Dual Wielding: The Future of MMOs Looks Remarkably Bright

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.

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Some see Tokyo as half full of filth, I see it as half empty.

 

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.

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Hang in there WildStar!

 

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.

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“Help me Xbox One Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

 

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.

Dual Wielding: Precision of Language, Please

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?”

Make sure you don’t miss Kunzay’s take.

Whoever came up with the phrase “Free-to-Play” is an idiot. Not the business model itself; there are some excellent examples of games that monetize by providing the gamer with some content for free while charging for other elements. However the phrase “Free-to-Play” is problematic. Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to advertise a game as free when generally speaking, it’s a partial truth at best? With the announcement of WildStar changing business models to one that is “Free-to-Play” and with so many other bloggers writing on the topic, Kunzay and I thought it was a good time for Dual Wielding to tackle the subject. Personally, I don’t have a favored model; I’ve enjoyed games of every kind. However I do have some strong feelings about the overall atmosphere created by the Free-to-Play market specifically. First of all, I’m tired of studios playing the semantics game with their business plans and I believe the phrase “Free-to-Play” is largely dishonest. I would love to see studios be more upfront about what is being offered. On the other hand, those of us who are consumers need a splash of reality with regard to our expectations in paying (or not) for games. It is unreasonable to request “all the things” and be unwilling to pay for good content.

First of all, at some point in time MMO studios began marketing their games as Free-to-Play. I’m a little ignorant on my history here, I don’t know who first coined the phrase or when the business model was introduced into the MMO genre but I suspect that it had something to do with publishers realizing that no one was going to duplicate World of Warcraft and a new monetization plan was in order to keep their games afloat. Free-to-Play has allowed many MMOs to survive much longer than they would have been able to in a subscription only environment and that’s a good thing. Population is important to creating a virtual world and providing a game with at least the illusion of health. Free-to-Play provides this for games that cannot drum up the player base on a subscription model alone. With Free-to-Play the virtual world feels full and players can subsidize the game according to what they feel the content is worth. Or at least that’s how I think it should work. When studios are developing quality content, many players will pony up more than $15 a month while others may settle into $5 or less. So long as it’s enough to continue development and pay the bills, everyone wins.

WildStar was good, it just wasn't enough to compete with other subscription games for my money.

WildStar was good, it just wasn’t enough to compete with other subscription games for my money.

Take WildStar for example. I played this title for a total of three months but did not enjoy it enough to warrant a monthly subscription, certainly not with so many other options on the market. Nevertheless, I would be saddened if the game was closed down all together. It’s a beautiful world with an intriguing story and combat mechanics that I personally enjoyed. The game is good enough I hope that Carbine is able to continue production for years to come in order to build on the current foundation. However the subscription model would run them into the ground (and possibly already has); there’s simply not enough people willing to pay the fee for WildStar to feel like an inhabited world let alone to provide the necessary population for group finder tools to function properly. There’s also been a need for further iteration on the game, but that takes time and money. Free-to-Play, if done well, may infuse the studio with enough income to buy the developers’ time in order to take the game where it needs to be to succeed.

Adapting the range of available business models in order to broaden the market is a good thing. The problem I have is with the phrase “Free-to-Play” (as well as some of the sleazier implementations). The term “free” insinuates something  provided by the generosity of the developer without compensation on the part of the recipient. That, of course, is only partially true. Generally speaking, F2P titles are more of a trial, the purpose being to hook the potential consumer and then convert them to a paying customer at which point the “real” game becomes available. President Satoru Iwata of Nintendo referred to the model as “Free-to-Start” earlier this year and I think that’s closer to the truth. These MMOs offer an extended trial, they are not truly “free.” Sure, some gamers manage to play without ever spending a dime, but it’s clear from the way these games are designed (and from the obvious need for studios to make money) that this is not the intended outcome. As an industry, MMO developers and video game studios in general need to come up with a better way to communicate the intentions of their business models and game design such that there is more integrity between what we the consumers are told and what we actually experience.

This is pretty much how I looked when I found out how much I had to pay to access

This is pretty much how I looked when I found out how much I had to pay to access “hide head slot” account wide in SWTOR.

