Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ring Out The Old, Ring In... On Second Thoughts, Don't Bother!

Something changed this year. Okay, outside our firmly barred and bolted thick oak fantasy doors, a lot of things changed but the less said about most of that the better.

No, I'm referring to my own decreasing interest and desire for novelty in gaming. While various wise and respected commentators stroke their beards over the paucity of new MMORPGs in production and the supposed moribundity of the genre, I find myself surprisingly sanguine over the admittedly thin, not to say threadbare, coat the New Year's wearing.

In the last few months I have spent almost all of my leisure time playing just two MMORPGs: Guild Wars 2 and EverQuest 2. Not only are those games five and thirteen years old respectively but they are each sequels to older games- games that are both still up and running.

Guild Wars may be in mothball mode but it's still there and people still play it. I played it in preparation for Path of Flames and I ran into a few others while I was there. I even saw tickers scrolling across the screen announcing the results of PvP matches so I guess someone still cares.

EverQuest, a good few years GW's senior, is far from entering maintenance mode. As Wilhelm observed with satisfaction, the old game got yet another expansion this year. Moreover, as he says, "Somebody must be buying the $140 versions of those expansions if they keep offering them."

But then, "maintenance mode" is itself becoming both a viable business model and playstyle. Someone recently wondered whether Funcom has any MMOs that aren't in maintenance mode. It does seem the company fortunes have improved since they stopped even pretending to produce new content and began concentrating on simply polishing up and repackaging the old.

Case in  point. I'm pretty sure I was meant to know who he was. Maybe if I'd raided in the first PoP...

Square Enix restarted FFXIV after it failed and that seems to have worked well for them. But then, as a company, they seem to have only the vaguest understanding of the concept of "stopping": FFXIV's predecessor, FFXI, is famously more active in supposed maintenance than many triple-A MMOs were at the peak of their success.

It goes on. Until NCSoft discovered the mountain of money that is Mobile gaming, its biggest earner was the near-two-decade old Lineage. That corner was finally turned not by Lineage's successor, the inevitable Lineage2, itself still bringing in the dollars, but by yet another Lineage, or rather two of them - LineageM and Lineage Revolution.

If it's not sequels or revamps it's versions. Blizzard's biggest reveal of the year wasn't the next WoW expansion. It was the news that they'd thrown in the towel and started work on bringing back Vanilla. They were probably swayed not only by the continuing interest in illegal time-travel via the Emu scene but also by Jagex's joyous capering under the the money-hose that is Old School Runescape.

Two decades and counting since the beginning of the MMORPG revolution and the huge majority of all the MMORPGs ever made are still running. It's news when one closes because it's so unusual.

When Brad McQuaid, John Smedley et al cooked up EQ they were hoping it might last three years. Modern developers think bigger. And longer. GW2 was designed with a ten-year lifecycle in mind and ArenaNet have said they have no plans to make any other new games. That will change, eventually, but when it does, what do you think the new game might be called?

I have actually finished the PoP Signature questline, I just haven't had the time to post about it. It was a lot better than the Path of Fire Story, that's for sure.

Indeed, once you have a successful MMO up and running, the need to come up with new ideas becomes significantly less pressing. Production of The Elder Scrolls series has effectively gone on hiatus with the success of TESO, for example.

CCP, the one major development team that really relishes the maverick tag, marked the exception to the rule with their advertisement for people to work on "a new and highly ambitious MMO" but then they've said that before, haven't they. And did it happen? Did it heck as like!

Mostly, for developers and players alike, the launch (or Early Access or Open Beta or Give Us Some Money And We'll Describe It For You) of an MMORPG is the beginning of a brave new world of updates, expansions and occasional graphical overhauls. The ship keeps on sailing, the scenery passes by, we dock at the occasional port, the band keeps on playing and we all keep on dancing.

And I like it. It suits me. I'm happy here in the happy house.

Oh, it's partly the season, I'll admit. The season and the weather. Short days, dark nights, rain, snow, warm socks and a comfy jumper. A night in with a mug of hot something and the familiar sights and sounds of 2012  - or 2007 or 2004 even 1999 - all bigger, brighter and less trouble than I remember.

Come the spring I may be yearning again for something fresh and new. As the leaves green and the sun brightens I could be back here, pounding out a thousand words wondering where all the new worlds have gone. I'll deal with that when it happens.

For now I'm quite content. Let this year roll over into next. I'll stay where I am, which is pretty much the same place I was last year. And the year before that.

Happy New MMORPG Year and let's have another one just like it. Please and thank you.

13 comments:

  1. My prediction is MMORPGs are going to go the way of server-based survival games. That is Ark-like survival mechanics, except with MMORPG tropes: fantasy races, magic, dungeons, perhaps faction-based PvP and so on. They are already showing up on Steam in EA. Here are two:

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/529180/Dark_and_Light/

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/487120/Citadel_Forged_with_Fire/

    Servers will probably max out at say 250 people, and there will be official ones, but also private shards to be rented.

