What Would Even Help This Genre Anyway?

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?

EverQuest in 1999 – Looks pretty clean, everything is big and well labeled

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.

7 thoughts on “What Would Even Help This Genre Anyway?

  1. carrandas

    Everyone wants to be the next wow. Or DotA. Or plunkbat.

    If it works, it’s pure gold like fortnite recently proved. But more often then not it’ll be a bomb.


  2. bhagpuss

    I didn’t read the MOP Top 10 because I stopped seeing “getting annoyed” as entertainment about a decade and a half ago. Consequently I can’t express an opinion on their opinions, only on your opinion of their opinions. And I agree with you.

    It would be fatuous to say there is nothing wrong with the MMO genre but I fail to see how there is anything much more wrong with it now than at any specific point in the last 20 years. Most of the things we talk about as problems have been around in one form or another as long as the genre itself and the few that are new are no worse than the old ones.

    If there was ever a period when MMO players were even moderately happy with the state of the hobby I must have yawned and missed it. People who believe games were significantly better appreciated in the past either weren’t paying attention at the time or have extremely selective memories. Every MMO I have ever played – if it was sufficiently popular to attract an audience that cared enough to express an opinion – was roundly and constantly chided and derided by its own players on its own forums for most of its active life. And many still are.

    Meanwhile, millions upon millions of people all around the world carried on playing the games and thousands of developers carried on making and maintaining them – and still do. The genre may not last forever but it will last longer than any of us – most likely as long as the internet itself. Once created, few forms of entertainment ever die. Viz and to whit The Arctic Monkeys new album “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”, which as of today is the fastest-selling vinyl album of the last quarter of a century in the U.K. – both vinyl and guitar bands died out a decade ago as I’m sure you’ll remember reading at the time…

    More to the point, how are we even talking about what the genre needs to become more accessible (read popular, read successful) when Fortnite is the freakin’ global phenomenon it is? It may not be a WoW clone or a diku-MUD inspired MMORPG but it’s an MMO, isn’t it? Are we just discounting all the successful games that don’t fit our own particular criteria for “proper” MMOs now?

    Bah! Miserabilists get on my wick!


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I always try to inject something about my really speaking about MMORPGs when topics like this come up because the term MMO has been stretched to include most anything that 30 or more people can play together. I may write about World of Tanks and mention Fortnite now and again, but I’m generally on about the MMORPG thing.


  4. Pasduil

    I only now looked at that Perfect Ten post, following your link. Most of what it has to say is perfectly reasonable, and would make sense whether MMOs were booming like mad, pottering along nicely, or in steep decline.

    It probably also applies to a lot of other game genres, and indeed other things in life. Lots of stuff that might be fun to do is needlessly hard for latercomers to get into.


  5. Jenks

    Ugh. The less accessible a game is, the more I’m going to enjoy it. I want a game to kick my ass until I’m able to figure it out, that’s what I find rewarding. I don’t want “flexible” business models, I want 1 set price (1 time or recurring, doesn’t matter) that everyone pays to enter the world on equal terms and that’s it.

    I’ve come to terms with the fact that MMORPGs will never cater to my demo ever again but pieces like the one you linked make me cranky. The picture of furries giving thumbs up doesn’t help.


  6. Stabs

    I see our niche existing within several levels.

    One is technology. There don’t seem to be MMO successes except on the PC. The unique features of our hobby are the massive passionate communities, the epic scope and the ability to achieve glory that is different from what other players achieve. It may be that phones – or whatever comes after phones – develops an ability to deliver these experiences. We’re not there yet but if it happens it will be transformational.

    Next is demographics. Will MMOs become a hobby primarily for middle aged/old men?

    There are cultural factors that will change as our world changes. Would a more scary real world make us less inclined to murder orc after orc? If bears become extinct would people still enjoy virtually hunting them?


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