As promised, this week will be a discussion on purely Massive Multiplayer Online games. When did I start playing them? What are my favorites and least favorites? The present state of MMOs and where I see them going will all be discussed today.
The very first MMO that I ever played was iRO, International Ragnarok Online. Part of the reason I started with this game was because of my friend George playing it at the time, the other reason being my computer could actually handle it. I would venture a guess that it was probably 9 years ago when I started playing. This game was a mixture of 2D and 3D graphics. It originated in Korea and that fact was very clear, with its heavy focus on killing as many monsters as possible to level. One of the great perks of the game was the heavy focus on socialization. Players would need to team up to kill MVP monsters, clear difficult areas, and the economy was completely player driven. Another standout feature was iRO’s version of PvP (Player vs. Player) which was called War of Emperium. It boils down to a castle war, but with very high stakes as the winner not only gets high level materials for items, but also access to dungeons. This game is special to me because I met so many fun people through it. Some of my best gaming memories comes from this game, along with quite a few bad ones. Eventually I felt as though I outgrew the game though, and I moved onto Galaxies.
Star Wars Galaxies is the game I am referring to. It is hands down, my favorite game of all time. So, of course, it would be my favorite MMO. Between the Star Wars backdrop, the best housing of any MMO ever, the dynamic PvP, and the amazing community, this game was a powerhouse for quite a while. It was pushing over 400k subscriptions, and this was before World of Warcraft so that was a huge number. The mixture of sandbox gameplay and full on socialization made this MMO stand out. Unfortunately, the slow content updates and “combat upgrades” killed the game. To this day, SOE is known within the gaming community as a killer of its own games; the most famous of those games are Galaxies, Everquest and Matrix Online. Although Galaxies is almost 10 years old, no game has come close to the amount of immersion available within a game. Feel like relaxing? Go to a cantina, but don’t forget to tip your dancers. Need to go somewhere off planet? Hop on a ship, but the departures are in real-time, so pick up your buffs from a doctor and duel for fun. New to a town? Be careful! There could be a city siege any minute! There was just so much going on and to top all that off the housing was player created, non-instanced, and outstanding. If all that wasn’t enough for you, head out to space. The options in this game were limitless, and the mature community made it all the better.
To me, Galaxies was the last of the Golden Age MMOs. I consider a certain period the Golden Age because it was mostly mature players. Some came directly from table-top games (D&D) others came from text-based virtual worlds (MUDs). I consider any MMO made before 2004 to be part of the Golden Age.
So you have been acclimated with my two first MMOs. Those two also happen to be favorites of mine. Where to now? My dissatisfaction. I have been playing MMOs for a very long time now, enough to know that something has to change. Why do I say before 2004 is the Golden Age? Well, because 2004 brought about the slow decline of MMOs… 2004 brought WoW. at its start, WoW was actually a solid MMO title. The developers at Blizzard took successful things from previous MMOs and combined them all. Nothing wrong with that at all. The problem would not be seen until years later. WoW’s popularity brought about an inflating MMO bubble. Subscriptions for every MMO skyrocketed, but none as big as WoW’s. This would of course bring about new players. Many of whom never played an MMO before, majority of whom never played a team video game besides shooters. The slow decent of MMOs had begun.
Gamers don’t realize how important a well-rounded community actually is whether it be in gaming or in life. When a community is positive and helps each other within it, you are able to spread this sense of positivity and happiness that is infectious. It spreads around an MMO server like wild-fire, but the same thing can happen with negativity. Before 2004, average MMO age would be around the mid 30’s. Today? If I had to guess probably very early 20’s and that is being generous. You would think that needing a credit card would stop most 10-14 year olds from playing an online game; well that didn’t happen.
Community wasn’t the only thing to blame for this downward spiral we began experiencing. Market saturation is a very dangerous thing, especially taking into account the amount of low attention span people we have within our society. If you have 4 major MMOs out you will never have a problem. Some people go to one or the other for different experiences. Once you put out over 10 games, there is a problem. You begin to see people jumping back and forth, people start to get tired of re-leveling. New MMOs start coming out faster, fatigue begins to settle in. Companies are starting to hold onto old MMOs and putting out new ones at the same time. The bubble burst. You want to know why the MMO market is down the toilet? You need to look no further than the companies themselves that put out MMOs. Companies used to be happy with 200k subscriptions. That used to be the mark of success. Greed as pushed companies into killing off their own games just to try to match WoW, and when they don’t they cut their losses, make it free to play, fire most of the staff, and set up an item shop which in some cases makes more of a profit from a shady, though acceptable practice.
Free to play used to be an option companies took when they brought in MMOs that had advertising within the actual games or they sold experience potions to level faster. At this moment, there are more F2P (Free to Play) MMOs then their counterpart. The only one doing well is WoW, and it has been hemorrhaging subscriptions for a while. Games like Age of Conan, Tera Online, Champions Online, and DC Universe are beyond shallow if held up next to games made years ago. Developers gave up on ingenuity. Forget about housing, developers consider it too expensive and a drain on their servers. Housing and proper crafting not only attract gamers who desire more than kill x monster, they help boyfriends and girlfriends introduce their non-gaming partners into the world. You know what that gets you? New subscribers! The math is out there, they just choose to go the easy path. Companies now get their money from box sales, prepare to go F2P after a year, then start making a new game. This vicious cycle has made the MMO community jaded, and many of my gaming friends are gone, refusing to pay for sub par games. I can’t blame them. I would join them but this is my outlet. My escape from real life is in my computer or in a book.
Though I want the MMO market to be fixed, with the failures of Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 (yes it is a failure) I do not know what can be done. MMOs last hope lies within Bethesda. The announcement of Elder Scrolls Online has sent chills up many gamers’ spines. However, Bioware was previously thought to walk on water and we all see how that experiment within MMOs went. The issue of irresponsible backing companies is running rampant as well. EA and Sony are exacerbating the already blatant market failures. A new company does need to step up. I wish Bethesda the best, especially being an Elder Scrolls fan. In time this can all be fixed, but the Golden Age of MMOs is long gone, and I don’t see a new one coming any time soon. I wish you all a good night, and thanks for enduring my rant.