What Will it Mean to have a Bunch of 20 Year Old MMORPGS?

I know we already have some MMORPGs that are over 20 years old.  EverQuest turned 23 earlier this year, Lineage hit 24 last week, and Ultima Online has its 25th anniversary celebrations coming up soon.  Even Anarchy Online has managed to shamble past its 21st birthday.

Welcome indeed… we’ve been here a quarter century

But we’re getting past the point where that first generation of financially successful MMORPGs have passed two decades and are rapidly coming up on the next generation, the successors that tried to learn and adapt what was learned from the first titles to cross the 100K player mark.

We are now about a half a year away from EVE Online turning 20.  This coming November World of Warcraft and EverQuest II will hit the 18 year mark.  And after that pair hits 20 we’ll see some long surviving title like Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online hitting 20.

I was just going on yesterday about 16 years being kind of a long time in the life of a person, a significant portion of their lifetime experience.  Hell, part of the reality of this blog is not so much that it has been around for 16 years, but that I have been writing about and playing the same half dozen games for most of the time I have been writing it.

What does 20 years mean in a genre that is only 25-50 years old, depending on where you want to mark the starting point?  If you subscribe to the notion that video games are for kids, what does it mean when you have a set of titles that are old enough to be considered adults?

MMORPGs kind of broke the mold when it came to video game development.  You used to make a game, ship it, maybe do a couple of patches and maybe an expansion if the game was a big freaking deal, then you moved on to the next title.  In the end, selling boxes was the goal.  You might rework the same game… how many annual Madden titles have we had after all, or Call of Duty, or even Wizardry if you want to go back to my youth… but you shipped the game and started on the next one.

MMORPGs though, they just keep going.  Or some of them do.  There are, of course, some bodies along the side of the road to 20.  Some less successful titles were thrown overboard to keep various companies afloat and their senior execs in lemon scented moist towelettes or whatever.

But for a set of titles, if they hit a certain critical mass of core players and establish just the right amount of social bonds, they seem to be able to go on forever.

Yeah, sure, they are past their peak.   There aren’t 250K players in Ultima Online anymore, or 400K in Dark Age of Camelot, or 500K in EVE Online, or 550K in EverQuest, or 12 million in World or Warcraft, or however many in whatever other aging titles you care to mention.  Their prime is in the past.  But they managed to hold onto enough players to remain viable, even profitable.  Very profitable, in some cases.  EG7 is never going to let go of EverQuest if it keeps up, nor will Blizzard ever abandon WoW, which still pays most of the bills even in its decline.  The only thing that will kill them is gross mismanagement… and even WoW seems to be able to handle that.  (EVE Online though, that remains a test case for management that wants a different game.)

Even if new content is out of the question, there are always events and special servers and a host of tricks and enticements to keep people playing and paying.

It used to be Mark Jacob’s gig to go on about how the market for MMORPGs was vast beyond anybody’s measure. (A quote of one of the many times he said something like that.)  But I do wonder what it means to have a market where the old competitors, rich in content, history, and memories, are hanging about as the occasional new entry shows up and tries to compete.

I’ve gone on about the peril of the market for new entries, and the thing isn’t unassailable if you’ve learned the right lessons from the past.  Go see how Lost Ark has been doing, a title that had its act together, versus New World, an entry in the genre that seemed determined to forget every lesson ever learned.

I do not have any deep insight or huge conclusion to wind up this post with.  It is just something that occurred to me as I was tidying up yesterday’s post about my blog turning 16 and how its fortunes have tracked along with some of the games I’ve written about.  I’m past my peak as a blogger as well, but enough of you show up and drop a comment now and then to keep me going… and enough comment spam bots land to load up ads to pay the bills.

5 thoughts on “What Will it Mean to have a Bunch of 20 Year Old MMORPGS?

  1. Tipa

    As I’ve gotten older, time has become more precious, and MMOs demand too much of it. It used to be that saying you had 2000 hours in an MMO was sort of a badge of honor, but I don’t know if I’d think that now. What many other new and exciting memories could have been made instead of doing another Kael camp?

