Earlier this week Massively OP published a Perfect Ten post about things the MMO industry could do to make its games more accessible, and I have to admit that my gut response was, “Who cares?”
The Perfect Ten column used to be the realm of sarcasm and exaggeration for humor, but it seems to have crept into the realm of simply another opinion piece about the MMO scene. And this one strikes me as another thinly veiled attempt to tell devs how to save the genre.
The problem is, the genre doesn’t need saving. It is what it is. It had its moment of peak popularity and now it has settled down into the niche it is. People still make MMOs, so the genre isn’t dead. Yes, it has WoW looming over it as the yardstick against which every other game will be measured, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Other genres have that. If you’re going to make an RTS and you haven’t thought about how it will measure up against StarCraft, then they are doing it wrong. Likewise, if you’re going to make an action clicky RPG, you had best know what made Diablo and Diablo II great.
If anything, I think the popularity of WoW didn’t act as deterrent enough at the peak of the genre. Rather than seeing that they would have to compete against this behemoth, a host of developers looked at WoW and felt they could repeat WoW’s success by simply copying WoW with minor variations.
So, in this post peak era of the genre, no amount of accessibility ideas are going to bring back to the growth levels we saw back in the mid-point of the last decade. We are too hemmed in to the expectations that come with the acronym “MMO,” or at least those that come with “MMORPG,” for any turning of the currently accepted dials to change anything. And that list is entirely made up of “re-arranging the deck chairs” sort of suggestions.
Which isn’t to say that the list itself is horrible. I can get behind at least half of them in some way or another, though they are pretty subjective. What does it mean to have a “clean user interface” these days?
Further down the list, what does a “flexible and fair business model” even look like? In the end the company needs to pay the bills and keep their staff happy. If you won’t subscribe and will walk away if there is too much emphasis on the cash shop or lootboxes are a thing, what do you think the company should do?
But overall, these aren’t going to change the fortunes of the genre or any particular game… except maybe the business model thing, and I think that can only get worse for either the company or the customer… or both.
All of which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the discussion either. MMO nerds will talk about MMOs. I could crank out a 500-1,500 word opinion piece on 7 out of the 10 on the list. In this case, I decided to go for the meta discussion about the discussion itself and the genre and its needs.
In the end my gut says that anything capable of causing a resurgence of growth to the genre would have to be different enough from the World of Warcraft template that we would likely call it something else.
We have what we have. While it is no longer the aspiration of any three devs who happen to be sitting together to build a WoW-killing MMO, it is still a popular gaming niche. Titles from it make the top ten list when it comes to revenue. It just isn’t 2008 any more. The future no longer seems to be a gilded path towards limitless growth. But some times reality is a good thing.