The years following the back-to-back failures of Age of Conan and Warhammer Online were what I consider to be the MMO dark ages. These AAA failures were so spectacular that I began to wonder if any publisher in it's right mind would seek to risk money on such an expensive and clearly volatile genre again. Thankfully, we’ve seemingly come through the other end of the tunnel with some pretty decent MMO releases in the past couple of years and we have yet a few more interesting projects on the horizon. Still, in the back of my mind I’ve been wondering: are MMOs a dying breed?
I realize the irony of raising this point at a publication clearly devoted to the genre, but I’m sure many of you reading this right now have thought the same thing from time to time. The fact is that MMOs are extremely expensive ventures with tons of risk involved and at some point, all these failures are going to catch up with the genre, if they haven’t begun to already. Clearly, there is still enough money to be made here to warrant the risk or we wouldn’t be seeing the projects that are on the way, but I do feel there is some obvious vulnerability showing at this point.
And that’s where the next-gen consoles come in.
I know, I know. Many of you have no desire to play MMOs on a console or even play console games at all (I haven’t touched any of my consoles in years), but it’s consoles like the XBOX One and PlayStation 4 that may hold the key to allowing the genre to continue to thrive. It’s true we’ve seen scattershot MMO release on both the current gen and even the previous generation of consoles, but it looks like this upcoming generation may be the most MMO friendly generation yet.
For one, this year’s E3 brought with it numerous announcements of MMOs coming to next-gen consoles. Games such as Destiny we already knew about, but The Elder Scrolls Online, The Division, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, PlanetSide 2 and DC Universe Online were all newly announced for console.
The fact of the matter is that developing MMOs for consoles helps mitigate the inherent risk involved in putting these projects together in the first place. This is why exclusives are few and far between even outside of the MMO genre these days. Standard games cost a lot more to make than they used to and going multi-platform simply allows for far more potential revenue due to the different install bases. However, MMOs have historically been a pretty tough nut to crack on consoles and all of this changing now has some significant implications for the potential to reach many more players.
This means that not only might we see more MMO projects going forward, but it may be possible to take more risk with new, innovative ideas. This new reality can be seen as both promising and alarming. After all, the console gaming experience has been a bit more streamlined (or ‘dumbed down’, if you prefer) this generation and that could certainly extend to MMOs if developers end up looking at console players as their primary audience. Even so, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy and I’m fairly confident that MMOs appearing on consoles will end up being a net-positive for the genre as a whole.
Now if only Microsoft and Sony could play nice and we could have fully cross-platform play between PC, XBOX One, and PlayStation 4. One can dare to dream, eh?
Do you feel the MMO genre is in for a renaissance driven (ironically) by the upcoming next-gen consoles? Or are things just going to take a turn for the worse as a result? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB
Read more of Mike's columns: