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The Pub at MMORPG.COM  » The (Bleak) Future of MMORPGs

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  Gudrunix

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/06/11
Posts: 147

 
OP  6/04/12 11:33:53 AM#1

I realize the "MMORPG gaming has a bleak future" theme makes a regular appearance on this forum, but with the bankruptcy of 38 Studios, I think there are some ideas that need serious consideration.  Very succinctly, here is what I think is worth considering.

Thesis:  Ongoing failures and weakness in the MMORPG industry are due, not to bad management or other variables that can be controlled, but to the nature of the product.  MMORPGs suffer from heavy network effects and high switching costs, as well as very large fixed costs, which combined mean it is an industry very likely to be dominated by one major game, with all other competitors either filling small niches, or (more likely) failing spectacularly.  The cost of MMORPGs, and their reputations as expensive failures, will lead game companies to develop fewer MMORPGs, with MOBAs, MMOFPSs, and MMORTSs filling the gap.

So let me explain what some of that businesspeak means.

Network Effects:  A product with a network effect is a product whose worth depends on how many other people use it.  An operating system has a network effect; a graphics card does not.  The more people that use your operating system, the more useful it is; but you get the same use out of a graphics card regardless of how many other people use the same one.  A single-player game has very little network effect; an MMORPG has a huge network effect.  In marketing, where goods have high network effects, it is highly likely that one product will soon come to dominate the industry, because the more people use that product, the more valuable it becomes.

Switching Costs:  This is what it sounds like:  the cost of switching from one product to another.  The cost (in time and effort) of switching web browsers is relatively low; the cost (again, in time and effort) of switching operating systems is high.  FPSs have very little switching cost - you can be fully up to speed in a new one in very short order, while MMORPGs have a huge switching cost, in terms of the time needed to get up to where other players are at (a month of heavy gaming, sometimes more).  Again, this leads to the dominance of one product over the industry.

Fixed Costs:  This is the minimum cost for getting a good out to market, regardless of how many units are sold.  For a computer game, nearly all of the cost is fixed; in fact, MMORPGs are the rare exception of a game that requires a large variable cost (e.g., server maintenance and customer support).  But as large as the variable costs are for MMORPGs, the fixed cost, of simply getting the game out to market, is absolutely huge - an order of magnitude, if not multiple orders of magnitude, larger than for other games.  The staff required to get an MMORPG to market can be ten, or even a hundred, times the staff required to get a strategy or action game to market.

So, take an industry where it costs a huge amount to develop a game, and factor in that players are going to be very reluctant to switch games because of the risks involved (that their friends won't come over and join them) and the costs involved (weeks, even months, of getting up to speed), and what you have is an industry where there will be one game that owns the industry, and makes money hand over fist, while other game companies either fail or linger in the shadows with few players.

This can be seen perfectly clearly, because there is an industry where it is already the case:  CCGs.  The CCG industry is a one-game industry (OK, maybe two games, but even then, one clearly dominates); network effects, yes, switching costs, yes, high fixed costs, yes.  Chances of anyone breaking MTG's death grip on the industry are low; and that has less to do with the quality of the product (which is high, if expensive) than it has to do with the simple structure of the industry.

Conclusion:  Given all of the above, chances of anyone unseating World of Warcraft are low; but worse, chances of anyone pulling enough players away from World of Warcraft to simply be profitable on an ongoing basis - other than as a niche product keeping a small studio alive - are low.  That means we are destined to see more failures, until game companies wise up and forget about trying to win the MMORPG lottery.  The lottery numbers have already been pulled, and there's a winner, and it's Blizzard.  Instead, game companies will start leaning toward genres where network effects and switching costs are lower, even if fixed costs are still a bit high - hence the increased popularity of MOBAs.  Will other game companies be able to unseat League of Legends as the dominant MOBA?  Probably not - but it is a whole lot easier to pull gamers away from LoL than it is to pry eight-year veterans away from WoW.

  Jaylanonyous

Novice Member

Joined: 10/07/11
Posts: 31

6/04/12 11:48:40 AM#2

I think the whole Competing and unseating World of Warcraft is a horrible thing to think about while making your game. the NBA and NFL compete for viewers, as they are both sports, but you don't see the NBA putting on pads and allowing contact to make NFL viewers switch over.

 

It's that whole competing aspect that, imo, ruins games. BF3 and COD compete. COD is more popular so BF3 changes alot to compensate for its lack of CoDness. Every mmo that has tried to compete with WoW did so with a copy past design. Which makes sense, but it wont bring the long term revenue. WoW got popular with a little luck and great design early on. 

 

Every publisher looks at World of warcraft and says i want that. Millions paying 15 a month! Which they will never ever get. No one is going to be able to attract that many players and Publishers/Devs need to realize that and just make games. Not cater to every single person in the spectrum.

  robthemaniac

Novice Member

Joined: 10/21/06
Posts: 57

6/04/12 11:54:31 AM#3

You're looking at it the wrong way Jay.

MMO's are football, FPS's are basketball. They aren't competing, you're right.

 

However, WoW is the NFL--Anything else attempting to make headway would be the UFL, or the Canadian league. They do have to put on pads, and have a contact sport just to be considered remotely close to the NFL. They are directly attempting to take the NFL's customers, because lets face it--most people only have the time to dedicate to one football league each season, whereas people like me enjoy a little bit of both NFL and NBA from time to time. I don't, however, watch any CFL games in November, because I'm so balls deep in the NFL season.

  Chile267

Novice Member

Joined: 11/15/08
Posts: 140

6/04/12 11:59:45 AM#4

So in  other words... Don't try to beat Disneyland at their own game but make a specialized park like Magic Mountain that has big, fast, scary roller coasters that Disneyland does not.

  Gudrunix

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/06/11
Posts: 147

 
OP  6/04/12 12:01:42 PM#5
Originally posted by Jaylanonyous

I think the whole Competing and unseating World of Warcraft is a horrible thing to think about while making your game. the NBA and NFL compete for viewers, as they are both sports, but you don't see the NBA putting on pads and allowing contact to make NFL viewers switch over.

 . . .

Every publisher looks at World of warcraft and says i want that. Millions paying 15 a month! Which they will never ever get. No one is going to be able to attract that many players and Publishers/Devs need to realize that and just make games. Not cater to every single person in the spectrum.

The NBA and the NFL do compete for viewers, but it's a straight-up competition:  viewers can switch channels at any time.  That does make it a competitive market, where multiple companies can compete on an ongoing basis.  MMORPGs aren't like that, people don't switch quickly, they make a huge investment into one game and are very reluctant to switch.  Like operating systems, it is a winner-take-all market where one company is going to absolutely dominate.

I agree with your conclusion, that it is a mistake for publishers to think that they can capture part of the MMORPG market.  Only a small number of MMORPG players are up for grabs, so to speak (although many of the people on this forum are in that category).  Most - the 10 million or so active WoW subscribers - are not going to switch, and that's not going to change any time soon.  Developers have to realize that they are not competing with WoW, because they can't, WoW subscribers are not going to switch - they are competing for the attentions of a small number of highly disaffected MMORPG gamers who are between games.  But they don't realize that, and then they dump huge amounts of money into a MMORPG thinking "if we can only get a quarter of WoW subscribers to switch we will make it big", then they have extremely disappointing subscriber numbers, then they fail, spectacularly.  Sooner or later, they are simply going to give up trying.

  punkrock

Novice Member

Joined: 10/31/03
Posts: 1786

6/04/12 12:02:42 PM#6
I would say WOW would be the death of the mmo genre and the companys trying to copy it. You see some Mmo games go away from the WOW crap so lets hope it goes well for the next couple of years or the MMO genre will be long to the asian countrys only*thou recently they have made some very awesome MMo games*

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  Gdemami

Elite Member

Joined: 9/23/08
Posts: 7034

6/04/12 12:04:58 PM#7


Originally posted by Gudrunix

So let me explain what some of that businesspeak means.

Still waiting for said "businesspeak"...sorry.

  Animenia

Novice Member

Joined: 12/16/03
Posts: 3

6/04/12 12:11:23 PM#8

You make several good points but there are more reasons why MMO's fail. Mainly, imo, the concept of MMO's... With every new MMO released I expect it to be something new, when in reality, I'm just fooling myself. All the features of an MMO has been done before.

Sure there are some new MMO's that has one or two feature that isn't an exact copy of some other game I've already played but the variation of said feature isn't exciting enough to keep me playing for more than a month or two.

I'm currently playing Tera and I'm already getting tired of because despite being a "groundbreaking new game" it really isn't... It's easy for me to say that all has been done but I definately think that MMO's need some new ideas for it to work.

 

  Gudrunix

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/06/11
Posts: 147

 
OP  6/04/12 12:17:41 PM#9
Originally posted by Chile267

So in  other words... Don't try to beat Disneyland at their own game but make a specialized park like Magic Mountain that has big, fast, scary roller coasters that Disneyland does not.