However studios are not the only guilty party here. The problems associated with the Free-to-Play business model may have been initiated by the MMO publishers who egregiously misused the word “free” but the atmosphere has been made decidedly worse by the overall mindset F2P has cultivated in the wider gaming community. In the mind of the average gamer, Free-to-Play has devalued gaming software. If you’ve ever participated in an MMO economy, you’ve experienced this first hand. If someone grossly undercuts your product it hurts the overall market value; suddenly everyone has to start dropping prices lower and lower to try and compete. With Free-to-Play it is worse because the notion of “free” is false—you’re not actually trying to sell a product for less, only appearing to— nevertheless it functions similarly to undercutting in an MMO economy in that it leaves the consumer questioning why other developers are charging when the F2P studio is “giving it away.” We start to expect free and purchasing content becomes the outlier. Video game development is a business, games survive or die depending on whether the development is subsidized by paying customers—just look at Infinite Crisis. If we as consumers play hundreds of hours in a Free-to-Play game without spending a dime and it goes under, it is partially our fault for expecting to continue to receive goods without compensating the provider. Nevertheless, the blame still rests primarily on the publishers; it is precisely their insistence on the phrase “Free-to-Play” that has devalued the worth of a game in the average consumer’s mind.

Ultimately what it comes down to for me is that I want studios to be honest about what they are offering. Unless they are pro bono, the product they are offering is never truly free. However as consumers and players, we need to reengage the reality that games do not make themselves out of rainbows and wishes, they require cold hard cash. I think this will correct itself over time, in fact, I believe it already has begun to do so. I have a lot more faith in the current F2P/ B2P market despite the erroneous name due to some of the more recent business models including ESO, WIldStar, and Trove. All three provide a quality game with complete features either for free or for a base price and then monetize in a way that for the most part does not devalue the game nor the buyer’s intelligence. With respect to Trove and WildStar, you genuinely will be getting “the game” for free. While I still detest the phrase, at least both titles appear to be taking it seriously using cash shop items as an extension of the base experience rather than a means to sell back to the player core systems required for a full feature experience.

Trove is an excellent game, but will players pay for the quality content Trion is producing or simply take the freebies while they can?

Trove is an excellent game, but will players pay for the quality content Trion is producing or simply take the freebies while they can?

Still, I worry that all of this will hurt games that would otherwise be successful. The damage has already been done with regard to devaluing video game content in the collective mind of the consumers. Take Trove, for instance. It’s an amazing game but I fear that given the market the developers have already felt pressured to be overly generous just to stay competitive. This is the result of needing to keep up with the competition that has already bottomed out the market value and will lead to too many people playing the game without paying a dime regardless of quality. In the end, “Free-to-Play” as it has been marketed was short-sighted and self-defeating. The business model that the phrase represents within the MMO genre is often fine, but the damage the phrase has caused to player perception with regard to game value has already corroded the marketplace. Yes, I believe the free market will eventually correct the issue, but how many good games will become a causality simply because the word “free” was so badly misused?

MMO developers and publishers, I have one request of you in your marketing endeavors: precision of language, please.

State of the Rez: The Mob Squad

Syp published a post today with his current lineup of characters across several games along with his current in game goals and I thought it would be fun to do the same. Last week I had an idea for a series of posts called “One to X” in which I would track my progress toward end game in several MMOs that I started but never finished. I’m not sold on the idea as an ongoing theme, but listing where I’m currently at might be a good way to start if I ever do start up the series. So here they are, my Mob Squad! (And no, that’s not a typo.)

THE “A” TEAM:

These are characters in games I am actively rotating through right now. With the exception of DCUO and Marvel Heroes, I am currently playing these characters at least once a week. My current goals are simple: reach end game with each of these titles and find interesting subjects to write about in the process.

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Yehn’wo Tanhyeu- FFXIV, level 44 Ninja

I’ve played around on a lot of classes in Final Fantasy XIV and the Ninja is the closest I have come to 50. I have two other jobs in the 30s and several more classes in the 20s because they all seem so interesting, I want a taste of them all before settling on one. All that leveling has put me off from the game at times, a common problem for any MMO when I cannot decide on a class. However I’d like to get a little taste of FFXIV endgame before Heavensward when I will likely start leveling the Dark Knight, so I hope to get Yehn’wo to 50 in the next couple of weeks.

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Weakness The Savage- GW2, level 35 Ranger

I just returned to GW2 last week to start a new ranger for Heart of Thorns. As we learn more about profession specializations I may focus on a different class, but for now the Druid is a tantalizing carrot and I’m progressing quickly. If the ranger class doesn’t work for me long term I still have Weakness the Shrewd, a level 80 Necromancer and Weakness The Subtle, a level 73 Thief. I’ve never geared the Necromancer and I am baffled as to why I left my Thief so close to 80 without closing the deal. Perhaps before the expansion I will finish both the Subtle and Savage Weaknesses, giving me three options primed and ready for Heart of Thorns.

