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The Free Zone: A Few Wishes For 2014

Column By Richard Aihoshi on December 31, 2013

At this time of year, it always seems natural to do certain types of articles such as retrospectives, predictions, awards and wish lists. I opted for the last of these, in part because I haven't done it for a while. In any case, here are some that rose toward the top of my personal pile. 

The Elder Scrolls Online becomes a major hit and shows staying power

It seems rather fashionable in certain circles to predict that TESO won't even remotely approach becoming “the next big thing”, and that this will constitute failure. It's as if these are the only two possibilities, which they're not. I first went on record years ago with my opinion that the game would be better served by utilizing some form of the free to play revenue model. Obviously, this didn't happen. I never truly thought it would, and Zenimax' decision to go with subscriptions has had absolutely no effect on my hope that its title will succeed.

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In terms of how well it's likely to fare once it launches, I've attended very few shows or press events since my time as a full-time editor ended. Consequently, I have no real first-hand basis from which to form an opinion. With this caveat, from what I've read, viewed and heard. I will say that it doesn't look very likely my wish above will come true. Too bad.

For whatever it may be worth, my best guess right now is that TESO will sell quite a few boxes, but not as many to console gamers as the studio is hoping for. Long-term retention will fall below expectations unless there's a lot more / better endgame than what we're currently aware of. I've said before that I feel there's a decent chance it will convert to F2P. My over-under line is two years from launch.

More niche MMOGs

Feature creep has bothered me since long before I got into this industry. It wasn't always referred to by this term, but I saw it happen elsewhere to a variety of products and services. And never once, in my opinion anyway, did I judge the result to be worth the effort. Consider any MMOG you know reasonably well. Then ask yourself which elements you wouldn't miss very much - or maybe not at all - if they simply weren't there. Is your list empty? Probably not.

Next year, I'd very much like to see more MMOGs that each aim to serve a well-defined, relatively narrow segment of the total audience by sticking to their respective core elements. The idea is to make them as strong as possible by avoiding the temptation to expand the feature set and/or range of gameplay by adding things that take time and effort away from what's most important. When I'm in the mood for a big, fully featured game, I'm hardly bereft of choices, so it's not like I need more of those anyway.

I hope that 2014 will bring news of at least a few more niche projects. However, my expectations are rather humble, mainly because feature creep and the underlying desire to make big games make for a hard combination to resist. So, I think we'll see some, but a handful or more would be a pleasant surprise.

A sleeper hit

Staying within the realm of surprises, it would be great to see at least one MMOG that surpasses the low or modest expectations currently attached to it. Frankly, I can't even name one I'd rate as a good candidate. However, there are quite a few titles I can't assess in this respect because I'm not familiar enough with them.

If any do emerge, my guess is that they'll be from Korea and/or possibly China. Both countries are very productive, and the former is, albeit arguably, where we find the most creativity in design. There is a sizable hurdle in terms of a currently lesser-known or unrecognized offering generating enough visibility to become a sleeper, but I think this acts more to limit success than to prevent it completely.

I'm always interested to see what titles other people regard as potential sleepers and why, so I invite you to post your thoughts in the comments.

Disney announces a new F2P Star Wars MMOG

The chances of this happening would seem to be slim to none, but this column is a wish list, not a peek into the dark corners of my crystal ball. I said a year ago that while I didn't anticipate a great deal from The Old Republic, I still thought the Star Wars IP had considerable unrealized potential in the MMOG space. My feelings haven't changed.

I'm also of the opinion that F2P is a better way to tap into said potential than either subs or buy to play. The latter two each have a considerably higher barrier to entry, which mainly deters casual and occasional gamers, who happen to comprise the large majority of the total market. Creating a game that can both attract and hold such players would probably require avoiding or limiting the use of elaborate mechanics and systems. Speaking for myself, however, I can have just as much fun at different levels of complexity depending on my mood at any given moment.

And since I'm always curious, what's on your wish list for 2014?


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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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