I’m looking forward to 2016. Last year was a mixed bag for the massively multiplayer genre and there’s a sense that the industry, for the most part, has given up on creating brand new MMO’s. Yes there are new titles on the horizon: Blade and Soul and Black Desert Online being the prominent two, but the abandonment of Blizzard re-entering the genre with a World of Warcraft rival, as well as EverQuest Next remaining vaporware, there’s little if any AAA titles on the horizon.
I have to say I’m not entirely surprised by this development and I think its been brewing over the last few years. Massively multiplayer games are expensive, vast projects, that are not only challenging but come with a great deal of baggage. There’s a weight of expectation that they should attracts millions of players and at the same time, please everyone. They have to deliver incredible player versus enemy encounters, player versus player, open world combat, crafting with depth, consequence, progression, multiple professions or classes that are balanced to perfection as well as a game world that’s original and fun to play in. It’s a headache and one that has, arguably, gotten even more difficult as player demands increase.
Guild Wars 2 is a perfect example of the current state of the genre. A beautiful game with wonderfully designed professions and some fantastic content (too much, at times). And yet despite that, its community is rather angry at the moment and it’s constantly bubbling over. The problem is and like most MMO’s, Guild Wars 2 tries to do too much. It tries to offer all the above but, arguably, excels in none of those areas. I’m not in any way suggesting Guild Wars 2 is poor - far from it. In fact, it’s without question the best on the market: we wouldn’t have awarded it Game of the Year, yet again, if we didn’t think so. Unfortunately for ArenaNet, they’re spinning lots of plates simultaneously and are failing to keep them all up in the air to the dissatisfaction of their playerbase.
Crowfall: it looks and sounds incredible but don't expect in depth PvE. It's all about player interaction.
Online communities are notoriously ruthless when it comes to their opinions or demands and often have unrealistic expectations when it comes to development timeframes, design and implementation. They want everything now and scream blue murder if they don’t get it. When you think about the workload that goes into creating and maintaining a massively multiplayer game it's not surprising that they’ve been pushed aside in favor of smaller, more focused games. The likes of Gigantic or Overwatch scratch the PvP itch many MMO players are accustomed to (even if they are delivered differently) whilst doing away with the baggage of everything else the genre brings with it. The end result allows for Motiga and Blizzard to concentrate on Heroes, new maps and skill balance. In contrast and to use Guild Wars 2 as an example again, ArenaNet have to do that and everything else.
I suspect that EverQuest Next, should it ever see the light of day, will be one of the final AAA MMO’s we ever see. Instead, we’ll see more and more games akin to Crowfall or Camelot Unchained that have clear massively multiplayer elements (third person, trade, chat, limited action sets) but remove core areas players have come to expect. In the case of Crowfall and Camelot Unchained, it’s all PvP and encouraging player actions rather than player versus enemy.
From my perspective, I think the shift from creating these enormous games is a good thing and it will, hopefully, result in much stronger products that have a unique selling point. Both Crowfall and Camelot Unchained are looking exceptional and I think that’s in part because the development teams behind both don’t have to stretch themselves too thinly. There’s no doubt they’ll still find themselves exposed to the usual complaints (class balance, bugs and desires for new content) but the sources of those complaints will at least be reduced. Unlike them, ArenaNet are fighting against those who love dungeons, Fractals, World versus World, PvP and PvE.
I adore this genre and like all my colleagues, see how much potential it has. But for it to meet that potential, I think reducing the scope of what’s on offer is the way to go if it’s to ever return to greatness. Unfortunately for the likes of Guild Wars 2, Black Desert Online and Blade and Soul, there’s little those teams can do to neuter decent amongst their existing playerbase. If they’re to stand up to the competition they’ll need to be much more focused, otherwise there’s every chance they’ll find themselves quickly lacking players.
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