2011 – Hopes, Dreams, Fears

I am too antsy to work. Most community managers on the West Coast aren’t even awake, but it is the first business day of 2011. The 2011. The Year of the MMO. It feels like something should be coming any second, but I have to tell myself that things were not so different a week ago. All morning I have been trying to write this post. What are my baseless speculations on the MMO genre this year?

Rift will launch within a few months. It will be p0lished and fun, and it will get generally the same reviews as it is getting with beta impressions. However, by the end of 2011 the words “fail” and “dying” will start to get tossed around as servers merge, employees are laid off, and people’s subscriptions are tossed elsewhere. No one will care at that time if the game was an actual commercial success to the company or investors. I hope I am proven wrong, but so far I see a great, polished game that has very little to show for a sustained subscription against every other subscription based game of the same ilk. DC Universe Online will generally follow suit.

Star Wars: The Old Republic will launch on either side of summer. Like Rift it will be well polished and fun. Yet, the aces in the hole for The Old Republic are going to be replayability, lore, and story. These things will stretch the time before players start wondering whether to subscribe for a few more months. BioWare is going to have a tough fight because they will have to prove that they are going to offer a service with strong updates and developer feedback to show that their subscription is worthwhile. Their biggest yardstick is BioWare’s own games and DLC because players will wonder if a locked-in subscription is worth the multiplayer features. With a very strong post-launch plan, I think they have a decent chance of a sustained million subscriber base.

Finally, Guild Wars 2, which is too close to my heart. I think it is interesting that the MMO which is farthest out from launch of these few is the most anticipated at the big MMO site MMORPG.com by far, and Guild Wars 2 holds the highest sustained hype rating ever on their site. I have a lot of hope for the game, but I am also worried about their cash shop plans and post-launch content business model. I think that the game will be ready for 2011 holiday release.

I fear you more than any spectre I have seen

18 thoughts on “2011 – Hopes, Dreams, Fears”

  1. I think you are dead-on with Rift. I plan on (finally) enjoying the beta this weekend, and I’m expecting it to be polished, look great, and totally shine. However, add it to the pile of games that already shine, and one has to realize that the MMO playerbase doesn’t seem to be growing as fast as the MMO’s are coming out and with the subscription prices for each being a stopgap into playing multiple MMO’s, eventually there will be a crash. The games that need the sub numbers to keep them sustained won’t be able to reach those numbers and the games will fall apart. The games that will thrive will be the ones that either only need a small playerbase to keep the game afloat, or already have the numbers to do so.

    I think we’ll see a bunch of AAA MMO’s come out, only to falter when their sub numbers don’t cut it. They will be great games, but just not be able to sustain themselves.

    1. Although I don’t think GW2 will have this problem. They seem to have a nice grasp on the “sub-less, buy once” model. I think they’ll listen to their playerbase and put a ton of cosmetic items, or time-saving items in the cash shop. Both of these are not game-changing, so it shouldn’t bother anyone.

      At least thats what I hope, anyway… I can’t wait for GW2. It will be awesome. :)

  2. Good points all around, Ravious. The only game I’m planning to play from this list is GW2, but I have a feeling that SWTOR might be the most successful.

    Rift just seems too similar to WoW – what does it bring to the table to make anyone give up their guild, progress, and everything else Blizzard brings to the service? For a novel new class system rife with balance problems and other growing pains? For the dynamic content of Rift invasions, that don’t even seem to be important once you’re done leveling? I just don’t see where the niche for this game is supposed to be. I’m amazed they got money to make it, but that’s nothing new in the MMO industry. :)

    As for SWTOR, I think it’s set up to be a big success. It might have trouble keeping people in the longer term, but judging from WoW, there are a plenty of fundamentally solo players who are happy to just let their subscription keep ticking along, logging in a couple times a week to do dailies or craft random things. I also think it’s worth pointing out that SWTOR is going to be *the* big Sci-Fi adventure MMO when it launches – anyone who fundamentally likes the gameplay of WoW but is sick of the fantasy tropes, can pick up SWTOR and essentially be playing the same game with a few branching dialog options and lasers. SWTOR is a very safe product in that way…

    GW2 is the game I plan to play, but the one I know the least about in many ways. There’s so much still up in the air, I just don’t know what to expect. I think it will sell well, but I worry there will be population problems as many players drift in and out of it around holidays as happens now with GW1. The PvP is my big hope for it, but again, if the population doesn’t take off and attract long-term, active players, it will just be a frustrating continuation of the current GvG situation.

    As for the cash shop, I’m not too worried about it, but I am curious to see what their plan for ongoing revenue is. As always, it’s easy to get spooked if you think too hard about NCSoft’s role in ANet’s business. :)

  3. Here’s what I read as the key sentence from Ravious’s predictions:

    “No one will care at that time if the game was an actual commercial success to the company or investors.”

    Apart, presumably, from said company and investors, who will, presumably not care what anyone thinks so long as they are satisfied with their return on investment. When you look at “failures” like Warhammer and AoC, you have to wonder how “fail” they can be if they are still up and running. They each sold somewhere between 750k and 1m boxes at launch and both are still up and running more than two years later, still taking monthly subscriptions.

    While they may not have matched the somewhat hyperbolic pre-release claims, it’s hard to imagine they haven’t turned a profit and, since the companies responsible for them aren’t charities we can only assume the games remain profitable. If any of next year’s MMOs make their investment costs back on the box sale and are still running profitably in 2014, I’d guess the owners will be happy enough and are unlikely to care all that much about what we think of them.

