Although the modern MMOG era is usually regarded as having begun less than two decades ago, the category has come a very long way in this time span. It has gone from a tiny, virtually unknown niche to a genre that counts millions of regular players and generates billions of dollars in revenue. There's also every reason to anticipate continuing growth. That said, the future isn't completely clear. What lies ahead will be determined by how various questions and issues are addressed.
The MMOG category is more than large enough so that it wouldn't be hard to come up with more than the five I've chosen to offer my thoughts on in this column. I welcome you to bring up others in your comments, especially if you think they are of greater significance and/or interest.
How much of the future lies on consoles?
Back in mid-March, this site's article on the Top 10 Most Anticipated MMO Releases of 2015 included Neverwinter on the Xbox One, Planetside 2 on the PS4, and The Elder Scrolls Online on both of these platforms. They are, of course, only some of the offerings either already available to or on the way for console players. Right now, the total number from which they can choose is still relatively small. But it's growing, and faster than ever before.
This is understandable when we look at the magnitude of the potential audience, which is also expanding. As of this spring, Sony's box crossed the 20 million sales mark, which was roughly double the total for Microsoft's. Factor in some more for the months since then, and we could be looking at somewhere around 35 million units. What's more, it seems pretty safe to assume that almost every owner is a gamer. This means most have at least a decent probability of becoming MMO players. How many of them will do so is a big unknown of course, but it rates to be quite a few. Indeed, I feel the bigger question is about the how quickly it will happen.
It should be noted that although the situation is changing, consoles are far more popular in North America and Europe than they are in other regions of the world. Accordingly, the global picture remains significantly more PC-oriented. This is a key factor that impacts how many MMOGs are developed elsewhere for various platforms. So, while I do expect to see console offerings from places like Korea and China, we may still be at least a few years away from them arriving here in meaningful numbers. Were I to hazard a guess, I'd probably say a minimum of five.
Will the MMORPG category be overtaken by other types of MMOGs?
It wasn't very long ago that these two acronyms could almost always be used interchangeably. For example, when the first “big three” consisted of Ultima Online, EverQuest and Asheron's Call, they all fell neatly under both umbrellas. Since then, quite a few other types of MMOGs have appeared, enough that there is no universally accepted system for classifying them all. Without attempting to create one, it's not difficult to come up with quite a few examples of possible sub-categories; e.g.
First-Person Shooter MMOG
Flight / Flight Simulation MMOG
Military Combat MMOG
Music / Rhythm MMOG
Real-Time Strategy MMOG
That's a dozen, basically off the top of my head. I'm sure you can think of more without racking your brains, especially if you're willing to use a looser definition of MMO, one that allows inclusion of, for example, MOBAs. It's also possible to put various games in different categories. For instance, is DC Universe Online an action or superhero MMOG? Or does it have enough MMORPG elements to qualify for that label?
The main point here isn't to try to pick a definitive category for the game, but to illustrate that “pure” MMORPGs no longer dominate the MMOG scene as they once did. I'm not about to suggest they're dinosaurs headed for extinction, but I do feel that overall, they will continue to decline in terms of the proportion of the market they hold. You may not like this trend - I don't - but there's no realistic way to deny it's happening. As above, the salient question is the rate at which it will.