The last decade has added both some wonderful and terrible things to the MMO genre. Now that 2020 is upon us, it is time to take a look back at the last 10 years, and see where the industry went right, and where MMOs went horribly, horribly wrong.
Best - Free to Play
When the idea that there would be an industry paradigm shift from subscription games to Free to Play (F2P) games was floated way back in the late 2000’s the outcry was loud and resentful. It conjured up thoughts of hefty cash shops, abundant in armor and weapons, and nickel and dime entrance fees to even seasonal content. Those fears came, and went, as the new decade brought in a series of F2P titles that provided a great value, without going over the line into “Pay to Win” territory.
Many games from Elder Scrolls Online to Star Wars: The Old Republic have free play options. Freemium payment options exist in many cases for those that prefer to continue a monthly subscription and get a few more rewards than those who simply play without paying. We have even seen Buy to Play games, such as Guild Wars 2, allow for their entire legacy game to be played with minor restrictions, to bring in new players. Thanks to the Free to Play shift of the past 10 years, MMO gamers have more opportunities to play games, and how they wish to pay for them.
Worst – Buy to Play Ambitions
The opposite end of the coin, in terms of the paradigm shift in payment models, is the deceptive Buy to Play ambitions we see a lot of MMOs employ. The most detrimental of these Buy to Play (B2P) ambitions, are those of games ported to the US from other countries. In the past year alone, we have seen several releases, most notably Bless Online, that aspired to release their game with a box price, and nothing else.
In a play that often misses the mark, the influx of players may fill the coffers momentarily, but when the in-game population starts to dwindle, these MMO’s quickly transition into a Free to Play model, complete with a revamped cash shop, and incentives to placate those who spent money on the box price. The problem is, we have seen this happen to many games over the years. We have seen games like H1Z1 and Albion flip-flop on their payment models and it seems to be happening with less time in between when a game releases, and the transition to F2P. For many gamers this leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those shelling out box prices for these games.
Best – Public Questing
There have been instances of Public Quests for over a decade, but Public Questing has really taken shape over the past decade. In many cases, a Public Quest before could have consisted of several players attacking the same monster and actually receiving credit for the kill. Then, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning launched, and employed Public Questing areas that changed communal questing entirely.
If Warhammer streamlined the idea of Public Quests, Guild Wars 2 ran away with the idea, creating vast areas that are specifically defined by the collective activity of its players. It didn’t stop with Guild Wars 2. Examples of Public Questing can be seen in games like DC Universe Online, Elder Scrolls Online and many more. Public Questing truly changed the way players interacted, whether they wanted to or not, which, in actuality, is the pinnacle of Online Gaming.
Worst – Time Gated Earnings
There was a time in MMOs when the amount of time you put into a game correlated with the fun experiences and awesome items you earned. In the most simplistic way, that hasn’t changed. MMO gamers still get to experience exploration, progression, and loot drops. Unfortunately, some of the best items are locked away behind time-gated systems, preventing players from spending their time doing exactly what they want to do to earn the rewards they want. The problem is, when developers time-gate content and rewards, in many cases they end up diminishing the need to keep playing consecutively, or in some worst-case scenarios, locking entry to content and rewards behind a pay wall.
In some extreme cases, we have even seen time-gated PvP events, that not only bar players from entering when they wish, but it even limits the chance that players get to play at all, as player caps dictate how many people will be able to get in game during those intervals. Dungeon Tickets, Raid Limits, Daily Caps and even Energy Systems have been implemented to convince players to spend money, or come back every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes. We are told that these limits are all in the name of fairness, but in reality, this is the classic carrot-at-the-end-of-a-stick approach that only exists in lieu of any real lasting content.
Best – Cross-Platform Play
Are you part of the PC Master Race? Are you a Console Gamer? An MMO Enthusiast need not bicker with their brethren about where they play their MMO of choice when Cross-Platform Play has risen in popularity over the past decade. Sure, we’ve seen crossplay in online games over the years. Rocket League, Fortnite, Minecraft and Dauntless are some of the games that have risen in popularity over the years, in part due to the ability of playing together on any platform.
Some gamers may not realize that crossplay has helped keep populations high in MMO’s for quite some time too. DC Universe Online, Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warships and even the upcoming release of Phantasy Star Online 2 will have Cross-Platform play. Even Elder Scrolls Online has the possibility of Cross-Platform play in their sights, and why wouldn’t they? Long ago, titles were locked down to hardware, often giving certain platforms an edge on exclusivity. These days, locking down communication between different gaming environments is severely looked down on, as Sony found out after they lost several rounds with consumers over their stance on exclusivity.
Worst – Gender Locked Classes
Freedom in gaming means a lot to the MMO gamer. We often want to play a class we want, customized from head to toe with our armor. We want the ability to choose our classes, and modify our hair styles that never get seen because we always wear helmets. We want branching choices in how we build our characters, and what skills we want to use. We ask for all of this, and the developers respond in kind with combat systems, menus, and sliders to appease us. Yet, after decades of MMO’s have come and gone, and still, from the hilt of 2010 to the point of 2020 we still have games that insist on locking certain classes to genders, with no comparative class choices.