    I have noticed that it is possible in newer MMOs to do everything in just a few months. It no longer takes a year to get to level 50 in EQ (how long it took me, anyway, the first time). New MMOs know they can’t expect that sort of dedication from enough people to get WoW numbers, and so they become quick paced, soloable adventures with a lot of excitement and constant distractions that you can finish and then go on to do something else if you want.

    So why have them, really? In Fortnite and League of Legends, you can do the whole arc in an hour and still get your multiplayer fix.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bhagpuss

    @Tipa – I kind of agree and kind of don’t. The “Think of all the other things you could have done with the time” argument applies to… everything, pretty much; gardening, golf, walking the dog… Also, for people in full-time employment, every hour, every minute of leisure time is precious but for people who haven’t yet joined the working world and those who’ve left it behind, sometimes the bigger problem is how to fill those endless hours with something, anything…

    I don’t think I’m likely to give any single game another five thousand hours of my life but then again… if the right game turns up…

    What interests me more is the cultural subtext. I’ve had a post simmering for weeks now, ever since I read that old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market. Even worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. I need to do some proper fact-finding, which is what’s putting me off writing the thing, but every week or two I see some new stat on how old something old is doing better, commercially, than something new and it makes me wonder if we’re seeing the end-game of popular culture as we’ve understood it until now.

    Mmorpgs going into their third decade en masse is just a symptom of a wider problem – if it even is a problem. Even the status quo ante as referred to by Wilhelm, where we had sequences of discrete games in the same series is arguably part of the same process. Sequels, remakes and series make up the huge majority of the slates of major movie studios these days. New IPs that break through are immediately tapped for future sequels and spin-offs.

    Where the cultural space is going to be found for genuine new work, particularly standalone, one-time, not to be repeated visions is getting harder to imagine every year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tipa

    I could have been playing Star Wars Galaxies, or Asheron’s Call, or Horizons, or all the other MMOs. I could have experienced more things. EQ locked me in. That’s what I miss. Pretty much the best experiences in EQ for me, that I still value after all this time, are exploring the world when it was new and nobody knew anything, and waking the Sleeper. I made a lot of friends, but they weren’t friends I could talk to about non-game stuff, so they were more acquaintances. You and I and Wilhelm might chat, but none of you are going to be able to give me a lift if my car breaks down, or want to talk about problems with my kids.

    So largely, my time in EQ left me with a couple nice screenshots and a cloth map on the wall. Granted, I met my boyfriend in EQ2, so I have to give it some credit, but that had almost nothing to do with the game itself, and it could just have been a chat room.

    My experience is mine, not yours, but I don’t think it’s unusual, and I think maybe people are beginning to either want things that are real, or shallow things that don’t outstay their welcome.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tipa – There is a lot of what you describe in EVE Online, where you’re online at just the right time and something interesting and amazing happens… and then you can go for years before anything like it comes up again. That initial moment of joy, amazement, or whatever, that hooks us and then we keep on hanging around long after we probably should. I know I feel the same way about EQ. I can log in and wander around Qeynos and the Qeynos Hills and the Karanas and feel just the slightest tinge of that initial excitement still. The human brain is a odd thing.

    @Bhagpuss – For me new music was only really a constant thing when I was young and driving around a lot and had the radio on pretty much all the time. You could play a cassette, but they might wear out, break, or the deck might get too hot in the summer and stop working. So on goes the radio and you pop back and forth between stations. I used to leave the local college radio stations on at home at times as well.

    But now I have a smart phone with playlists and podcasts and audio books. I even managed to retrofit my car stereo with Bluetooth, which was barely a thing when it was new.

    That said, even when I do actually use the radio in my car and put on some music, what comes out is music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, stuff I already know. I told my wife at one point I was convinced that pop music simply stopped after Uptown Funk was released.

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