How Long do MMO's Have?

Friday, July 24, 2009
The MMO is a powerful force in this industry. People are able to identify with this genre on a level that seems to overpower any other genre out there. New MMO's are hitting store shelves every day and established MMO's like World of Warcraft lay claim to over 11 million subscribers. It would seem the genre has found a permanent place in the industry but how long can it keep this head of steam?

Theree are some major flaws in the genre's design that have existed since the beginning. Flaws that could spell disaster for even the most well established MMO. First, there is the issue of cost. There have been a few games out there experimenting with the way they recoup the costs of their servers and development. The long established method is a monthly subscription cost (usually about $15.00) though games like Guild Wars have opted for simple point-of-purchase profits rather than monthly dues.

To recoup the losses from this decision, NC soft has relased the game as episodes (although the game has seen one official expansion), each one carrying a 30.00 price tag. While attractive to the penny pinching gamer such as myself, this method of payment leaves the developers with less revenue to create new content with. As a consequence, the game feels sparse and barren too often.

SOE's latest offering, Free Realms offers a multi-faceted marketing campaign and in-game microtransacions to it's players. The game is free to download and play and instead focuses on charging real world money for in game items. Free Realms also uses a card game that exists both in and out of the game to generate revenue. While Free Realms has seen great success, many players feel its microtransactions could potentially nickel and dime them to the point of quitting the game.

More than the problem of pricing schemes, new MO's face the issue of establishing themselves in the face of long standing games like WOW. The fight for subscribers has led many to shut down their servers barely before the left the gate. With games like WOW existing as more than just games but a cultural phenomenons, people looking to expand into MMO's are far more likely to settle into the more well known games than a newer title, and those already playing MMO's often have invested so much time and energy into their characters that starting from scratch with a new game is less enticing than nightmarish.

Most of all though, I fear that every MMO, no matter how the developers price the game or how much of the market it carves out for itself, is doomed to become passe. WOW can issue as many updates as they can, develop as many expansions as they can afford but the players will at some point grow bored of the game. When that day comes, Blizzard faces a difficult choice. They can either shut down the servers or try to redesign the game. Anyone who played Star Wars Galaxies knows the horror the latter can cause.

A complete redesign, like the Combat Upgrade and NGE from Galaxies can ruin the game for many players by changing their character's stats, breaking the game's complexity down,changing the way the game is played, etc. Every successful MMO will come to these crossroads eventually. With luck, most won't make the same mistake that Galaxies did.

All this is of course a long ways off. We all need to understand that the games industry work fundamentally on "fadism." Developers will always develop games for money and like any smart business person they'll aim for the most successful market. MMO's may one day die out for a time, just like the adventure genre before it. It will re-emerge eventually but make no mistake, every game stops being fun at some point. All it takes is time.