I think a better analogy is social networking sites.  You can always leave a theme park and go to another one, and it doesn't matter if there are fewer people at the new one - in fact, it arguably makes the experience more enjoyable.  But if you sign up for a new social networking site that no one else is signed up with, what's the point?

I would never, ever, invest in a social networking site for one simple reason:  Facebook owns the market.  It used to be competitive before any one company was dominant, but now, it's not, Facebook is the social networking market, and until Facebook goes bankrupt or starts charging for access, nobody is going to make any headway against it.  A few niche sites like LinkedIn will survive by catering to a very select need.  Other companies may as well pack up and leave the market and find something else to work on.

It is not just about building a different theme of theme park, it is about getting out of the business altogether.  The only MMO games that I see as having a future are those whose gameplay is completely different from the standard MMORPG model.  I can see something like End of Nations as having a future, because there are a lot of players who strongly prefer RTS-style gameplay over RPG-style gameplay (ditto with FPS-style gameplay).  But even relatively well-developed MMORPGs like Rift are never going to take off, simply because what they are offering is so close to what WoW offers, so why should a long-time WoW vet give up years of investment in the game, for something that is more or less the same game, only with far fewer players?

  Isane

Apprentice Member

Joined: 5/24/06
Posts: 2698

"Some do , Some don''t , Others just cry"

Jean Sali

6/04/12 12:22:39 PM#10

MMORPGs have a great future.....

Sadly what people are calling MMORPGs these days are not what they claim to be.....

An MMORPG needs:

  • Gameplay - Combat/Politics/Tradeskills Varuiety. Not just killing NPCs or other players. Skill based leveling which means you have choices.
  • Depth -
  • longevity - 2 Years of gameplay at least
  • Community - Only ebver form if it has time to
What it does not need:
 
  • Auto Everything (The COmmunity klillers)
    • Auction Houses - Player run shops local to the city that hosts them is good enough and provides diversity in game for players who like to craft and game.
    • Mail Systems - Part of communication in game is travel and working with other players this is key to community , travel should be a joy in these wonderous worlds that are created.
    • Guilds -  Should be replaced with ingame political structures, where peopel can vi for power and influence but as part of the game not some iconic guild who has no interest in the game world.
    • No End Game
A  Time will come soon where we get some really well thought out games; And MMORPGs will start being again what they were always supposed to be , A game in a vast world with all gameplay elements available where it is the world that is important no a bunch on nomarks who want to interview and bully people along.

________________________________________________________
SWTOR and COS games that could deliver !!

  MarL

Novice Member

Joined: 7/07/03
Posts: 607

6/04/12 12:23:03 PM#11

There is no reason really for mmos to cost too much...(specially if you start small and build a player base)

One of my favorite mmos endlessages was basically made by 2 guys, I know it couldnt compete with WoW ,but come on 2 guys!

 

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  Loktofeit

Elite Member

Joined: 1/13/10
Posts: 12386

Currently playing EVE, SMITE, Project Gorgon, and Combat Arms

6/04/12 12:27:50 PM#12
Originally posted by Gudrunix

I blah blah blah but it is a whole lot easier to pull gamers away from LoL than it is to pry eight-year veterans away from WoW.

Do you have an example of a developer that is trying to be or beat MTG, LoL or WoW? Your wall of text seems to be based on that being a pursued goal, but i haven't seen anything to support that being the case.

"And wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica. Wikipedia is very reliable. You would be hard pressed to find a more reliable source for these kinds of things." -fivoroth

  Quizzical

Guide

Joined: 12/11/08
Posts: 13476

6/04/12 12:33:22 PM#13

The glaring problem with your thesis is that it contradicts reality.

However high the costs of switching from one game to another are, people do it all the time.  Most of the regulars on this site have probably switched from one MMORPG to another several times.  I'll bet that a large fraction (easily more than half, possibly more than 90%) of WoW accounts do not have an active subscription today.

However high the fixed costs of entry into the MMORPG market are, new MMORPGs still launch all the time--even big budget ones.  We're not far removed from the launch of SWTOR and TERA, while GW2 and TSW are coming soon.

The network effect is much weaker than you think it is.  If a game doesn't have enough players to fill a server, then yeah, that's a big problem.  But once you get the critical mass needed to fill a few servers, adding still more players doesn't bring much benefit to each individual player.

