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Some Intriguing 2015 Questions

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
Columns The Free Zone 0

What a difference 12 months can make. Although the MMOG category did see some notable occurrences in 2014, I don't know many people who felt it lived up to the potential it seemed to have at this time a year ago. I wouldn't call it a disaster by any means, but neither did it knock my socks off. Entering 2015, I'm quietly optimistic. That said, I have questions about the what lies ahead, involving Landmark, The Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next and more.

Will Landmark be a landmark for user-made content?

The concept of user-generated content has been tossed around for a number of years. At the intellectual level, it has always been exceptionally interesting, primarily because it has untold potential. In terms of actual implementations, however, relatively little has been fulfilled. So, it seems natural to wonder when we're likely to see a game that takes a truly significant step forward. Landmark is conceptually cool, and I'd like to see it will live up to its name. I also wish I were more confident that it will. Don't take this to mean I'm predicting it will fall flat. That would be a gross exaggeration. What I mean is that I simply don't know if the MMOG market has reached a state where it's sufficiently ready for SOE's title to pull in and retain a substantial user base.  

The game might not be a great fit for more than a limited segment of players. The idea of creating houses and other types of buildings simply isn't for everyone. Others may have enough interest but not the requisite creativity, talents, skills, etc. The degree to which the tools are or aren't user-friendly might prove a barrier for some people too. All in all, there are enough gray areas to keep me from jumping aboard the Landmark hype wagon. What impact will the console versions of The Elder Scrolls Online have?

When it was revealed that TESO would not launch simultaneously across platforms, I had my doubts as to whether this was the best course of action. As it became increasingly apparent the delay until it's available on consoles would be pretty lengthy, I've revisited this feeling a few times. All I can say right now is that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Here again, I'd like to be clear. I don't want the game to bomb on the PS4 and Xbox One. Neither am I predicting it will. I'm fully content to wait and see what happens, and I have no emotional stake in what does. It's basically a no-lose for me. If it does well, I'll be happy for the team. If not, I'll be able to say my doubt was reasonable.  

Either way, I'll continue to wonder why the decision came about to have separate release dates. Frankly, the only obvious scenario where it makes much sense to launch the PC version first, especially so far ahead, is the one where the development budget had been depleted and couldn't be replenished. Note I said “couldn't”, not “wouldn't”. I suppose it's possible that Zenimax and parent Bethesda were no longer able to continue funding what had become a very costly project. I also suspect we'll never know. Looking forward, I'm curious about a few things. The most obvious is simply to see how well the console versions of TESO will fare. Drilling a bit deeper, if it doesn't perform well, I question if it might make the industry less likely to develop other projects for multiple platforms, and also whether this might nudge the game toward a shift in revenue models. Can EQN extend the franchise to a significantly broader audience?

If we start by accepting the premise that its predecessors are more hardcore than average, it may prove tricky for EQN to draw a wider audience as well as players who are familiar with one or both. It's a simple, undeniable market fact that less serious games – I'm not talking full-out casual, just relatively less serious – have the potential to appeal to a larger audience. It seems likely, however that EQ veterans would find such on offering to be at least somewhat dumbed down.  

On the other hand, it's also possible to question how much of the main MMOG audience, which is both used to and content with theme parks, will be attracted to something more sandboxy. I've seen some observers opine that the IP's strength will help in this regard. I've yet to be convinced it will, not to a meaningful extent. And, if we're to believe the naysayers, EQN's business model will keep millions of people from even trying it.   Additional closing queries

The three questions discussed above are far from the only ones I have about what will happen in 2015. Here are just a few of the others: •    Will WildStar go F2P by the end of the year? •    How likely are we to see an import make a significant market impact? •    Will 2015 be the year WoW goes F2P, at least in some markets?  


Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.