Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.
We're bringing back another blast from the past from our friend Richard Aihoshi. In his column from November 2014, he talked about the "first modern era" of MMOs, namely the seminal games released between 1996-2005. Some of these games are the ones many of us cut our MMO teeth on. It's a fun look back, not only at 2014, but at the ancient days of yore stretching back into the last century. See if his thoughts still hold true today!
The word hate can have very different levels of meaning. So, to be sure it's clear, the topic of this article refers to things that fall pretty low on the intensity scale. To illustrate what I mean, my wife thinks I hate turnips. I don't. However, when given the option to take or leave them, I'll almost invariably do the latter. This doesn't mean I passionately detest them.
When the development of The Elder Scrolls Online was officially confirmed back in 2012, it was one of the most exciting MMORPG announcements ever. The enormous popularity of the single-player franchise on both PC and consoles meant it had a huge core target audience, and the world of Tamriel had a strong inter-faction conflict element that would transition easily. Unfortunately, it seems pretty safe to say that the game has fallen short of the potential it initially seemed to have.
It would be difficult if not impossible to build any kind of reasonable case that World of Warcraft isn't the most influential MMORPG ever. As it approaches it eleventh anniversary this November, it can lay claim to some truly enormous numbers. For example, in 2012, it reportedly surpassed $10 billion in total gross revenue. Last year, it reached 100 million accounts created.
Here in North America, anyone who is even a semi-serious MMOG enthusiast is well aware that Korea is a major producer. We can all name a number of titles developed there, and probably at least a couple of leading publishers and/or developers. That said, it's pretty safe to assume that few of us are closely familiar with the industry there. So you might find that this list of the five releases I feel have had the greatest impact on the global landscape includes one or more you wouldn't expect.
Although the modern MMOG era is usually regarded as having begun less than two decades ago, the category has come a very long way in this time span. It has gone from a tiny, virtually unknown niche to a genre that counts millions of regular players and generates billions of dollars in revenue. There's also every reason to anticipate continuing growth. That said, the future isn't completely clear. What lies ahead will be determined by how various questions and issues are addressed.
It wasn't very long ago that the MMOG category was practically unknown. Indeed, with only a very small selection of titles running, none of which had the number of players we can often find these days on a single server, it was barely a category at all. So, for those of us who remember the original Neverwinter Nights, Air Warrior, The Realm Online et al, many pleasant surprises lay ahead. A lot of them took place between 1997 and 2004. Naturally some particularly stood out.
It all began with a mod. While some observers trace the history of the mobile online battle arena category back as far as the 1989 Sega console game Herzog Zwei, it's more common to cite Aeon of Strife. A fan-made StarCraft custom map released nine years later, it was four on four, but with a player squad vs. an AI one and without leveling up. It was also the inspiration for the 2003 Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients, which featured two human teams and in-match hero advancement.
Rumors don't come my way nearly as often as they did when I was a full-time editor, but even so, it's unusual for more than a few days to pass without seeing any. The period immediately before E3, which opens up today, has always occasioned an uptick in volume, so unsurprisingly, that has happened again this year.
If we were to count all the MMOGs and quasi-MMOGs presently in various stages of testing, I have no doubt that the total would have three digits. Naturally, they'd differ widely with respect to how much interest they are generating. Frankly, we'd find a fair number that are effectively invisible, unknown except to the most ardent industry observers.
Does anyone actually know how many MMOGs are out there now? I certainly don't. Indeed, the category has grown so much that I can no longer even estimate the total number with any real confidence. Many are, of course, not very prominent. Others are a lot more visible and fare far better in terms of attracting and holding our attention. This is my completely personal, subjective ranking of the titles that have had the most interest value for me so far this year.
Last week, while announcing that Need for Speed World, Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield Play4Free and FIFA World will all be shut down in July, an EA exec stated that some of its F2P releases have declined in popularity. No ****, Sherlock. Upon seeing this news, I couldn't help wondering how the company feels about its strategy in this rapidly growing and thus increasingly important area. And earlier this month, Wargaming brought a smile to my face.
In almost two decades of watching and writing about the massively multiplayer landscape, the announcement of a new project has never failed to catch my attention. That said, they don't all do so to the same degree; some interest me far more than others. Over the years, I've seen at least several hundred titles enter development. For a variety of reasons, they didn't all make it as far as launch, including some that had exceptional appeal for me.
During the last few weeks, the most thought-provoking MMOG-related thing that came to my attention may have been this post by veteran developer Gordon Walton about the role he played in the memorable (for most, not in a good way) Star Wars Galaxies New Game Enhancements (NGE). What he wrote led me to think again about what I stated late last year when I listed the SOE / LucasArts title among 5 MMOGs That Seriously Disappointed Me.
As I write this on Sunday, March has already brought quite a bit of interesting news, information, rumors et al. Right off the top, we had the latest iteration of the Game Developers Conference, which overlapped with the first day of PAX East. Other notable happenings included researcher SuperData's release of some thought-provoking new tidbits of market data, and more F2P conversions from NCsoft.