  Gudrunix

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/06/11
Posts: 147

 
OP  6/04/12 12:33:46 PM#14
Originally posted by animenia

You make several good points but there are more reasons why MMO's fail. Mainly, imo, the concept of MMO's... With every new MMO released I expect it to be something new, when in reality, I'm just fooling myself. All the features of an MMO has been done before.

Well, part of my original post was to make the point that it isn't about design decisions or business management decisions - blaming the failure of the latest MMORPG on bad management has become a common theme, but I don't completely believe it.  It's just the nature of the industry - one game is going to dominate it, and that one game is going to be very difficult to compete with, good management or bad, and that's just the way it is.

I totally agree at the lack of originality in MMORPGs - we keep getting told how ground-breaking and original the latest entry will be, but then it's mashing key shortcuts for abilities while you repetitively grind mobs from level 1 to level 50 so you can raid dungeons for gear.  That's not original.  There are a few truly original games out there, like EVE Online, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule:  it's been all D&D/Everquest clones for the last fifteen years.  I will believe that they are serious about originality when they drop character levels or hit points, or let the player control more than one character and a pet.

The only real way to compete is to design a completely original type of game - not just to try and make a slightly more original D&D/Everquest clone.  The game companies that have been successful over the last few years are those who have invested in an entirely new game type - e.g., Riot with MOBAs.  The best decision a game company management could make would be to give up on MMORPG clones and move into a whole new market, either one that is currently growing, like MOBAs, or one with completely untapped potential, like MMORTSs.

  Loktofeit

Elite Member

Joined: 1/13/10
Posts: 12386

Currently playing EVE, SMITE, Project Gorgon, and Combat Arms

6/04/12 12:41:14 PM#15
Originally posted by Gudrunix
Originally posted by Chile267

So in  other words... Don't try to beat Disneyland at their own game but make a specialized park like Magic Mountain that has big, fast, scary roller coasters that Disneyland does not.

I think a better analogy is social networking sites.  You can always leave a theme park and go to another one, and it doesn't matter if there are fewer people at the new one - in fact, it arguably makes the experience more enjoyable.  But if you sign up for a new social networking site that no one else is signed up with, what's the point?

I would never, ever, invest in a social networking site for one simple reason:  Facebook owns the market.  It used to be competitive before any one company was dominant, but now, it's not, Facebook is the social networking market, and until Facebook goes bankrupt or starts charging for access, nobody is going to make any headway against it.  A few niche sites like LinkedIn will survive by catering to a very select need.  Other companies may as well pack up and leave the market and find something else to work on.

You're kinda stuck in the mentality that if you can't be the biggest, you cant be successful/profitable/popular/etc.
There are plenty of successful social networking sites and none of them, to the best of my knowledge, have any interst in even trying to unseat FB from its throne. Here's a few:

  • Pintrest
  • Twitter
  • MeetUp
  • DeviantArt
  • Blogger
  • Flickr
  • Google+
  • Reddit
  • yelp
  • Vampire Freaks
  • Gaia Online
  • Habbo
  • Ning
  • tumblr
  • Zorpia
  • Classmates.com

"And wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica. Wikipedia is very reliable. You would be hard pressed to find a more reliable source for these kinds of things." -fivoroth

  Thorbrand

Novice Member

Joined: 3/06/04
Posts: 1217

6/04/12 12:45:24 PM#16

WOW has the throng because 80% of gamers started with it and yes given the last 10yrs it is the best MMO to come out. It is good now, hell no! But the only MMOs better than WOW was pre-WOW MMOs and most gamers where not gaming at that time.

So unless a company makes a true MMORPG again you will not de-throng WOW, but I will say this if I spent 200Million Making a MMO it would have been the best MMO in history.

  Loktofeit

Elite Member

Joined: 1/13/10
Posts: 12386

Currently playing EVE, SMITE, Project Gorgon, and Combat Arms

6/04/12 12:46:32 PM#17
Originally posted by Quizzical

The glaring problem with your thesis is that it contradicts reality.

However high the costs of switching from one game to another are, people do it all the time.  Most of the regulars on this site have probably switched from one MMORPG to another several times.  I'll bet that a large fraction (easily more than half, possibly more than 90%) of WoW accounts do not have an active subscription today.

However high the fixed costs of entry into the MMORPG market are, new MMORPGs still launch all the time--even big budget ones.  We're not far removed from the launch of SWTOR and TERA, while GW2 and TSW are coming soon.

