How bright is the future for this genre we begrudgingly refer to as MMORPG?
In my narrow and horribly pessimistic opinion, we\’re are on a steep and slow crawl up the hill. A long defeat, if you will. The Titanic is bound for the glacier, the Rubicon almost crossed. I can say this with some certainty for at least one reason: MMOGs are driven by money. It\’s an inherent vice to the genre. These games take money to develop, money to launch, money to maintain, and money to promote to get more money.
Of course, games of all sorts have a production budget. You need to pay the sad programmers, the overpaid producers and leads, maybe outsource some animation or something, all to get the product as close to the initial vision as possible. Traditionally this money, for smaller companies, is given by investors or publishers who recoup it with initial sales. If the game is really good, the developers retain some cash and make another game. Pointless and probably false business lesson aside, MMOGs cannot do this. The beginnings are the same, with investors tossing money at visionary developers, but production schedules for MMOGs are notoriously easy to derail. There are countless games that have seen the initial stages of development, or even launched, and then crash and burn into sweet disappointment for the few fanboys who had already climbed onto the hype train. This is to be expected; it\’s simply the way of things for the weak (or underfunded, at least) to not survive. You\’ve seen Planet Earth.
And so the strong (or heavily funded) survive and procreate and gain more followers and earn more money. Innovation cannot really hold up in this market unless customers are willing to try new things. They cannot try this new things of they do not know about them, and that\’s probably the second part of this problem, if the first is that innovation doesn\’t always work.
Let\’s talk about LOVE, man.
LOVE is one of these innovative MMOG\’s that will probably never have mass appeal (which may be necessary for a massively multiplayer game). One look at a screenshot turns off probably 50% of the online gaming public and the unintuitive game play will turn off the other 30%. Now let me stop and say that I played LOVE in the alpha stages. It\’s currently in open beta and probably running much more smoothly, which means I need to try it again, probably once it goes live 25 March. That said, such an open ended and rigorous game would not see a market were it not for the brilliance of its developer. Note that there is no s at the end of \”developer\”. This is because it has been developed by one man. If you have one guy with an army of software slaves at his command vision can be held with a strict vigor, design can be streamlined, and costs can be kept at a minimum. As long as the guy doesn\’t mind being fueled by ramen and isn\’t picky about his beer, the budding artistic developer can keep it going on chump change.
This is another reason why I believe MMOGs, as we know them today, will not last.
If there are more pioneering guys like Eskil Steenberg, who have the brains and balls to brave the backbreaking development cycle of such a game (like many of the one-man indie development houses we know and love) then there is room for everyone. If you need a massive (pun intended) development team with an art department, technical support team, advertising, marketing, middle management, snack-getting juggernaut, which you do if you want to break the mainstream egg as World of Warcraft has, then we\’re stuck with WoW clones. Again, another reason why MMOGs are going down: no online game will ever take WoW off the throne unless they figure out how to make a NASCAR or Dave Matthew\’s Band MMOG. The mainstream is claimed in the name of Blizzard and there is no British Empire to come and fight this French occupation, if you like. Alright, bad analogy.
Let me finish by saying that I love the promise of the MMOG. I love and believe that this kind of gaming in a virtual community with other players and a wide open world is the future. But from where I am seeing the future is dim. Sandbox games like EVE are too much for we commoners and juggernauts like WoW are too watered down and samey. One day our MMOG messiah might arrive; it may be after the real Messiah does, but I digress.
There is much more that could be said on the topic but I\’ll save that for another post (goodness, I need them).
Sadly this mirrors what is going in the world of independent film. The studios are more content to put money into a familiar property that they can sell to the masses. Hence all the \”re-imaginings\” blowing up your multiplex. Meanwhile, the boutique, art house, subsidiaries, are being shutdown because the funding goes to the larger, safer projects. It's seems like a dire situation, but ultimately this will be good for the indies (that includes game developers). Sure, funding might be hard to come by, but when it does come, it will be from a source that sincerely believes in that project. This could be an angel investor, or, in a more ideal scenario, it could come from the people who would be buying the game, or seeing the film in the first place. If that should happen, the finished production would not only mean more to the people it's made for, but it will bring together the community in a way that is much more unifying, and organic.
P.S. Kickstarter.com is an example of this already taking place. There is hope!