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.
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.