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Everything is Not Alright

William Murphy Posted:
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We’re at a turning point, people. Or rather, we have been. The MMORPG boom is over, and we’re settling into a new era for these games. For many of you, that’s scary. Some even seem ready to state that the MMO is “dead”. I’m biased, but I’m not so bleak. In my eyes, everything that’s gone wrong in the industry for the past 5 years or more has done nothing but make us free to explore the potential of what I consider the greatest genre there has ever been or will be.

Last week, Rami Ismail wrote an awesome article at Polygon which inspired my own piece today. 

Basically, Rami talks about the many, many woes of AAA gaming we’ve seen this year. The article applies to much more than the MMO industry, but here’s what stuck out to me:

“I’m nothing but optimistic about the future of this medium, of this industry. It might not survive in its exact current form. It might not be all the same people. It might not be me, and it might not be you. Or we might be fine, or we might be doing something else.

When people ask me whether the industry is headed for another 1983, I wonder where they were looking when we crashed over and over again in the past few years. Where do you think premium on mobile went? Did you miss the mid-budget console game go extinct between today and five years ago?  There won’t be the spectacular train wreck in slow motion that everybody seems to be expecting. We lose some things, and then celebrate other things to ignore that and  just be fine.

We’re in a creative industry. Of all people, we should know the way we get better isn’t through celebrating our successes, but by reflecting on our failures. We’re in this industry because we see something special in this medium. We don’t have to brag. We don’t have to prove ourselves. We don’t have to create heroic mythologies to justify our existence. We’re here because we care.

We need to acknowledge our failures so that we can learn.”

This is exactly how I feel about our site, our genre, our developers, our communities, and our future as fans of what I believe is the bravest and most potentially amazing genre of game that’s ever been developed. When the MMORPG became a thing in the 90s, its goal was to create worlds that do not end.

But they do end. Sometimes, far too soon and too abruptly.

And the ideals that the MMORPG began with have grown and become a complicated web of ideas that all link to the first three letters: MMO. And we can’t even agree on what exactly an MMO is most days.  I’m not saying that a game like World of Tanks is an MMO, just that there’s a connection that’s obvious and we cover the game’s news when appropriate. But I digress… everything, as the title says, is not alright.

We’re 10 years on from World of Warcraft and Azeroth is still the only world that makes a real blip in the greater populace’s consciousness.  There have been successes in the MMO industry to be sure, but nothing as great as what Blizzard stumbled into. And that’s not how it’s supposed to go… right? Aren’t cultural zeitgeist-leading trends like World of Warcraft supposed to help evolve the medium into something greater than what came before?

Here’s the thing we may be forgetting about the advances popularity can bring to an art form.  What’s popular or mainstream begins to receive backlash from those who perceive themselves to be in the know. Those folks become the new trendsetters, and they lead a new train of thought that wants something more than reissued versions of yesterday’s favorite.  But this movement, the part where things change and fresh ideas are tested? That doesn’t happen fast.

But it is happening.

Games like Crowfall, Albion, The Repopulation, Pathfinder, Shroud of the Avatar, Gloria Victis, Camelot Unchained… these are risk-taking games. Even bonafide hits like Destiny and Guilds Wars 2 are risks; they just happened to have paid dividends.  Defiance, The Secret World, Elder Scrolls Online, and yes ArcheAge, Trove, WildStar and many others… risks. Back in 2003 we could take one look at this genre and have a handful of similar games to play. Today we have hundreds. Of those many products there may only be a few dozen that can stand on their own and serve their own niche, but that’s progress from where we were a decade ago.

It’s easy in our short and moment-to-moment lives to overlook progress because time seems to move so slowly while we’re in it. But when I think back to the state of the MMO in 2005 and compare it to now, I’m nothing but optimistic. For the first time in a decade, perhaps even because of many risky ventures that didn’t always pan out, we’re seeing some real new ideas make their way to an industry that was previously caught up in what it would take to tackle Blizzard.

If you’ve been saying that everything in the MMO world is bad, you’re not wrong. But what you might want to consider is just why that’s good for the health of the industry moving forward. Sure it means less AAA games touting 100mln plus budgets… but how is that bad? Developers with the same passion for this genre we all share are now out there making the games free from the overbearing guidance of venture capital.

In short, the failure of so many MMOs to take the wind out of Warcraft has done nothing but deliver freedom to the genre.  It’s going to be rough waters for a little while, but I hope you’re all as anxious as I am to set sail and see where the wind takes us.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.