There was a time around 10-15 years again when MMORPG’s reigned supreme. They were practically the biggest genre in PC gaming. Everquest was transformative. World of WarCraft was totally dominant. Dark Age of Camelot was a PvP-er’s dream. And then the bottom fell out. Or should I say - World of Warcraft became too dominant. Blizzard’s MMO was just too good, too slick produced. It swallowed up everything else on the scene and MMOs were shuttering left, right and centre. It was, and still is, a fantastic game, but with WoW available, every other subscription-based MMO found it hard to justify the monthly costs.
World of Warcraft remains a towering success and is still one of only two subscription-based MMORPG’s that can be called a triumph in 2017, the other being Final Fantasy XIV. But though the best part of a decade may separate the two, FFXIV still follows slavishly in the blueprint set by WoW. They’re both fantastic games, but never has the genre been more stagnant.
Elsewhere in the genre, there’s been precious little to get excited about, and there’s not much on the horizon either, aside from over ambitious promises and protracted development with no end in sight.
For MMORPGs, a change of direction is needed. We’ve reached the limit of what can be achieved in the traditional format. There’s only so many times players are willing to be dropped into a world, kill rats, turn in thousands of identikit quests, and hit the end-game raiding grind for the very best gear. Rinse and repeat for every expansion.
My turning point on the matter came a good few years ago now, and I’m no longer willing to invest either time or money in an MMORPG until something drastically innovative happens. Playing The Elder Scrolls Online and Final Fantasy XIV, it struck me just how basic the moment to moment questing was. You can slap over as many cutscenes as you want, but if everything equates to go here kill this / collect that, then repetition is going to set in. It can be thoroughly depressing to realise you’re existing in an endless virtual world in which you complete the same tasks ad infinitum, with no end in sight. There needs to be a fundamental rethink of what an MMO even does.
For me, one of the greatest MMORPG’s of all time was Star Wars Galaxies. It was incredibly rough around the edges, and Sony made heaps of disastrous decisions, but it was the living, breathing Star Wars world we’d always wanted. It was also a pure sandbox, with practically non-existent quest structure. Players built their own mining communities, organised trips to Dathomir to go rancor hunting, tried to figure out how the heck to become a Jedi, or composed their own dances and music to entertain passers by at the canteen. It felt free, and it felt alive, despite the planet’s largely being composed of vast expanses of nothingness. There was no fast travel, getting anywhere required chartered trips and long speeder-bike rides. But it just worked
I think a lot of its thinking has bled through into today’s survival games. A lot of these games are similarly rough to play. Games like Rust and Ark, for all the stick they get, are full of progressive ideas which I think will eventually bleed back into the reshaping of MMORPGs. They're about the people that live in them, rather than the reams of content. Massive player-built communities, shaping the world to their own needs, actually existing in a place rather than just perpetually levelling up and trekking on to the next zone. That's not role-playing, that's just an endless thirst for content, rather than the systems that should ultimately drive an MMO. Expansions shouldn't just add new content with 300 new quests and a few new dungeons; they should be about game-wide mechanical overhauls that affect everything and provide additional depth to the places that are already there. As they are now, MMORPGs barely deserve the RPG tag. They’ve got the token behind-the-scenes dice rolling and levelling treadmills, but players’ main concern is rapid min/maxing and endless raiding. They’re nothing more than very interactive clicker games, not worlds to stake a claim in.
Something drastic has to happen to MMORPG’s, and chasing the WoW bucks most definitely isn’t going to cut it. Players want real worlds, lands they can claim for themselves, carving them to suit their needs.
So I’m going to open it up to the rest of GD on a couple of points: Are there any upcoming MMORPG’s which you think could genuinely be the next big thing? And what can MMOs do to truly reinvent themselves? Do they even need reinventing, or are you happier with larger and better-looking MMOs? Share your thoughts below!