How the State of the MMORPG Genre Has Shifted
If you told me back in January that we’d be getting 6 new MMORPGs AND the Endwalker expansion all in the 2nd half of 2021, I’d look at you funny. Well, funnier than normal.
I’ll be the first to admit – I did NOT think 2021 was going to be nearly as packed with MMO releases as it turns out it will be.
I mean, seriously, take a moment right now and think for a second: How many of you genuinely thought that we would get 7 MMORPG releases within a 6-month window of one another?
PSO2 New Genesis launched recently. Swords of Legends Online launches in the next month or two. New World a month after that. Elyon a month or two after that, Lost Ark a month after that. Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker expansion in November, and finally, Corepunk in December if everything goes over well with their test phases.
And that’s a good thing, right? We’ve been eagerly anticipating new MMOs worth a damn for years, now, and we have several that are genuinely captivating the audience.
And while the vast majority of players are sitting here absolutely ecstatic to have so many new games to play – here I am, ever the pessimist, wondering if releasing 6 MMORPGs – and Final Fantasy XIV’s most anticipated expansion to date, this close to one another, is going to do more damage to the longevity of these titles than players realize.
I’m sure a lot of you can agree that playing an MMORPG requires a lot of time, effort and dedication. This isn’t a genre built to satiate players with a short attention span. That’s what MOBAs are for.
This is a genre that requires you log in every day to grind through dailies. Every week to show up for your raids. To make sure you’re accumulating that global resource you need every week to inch ever closer to maximizing your capabilities as a player, regardless of whether that’s in PvP or PvE.
You farm dungeons for the chance at new gear, you farm materials in an attempt to get that percentage upgrade. Playing an MMO is like having a girlfriend. It’s a full-time commitment. And therein lies the problem.
PSO2 New Genesis just launched a week ago. And you know what? Players are already sitting there saying they “can’t wait to play Swords of Legends next month.” Players are – after a mere week – ready to move on to “the next game.”
When SOLO launches, and players hit endgame within the first week of its launch, you know what players will do?
Sit there bored, wanting to move on to Corepunk’s Beta test in June or July, get their fix there, move on to New World in August, Elyon in September or October, Endwalker in November, and then while waiting for content in Endwalker to come out, Lost Ark and Corepunk in December.
Do you see the pattern, here? Releasing 7 MMORPGs within this proximity of one another is inhibiting the potential success of each title. Players KNOW these games are coming out, and therefore realize that there is no inherent need to continue exhausting themselves in the game’s they’re grinding within.
There is no reason to invest a large number of hours into, and therefore play games long-term if something that could potentially be even better than what you’re playing right now is going to release in the immediate future.
Sure, an MMOs ability to retain player retention is partly on the game itself. If a game is good enough, that in and of itself will warrant players’ continued attention.
That’s why Final Fantasy XIV is as popular as it is, and has continued to get progressively more popular over time. And consequently why the exact opposite is the case in terms of World of Warcraft.
As noted earlier, New Genesis rolled out not even a week ago. At its peak, the game had 60,000 players playing concurrently via Steam alone, completely discounting the Microsoft Store and Epic Store. As of today, a week later, there are a maximum of 30,000 concurrent players.
The general playerbase has dipped by half over a week, and will continue to dip further over the course of the month, leading into the release window of SOLO. This is due to a number of reasons.
Severe lag that we encountered while playing, a general lack of content – with players having to wait 2 to 6 months for a new region and new content respectively.
6 months from now, when New Genesis receives the content update it needs to warrant players’ long-term investment into the game, Endwalker and Lost Ark will be out, two games that are significantly more anticipated, the latter offering weeks and the former months of content for players to consume at once.
PSO2 New Genesis is already considered “dead in the water,” by a lot of players, and they are very well aware of this. This is made abundantly evident when looking at the hype that Swords of Legends Online has right now, which has only grown as more content creators covered the game.
SOLO might end up being one of the breakout hits of the last couple years.
Mrs Stix and I both played SOLO over its Alpha test period, and both of its Beta test periods. And honestly? We finished the game during its 2-day Alpha. Then again during its 3-day Beta. And for a third time during its week-long Beta test.
While the game is absolutely stunning, the journey to max level took us maybe a day or two, and all that was left were a couple dungeons.
Sure, they added in a PvP mode for the final Beta test, and have plans of introducing raids a few weeks after the game launches, but with its limited content, players are, once again, going to be left without anything to do.
There is nothing that SOLO can introduce in the next month that will prompt players to log in every day and play. “A pretty game” can only maintain interest for so long.
And while SOLO will be buy-to-play as opposed to free-to-play like New Genesis, and will therefore appeal to a very different demographic of player, it will still consume a substantial number of players, leaving New Genesis an empty husk of what it once was.
And that is my point. These games, all releasing within a month or two of one another are going to cannibalize each other.
