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Tingle's Touchy Subjects: The Decline of MMORPGs

Column By Adam Tingle on January 17, 2014

Give me a moment to get down dirty and all controversial. Think of this statement as a written, MMO-centric cousin to the Miley Cyrus 'twerk' or even the last howl of a man with nothing left to lose. Ready? The MMORPG genre is in decline. I'm sensing a thousand crazy eyes glaring in my direction, but like an intrepid adventurer I'll continue to pose my declaration of war. Today's online skirmishes aren't up to snuff. They aren't worth the sweat off your keyboard wrinkled palm. Guild Wars? Shmilled Wars.

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I say this because as one of the bleary eyed faithful of the MMORPG community, I don't think we've had a good showing of games for a long, long time. The last time, truly progressive, MMORPGs hit the market was pre 2005 - almost a decade ago. And who can really sit and play World of WarCraft, Eve Online, and (possibly) EverQuest 2 for over 10 years?

I'm not writing this to simply cause a heated reaction, instead it's  something that I have tinkered with in my mind for quite some time. I know MMO fans who haven't touched the genre since WoW because they're bored of the former, and have no interest in sinking effort into a belated successor with fewer bells and whistles and just with more public quests.

We just don't seem to have moved much with the times. Newer online games seem to be smaller, less grand, less inventive. Worlds size is ever decreasing, while optional areas have simply gone by the wayside. We're funnelled and very few MMOs dare to be different.

Take Guild Wars 2 for instance - while a fine game, it isn't revolutionary. It picks and chooses a few stand out elements from other games and smushes them together into a sequel tinted packaged. Aside from graphical enhancements, I don't see any more achievement than Blizzard, SOE, or Mythic.

I think we've long since passed truly innovative and time consuming adventures. Long gone are the days of widespread admiration for certain MMORPGs, because ultimately we're underachieving. We're playing games that are technical superior, but mechanically stalled..

It's an old sentiment often repeated by those that miss EverQuest - but truly, I don't know if I feel as excited by online games as I used to. Sure, a few Kickstarter projects on the horizon pique my interest, but those blockbuster titles promising to kick WoW off its perch and stamp on its nether-regions look just as uninspired.

Where I yearned for change and difference, I'm not sure if that is the case any longer. I think back to titles such as EverQuest and, looking beyond the nostalgia, it was definitely a product of its time. A technical marvel with a D&D-like setting. And really, was the genre anything more than that?

At the time I thought so. I think virtual reality and fantasy simulation sat somewhere in the back of everyone's mind. I remember excitedly explaining the premise of these types of games to friends and family, defining them as alternative world's where you can become a warrior, or a wizard, or a bear murderer.

The real intrigue of it all came from the idea of exploring cyberspace. In reality I can never become an elf and hail from the high oaks of Kelethin, slaying orcs and takin' names, but within a piece of software I could. It transcended ordinary existence and sounded like something written in sci-fi.

Now try and explain a modern MMORPG. You kill stuff so you get levels, so you can kill more stuff, and then get to the highest level so you can just do it over and over and over and over and over and over and over again until you eventually get bored.

And this is the formula we've settled on and what now puts us in the situation we're in now. How many once-MMO players are now refugees looking for that next game but not finding it in anything remotely modern? I know I for one can raise my hand and answer the roll call.

Modern online games have stopped aspiring to that next step of virtual reality, and essentially are copy-and-paste jobs of the same experience. And it's a very tired experience at best. MMORPGs these days aren't bad, but they aren't all that good either. They're ordinary: and who wants to spend months playing something ordinary?

We're in the era of the stop-gap. The lull before something happens. I truly believe that the MMORPG genre is a conduit to something, but possibly not the successor to EverQuest or Ultima Online.

Because what the genre has built is heading somewhere. I think our once proud genre is slowly evolving and I think that that last bit 'RPG' is becoming an irrelevance - MMO is now king, and soon most games will indulge in mass communications, multiplayer skirmishes, and some form of progression system.

Looking at earlier games, I think they were tech demos for a wider scheme. Every game now can effectively become an MMO. The framework exists, and developers are slowly syncing up with possibilities.

So to answer my own question: yes I think MMORPGs are declining, yes I think recent MMORPGs haven't been groundbreaking, but will the genre continue? Ultimately, I think it will prove to be the most important in videogames, but just not in the way we now perceive it. Something's going to give, and it's my guess that copy-and-paste adventures will be the first to go. What's your view on the state of the genre? Are MMORPGs in decline? Is the genre's number up? As ever comments in the section below.

 Adam Tingle / Adam Tingle is a writer who dreamt he was a dancer. And loved it. But now the dream is over, and the slightly podgy, goofy, fool of a writer is awake. Bother him at @adamtingle.


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