What IS the Next Big Thing?
A lot of people have been loudly championing the idea that MMOs are a dying breed and that the golden era marked by World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, EverQuest, EverQuest 2, EVE Online and others is over. Yet developers, both ‘big house’ and indies alike, continue to make MMOs and players keep playing them.
Add in the theme park vs sandbox argument for those that do make it into production and you have a morass of arguments on all sides and from all angles. Some of the loudest tropes are “seen it before and it was done better” or something along the lines of “more of that?”
With this in mind, one has to wonder what the next evolution for MMOs is? In which direction should they to go to genuinely excite the player-base again? Developers have announced that they have discovered the ‘next great thing’ but players are often left unimpressed or outright hostile once games go live. ArcheAge anyone? ESO? WildStar? How many times have players been disappointed just this year alone?
KickStarters & Indies?
The past couple of years, the explosion of KickStarter attempts has sent out shockwaves that have rocked the games development industry to its core. Ostensibly removing the middle-man publisher, developers have gone straight to their communities for the funds needed to build games. From KickStarter, other crowd-sourcing opportunities evolved and even more independent developers got involved.
While still relatively early in the crowd-funding generation, many games that appeared to have promise ultimately failed in the effort to gather needed cash. Others have spectacularly failed for one reason or another and still others are caught in a quagmire of missed deadlines and broken promises. Fans and potential backers suffer from "KickStarter fatigue" and many more seem to fail than not. Of course it goes without saying that not all efforts have been such failures as Star Citizen so ably demonstrates but the point is that, while crowd-sourcing seemed to be the next evolution (in a non-game play sort of way) in the MMO genre, it has failed in that attempt.
Smaller, Niche-Oriented Games?
Perhaps it is time for developers to stop "grabbing for the brass ring" that Blizzard's World of Warcraft has embodied for the past decade. Many have tried and all have failed. That's right: ALL. Not a single MMO made since the dawn of World of Warcraft has inspired the numbers, even vastly lower ones as today's 7,000,000 players attest. All at one time or another aspired to be "THE WOW KILLER" and all have fallen by the wayside, though many have found success in aiming for what could be the next evolutionary step for MMOs, namely a focus on smaller, niche-oriented games that inspire a rabid and happy player base.
One only has to look at the steady upward climb of games like The Secret World, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and other titles that were less than well-received on launch but have continued developing a game that has since become something worth playing for many.
Maybe this could be the ticket for many games: Realistic goals for player numbers and continued development that ultimately may breed success over the long-haul.
Blurred Lines Between Genres?
One of the more interesting developments in MMOs these days is the increasingly blurred edges between genres. MMOs aren't simply MMORPGs but are massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs) that might feature RPG elements, shooter aspects, sandbox experiences, MOBA-like features, trading card aspects and more. The more types of genres dragged into the game, the more likely new players from outside the typical MMO community will be drawn in. Destiny, Firefall, WildStar and DUST 514 all come to mind in this respect.
Blurring the lines also allows developers to play fast and loose with known game features that have a lock on MMORPGs. Open world PvP, player-based economies and more can be put into places where they have seen little light and could be deployed with good effect.
It is probably here that the greatest chance of truly altering the MMO landscape lies, at least in the foreseeable future. Add in the Oculus Rift experience, and the future here seems bright.
Cross Platform & Console?
With the huge popularity of consoles, it's no wonder that the past couple of years have seen an exponential rise in the number of MMOs both being natively developed for or ported to consoles. Games from years past are being updated and brought to consoles (DC Universe Online etc.) even years after first being released on PC.
This also brings to mind older games being ported to hand-held devices as well, or even, as we've seem amply demonstrated, MMOs developed specifically for phones and tablets.
Again, this is an area that seems promising. Agreed?
But no one person can predict or even guess at all the possible ways that evolution in MMOs will play out. It's quite likely something has been overlooked. To that end, how do you think the genre will move forward in the not-so-distant future? What innovations will change the way we look at and play our favorite genre?
Have an idea? Let us know in the comments!
Ed. note: Thanks to my two comrades-in-arms, Aileme and Shelassa, for the input. You know how grateful I am!