Where one, two, maybe even three of these games could have succeeded had there been enough time between each release, that just won’t happen. It’s not possible to juggle multiple MMOs for casual players, let alone dedicated players that want to push competitive content.
And as they cannibalize one another, it will negatively influence the chances that the companies associated with them will be willing to invest into future MMOs as the return on investment will likely be substantially lower than they would’ve otherwise wanted.
I get it. With so many people stuck at home over the last 18 months, MMO companies thought this was an ideal opportunity to localize an MMO and benefit from the large influx of players – but too many companies shared that sentiment, and it lead to this.. cluster of titles.
Where once we had nothing to play, we’re now going to have so many things to play that we’ll either miss several of these in their entirety, or play so little of them that we may as well have.
And these games don’t deserve this kind of treatment from us as gamers. Multiple of these games have the potential to be a lot of fun – at the very least, and many players are going to miss the opportunity to experience them.
We are in a very unusual place right now. There have been more players interested in the MMORPG genre in the last year than there have been in the years before.
And while I think it’s great we’re getting so many new MMOs over the second half of 2021, I’m of the very strong opinion that this is actually a step in the wrong direction.
There is absolutely no way all of these games can succeed. Especially not in the long-term. Every time an MMO releases, it takes a large percentage of players from other titles in the genre.
When Shadowbringers launched, WoW’s population tanked. When Shadowlands launched, Final Fantasy XIV was empty. That’s how these things work. But both Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft are large enough games, with enough in them to do to warrant players coming back regularly to remain up to date with the content releases.
That isn’t the case with these games, and history has proven that with MMO releases over the last several years.
If any of these MMOs had even a fraction of the content that either of the aforementioned titles had, heck, if they had the content of a single expansion I feel as though that would be more than enough to retain player attention for a multitude of months at a time.
But the sad reality is that none of these games have remotely enough content to keep their playerbase playing in the face of a new title.
Players will always jump ship because they’d rather play something new and exciting, then continue arduously grinding the same content repetitiously. And I honestly don’t blame them in the least.
I believe that come 2022, completely disregarding Endwalker, as let’s be honest, unless it’s absolutely garbage, there’s no way this game will do poorly. The only game that even has a chance to have a semblance of an active population is Lost Ark.
Not only will it completely consume the free MMO playerbase, leaving games like New Genesis, Blade & Soul, Aion and other lesser played free MMOs a desolate shell – well, most free MMOs are a desolate shell already.
But even Lost Ark will face the very same issue that all the rest of the titles releasing face. As soon as something releases in 2022 – as an example, Blue Protocol, which is supposed to release in North America and Europe in 2022. When Blue Protocol releases, do you think anyone will still be playing Lost Ark? No.
And when a game comes out after Blue Protocol, players will migrate on over once more.
This is a vicious cycle that is going to continue repeating itself until the genre consumes itself, leaving nothing but older MMOs like WoW and Final Fantasy XIV – games that have large, established worlds in the wake of a once great genre.
Players have been echoing the rumor that the “genre is dead” for a while now. Does it seem dead right now? Because to me it looks like it’s the complete opposite. Is the genre stagnant, though? Possibly.
I think, at the end of the day, yes, all of these games will probably up and die in a year or two. I highly doubt any of these have the lasting potential to really survive long-term. Not because they’re bad games, but because of player mentality.
Players complain that leveling in Swords of Legends was too slow and boring. Yet you can hit max level in less than 24 hours. Is that how long it takes you on average to hit max level in Final Fantasy XIV, The Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft, RuneScape or any other large MMO?
Then why are they complaining that it’s too slow?
Players complain that there’s nothing to do at endgame in New Genesis. Yet they confirm you’re supposed to spend the first 2 months grinding, and then every 2 months you’ll receive large content updates with a variety of new things to do.
WoW and Final Fantasy XIV get content updates every 3 months, and players seem happy with that schedule. As a new MMO, the first few months are meant to be there for players to slowly work towards achieving endgame. Not to rush through and then complain you’re out of things to do.
Content comes with time. Leveling is supposed to take time. Player mentality these days is entirely based around instant-gratification that it’s one of the main factors negatively influencing the direction of the genre.
We need MMORPGs that are about the journey. We don’t need a journey to take a day to complete. That isn’t the reason this genre was established, and shouldn’t be the direction we move into the future.
We need to stop catering to the casual minority, and reaffirm our priorities: Content that takes time, effort and dedication. As I noted at the very beginning of all of this.
I’m a fan of the genre. I grew up here, and will remain here until it no longer exists. I look forward to seeing where the genre goes into 2022, 2023 and beyond with the release of games like Blue Protocol in 2022, Ashes of Creation in 2024, ArcheAge 2 in 2025 and Riot’s League MMO sometime in 2026 to 2030.