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Where Does the MMO Genre Sit With You?

By Lewis Burnell on September 12, 2016 | Columns | Comments

Where Does the MMO Genre Sit With You?

I’m relatively new to MMORPG.com. In comparison to some of the staffers here, I’m the new boy and my Monday column has allowed me to get to know this community a lot better. While I often frequent the likes of Quarter To Three, Rock, Paper Shotgun and Tap-Repeatedly.com I still keep my ear to the ground when it comes to all things massively multiplayer. The MMO genre is the one that I play the most and the one I predominantly choose to write about. What has become apparent however, certainly over the last year and irrespective of which MMO website I choose to read, is the sense that massively multiplayer games are no longer the golden goose for developers. In fact, there’s a growing sense that they’re largely finished; the lack of upcoming AAA MMO’s combined with the rise of the MOBA is testament to that.

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While that might sound doom and gloom, I’ve never been one to gloss over the problems the genre faces. Even at its peak when you couldn’t move for newly announced titles, there was still plenty to criticise and still lots that I wished to see happen. Overtime my issues with the genre might have shifted (lootboxes and nickel and diming players now being the main two) but my love of it never has.

The massively multiplayer genre is unique. No genre combines so many elements into one place while providing a sense of progression, individual freedom and some form of narrative. Many might argue the likes of Dark Souls is the next best thing and while they’d be largely right, such single player titles still lack the social opportunities a massively multiplayer game provides. Guilds, clans - whatever it is you want to call them - are a cornerstone of the genre that no other truly captures. The relationships and memories that you can form in an MMO can last a lifetime and even now, some twenty years later, I can still remember key moments from a variety of massively multiplayer games as if they were yesterday. I can’t say the same for any other genre, despite playing a great deal of other titles.

In recent times and certainly as a result of World of Warcraft, the social aspect of massively multiplayer games has been diluted. Forming friendships, coordinating to complete content, balancing a party or even something as simple as seeking someone to craft you a weapon is, for the most part, resigned to history. The one thing that made MMO’s special - truly unique in the face of all other competition - has been dropped in pursuit of single player pleasure.

I’ll admit that it’s undoubtedly convenient to login to an MMO and be able to just get on with business. However, when personal progress comes at the expense of something as unique as what MMO’s can offer, it’s bizarre to think that developers shed interaction and cooperation so readily. Whether it’s Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls Online, Black Desert Online or WildStar - vast swathes of all the content in these games never require any teamwork. Heck, I completed the raid wing in Guild Wars 2 using a random group of players I’d never met, without even once saying, “hello!”.

I and others might readily criticise the genre for the course it’s currently on but for the most part, I think it’s warranted. I complain because I care and I hate seeing what’s happening to a type of game that’s not only unique, but one which has the most potential out of any other. Those who play MMO’s have become the whipping boys (and girls) for nothing more than monetary gain. Instead of MMO development teams providing enough of an engaging experience where people willing want to part with their hard earned cash, they instead attempt to extract as much money as possible along the way. After the launch of World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online, I honestly can’t remember the last MMO I played where I didn’t get the impression the developer wanted me to spend more, as often as I’m able.

Were an MMO to go back to basics; to instil a sense of community, cooperation and working together - at all points in the game - there’s every chance that the genre could be revived. I want consequence. I want cooperation. I want a challenge and I want to feel like I’m working towards something bigger than their my adventure. Unfortunately, the likelihood of this ever happening in the current climate is near non-existent because we’ve been lead to believe such titles can’t or won't yield enough income. The reality is that by shareholder standards, they may not but to you and I, there’s still eye-watering sums of money involved.

Like many I’m still enjoying a variety of MMO’s alongside other games (notably Paragon and Heroes of the Storm) but there’s a growing weariness to my play habits because of the issues that plague the genre. Can I still have fun? Absolutely, but it comes at a cost of directly overlooking a multitude of flaws that rarely, if ever, get addressed.

If the MMO genre is to survive in the face of tough competition from the continued rise of the MOBA, it has to up its game. It has to not only be relevant, but refine what it has to offer and provide an experience amounting to something much more than a themepark. As it stands though and with no future AAA on the horizon, it’s more a case of being satisfied with what we have or moving on. Sadly for many - myself included - the latter is often more appealing than the former, at this moment in time.

I’m keen to hear what you all think the status of the genre is. Is the future bright or bleak? Do you anticipate AAA titles are around the corner but yet to be revealed? Does the success of Legion show there’s still plenty of life left in the MMO? Have you moved on to other genres but still keep an eye on MMOs? Let me know.

Oh and before I forget, if you’ve been stopping by my column every Monday - thanks a bunch. It means a lot.  

Lewis Burnell / The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOs over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved and long time dead, Neocron.