Is The MMO & MMORPG Genre Dead?
Huge worlds, faction vs faction PvP combat, large, unparalleled exploration.. drama. There’s just something about the MMORPG genre that you can’t find anywhere else. A void that you just.. can’t fill.
Yet even with such unbelievably stunning, engrossing worlds to populate.. the playerbase for MMOs as a whole are in a perpetual state of decline.
Yes, games like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, Black Desert Online, RuneScape.. and a few others are all capable of retaining an active playerbase but even they show a decay in activity.
The genre as a whole is decaying and there are a variety of reasons for it. I want to take a few minutes of your time to go over why I think the MMORPG genre is stagnating and I want to further talk about what I believe can be done to fix it.
The History Of The MMORPG
So we all know the history of the genre: Early on, games like Ultima Online, EverQuest and Asheron’s Call pioneered the MMORPG genre. The three of them together were collectively known as “the big three” of the late 1990s.
If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t really have much of, if any, MMORPG genre at all.
Next came games like Dark Age of Camelot, Anarchy Online and Ultima Online 2. Initially, Anarchy Online, launched to an absolutely astonishingly large number of players – which crippled the game.
Months later, Dark Age of Camelot launched with various innovative features like “Realm vs. Realm” PvP and surpassed Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call in terms of popularity, becoming the main competitor for EverQuest.
In 2001, Jagex next brought their vision – RuneScape into fruition, followed by Ragnarok Online and MapleStory in 2002, both of which launched over in Asia to critical success and popularity.
Late in 2002, Square-Enix released Final Fantasy XI, the very first MMO to provide clients for various platforms using a single set of servers, along with holding the title for the very first “true MMO” to appear on a console.
In 2003 we saw the final wave of second generation MMORPGs: Toontown Online, Eve Online, EverQuest Online Adventures, Lineage II, Second Life, with City of Heroes being the last MMO release in early 2004.
Late in 2004, Sony Online Entertainment launched EverQuest II in a follow-up to the critical success of the first in the franchise.
Sony had expected to dominate the market like they had up until that point but little did they know that Blizzard Entertainment, with World of Warcraft, would be larger than ever predicted.
While EverQuest II was a commercial success, World of Warcraft immediately overtook every single MMO released up until this point, absolutely dwarfing every other pay to play MMORPG, and still dominates the market 14 years later.
In April of 2005, ArenaNet launched Guild Wars, introducing the world to a new financial model that is known to have been partly responsible for the game’s success.
At the same time, there had been a significant influx of new MMORPGs adopting the free to play model, with games like Silkroad Online, FlyFF, Perfect World, MapleStory, and Shadowbane all launching to relative success.
Since then, the market had continued to evolve, with new MMORPGs launching almost yearly to continual reduced successes, which led us to where we are today: A handful of MMORPGs left and hopeful something will revitalize the genre.
The Evolution Of The PC MMORPG Genre
Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, MMOs were a whole nother creature. They were more difficult, more social. They required teamwork and active participation in the community to achieve goals.
In the late 2010s, MMOs evolved into something much easier, often being soloable for the most part, albeit requiring a party for things like obligatory dungeons or raids.
Where games once promoted exploration and teamwork, forging a sense of camaraderie as it were, now games lead players by the hand from NPC to NPC repeating the same fetch and kill quests until endgame.
Unless you’re a Korean grinder like Black Desert, which instead opts to have players repetitiously spam their left click for hours on the same spawn of monsters for a little juicy XP.
Which leads me to the next point..
Why Mobile MMORPGs
You can’t deny the popularity of Mobile games or Mobile MMORPGs. You simply can’t.
There is absolutely no way to argue that the genre has become riddled with them – games like Blade and Soul, Bless, Aion, Black Desert, MapleStory and more all porting their games over onto mobile devices because they know where the market is headed.
And they’re making preparations for that. Back in 2012, the PC platform took up 37% of the overall gaming market in terms of growth, with the console platform taking up 45% and mobile platform taking up the final 18%.
Fast forward to 2018, the PC platform takes up 24%, the console platform takes up 25%, and the mobile platform takes up 51% of the market. It is projected to have the mobile platform taking upwards of 60% of the gaming market in a mere 2 years.
That is how far the market has shifted, and that is why so many companies are transitioning their games over to mobile devices instead.
Add onto that the mobile market itself makes over $70 billion dollars out of the Gaming market’s $137 billion total gross for 2018, and you can clearly see that the mobile market is the future.