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Fahd’ali Azim- ESO, level 13 Sorcerer

I started this game as a DragonKnight in the Ebonheart Pact and made it all the way to level 18 before looking into a guild. It was then I realized the multi-gaming guild I sometimes join had a chapter in ESO but primarily with the Daggerfall Covenant so I rerolled a Sorcerer. The switch took the wind out of my sails though and it’s been slow going regaining those lost levels. However I much prefer the Sorcerer and the guild has been a great group of people (see: About a Horse) so in the end the change was a good one.

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Ironweakness- DCUO, level 17 Light Powers

I’m fairly certain the last time I played this game was just before I wrote about it in a previous State of the Rez. Nevertheless I don’t think I’m entirely done here, but it is definitely at the bottom of the list. I’d still like to get to level 30 and finish the base storyline and possibly whatever content I purchased with the Fight for the Light DLC (I bought it for the class unlock and didn’t pay attention to anything else) but it is definitely lowest priority on my “active” list and may get moved to the “B” team shortly.

X-23- Marvel Heroes 2015, level 55

Originally I added this character to my “B” team list because I haven’t played in a couple of months. However when I logged on to confirm what level X-23 was I ended up playing for a half hour, gaining another level and remembering how enjoyable this game could be, even in short bursts. I’d like to get X-23 to 60 and then move on to level one of the other characters I purchased, maybe Psylocke, Dr. Strange, or Ms. Marvel. X-23 is still a great character, but I don’t plan on any “end game” gearing with her, at least not right away. I want to spend a little time with a few other heroes on my roster first.

 

THE “B” TEAM:

Finally, we have the “B” team consisting of games I’ve played in the last 6-9 months but are currently shelved. All of these games I have enjoyed and may revisit in the future but there is only so much time in a week for MMOs. I’m including them here anyway just to be thorough and because if I do go forward with the “One to X” idea, these characters might pop back up from time to time.

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Euoneif- Rift, level 41 Rogue

I finally gained some traction in this game last fall but was lured away by Warlords of Draenor. I love the ability to more or less change classes within the specific calling without losing your character progression, but the game world itself has never had the stickiness that others have. I’m hoping the content from Storm Legion and Nightmare Tides will appeal to me more than the base game. All that said, Rift is still top on my list of MMOs to revisit.

Constant Audentius- WildStar, level 30 Warrior

Nexus is probably my favorite environment out of every MMO I’ve played. I love the art style, the lore, and the tone of the game. However the class design and overall gameplay has not held my attention for more than a month or two at a time. I finally made it to 30 this January and I would like to continue but being a subscription game it has to compete with WoW and FFXIV for my money because I will only subscribe to one game at a time and unfortunately it loses big time to both of them. A transition to buy-to-play would keep me invested in this game long term.

Grim’weakness- SWTOR, level 8 Bounty Hunter

I’ve actually made it to level 15 or 16 in this game before, but I ended up deleting that character and starting over. Actually the number of times I’ve deleted characters and started over in this game would have probably landed me at 50 by now. I was tempted by the $40 deal recently that would have earned me all the expansions through Shadow of Revan as well as 2 months of subscription time but I just can’t fit in another game and I know SWTOR can’t compete for my time with the other games on my “A” list.

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Findweakness- WoW, level 100 Rogue

I have seven other characters between the levels of 90 and 92 in World of Warcraft (every class but Mage, Paladin, and Priest) so it’s possible if I return I might focus on leveling one (or all) of those to 100. It is more likely that I will continue to play my Rogue for more of the new end game content which is both the reason why I have considered returning and why I haven’t yet. Playing so many low level characters in different games I miss out on the end game experience which is why I often return to WoW for a month or two. However this expansion really doesn’t offer much that interests me at 100 and so I am that much more motivated to push through the 40s in FFXIV and have a new MMO for end game content.

And that brings me full circle back to Eorzea and Yehn’wo. This was a lot more than I intended to write, but I enjoyed going through my collection of characters and thinking about what (if any) goals I have for them. Hopefully at least a few of these characters will see max level in the coming months. Knowing me I’ll probably scratch them all and start a new MMO tomorrow.