Up For Debate - MMORPGs are Stuck in a Rut, Where Next for MMORPGs?

Written by Jon Sutton on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 5:12 PM
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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!

Our favourite comments:

sits in dark mmorpg corner and plays runescape and have been sitting there for 12 years

TheJusticeHobbit

Oh, Jon, have my children! Galaxies was such a great community, with clan cities, so many custom classes, and roleplaying fun as dozens of people got together to form a family of adventurers. A unique combat system, and truly fond memories.

PrinceofKilts

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11:34 Jul-25-2018

I played alot of MMORPG's but the only ones that really keep me hooked are ESO and Wurm online, the later beeing a sandbox fantasi/medieval survival game that is old (12 or more years) but in my opinion it has the most comprehensive content

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07:35 Jul-24-2017

Vanilla Everquest was, and still is the best mmorpg ever made. So many great memories from -99 to 2003. Check out Pantheon: Rise of the fallen. Its coming later this year or 2018. Follows the footsteps of Everquest. Can't wait!!

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06:16 Jul-24-2017

Have you guys tried Guild Wars 2, I think it has much to offer. Also a memorable mention for the weeaboos is Dragonica(Dragonsaga nowadays),a manga-style mmorpg which, in my opinion, has a unique action-based combat(not to mention pvp).

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09:26 Jul-24-2017

An old friend of mine played it a lot. The cool thing is that it was a 1 time buy. Don't know if that is still the case.

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22:12 Jul-23-2017

I like what Jagex does with Runescape: You can pick up your old account 10 years later and your character will be as useful as he was back then. They add more content to keep the players busy, more quests and minigames, but the levels don't change, unlike in games like WoW, which make your epic gear opbsolete once a new expansion comes out. You can pick Runescape up and play for a bit, then put it down for 5 years and come back again and it will still play from that point on. If you had a lvl 70 character with epic gear in WoW and picked it up now - it's useless!
Plus RS doesn't focus on teams, which is what I like - I like being my own man in a world full of other people like me :D

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09:28 Jul-24-2017

That was also the other thing that I didn't like about WoW. I like to do stuff on my own, not much of a guild guy.

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06:09 Jul-27-2017

Except for when the abyssal whip was replaced with the godsword and dragon armor was replaced with barrows and so on. I played RS before I played WoW and even RS had it's own gear obsolescence,,,although not nearly pronounced as WoWs was and not nearly as frequent.
At least the abyssal whip was accessible, the godsword was in pieces that you had to put together from the GWD and costed 10x as much

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06:14 Jul-27-2017

Not to mention the price of dragon armor, barrows armor and all previous weapons plummeted when the god wars dungeon came out. That was it for me...I lost millions. I was a lowly pendant crafter and woodcutter who sold my wares and became a powerful milllionare by reinvesting in the market, only to have it all taken away by a single game update.

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06:32 Jul-27-2017

Which I didn't have the ability to prepare for as the market became volatile immediately and all I had were tangibles that fell in price the moment the first god armor and godswords hit the grand exchange.
Not having soloable access to a GWD run unlike the kalphite queen and barrows which used to be highly profitable, I was done. God wars stuff overshadowed everything else and unbalanced the game

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18:32 Jul-27-2017

I played Archlord for a few months. When the in came currency skyrocketed I had a similar situation. The inflation was out of control. I still had millions in coins but now the main things were gold bars.


So after all that trouble I decided that if I ever entered another stock market it will be linked to our world.

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03:13 Jul-23-2017

MMORPGs are going to die off because of WoW killing it with everyone trying to copy it for money. After two years or so, some indie/AA game dev is going to make one, which will actualyl be refreshing and different, reviving the genre.

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04:47 Jul-24-2017

You just summarized the last 10 years or so... except for that new "light in the tunnel game" - that has still not arrived and I really doubt it will xD

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07:25 Jul-22-2017

I think a Sword Art Online styled MMORPG might bring the genre back but that won't happen until quite a few years.

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23:40 Jul-21-2017

I think "Ashes of creation" may offer the next true step forward in MMORPG design: Responsive worlds that are truly shaped and reactive to player interactions with it and each other, a world that develops based on player choices. Providing a world with more far reaching mechanics and depth simulating complexities and new mechanics that would exist in a real world.

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23:44 Jul-21-2017

We need an environment that responds naturally and logically to our actions, and effects that are persistent until altered by natural action.
In short we need greater "realism" and depth in our MMORPG's and social mechanics that satisfy the main reason we came to MMO's: fellowship!

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22:18 Jul-21-2017

it's been awhile since an mmorpg drew me in simply because they cannot pull me in like they used to...

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21:34 Jul-21-2017

How Guild Wars 2 isnt mentioned here is beyond me.


If you are looking for an MMO that breaks traditional formats both in payment and progression, this one is it. While still flawed in some aspects, the concept is definitely refreshing.

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21:37 Jul-21-2017

No gear treadmill, action-based combat, and new content every couple months (on top of expacs), its given me 3000+ hours of genuine fun for 50$. This game has spoiled me, can't play traditional mmo's now.

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21:17 Jul-21-2017

Star Citizen.

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09:06 Jul-22-2017

I hope it gets released soon, & that the talk about money problems doesn't drown the game. It's one of the few games that could really change the way we look at MMO-s.