The network effect is much weaker than you think it is.  If a game doesn't have enough players to fill a server, then yeah, that's a big problem.  But once you get the critical mass needed to fill a few servers, adding still more players doesn't bring much benefit to each individual player.

Very good point. To a good degree, WoW has been a gateway into MMOs, due to its popularity and low barrier to entry in both technical and gameplay aspects. After their 6-9 month stint in WoW, many players go on to explore other MMOs to see what they offer.

"And wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica. Wikipedia is very reliable. You would be hard pressed to find a more reliable source for these kinds of things." -fivoroth

  maplestone

Novice Member

Joined: 12/10/08
Posts: 3109

6/04/12 12:46:40 PM#18

It sounds like you want something that shakes up the development ecosystem - a way for lots of small developers to contribute and compete over different minigames/components of a shared world.

I look at the thriving modder community for Minecraft and wonder how an MMO could be constructed as a platform for 3rd-party minigames.  It's not easy since you can't really trust third party code (from both a security point of view and a consistency point of view). 

You'd have to come up with an almost java-like environment, where 3rd party developers write the add-ons in a language that runs within a self-contained virtual machine with firm rules about how it is allowed to interact with the game world and with the player's UI.

  Gudrunix

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/06/11
Posts: 147

 
OP  6/04/12 12:50:59 PM#19
Originally posted by Quizzical

The glaring problem with your thesis is that it contradicts reality.

However high the costs of switching from one game to another are, people do it all the time.  Most of the regulars on this site have probably switched from one MMORPG to another several times.  I'll bet that a large fraction (easily more than half, possibly more than 90%) of WoW accounts do not have an active subscription today.

However high the fixed costs of entry into the MMORPG market are, new MMORPGs still launch all the time--even big budget ones.  We're not far removed from the launch of SWTOR and TERA, while GW2 and TSW are coming soon.

The network effect is much weaker than you think it is.  If a game doesn't have enough players to fill a server, then yeah, that's a big problem.  But once you get the critical mass needed to fill a few servers, adding still more players doesn't bring much benefit to each individual player.

Well put, but I still disagree.

First off, the community here is 0.1% of the MMORPG market, if that.  We are not at all representative.  I would say 90% of MMORPG players are World of Warcraft players, and I would not at all be surprised if as many as half of those have never played another MMORPG for more than a month.  Just look at the numbers - 10 million for WoW, but very few other MMORPGs have ever broken a million subscribers, even for just a month - most are lucky to have a 100k subscribers.  This is a one-game market, even if there is a small but vocal community who try out a lot of different games.

Where are all the former WoW players?  Playing Call of Duty, or League of Legends, or Diablo 3, or something that's not an MMORPG, that's where.  They aren't playing WAR, or Vanguard, or Rift, that's for sure - just look at their subscription numbers.

Yes, new MMORPGs launch all the time.  And they fail all the time.  They get decent numbers by PC game standards - but abysmal numbers by WoW standards, and nowhere near enough to cover the massive costs.  That means we are working our way through a wave of big MMORPG releases, but after this, it's going to be tiny studio F2P releases, because the big studios will see MMORPGs as big, expensive mistakes to be avoided at all costs.  Mythic is all but out of the MMORPG business - how many more times will SOE get burned before they give up?

Your point on network effects is a good one - yes, they really only need to fill up one server to have an active game environment.  But the larger picture is the guild issue - many players are loyal to their guilds, and guilds compete with each other for both players and progression, so the issue is not just of filling up servers, but getting guilds to move over.  And the history so far has been that it has been very difficult to get the largest and most influential guilds to leave WoW.  The biggest moves by guilds in recent years have not been to competing MMORPGs - they have been to MOBAs, and specifically League of Legends.  That alone says something about the futility of trying to convince MMORPG players to switch over.

  Neanderthal

Advanced Member

Joined: 2/14/05
Posts: 1613

6/04/12 12:51:38 PM#20
Originally posted by Gudrunix

factor in that players are going to be very reluctant to switch games

It was a nice post but I would say that this point has already been proven wrong repeatedly.

How many people rushed to buy SW:TOR?  How many tried Warhammer?  Star Trek online?  Age of Conan?  And so on.

People aren't reluctant to jump into new games.  In fact, I would say it's just the opposite, people are too eager to try new games.  So eager that they buy games even if they suspect they won't like them or maybe they let themselves get caught up in the hype or whatever. 

Anyway, the problem for new mmorpgs isn't that people refuse to switch games; it's that after people have switched to the new game the new game fails to hold them.  We could argue why if you want but there is no doubt that it's true.

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