Where PC MMORPGs Have Failed
So with mobile devices in essence being the future.. what happened to the PC genre? Where did we fail, and more importantly, why did we fail?
Browsing around Reddit, various gaming websites and forums, and talking to the community in general – one commonality in opinions was ever prevalent: World of Warcraft is responsible for the ruination of the genre.
This theory does hold merit if you take a moment to think about it: Before World of Warcraft, games were making active innovations, introducing new ideas, and ultimately finding resounding success.
However after World of Warcraft launched to commercial success and continued its path of destruction in 2008, companies took note and instead of taking risks.. developers instead abandoned experimentation and became risk averse.
World of Warcraft is often credited with bringing refinement and simplification of many traditional game mechanics to the genre, allowing for a much wider audience.
I hit on the social aspects of the MMO genre earlier, and will bring it up once again here: Games used to require socialization, teamwork and group play to get anywhere.
While many gamers didn’t mind that kind of collaborative element in-game, it was all but a necessity, not an option.
Thus, the aforementioned argument is countered with the contention that the by-product of this process has been the erosion of the social imperative that was at the heart of the genre at the time.
World of Warcraft has hindered innovation in the MMORPG genre not directly, but instead, by developers wasting their time attempting to emulate its formula instead of taking the genre in new directions.
This resulted in a long list of weak and uninspired “WoW clones” such as Aion, Rift, WildStar and more that as a consequence, MMOs lost their lustre and developers are now shying away from traditional MMOs.
If you take a moment to think about it, there hasn’t been a single MMO to really deviate from and break the standard mechanics of the genre, with the exceptions being – and this is a stretch, even, The Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2.
Developers, with their indifference to taking risks and indecision surrounding the genre’s future have led to the rise of MMO-variants such as the MOBA and Battle Royale genre.
So while World of Warcraft did pave the way for the genre initially, causing a lot of change, and setting the standard for MMOs, the decline of the genre lies in the hands of the developers and their uncertainty and indecisiveness.
Where Do We Go From Here?
While most people are contemplating where we go from here, there are a few developers that are of the impression that the only way to breathe new life into the genre is to actually look back at precisely what we did correctly in the past.
The only way we can revitalize the MMO genre is by instead going backwards. Game developers – at least, indie game developers are building new MMOs around a specific demographic of gamers that reminisce over the old days of MMOs.
Older gamers, or younger gamers who have a similar mindset will flock to these games due to their cooperative, social features, requiring active communication and teamwork.
More social interactivity, player driven economies to provide a sense of purpose, difficult experiences that are much more likely to require a team to combat, and..
While a lot of players are highly anticipating games like Pantheon, Crowfall and Ashes of Creation, I remain a little skeptical.
Yes, providing players with an overhauled, updated experience of old school MMORPGs is going to unequivocally attract attention. But this generation of gamers are more apt to find themselves easily distracted.
This generation perceives the MMO genre to be a collection of ill-conceived diluted linear single player RPG’s and would much rather invest their time into games like Fortnite, PubG or Overwatch.
Those games took the social aspects of cooperative gameplay, social interaction, and teamwork and revolutionized the MMO genre.
And before you criticize me here for calling them MMOs – which they are 100% not – I’m saying they revolutionized the genre, providing players another platform to make use of the features that made MMOs so special.
Is The MMORPG Genre Really Dead?
No, of course not. The genre itself is still alive and kicking.
You have games like World of Warcraft with millions of active subscribers, Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls Online, Black Desert Online, Blade and Soul.. and more, that tally up to having tens of millions of players ready for the next big thing.
The issue is that most new MMOs that come out don’t provide much in the way of innovation – instead being Korean grindfests, poorly-conceived Indie titles or.. mobile ports.
Instead of taking the time to do what MOBAs, Battle Royale’s and the MMORPG genre itself did in the past to bring something new to the table.. we’re getting re-releases of games like Bless Online, Bless Unleashed, Warlords Awakening.. and other garbage.
Yes, Ascent: Infinite Realm looks good, so does Pantheon, Crowfall, Ashes of Creation, Camelot Unchained, Chronicles of Elyria.. We have plenty to look forward to. The issue is that are any of them actually worth playing?
I would personally love to hear your feedback on this topic. I’ve seen other Youtuber’s and MMO websites do “Is The MMORPG Genre Dead?” videos and articles, and this is more or less my take on it.
Whether you agree or disagree, I would nevertheless love to read through anything you have to say pertaining to the topic – so don’t hold back. I’ll do my very best to read and reply to as many of the comments as possible.