The Success and Failure of Future MMOs
The MMORPG genre is a volatile thing. New MMOs rise and fall every year. Case in point: If you told players, more specifically WoW players that Final Fantasy XIV would dethrone the king this year… well, I doubt anyone in their right mind would’ve believed you.
With WoW dominating the genre for over a decade, even with the continued success of Final Fantasy XIV, nobody anticipated a shift of this magnitude. Yet it was definitely warranted. Change needs to happen. It’s what prevents a genre from growing – or in this instance – remaining in a perpetual state of stagnation.
Yet even with the mass exodus of players from World of Warcraft, and the migration to a comfortable replacement in the form of Final Fantasy XIV, there have been various MMO releases in 2021 that have.. more or less fell rather flat.
And by “fell flat” I mean that after a mere few months of launching, the active playerbase in each of these titles has seen a decline of gargantuan proportions.
The question is.. why? What about those titles inhibited them from succeeding? Were they bad games? Were they just not appealing to the right audience?
Let’s take a few minutes and see if we can’t uncover the reason behind the underwhelming year that has been 2021 thus far.
Now if I recall, PSO2 New Genesis, Swords of Legends Online, Bless Unleashed, Crowfall and MIR4 all released on PC in the last 3 months respectively, with New World, Elyon and Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker expansion launching in the next 3.
And don’t even get me started on Mobile MMOs. We get new copy-pasta Mobile MMOs every other week, so in my opinion they’re not particularly worth covering.
PSO2 New Genesis and Lost Ark have been 2 of the most anticipated MMOs of the last year. Sega promised massive overhauls to not only the graphical engine of New Genesis, but also the combat, the world.
And honestly? They delivered. Nobody can say they didn’t deliver on what was promised. Yet looking at the player population numbers on Steam – and I’m well aware this also launched simultaneously on both the Microsoft Store and Epic Games Store, numbers like this do not lie.
That is a 95% drop in total players logging in every day. Again, via Steam, but that percentage is likely echoed across all platforms. Meaning that even if the active playerbase is 50,000 unique players per day, it has dropped by an astronomical margin.
Gameforge promised Swords of Legends would be an MMORPG with absolutely no pay to win. Fast, regular updates featuring new content so players don’t burn out. Much like Sega, Gameforge somehow lived up to those promises and released an MMO that had no pay to win, no pay to advance, and overall provided players a fun, unique experience.
Yet – and once again, I’m using Steam here not as a total number of players, but more of a percentage of total daily players to get a gauge of activity levels. According to Steam, there are 1,873 players playing at this very moment, with a 24-hour peak of 2,176.
The game launched to 18,806 players via Steam 3 months ago. This is an 88% drop in total players via this platform, and while there are no doubt thousands – perhaps tens of thousands of active players playing via the Gameforge client, it’s safe to say that numbers – specifically pertaining to the percentage of players is mirrored quite similarly.
Bless Unleashed launched to absolutely astonishing numbers less than 2 months ago. 76,377 concurrent players at its peak, yet the game has declined to 9,425 players at this moment, and a 24-hour peak of 25,728. That is a 66% decrease in total daily players.
Crowfall is a little over 2 months old at this point, yet of the 17,000 backers the game had, player concurrency failed to break 1,000 for the better half of the first month, with small peaks above 3,000 briefly during the launch week before dropping back down to 3 digits.
After which Artcraft, the developers behind the game patched in a means with which to hide their active player numbers. Which totally wasn’t because they were embarrassed by the poor numbers.
And finally, MIR4 is the most recent MMO release, actually launching onto PC 12 days ago to 41,991 concurrent players. Within 12 days, the 24-hour peak has declined to 28,930 with 25,338 players playing right now. But within a week and a half, MIR4 has lost 31% of its active daily players.
I have played all 5 of these MMOs. Some to greater extents than others. Yet I’ve noticed certain.. reoccurring patterns and concerns with every single one of them.
These subjects showed me something very important about the state of the MMORPG genre and more specifically, its players.
One thing I’ve come to realize, and this is probably the largest of all of the issues I’ve noticed, is that these new MMOs have an alarmingly small selection of content for players to actively consume.
MMOs are developed very differently to non-MMOs. RPGs, as an example, build an entire game, from beginning to end. The bulk of the game is the journey. The events that transpire on the way to completing the game. What comes after the game is of little importance to many players as we always have new games to move on to.
MMO developers build an MMO in much the same way, albeit with much less of a significance placed on the beginning.. or the middle of the game. Rather, you’re hurried along to end-game so you can begin running max difficulty dungeons. End-game raids.
Yet the two genres both have a finite amount of time to work on their respective games, meaning that after the development process is complete, they launch with the content they’ve managed to complete, and that’s what we’re given in its final form.
While that works well for RPGs, since RPGs aren’t supposed to be a living, evolving world, that doesn’t work for MMOs, and that limited selection of content available in the short term causes players to hit a wall in terms of what they can do.
