The MMORPG industry is ever growing, with many new titles being added to the genre each year. I consider myself to be a veteran MMO player, but I know there are many more people out there, with experience vastly superior to mine.
I want to delve into the last 10 years of the industry and find out what makes it tick, what has changed, and if the framework is still the same, so join me, after the break!
The way the industry is perceived, currently as a whole, is poor. If I were to loosely describe to some friends a MMO or give an example, like World of Warcraft, the common response I would receive would be, “Don’t you have to pay monthly for those?” Although this is true for some games in the genre, it does not always break down that way. There are three categories.
The play grades:
Pay to Play (P2P) - This is a category where most of the larger titles fit. Here you will find Aion, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Lineage 2 and more. The developers of P2P MMOs pledge to their communities that they’ll provide updates to the game on a regular basis. This being the main reason you P2P, besides paying the bills. This does not always mean content patches but could mean bug fixes, establishing community events or other non-content based additions.
Free to Play (F2P) - There are a wide variety of free to play games on the market that would fall under the category of an MMO, in my experience of F2P MMOs, quality comes at a price. Content updates with F2Ps tend to be few and far, as the developers do not get paid to work on the game, the only source of income for some would be donations. There is only one MMO in this category that I believe defies the often lower quality of F2Ps in the genre. This title is “Guild Wars.”
This clever title is based on a desktop client, like most P2Ps, but instead of making its players pay a monthly fee, it chooses to release expansions on a steady basis. This coupled with additional extras makes it the most powerful MMO in its sub-category.
Micro-transactions – This is a variation that builds upon the F2P concept, yet does not go quite as far as P2P. Often these games initially may look free, while you would have to pay for additions that would only improve your game play. This, however, is not the case. More likely, you will have to pay for a fair share of the micro-transactions just to experience the game as a whole.
It’s not all about the money… or is it?
The recipe for a fairly successful MMO has not changed much over the last 10 years, while in the last five years “thinking outside the box” has decreased even more dramatically. Why you ask? Well, World of Warcraft, the giant in the industry, which has peaked at over 11 million players, have grabbed a tidy sum of attention (and cash!)
For a game developer, there is an obvious advantages to making a P2P MMO as it can sustain the work force for a far longer period than a moderately successful, single player RPG. This has inevitably led to a series of new games entering the industry known as “WoW Clones.” These games keep all of the same traits that WoW has, they are often not built upon or changed with the only difference being their story line. This if often an unsuccessful attempt to match the gaming giant. Even still, all games are down to the personal preference of the player. They choose the story line that fits them best.
Down to the roots
We have to try and remember that it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the recipe has not changed much over the years; after all, if you develop a perfect recipe, why would you completely re-invent the way it works?
After some internet searches, I found what I believe to be the first in the modern MMO generation, Ultima Online. This game was the first of its kind to reach a subscriber base of over 100,000 players, as all modern MMO’s aim to reach at least a few hundred thousand. This was a massive achievement for a game first created back in 1997.
UO has also been plagued with bugs over the years since release. This, coupled with multiple revisions of the game has left it a very controversial subject. Even with these issues in mind we can recognise UO as one of the forefathers of the MMORPG industry. Through its time, Ultima Online has implemented many of the core structures we still see in the genre. UO had a combat system, virtual economy, player housing, a crafting system and more features that we see in newer MMOs.
Beware, a monster lurks deep within
The development team on any MMO must have skin thicker than an elephant (that’s 1 inch, for those who don’t know). One of the strongest characteristics of MMO games is the population who choose to play them, often the most unforgiving bunch who do not forget mistakes of the past.
This is highly evident in the masses of ex-players from Sony Online Entertainment’s Star Wars Galaxies. Many of the people who used to play the game are on 101 different gaming forums, all saying how their beloved game was ruined by the infamous “New Game Enhancements.” For the future of the industry, new developers should take a note from mistakes of deceased MMOs, losing players is devastating.
Many veteran MMO players that I have come across have an extremely bitter taste in their mouths; this only adds pressure to developers, as usually nothing they do seems to be right.
Back to the future
The future could still be bright for the industry; we have examples of released games now that are trying to break the mold. Games such as EVE Online, which take a completely different style to the mainstream of the industry. Due to personal belief, however, the industry needs more games that will mold together old points that have made great games and add a new twist, not just a new story line.
Though I have proclaimed my fan hood for the game already, I believe Star Wars: The Old Republic is following this pattern. They are taking one of the most successful combat systems, based on “global cool downs,” and instead of changing the great recipe, they are adding spice to another: immersion. All playable and non-playable characters in the game will have a voice, a stark contrast to what we currently see in MMOs, with perhaps, a few lines of dialogue per enemy groups or just bosses and key figures talking.
I believe the future is bright, on the condition that developers look not to destroy the mold but give it some new features. Players also need to try and think more optimistically. With these conditions, we could see a lot of interesting releases from the ever growing industry in the next 10 years.