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09:47 Jul-22-2017

Soon ahaha the development team even stated that an official release date wont happen for at least a few years, for now you can just buy your way in a play through the various tech demo they release

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10:13 Jul-22-2017

I like to spend my money wisely. Buying through a tech demo isn't my idea of wisdom. :)

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21:16 Jul-21-2017

sits in dark mmorpg corner and plays runescape and have been sitting there for 12 years

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19:55 Jul-22-2017

XDXDXDXDXDXDXDXD

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22:09 Jul-23-2017

Hell yeah! RS rocks :D

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20:41 Jul-21-2017

I am still stuck in Eve online its been years sniffle I lost around 400 dollars worth of ships and I am still playing the game

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20:28 Jul-21-2017

Now as for something new in MMO-s. Your 100% right.
The reason most ppl just get bored with them, is the stupid button mashing. Press 1 for this spell/buff etc. and you don't even have to move to evade dmg. That isn't enough, and it's just plain dull. Some games like Aion did at least insert movement and you need...

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20:32 Jul-21-2017

to have some skill at least do get into the game. That in itself is commendable, but 4 me personally I view VR as the thing that could really bring the MMO-s back into the focus. But not just VR (headset on your head & you don't move), I'm talking about recreating you movement 1 to 1 in VR. Now that would be something.

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21:32 Jul-21-2017

yeah i'm sick of pressing couple of buttons moving pressing buttons again well skill doesn't really matter it's the gear or should i say the time u spent playing! that's what really keep me away from many MMOs.

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21:41 Jul-21-2017

Guild Wars 2. Combat where you actually have to evade an attack and move out of the way. Or activate your block skill that will only last for 2 seconds to avoid damage. Taunting and faking an opponent into using skills becomes essential.

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20:24 Jul-21-2017

Nice article. I have never played EVE online, but from what I hear it's got a tight group of ppl that love the game & it's player driven from what I heard.

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20:16 Jul-21-2017

I had such a great time in World of Warcraft over the years. The memories made far outweighed what I paid in subscription costs over the course of 9 years(I played since The Burning Crusade).
Sadly the game doesn't have that same magic it used to have for me that it had through Wrath of the Lich King*

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20:19 Jul-21-2017

when I was playing almost 12 hours a day sometimes. Thats just the thing though, I no longer have the same time that I did when I was in high school and early college. Compounding the issue, Blizzard has made blunder after blunder starting with cataclysm. Legion was a step in the right direction but still not perfect

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20:23 Jul-21-2017

Let's call Legion a partial re-ignition of the magic, but it required totally rebuilding my circle on the game. Most of my RL friends and friends met ingame from TBC, wrath, & cata, are long gone and not coming back to the game. My old top tier raiding guild is nothing but a memory that could never be brought back.

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20:36 Jul-21-2017

We're getting older man, no escaping that lol

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20:40 Jul-21-2017

That we are, that we are. It amazes me that people my age and older still have time to do what I once did.

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20:36 Jul-21-2017

I played on and off for a few years. Enjoyed raiding but it felt like having a second job at times and if I didn't raid with the guild there was no meaning to the game.

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20:38 Jul-21-2017

Your right, it was a second job. I was an officer and raid leader of the second biggest raiding guild on my server back in the days of Wrath. I was on nearly 12 hours a day, almost every day. It was life consuming.

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19:29 Jul-21-2017

Oh, Jon, have my children! Galaxies was such a great community, with clan cities, so many custom classes, and roleplaying fun as dozens of people got together to form a family of adventurers. A unique combat system, and truly fond memories.

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19:32 Jul-21-2017

And there was sorta fast travel with shuttles, remember? But yeah, having dozens of people on air bikes and just talking about clan business, town planning, armor sets and builds. Nothing like it. Now picture it with Discord and voice today

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19:35 Jul-21-2017

And to answer your question: Crowfall, because it's like the fantasy version of Galaxies with city building and raiding for materials and stuff. Always wait for reviews, of course.

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10:37 Jul-22-2017

Haha yeah I guess it did, but I think there was something meaningful about turning up at a space port and having to wait to board a flight. Felt like an actual journey.


As for crowfall, I wasn't too familiar with this but looking at some vids it looks like it's got some neat ideas

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01:19 Jul-23-2017

Oh yeah. I remember that too. And people talking in taverns as we healed fatigue from dancers and musicians! Oh those times...

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19:29 Jul-21-2017

The new genres of MMO's are the anime style.

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20:51 Jul-21-2017

fcking hate that

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19:05 Jul-21-2017

I've recently started playing WoW for the first time and i love it. I tried ESO last year and couldn't get into it. People just had their fill of MMORPGs, they were dominant for a decade. Now it's MOBA and CSGO era, next decade who knows

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20:49 Jul-21-2017

If you love it now, you would have been head over heels for it in it's heyday like I was.

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17:58 Jul-21-2017

Honestly as a WOW fan WOW had too much "reinventing".
I'm currently playing on the elysium private vanilla server and it's more fun that I ever had with post WOTLK WOW.
At this point I hope Blizzard hits the breaks on innovating and finally releases an overhauled version of vanilla with only minimal improvements but the exact same core.
I'd absolutely love to play that.

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21:03 Jul-21-2017

If only they still did raids like Ulduar, brought back talent trees, and did a better job of managing servers and their populations. So many servers went dead over time since Wrath. I actually switched servers for Legion because my original server dwindled to nothing. LFR, LFG etc also killed quite a bit of the social aspect as well. I actually didn't mind sitting in dal or shatt for the rare pug.

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17:46 Jul-21-2017

Cabal and Jade Dynasty used to be my MMORPG's - where I spent most of my time. Stopped playing because game's became empty.


Still waiting for that GO TO MMORPG.

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