I know you’ve all felt it. You grind through a new MMO – whether that takes 3 days or 3 weeks. You hit end-game, and you have this expectation of being able to enjoy a surplus of varied content to captivate your attention. To enthrall you. Yet at the end of the day, you’re forced into the same couple dungeons or raids.
This is because developers don’t have the time, nor the funding to spend exorbitant amounts of time and resources continuing to develop additional content in the short-term – where the return on their initial investments are most integral to the future of the game.
Yet it is those very limitations imposed by developers themselves that are turning potential long-term players away from their games, meaning that the real culprit here responsible for one of the largest fluctuations in player retention in the short-term… is them.
I cannot begin to express how often I’ve heard – or even read online, players complaining “Well, there’s nothing to do once you reach end-game.” And since MMOs are mostly built with end-game in mind… inhibiting your game by providing an underwhelming end-game with a lack of diversified content is one sure fire way of killing your game.
So content available versus player expectation.
Another thing I’ve noticed.. is how much we overhype upcoming MMOs. Creating hype, buzz, anticipation for a video game, a movie, TV series. Any form of content you enjoy, is important. It’s part of marketing.
If players aren’t giddy with anticipation, they’re less likely to buy the game, less likely to spend money within the game, less likely to active discuss the game on social platforms, reducing the publicity the game ultimately ends up accumulating.
Yet hyping MMOs sets unrealistic standards. Unrealistic expectations that developers will never live up to. Let’s use both Ashes of Creation and Blue Protocol as examples.
These 2 titles are some of the most anticipated MMOs of their respective sub-genres. Ashes has been claimed to be “the savior of the MMO genre,” providing everything you could possibly want out of an MMORPG.
An incredible game. A dedicated studio that cares about their community. Excitement for this game is almost unparalleled. Likewise, Blue Protocol is appealing to the other spectrum of the MMO community: Anime fans. Fans of games like Final Fantasy XIV and Genshin Impact.
These 2 games are carrying the entire future of the genre on their respective backs. Sure, we have games like New World and Lost Ark on the immediate horizon, and while players are very excited for both – hype for either pales in comparison to the 2 aforementioned titles.
Yet with so much riding on both Ashes and Blue Protocol, neither are going to end up living up to player expectation. They just can’t. Players are looking at these with the prediction that it’ll provide everything they want.
An active community, great graphics, a fun combat system, a deep narrative, an extensive class system, meaningful PvP, a player-driven in-game economy, a large selection of cosmetic items, a world filled with content, endless updates bringing with it a regular flow of new content so players don’t get bored.
And I could go on. But both of these games – all of the upcoming MMOs scheduled to release over the next few years will be more of the same, yet will still get overhyped to the point that players will end up ultimately disappointed, let down, and will redirect that hype somewhere new. Maybe ArcheAge 2 that’s scheduled to release in 2025.
And finally, players want something new and innovative, but when presented with exactly that, they simply disregard it.
Many fans of the MMO genre have made the claim that the genre is oversaturated. That developers are engaging in easy, semi-profitable churn-and-burn projects, where they take an accepted, functional formula, and half-ass an MMO out of it.
Astellia Online. Revelation Online. Bless Unleashed. You could even argue New World before it underwent all of its alterations and became the game it is today. These are just recent examples. Gone are the days where developers experimented with new formulas. Gone are the days where developers were driven by passion. At least with regards to MMOs, anyway.
I mean, heck, gone are the days where we’d judge an MMO after playing it for an extended period of time.
In this day and age, “influencers,” “reviewers,” “content creators” and “streamers” all formulate their opinion of an MMO within a few mere hours, and judge the entirety of a game based off of that small sample size.
Their opinion then goes on to influence the opinion of their followers, which echoes far and wide throughout the community, resulting in an MMOs success, or potential success riding on what these influencers claim with little to no experience within the game.
This reminds me of an instance on social media recently, where some larger streamer whose name escapes me at present made a big deal when his healers wouldn’t heal him in a raid after boosting a character in Final Fantasy XIV, yet he understood nothing about his class or the mechanics present within the encounter.
I mean I’m equally as guilty of doing the same thing. I played 20 hours of Bless Unleashed before formulating an opinion on it. About 30 hours in Elyon. In neither game did I successfully reach end-game, however, which as we discussed above, is where developers want you to spend most of your time.
There are many reasons an MMO fails. Bad business model, mismanagement, poor game design, repetitious gameplay. Yet we’re seeing MMOs fail – MMOs judged before they’ve even released. We’re seeing MMOs buckle under the pressure of having to, and ultimately failing to live up to the disproportionate standards set by the community.
Not that we shouldn’t have standards. Quite the opposite, actually. We shouldn’t let poor-quality titles get away with taking advantage of players, but at the same time, we shouldn’t let our disposition towards these titles get in the way of accepting that not every MMO has to be either a 1 or a 10 on the scale.
No game, no MMO is perfect. And none ever will be.
But.. those are just my experiences. What I’ve come to realize, come to learn over the last year. Evidently there are countless other examples as to why MMOs fail. Areas that we need to discuss as a community, and hopefully in time we do.