I like to think about things, and if I don't collect the thoughts somewhere then they'll all fall out of my head. Consider this my "spare-brain-thoughts farm".

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Future of MMOs

I know I don’t post these opinion articles too often, but I wanted a place to touch upon my thoughts on just how MMORPGsa work and where they are going. Unsurprisingly I am going to mention World of Warcraft a lot in this article, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The business model of MMOs is a widely decried one. The “Why should I have to pay more to play a game I’ve already bought?” argument is thrown around at every opportunity, particularly by people who don’t play MMOs. Now, these people are welcome to their opinion, but it’s very unfortunate for them that their opinion isn’t likely to be considered valid by most MMO players. It’s not that they can’t understand the whole MMO appeal, but it’s because they’re not willing to experience it because they don’t want to pay for it. For many MMO players, it’s an expensive but affordable hobby, but unlike other hobbies it’s far, far more to them than that. It’s a whole second life to many, many people; They’ve got guilds full of friends and they’re constantly connected to a world full of people that they’re very unlikely to ever meet in real life.
There’s a real level of disconnect between MMO players and the many people who won’t play them which is very obvious to outsiders; MMOs are a completely different class of games.
If you’re confounded as to why MMOs seem to continue chugging along long after people should have got bored of them or stopped playing, then it’s because of this disconnect. The business model is centered around not giving people an incentive to play, but an incentive to communicate with their fellow gamers. It’s a separate experience from the game itself, and it’s all alongside a co-operative gaming experience.
So, moving away from why the work: Just how are they going to continue working. The business model is sound, and whilst it can continue indefinitely, it can become unprofitable. Every year you need to bring tons of new content to stay ahead of your competitors to keep people in your game, and every year more and more competitors get announced. Just in recent months we’ve seen RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic both as the big contenders for the King Pin title held by World of Warcraft.
So, you need to constantly employ people to make new content and you need to constantly maintain huge servers capable of holding your audience. Not only that, but you’ll need to do mass technology updates; your servers are going to run out of steam eventually and will need replacing and updating. It costs a serious amount of dosh to keep an MMO running and keep it on top of it’s game. People say that Blizzard are money moochers, but they still employ hundreds of employees and have to maintain their offices, subsidary companies, GMs, servers and keep their game running smoothly. Sure, they’re raking money in, but they’re spending huge amounts of it.
This is where the future of MMOs kicks in.
There is never going to be a unified MMO. It’s too lucrative a market for other companies not to try jumping in.
So, where is the MMO going? It’s going to Blizzard, that’s where it’s going. And, I don’t think it’s going to be mystery-project Titan, either, I think it’s going to be World of Warcraft for many years to come. It is sheerly too difficult to overcome such a juggernaut now, and I think that it’s completely out of Blizzard’s hands anymore. When you’ve got 10 million players and more, you’ve got just too many people to answer to. Imagine just what might happen to the gaming market if World of Warcraft just vanished off the map; If even half of those players continued to play MMOs, every single other MMO would receive such a huge influx of players that they’d be completely revitalised, they might even completely change for the better.
It’s because of this that I’ll never understand the concept of a “WoWKiller”, as SWTOR was meant to be. We are currently at the point where it just can’t be done. Even if you can get the entirety of WoW’s playerbase behind your MMO, they’re always going to remember the MMO that bought them together as a community and if you give them the chance they will return to it.
Many MMOs have turned to the Free 2 Play route, such as Aion. Others have resorted to giving out their game for free like RIFT. Some have introduced a permanent free trial far too early in their lifecycle (*Cough* SWTOR *Cough*). But these tactics aren’t dragging people to their MMO, they’re pushing them away in many cases. RIFT lets you know that you can pick it up whenever you want, you don’t need to now. SWTOR has very early in it’s life said that you can play it for free up to level 20, so you don’t need to invest in it. They’re trying to adopt a business model to bring in more users, but they’re only trying to appeal to MMO gamers, and those people are busy with WoW. You can’t take the WoW playerbase, as unfortunate a truth as it is.

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