Plenty of people put forth their forward-looking posts, and I am going to do it as well. Whether it is from a Steam-driven library of games, an aging MMO population, an economic recession, or plenty of different business models coming in to the MMO world, I believe that the subscription model of today is nearly done being “the way.” Walk with me a second…
The epic holiday Steam sale brought about mental food for this post. Zubon noted a couple things on Steam, I bought Trackmania United Forever, Peggle Deluxe, and Civilization 4, and a close friend of mine blew nearly $200 on new games noting, as he punched in his AMEX number, that he would probably never get to some of them. The thing we have in common is that we are all MMO gamers. We play a genre of games that require dedication to the degree of it becoming a hobby, and we all bought a bunch of non-MMO games.
But, something is different from before. I used to have to pick and choose what games I wanted to play based on what was installed, or even owned, at the time. Now, elements like Steam and expanded hard drives give me a venerable library of games at my fingertips for any type of gaming mood. I go through cycles of wanting to play different genres, but MMOs remain an everpresent base-level noise. A lot of times I will follow what is new and shiny (Left 4 Dead), and other times I will learn to play late to the party (Civ 4). Some games I just play now for events (Guild Wars), some I play constantly (Lord of the Rings Online), and some I play while I get a moment’s reprieve during a Dora episode (Peggle). One thing is constant, though: I am a PC Gamer.
Yet, the AAA MMOs that see the light post-WoW are still developed as if it was going to be the only game the player would play. I am not sure PC gamers still want such a thing. In fact, the complaint I hear most often on the base design of new MMOs is that are they subscription-based (read: built to be a hobby). It didn’t work at all for Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, or Hellgate:London, which were three games that were stretched thin to be hobbies. Age of Conan seems to be hanging by a string, and Warhammer Online, a hobby success, is likely mellowing out far from the 800,000 spike. Plenty of commentaries said that 2008 was not a good year for MMOs.
I don’t agree.
I think that the Everquest/World of Warcraft zeitgeist has started digging its own grave, and that’s why people deem 2008 a failure. The new market winners are going to be the niche MMOs that try things a different way. And by “things,” I mean pricing models.
Developers create the game based on the business model. Not the opposite. Subscription MMOs are created to require committment. So-called free-to-play (F2P) MMos are created to ensure that players want the “painless” microtransactions. And, buy-the-box MMOs (e.g., Guild Wars) are created so that the new cool thing is in the upcoming release. The theory is not rocket science; although the application may darn near be.
So, I see two lines converging. I don’t have much of a vantage point to see them, but here is what I see. I see “MMO Gamers” having expanded games libraries as content becomes easier to buy, and I see plenty of MMOs coming that are trying unique business models. The games that are on my horizon are Darkfall Online (proud to be hardcore niche), The Agency (quick fun, ad-based business model, lots of good ideas), LEGO Universe (player-driven, could be an interesting business model especially if it ties in real Legos), Star Wars: The Old Republic (what does mid-session mean?), and of course Guild Wars 2. The convergence is going to be a lot of great games that require little dedication to experience the whole game. This is going to leave a lot less time for dedication-required MMOs, especially the vanilla ones like World of Warcraft. The dedication-required MMOs that do well, I believe will be geared towards a niche audience.
So what do I think? I don’t think 2008 was a fail-year for MMOs. I think it was a wake up call. AAA MMOs do not have to cling to the $15 flatline, and if they do… it really has to be worth it.
Is our whole dissembly appeared?