  4. TOO close to Guild Wars 2 – surely that isn’t possible?
    GW2 24/7 4life!
    (Just kidding… somewhat.)

    I finally caved and bought Mass Effect 2 in a Steam sale, and it was so resoundingly awesome (though my suspicion it causes me motion nausea is strong of late) that it has enthused me for Bioware’s The Old Republic.
    I don’t think the art direction will ever rival the GWverse in my affections nor that the gameplay will feel terribly fresh, but I’m excited for new stories and – tentatively – upping my commitment from “purchase” to “purchase and maybe subscribe till nearer GW2.”
    That’s quite an up-swing, given TOR had previously settled at the Rifts level of good-game-I-don’t-much-care-about.

    Now DC Universe I’m not quite so optimistic about as you are; the 11/1/11 positioning might just be too close to Christmas for people to start shopping again, depriving it of the big initial sales that it’d otherwise be due.
    While I find it to be polished and possess an extremely strong art direction & voice cast, word of mouth just isn’t going to be terribly kind: it’s shallow & reptitive much like the other superhero games, but also extremely deficient in super power and character creation options by comparison – I think that combination is going to make it hard to steal away the normal genre fans.
    The obscene clickiness (25+ rapid-click combos are common from the start) could also become a meme, particuarly as it’s worse on the health and hardware (mouse buttons) of PC users – who are of course the greater patrons of sites & independent reviewers; it only takes a major review to bring the issue up, or for a YouTube review highlighting it to start doing the rounds.

  5. I think, if RIFT released now, you would be right.

    However, Trion is holding its cards close to its chest, including a lot of PvP cards. Trust me on this.

    1. Well I am going to continue with beta, and I will more than likely buy the game… so I will trust you on this. Just once. ;)

  6. I wouldn’t discount RIFT so soon. Way back when MUDS were the new thing, I spoke with a considerable number of people who were utterly bored with the current game they were playing, but absolutely refused to try a different variant or genre of MUD. It was mind-boggling to me then. If you’re bored with the same old, why wouldn’t you just go try something different?

    Turns out they were mostly just looking for new content and maybe a slightly different veneer, but using the same mechanics. For them, the learning curve was just too steep and intimidating for something completely different, whereas us crazy MMO bloggers and commenters tend to be more open to giving new mechanics and systems a shot.

    RIFT may pick up that branch of MMO player who love polish over too-innovative innovation. It’s familiar, yet hybridized enough to be its own game. It’s got a comfortable endgame plan of raids and PvP and other such WoW/WAR-like stuff.

    By the time it comes out, Cataclysm will probably have settled into a raid progression rhythm and some WoW players might start casting about for stuff to do in between their raid nights.

    In fact, I might not be surprised if some Guild Wars 2 anticipators try GW2 out, discover the hype doesn’t live up to their expectations, and settle back into RIFT.

    The power of mainstream preference is sometimes depressing to those of us with eccentric likings, but is powerful to generate considerable subscriptions nonetheless.

    1. Very good point! There is great power to be had by being conservative and safe with your product. In fact, I think GW2 might suffer for this among the traditional MMORPG crowd.

      That said, my concern for Rift specifically is that I think it’s different and new in the wrong ways. The novel class system will be exciting for a while, but riding the roller coaster of class balance is one of the single most frustrating experiences an MMO player can go through – said another way, it will be fun for a while, until your meticulously crafted custom class starts getting nerfed because other people are whining that *their* custom class isn’t being taken on raids.

      As for the Rift system, it seems like an incredibly cool answer to a question no one was asking. I see it as another novel system that doesn’t really help the game sustain people in the long term – although it will be a great feature to break up the questing game on your alts. But someone who’s happy with questing might simply find it superfluous, and someone like me who hates questing will prefer GW2’s more radical quest-free system.

      I just think SWTOR stands to pick up more gameplay-happy-but-content-bored WoW players, in the long term. In TOR you have another very safe product, but the tweaks are pushing it in a very different direction: The solo and questing play moves even closer to the popular console style, and the veneer of the world, while very familiar, is still totally different than the swords and sorcery of WoW.

      These are all just my hunches, of course, I’d be happy to be proven very wrong on all counts. We shall see. :)

      1. GW2 might as well suffer for this among the GW1 crowd who won’t find their beloved instances, groupplay, heros, chaosgloves or whatever and feel that it panders too much to the generic mmo style.

  7. I am personally looking forward to GW2, I havent really played alot of MMO games as of late but i did dabble in a few along the years (WoW, Space Cowboys, EVE Online, Second Life, Flyff to name a few) and so far every single game bored me to death by the time you get max leveled, to a certain point of the game ect… My GW account was opened on Oct. 2005 and i am still activly playing… this has got to tell you something of what Anet can do… yes some of the GW2 news filtering through isnt great news but i have trust in Anet to do this with the quality you come to expect from them…


  8. I’m very much looking forward to GW2 and I hope that I can enjoy SWTOR to some extent before GW2 hits the shelves.

  9. I just don’t think either SW:TOR or GW2 will honestly be ready to be released with any kind of realistic expectation until 2012. Personally, I don’t even think they *should* be released before then. Both need more than enough polish to last the entire rest of this year easily in development for what they’re attempting to seemingly achieve.

    I think 2011 will be a very “meh” year for MMOs. Other game genres? Sure, I’m looking forward to Dragon Age 2, for one, but not any MMOs, and definitely not expecting those two I mentioned, nor would I be disappointed if their respective teams took the extra time to polish their products.

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