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Bill Murphy: The MMORPG is Dead, Long Live the MMORPG

By William Murphy on March 14, 2016 | Editorials | Comments

The MMORPG is Dead, Long Live the MMORPG

A while back at PAX Prime, Goblinworks’ former CEO Ryan Dancey said that he believed WildStar would very likely be the last big budget MMORPG for some time.  Many, though hopeful we were, never expected EverQuest Next to come out in any state resembling its proposed ideas. Now, with the former on the ropes, and the latter completely cancelled, pundits and fans alike are bemoaning the death of the MMORPG. Which, not surprisingly, is something that’s been heralded for years.

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As it so happens, Mr. Dancey was probably right. WildStar likely cost upwards of 100 million USD to make and rebrand as F2P, and judging by Friday’s layoff news, the game is on its way to sun-downing in the coming months.  EverQuest Next was a collection of amazing ideas and technology concepts, and it was so impressive even in early form that we named it our Best of Show at E3 when it debuted. And yet, now we’ll never see that game come to life.

The thing is, we’ve seen AAA MMOs canceled before. Wish, Project Titan, Halo Online, Ultima Worlds Online: Origin, and more.  The thing that stings about EQ Next is that it was very publicly marketed. Landmark, once called EverQuest: Landmark, was sold as a tie-in title to have players help build EQN. Everything about EQ Next felt tangible, except the fact that no one ever got a chance to play it outside of SOE/Daybreak.

You see, as Todd Coleman said to us last October:

“During the late 2000s, the MMO space was a red ocean.” Todd said. “Sharks were everywhere clamoring for the next big MMO hit. The water was bloody, messy, and very few games survived and thrived. What’s great about MMOs now is that the ocean is blue again. We’re free to experiment, try new things, and we’ll see what succeeds and becomes the next big thing. That’s exciting.”

Look to the mobile market as a parallel: Supercell (Clash of Clans, Boom Beach, and Clash Royale) are making a ridiculous amount of money from 3 games. They, along with King (now owned by Activision-Blizzard) are the big fish in shrinking sea. Supercell’s newest hit, Clash Royale, had a clone released by a Chinese developer inside of a week from Clash Royale’s official launch. That sort of blatant cloning is what we saw for years with the MMORPG. Now, more than ten years after the launch of WoW, we’re finally breaking free from shackles that Azeroth inadvertently placed on MMO development.

That’s not to say there haven’t been games that tried to be different. Some succeeded greatly (Guild Wars 2), while others failed to get the audience they were hoping for (The Secret World). But many of those games launched between 2004 and now have found comfortable niches to fill, user communities to keep them thriving. Still, there are too many MMORPGs out there. Too many that simply copy and clone and lack inspiration, individuality, or character.  There was a time when Mario Clones were a thing too, during the 16-bit and 64-bit eras mainly. Eventually, those days faded, and it wasn’t until recently that the platformer and side-scroller are starting to see revivals through independent and creative development.

We’re lucky that the MMORPG came of age during the Indie Boom.  We’re at a point where these games can be made easier than they ever had before, so long as the studio doesn’t allow the feature creep to settle in. You don’t need to chase WoW’s list of systems. You just need to have a good idea, good presentation, and make your game fun from the get go. Layers can be added, as online games (and games in general) are more of a service now than ever before. Look at ARK: Survival Evolved as a perfect example of lightning striking where no one expected.

Folks, the MMORPG isn’t dead.  That’s a silly notion, when several are still making tens of millions a month, and over one hundred million dollars per year. What we’re seeing now, with the rise of the Indie MMO and the scaling back of AAA development is how game development works and evolves. Folks with the money to invest in new products are only just now finding out that simply echoing WoW won’t work, no matter how much money you toss at the concept. Don’t expect “WoW Clones” to be done either. Titles like ASTA, Icarus, and more prove that studios are still going to try and grab players with comfortable mechanics. 

If you believe that the MMORPG needs to exist only within the confines of AAA budgets and huge marketing pushes, then maybe it’s dead for you. Me? I’ll be watching Chronicles of Elyria, Camelot Unchained, Shards Online, Crowfall, Life is Feudal, and many more while playing the great games I already have sitting on my desktop too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a raft to finish crafting in Velia, and my garden needs tending outside of Heidel.

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.