Doom and Gloom…

Anyone that keeps up with what I write, or has had a chance to read MMO Evolution, knows that I have mixed feelings about the online game industry. On one hand, I am very annoyed, irritated, angry, and my panties are in a bunch about a lot of the things going on in the industry. On the other hand, I still hold a glimmer of hope that there are passionate and creative people out there that are not satisfied with the status quo, and are striving to make a change.

A lot of people consider MMORPGs to be the Killer App of PC gaming, the natural next step or evolution of plain and generic virtual worlds, and incredible money makers that last years and years.

World of Warcraft has, at least in the minds of the Western markets, burst open the floodgates. WoW has become a household word, and there are very few people that have never heard of it (although many are still unsure of what a MMORPG actually is).

As a result of the commercial success of WoW, many publishers and venture capitalists that have been waiting in the wings have cast away their shackles of doubt and are either starting their own MMORPG projects, or eagerly funding new studios. Their hope is to capitalize on the potential profits and success of an MMORPG and make a lot of money.

This is good because it will enliven the sector and the increased competition should be cause for better games. However, there is a downside. The majority (not all) of this money is what I would call dumb money. This refers to people throwing money at a project where they don’t really understand the industry or they are funding people that look good at first glance but really have no idea how to craft a MMORPG…the expectations are high, and the chance for success is pretty low.

I predict even more venture deals and more new MMORPG projects to be announced in the next 12 months or so. At least half of these will be related to some license or another, and there will probably be a handful of virtual worlds trying to pass themselves off as MMORPGs, but won’t be anything more than an advertisement laden glorified version of Second Life.

I also predict that the majority of these projects will either fail miserably and die a slow death or have mediocre success and barely stay alive. The second type is a prime acquisition candidate by some of the larger publishers trying to aggregate content, so all is not entirely lost for the investors.

While this will create a lot of excitement and exposure for our industry, along with hundreds of new jobs, there is a price to pay. When publishers and venture capitalists lose money or their projects dramatically under perform, they become very hesitant to take any risk in future projects. That will ultimately stifle the market for another cycle, and we will end up with another dry spell. Quality and originality will disappear again, and we will all be blogging about how terrible things are.

There will however, be a handful of great success stories, and at least one or two stellar runs at possibly knocking World of Warcraft from its high place.

My only hope is the few brave souls that are fed up with all the bureaucratic crap from the blind men running certain companies…they will strike out on their own and forge new ideas, concepts, and stories from their basements, garages, rooms, and corner cafes. Some will meet and begin unfunded independent projects, and a lucky few will take it to the next level with funding. They may not all succeed, as this road is long and arduous, but they will raise a lot of eyebrows and influence the rest of the industry to no small degree.

Watch the independents. They are coming. You don’t know who they are now, and many have absolutely no experience in the industry whatsoever. But they have unbridled passion, indomitable spirits, and a driving ambition to create, innovate, and build.

Our industry is one of cycles, and even with death and failure, the phoenix shall always arise.

I’m pretty excited, but for now, I will stay here on my soapbox proclaiming doom and gloom. I’m getting pretty tired of the same recycled crap gameplay and hollow story. It is time to quit playing around and take some risks. Innovate people! Innovate!

11 thoughts on “Doom and Gloom…”

  1. Innovation is happening, but the biggest problem it faces is lack of funding compared to ‘safe’ investments, and lack of eyes / marketing. I’m working on something that gives me a chance to try new ideas, but my biggest fear is that it won’t have any noticeable impact. Niche games which try innovation barely get mentioned in the MMO blogosphere, let alone mainstream press and marketing. While we can all cheer for A Tale in the Desert, I havn’t heard anyone else trying something similar, let alone investing in it. Second Life is completely opposite, massively misrepresenting itself to get the publicity.

  2. Re blogosphere…if we don’t know about it, we can’t talk about it.

    If an indy studio has something interesting and innovative, they should be letting us know about it if they want to stir up some conversation. Personally, I would be MORE than happy to talk about stuff.

  3. We are just seeing the birth of the indie MMO, now that the tools are becoming available for the basement developer. But we all know the development cycle is much much longer than making a Quake mod.
    The gaming industry is far more ‘visible’ now, with the explosion of dev blogs, and these indies are taking note of the big boys’ rule about not talking about something until they’ve truly got something to show.
    We’re gonna see some cool, cool stuff, but it takes time.

  4. Actually the Indie MMO was born about a decade ago. The landscape is littered with them.

    As for the big boys rules, it works both ways…sometimes they talk about all the cool features, and by the time a game actually launches it is nothing like they originally pitched.

    I agree we are going to see some cool stuff, but it will be a hard road. Not every indie is innovative or knows what they are doing. I think they need to reach out to other indies, and work together a little bit and collaborate, even if it is only at a high level (studio heads helping each other solve problems or mentoring each other).

    Break the mold!

  5. This is just another cycle of the MMO world. Back in the day, Everquest was king, and then the “clones” came. Almost all of them died except for a few like DAOC and such. Most people pulled their money back at that point and MMOs spread out their population amoung the crowd. This next phase will likely usher in the same cycle, except with the ability for lower cost MMOs to continue running even after the rage goes away. AO is a good example of a game that came out of the MMO downcycle, but it still held its own due to a certain appeal.

    Basically, what you said has already happened once, and will most likely continue to happen until the barrier to entry of the MMO market is at or near 0 at which point you will see the same amount of MMOs come out as regular PC games.

  6. Sometimes it helps to point out the obvious cycles, because they aren’t always obvious to everyone.

    The barrier to entry for an MMO will never reach zero. Just like it will never reach zero for console or PC games. No, casual flash and java games don’t count.

    Sure anyone can pick up a video camera and make a “movie”…this could be argued as zero barrier to entry, but how often does the average Joe actually make a “Movie”?

  7. The biggest challenge for the Indie MMO on a limited budget, as illuminarc mentioned, is marketing and publicity. I’m just waiting for a hip site to come along and focus exclusively on the Indie scene MMOs that will start popping up.

    In fact, I blogged about just that a while back. Since no one covers them now (well, hardly anyone), whoever starts building an Indie news site early could pretty rapidly establish themselves with a mud-connector style database and on-going reports of projects too small for the big fish to even know about.

  8. Why don’t flash and applet based games count? The casual game market is thriving and in fact more of a competitor than most other traditional game makers since the barrier to entry is low, they can easily outprice the commercial industry, and people (by and large) don’t have 4 hours a night to devote to their games like most games these days require.

    What I was saying generally though, is that game making entry is a $0 entry industry. You can make games with free tools if you train yourself. MMOs will eventually reach that point with advancing technology. However, just like a free game written in RPG Maker 2000 (or XP) the little ones aren’t going to get much attention. It will still largely be a commercial level driven industry.

    As for the movie analogy, I have to say, YouTube has pretty much proven to me that quite a few people just pick up a camera and make movies at an alarmingly increasing pace :) Short movies, but movies nonetheless.

  9. Another MMO aggregation site is, of course. Whenever I’m looking for a new game to explore for a weekend, that’s pretty much where I head… the layout at is less friendly, I think, although they seem to have a somewhat larger array of entries (more than a few dead links, too, tho).

    There always the old standby of as well… they have a “graphic mud” page with a hundred titles or so, as well as the extensive text mud listing, of course.

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