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Bill Murphy: The Winds of Change

Columns By William Murphy on March 31, 2011

The Winds of Change

This is something that was touched on a lot during our panel at PAX East this year: MMO is becoming a much broader term, and one that will encompass many different types of games.  We see the arguments here all the time that MMORPG shouldn’t cover certain games.  But the simple fact of the matter is that when this site began the MMORPG was easily classified… and now it’s an acronym that’s becoming so much more.  There are MMORPGs, MMOARPGs, MMOFPS, MMORTS, and a blend of each and beyond.  What’s more is that many of them share a lot in common with the games that began the trend. 

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Now I’m not going to say it’s a matter of semantics.  I totally understand when MMO vets cry foul at some games even getting recognition as MMORPGs, when they’re really just a much more streamlined or stripped down type of online experience.  I’m not invalidating those claims when I say this: MMORPG is now just a tiny segment of the MMO space.  And our website is going to wind up covering it all.  Of course our audience is the more typically the hardcore MMORPG crowd.  And if you haven’t noticed that’s still the bulk of what we cover.

But to ignore the other emerging trends in the industry would just be folly, and like or not the blending of genres is where the MMO is headed.  Look at End of Nations, Firefall, the new SyFy MMO Defiance and so many more.  All are looking to shake things up in how these games are played and experienced.  It’s a trend we should all be welcoming.  Haven’t we decried the stagnation of the industry?  Haven’t we been begging for people to try new things? And then when someone does try something new, it’s dismissed because it’s either too new, or not the kind of new we meant.  

We’re a fickle bunch, aren’t we?  My point is that I personally see nothing but good things that can come from the experimentation we’re seeing.  My only hope is that quality won’t be sacrificed in the face of ingenuity.  Only through the existence of both will the MMORPG grow into something more.  We’re seeing plenty of studios that try to shake things up, but by and large the safe route is more attractive.  Not decrying the game, as I enjoy it very much, but Rift is largely built upon the traditions, albeit with a few very capable innovations and some incredibly back-end technology that means more than most gamers will realize.  Maybe that’s the way it needs to happen?  Maybe the only way we’re going to see growth is in increments so that the mass of players isn’t alienated and we can slowly bring in new technologies and methods of play. 

Whenever something really new tries to make a splash, it gets harshly rejected.  Is the only proven formula the one we see in play today?  I wonder how successful Guild Wars 2 will be.  I really think it will wind up massively addictive.  But it’s also going to be free of charge.  Now the subscription model is a whole other discussion.  Let’s say GW2 sells 2 million boxes.  Would it maintain 2 million subscriptions if the game had the standard subscription model?  Or are they free to try so many different mechanics because they aren’t tied to the subscription?

So in closing on this winding and somewhat pointless rant, there are two ways in which the industry is changing.  We’re seeing it first in the types of revenue models on offer.  And in the next two years we’re going to see it in the way we actually play the games.  Not all of us will like everything that’s released, and not all of it is going to be any good.  But we should at the very least be glad that something is happening.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.