You have gamers that will argue that, gender locking a class or race to a certain gender connotates a deeper story influence. Poppycock. We aren’t talking about simply choosing between a Witch and a Wizard, who have similar skills, but different names. We’re talking about pigeonholing players into playing a female elf archer because no male archer of any race exists. Maybe back in 2005 it made sense to limit these kinds of options, but the MMO’s of today should have learned their lesson by now. Even Pearl Abyss with Black Desert Online, who went out of their way to finally mirror male and female classes across the board on PC seemed to forget this lesson when they released Black Desert Mobile. Don’t gender lock classes!
Best – Pop Culture Approval
MMO Gamers live in their parent’s basement. They hide from sunlight, talk incessantly about upgraded “power swords”, and are never seen outside of their gaming cave. In addition, it is well known that women do not play MMO games. If you at some point have heard these stereotypes, then it is highly likely you grew up in the 90s and 2000s, listening to the outsiders of the gaming world declare their conjectured clichés as they attempt to define what an MMO Gamer is.
MMO Gamers in 2020 are completely different now. Gaming is not a marginalized past time that is misunderstood by the masses. We as gamers have transcended the idea that we are the outliers of society. Gamers, dare we say it, are mainstream now. World of Warcraft became a popular feature film. Ready Player One challenged the perception of what online gaming could look like in our future. The RPGs of yesterday are becoming the fictional epics of today, in the same way that classic literature once found its way onto the silver screen. We were the tastemakers of the last decade. We are parents, we are students, we are employees and employers, we are a community of likeminded peers, and whether you live in a basement, or in a penthouse, we have proven that we are much more than a stereotype.
Worst – Pay to Win Cash Shops
Most gamers, if they aren’t outright disgusted by cash shops are generally ambivalent of them. Many gamers would rather cash shops, if they must exist, to stay within the bounds of cosmetic, non-game-breaking items. Some developers believe that, their best chance of making money, is to incentivize their item malls with deals that will walk the line between fair-play and a cash-is-king mentality. Part of the argument of the “Pay to Win” cash shop is wholly dependent on the game in question, and what the definition of “winning” is. For example, in some games, specialized currency could be considered “winning” if that currency can be turned into boosts, or items, that are exceptionally tough to earn.
We as gamers debate often whether a time investment should be considered a Pay to Win circumstance. Yet while the debate rages on over the particulars of unfairness in item malls, the MMOs of today still establish cash shops with questionable items that benefit wealthier players, rather than those who put in the work. Some developers are even cognizant of their notorious cash shops. ArcheAge is one such example, that knew their cash shop had Pay to Win elements, but instead of addressing them over the years, they simply refreshed the game with ArcheAge Unchained, providing a similar game, without the questionable monetization scheme.
Best – Story-Driven Progression
Story in video games goes hand in hand. For MMO’s an underlying story was used more as a backdrop to various quests that sometimes fit into a greater narrative, and other times, made you feel like, if you had to kill one more slime creature you would go crazy. Eventually, various developer decided that, despite the fact that MMOs are meant to deliver a vast multiplayer experience, story elements should not be forgotten. Sure, world building and mob hunting is important in defining the atmosphere, but a single, concentrated, driving narrative is now a standard of most modern MMORPGs.
With a singular story aiding in progressing players through various parts of the world, personal, character defining stories such as those found in Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 do more than simply connect your character to the surrounding world, but these stories also level and skill check you, to ensure that you’re ready to be in the area you are exploring. There is no doubt that new MMOs will change how stories are told, but story driven progression is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon.
Worst - Crowdfunded Theatrics
Crowdfunding was barely even an idea before 2008. With Kickstarter barely launching in 2009, and the high level of skepticism that followed the premise of shelling out money for a yet-to-be-created product, who would have thought that Crowdfunding would have come as far as it has. Some would say that Crowdfunding has saved the MMO genre of today, but in a weird way, it has kind of made it worse. As we sit here today, looking out over the sea of Crowdfunded MMOs, we ask ourselves, what do we have to show for it? Those of us who have funded these projects have funded a promise, and few, if any, have delivered on that promise, often reaching back to the well of supporters for more money, before their first promises have been kept.
Who could forget the backlash, and subsequent claims of fraud from the MMORPG Greed Monger, which fulfilled its goal thrice over, and delivered nothing? Where is Pathfinder Online, after it’s crash and resurrection? Despite the best of intentions, and the best of well wishes, crowdfunding has not delivered MMO fans many beacons of hope. With questions on when we can expect a release date for Crowfall, or if Cloud Imperium’s Star Citizen will ever actually stop asking for funding, or why Ashes of Creation developer Intrepid released a battle royale game, it is far more likely that Crowdfunding MMOs is a curse on the genre that must be lifted.