Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”
(Be sure to check out Mersault’s take on the subject as well.)
Last Friday was a significant day for those MMO enthusiasts monitoring the state of the genre and those businesses behind the games we play. Everquest Next was officially canceled followed by the layoff of 60-70 employees of Carbine Studios. While neither came as a surprise to those following Daybreak and Carbine, the shock of those announcements was nevertheless felt throughout the community. While many folks were coming to terms with the fact that Everquest Next would never launch and others were mourning the significant loss felt within the WildStar community I suspect the majority of MMO players were simply concerned by what these two events were suggesting (if anything) about the state of the genre as a whole.
For some, the further crippling of WildStar and the loss of Everquest Next altogether was a sign of the genre’s impending collapse while others (myself included) viewed them as nothing more than the unfortunate but inevitable result of bad project management on one or multiple levels. I can sympathize with my friends who had great expectations for Everquest Next that will never be met and for those who fear the loss of the only MMO they have called home but I am confident the genre as a whole will go on in one form or another. In fact, I think the future is bright. We may not have any major AAA releases to look forward to in the next year or two but we do have a wide range of existing MMOs experiencing varying degrees of success with the promise of future productivity. And if I look far enough down the corridors of time with my rose colored glasses on, I see a renaissance ahead of us.
What We Currently Have
Take a look at this list of MMOs or MMO-likes on Massively OP. The financial success or population stability of these games may differ drastically from one to the next but all of them are massively multiplayer and online in one form or another. Everquest Next will never see the light of day but after what we’ve seen from Daybreak since they were bought by Columbus Nova is it really any wonder that the project failed? However we are surrounded by many competent (and some semi-competent) developers and publishers still maintaining quality games. SquareEnix for example has been consistently adding quality content to Final Fantasy XIV for a couple of years now. Funcom, while having gone through financial woes is still nevertheless producing regular, high quality updates for The Secret World.
Other studios, like Trion, Blizzard, and BioWare may be stumbling more often than not as of late but nevertheless they continue to produce content that hundreds of thousands or even millions are paying to enjoy. Let’s not forget Bethesda either. While the initial launch was rocky, from what I can tell, The Elder Scrolls Online is doing better than ever and I’m seeing more and more players turn to Tamriel for their online adventures. Blizzard of course could send a representative to personally take a dump on the doorstep of each of their customers (something not all that different from what Warlords turned out to be) and they would still have millions of paying customers because whenever they do eventually provide new content it’s well executed and a lot of fun to play. Trion may be the current poster child for bad studio management but I think that reputation is unfairly ascribed and based solely on the ArchAge debacle that unfortunately never seems to stop. However Rift is still a solid (yet slippery) MMO that yes, should receive compensation for its content, and Trove is one of the best and most inventive MMOs to have been developed in the last couple of years.
Those titles represent the bulk of my MMO landscape but they are nothing more than the tip of the iceberg. Black Desert may not be the sandbox savior that no one should be expecting anyway but it is a fantastic game offering a wide range of gameplay options unseen in almost any other title developed within the last decade. It will likely never rise to the popularity of WoW but the fact that nearly every channel on every North American server is overrun whenever I log on suggests that this type of atypical ingenuity is desperately wanted by the MMO marketplace and I suspect other studios (probably Blizzard) will begin to copy and refine some of these concepts by adding them in to their own games or creating a whole new generation of MMOs. It won’t happen tomorrow, but I think the success of Black Desert could be a critical moment in the history of MMO development.
What We May Gain
Failure is a necessary part of revival and at the macro level there must be failures within the industry as well as successes to help move and shape the decision makers within each individual studio and publisher. And while the larger businesses will always lack the agility to move quickly in response to the demands of the marketplace, they will arrive eventually; the automobile (our cash) moves much quicker than the dog chasing it. However the point is that one or two failures within the industry should never overshadow the multitude of successes and the “meh, close enough”s that we see all the time. When it impacts you personally as it does the developers and players of WildStar, it’s a painful experience. But looking at it with the indifference of an outsider, the mistakes made by Carbine may very well beneficially shape the business and development philosophy of the next western studio that attempts an AAA MMORPG.
Where We Are Going
Looking at the games that have launched in recent years, there are a few trends I think we will begin to see more of that, depending on your point of view may improve or disfigure the genre. Consoles for one, will bring a lot of new players and therefore money into the genre. As such, games like The Elder Scrolls Online, Destiny, and The Division are going to be important to watch. While the latter two are not my cup of tea I’m excited to see the amalgamation of MMO systems with more broadly popular styles of gameplay. The Division in particular has brought our genre back into the mainstream and while it bears little resemblance to the internet dragons and ability hotbars of old, it does carry with it the spirit of roleplaying within a virtual world and acting in dependence on or in opposition to other players.
In the world of Kickstarter and indie MMOs we will continue to see specialization and niche titles because frankly, that’s what you do with a limited budget if you’re smart. This will be a kind of test bed for new ideas, the specialization allowing for studios to dig deeper into the particulars of their chose niche while perhaps providing entirely new systems and objectives for the larger MMO developers to draw from if they are wise enough to be watching. If I’m being entirely optimistic about the future of MMOs (and why shouldn’t I be?) I can see over the next decade a renewed interest in the genre due to the success of console ports that draw on tropes familiar to that marketplace colliding with the experimental playground of indie development and producing an entirely new generation of massively multiplayer games. There’s no guarantee in the parade of time and technology, but as for me, I think the future of MMOs looks very bright indeed.