the same pricing model as WoW either?

But hey, close enough, right?

We’ve heard this all before.  It would seem that if a game doesn’t produce 20 million subscribers the way WoW did when it was at it’s height, then it’s a failure.  This is a theme you hear (mostly) business people remark on and it’s a very unhealthy and detrimental idea to take in if you want to measure success in any kind of realistic way.  MMO’s don’t need millions of subscribers to survive and thrive.  Everquest and EQ2 continue to function to this day, and they created the model that WoW originally stole from.  EVE Online is another older/recent example of an MMO that has survived and thrived using the good ole traditional subscription model.

Next the author quotes a pair of studio heads he got a chance to talk to for the article.  First up is Ragnar Tornquist who worked on The Secret World.  “The traditional MMOs [have] had their time, definitely.”  Cocky aren’t we.  The author then posits that The Secret World failed to draw in crowds and caused serious problems for it’s developer/publisher.  Problems that were bad enough, Ragnar up and left the project.

Question.  Is finding someone who tried and failed to build a successful MMO really the best place to go to for quotes on whether or not the MMO genre is dying?  Nobody sees any bias in this, at all, right?  Right?  Never mind that to this day, I still don’t have any idea in hell what The Secret World is supposed to be.  Oh I’ve heard.  Demon hunting in modern times, etc etc.  But never from the makers of the game itself.  Oh no.  I think I just ruined the secret.  I’m sure your ridiculous desire to be coy and refuse to tell people what your game was about had nothing to do with why it failed to draw crowds.

Then we get this gem from Mike Zadorojny, lead content designer for Guild Wars 2, a non-subscription based game that in all other aspects is a reasonably successful WoW clone.  “Traditional MMO’s are expensive things to make and it takes a lot of time investment, and it’s kind of a risk, kind of a gamble, and it depends on the type of game you build, what your pricing structure is, how much time you put into development and things like that.”

Question.  If I take “Traditional MMO’s” in that quote and substitute ANY OTHER TYPE OF VIDEO GAME in for that phrase, does it make ANY of the rest of that statement untrue?  Does this help build the author’s thesis in ANY way?  Okay, just wondering if it was me again.  Whew.  I am totally blowing it on why MMO’s are dying.  So sorry.

From here we bounce to a brief discussion of The Elder Scrolls Online, and I mean brief.  The author mentions how it will be on consoles as well as PC and what if they double charge subscription fees with the console services?  DOUBLE Subscriptions???  Oh Noooooo!  Is that even likely?  Well, no.  But it’s possible, and since it sounds bad or unfair it must surely back up this notion that MMO’s are dying and desperate right?  Not really?  Okay.  What else have we got?

From there we go to Destiny, a game that’s an MMO but won’t call itself an MMO.  The last game that I found that did something like this turned out to be using always online to hide it’s always on DRM.  I was not amused.

I won’t mention The Division and Titanfall, two games under development that were plugged in the article without any kind of context on why they were there.  No I’m not kidding, go look at it yourselves.

Finally, a mention of  DayZ and Minecraft. Here the article talks about how different these games are from WoW, and how successful they’ve been and the author even gets into a few of the reasons for that.  It’s clear the author’s bias against “monolithic theme park MMO’s trying to please everybody” is pretty apparent at this point.  But for a second, the author gets into an almost interesting discussion, talking about niche markets, and player communities, and tightly focused appeal.  It almost resembles analysis and is the strongest piece of the whole article.  He even cites a relevant MMO under development, Camelot Unchained.  A Kickstarter MMO, that will focus on hardcore PvP.  Niche market, community building, all good ideas.  This is where I grow more frustrated.  A completely terrible article I wouldn’t bother with.  But one that has some actual insight that’s buried under a mountain of dumb quotes and soapboxes the author is currently standing on.  Grrrr.  Very difficult to make an impact this way.

From here we jump to MOBA’s, which are now currently enjoying a popularity explosion.  League of Legends is named, as is DOTA 2,  but why these are working now instead of subscription based MMO’s is a question that’s neither asked nor answered.  Instead we get to hear how Guild Wars 2 is taking inspiration from all these happenings and trying to build a better game based on what they think they should do and what their players want and OH MY GOD!  Zadorojny still has nothing worthwhile to say.

So to get to the author’s point, I think, the article is actually trying to talk about the way MMO’s are changing and evolving based on things like market forces developer ability, community involvement, and a host of other factors trying to push MMO’s to the next level of capability.  The most infuriating thing about the article is that the author attempts to bury this point in a huge body of rubbish evidence that traditional MMO’s are dead or dying.  He then completely backtracks with his very last sentence (as quoted above).  It’s a gutless move and undermines the article completely.

Maybe someday these games won’t use the word MMO to describe themselves.  It’s not unfair I suppose.  I’m not against dumping it.  I always thought it was a really bulky and difficult term to work with to begin with.  But to claim the genre is dying?  Premature for sure.  And then to back out at the end and say maybe it’s just changing.  Cowardly.  And poor writing.  I expect more out of you Mr. Professional Game Journalist man.  Someone has to do the work us nobodies can’t do.

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