    I think once the games and the communities running servers reach a certain level of polish or capability then the old MMO hands will have no problem moving to them, I would think. The big MMO guilds will probably run servers themselves.

    Just a New Years prediction!

    - Simon

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    1. Hmm. Not sure about that. I think we'll be overwhelmed with PUBG clones just like we drowned in WoW clones, only it will happen faster because arena battle games are a lot faster to create than full-scale virtual worlds. There's certainly a Venn diagram intersection between the Survival and MMORPG genres but we've had survival games for quite a while now and I don't see much sign of them eating into the MMORPG market. D&L and CFWF have both made very little impact.

      All of my experience in MMORPGs to date suggests that the people who are attracted to play them flounder badly unless they get very clear guidance on what to do and where to do it. Quests and dungeons and raids in other words. If you dump them in the world and leave them to get on with it they barely get past the tutorial.

      An MMORPG with all the structured content AND survival mechanics as well, now that could work, and several of the games in development calling themselves MMORPGs do incorporate some survival aspects, particularly Lucimia and Pantheon. I strongly suspect that will limit their reach rather than extend it, though.

      Either way, I bet it's 2019 or 2020 before we get to play any of them to see how well-received they might be.

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  2. I'm in a similar place these days. My desire to explore new and exciting realms seems to be running a bit dry as of late. Perhaps because I already have more games I want to play than time to play them, I'd prefer to stick with familiar titles that I know I'll enjoy.

    Of course ironically I did spend much of today giving Warframe a try, but that was more out of a sense of professional obligation than any particular desire for something new, and I don't expect this flirtation to last. Frankly I'm already a bit bored with it.

    On a more meta level, MMOs don't really need constant releases the way other genres do. Single-player games are consumed quickly, so there needs to be a steady stream of those, but MMOs are about laying down roots and settling in for the long haul. You don't need regular new releases for the genre to prosper; you just need the current crop to keep chugging along.

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    1. Even single-player games are moving towards the expansion model or so I read. There was a school of thought a while back that believed every game would become an MMO of sorts and that's looking more believable every day. How many MMOs does one person need, though? I'm pretty sure I could get by quite happily with two or three good ones.

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  3. Due to payment methods you don't even need roots in MMOs anymore. You can mess around, go away, come back. It's wonderful. There isn't the same monetary or time commitment required. It gives a lot of freedom.

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    1. Yes, what with no barriers to entry and no deletion of unplayed characters/accounts both having become an industry standard, it's fair to say you never have to "quit" an MMORPG. You just take a break. It certainly works for me!

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  4. I've spent the last year playing Dark Age of Camelot, with a side of Lord of the Rings Online and the occasional dabble in DDO. I also keep meaning to get back to EQ II, STO, CO, or TSO and maybe try EVE, GW II or Wildstar (before they shutter it) one day. I'll likely never have time to play through all the old MMOs I want to see. I'm pretty ambivalent about the pace at which new ones appear, and I'm not even sure what it would take for a completely new MMO to jump to the front of my que these days.

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    1. I literally just finished writing a comment at TAGN in which I complained that no-one in the blogosphere plays or writes about DAOC! I knew your old blog, which hasn't been updated since 2012, but I had no idea you had a DAOC blog too! Adding it to the blogroll and looking forward to reading the guides.

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    2. I just started that over the holiday break. I don't know how many more posts I'll get in before work goes into full swing again, but I have at least a few more posts planned. A new player leveling guide is almost ready to go. You may be my only reader at this point :-)

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  5. This certainly works for me, I have more content than I can cope with spread across the MMOs I'm invested in. I kind of want a new game to try in 2018 just to mix things up but none of the more "indie"/kickstarter ones interest me.

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    1. Yes, I was aware all the time I was writing that if anything remotely interesting does come along I'll be all over it, if only to get some mileage out of it for the blog. The thing is, though, that a new MMO would be a bonus - it's not a necessity.

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  6. I LOVE the familiarity that knowing an mmo inside out gives me. To just switch on the pc and (slightly) switch off my mind is the best way to relax after a hard days work. DDO for instance, I only play up to level 20 or so as it's where I got to back in the day. I often create a new toon and love the leveling experience along with the raids I know.

    SWTOR on the other hand my favorite MMO is the opposite. I cant stand early levelling and cant wait to hit 50-70 to chill and play all the endgame content. Throw in a healthy dose of EQ II, which I play like DDO. Then throw in an unhealthy dose of SWG EMU, which I only play when I'm drunk and I have all I need.

    So I don't need a new MMO and I haven't checked for years if any are on the horizon. The status quo will stay on my pc for a few years to come hopefully and for that I'm very happy.

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    1. I think the most comfortable and comforting of all comfort gaming for me is leveling up a new character in a very familiar MMO. Particularly the first few levels. I've been thinking a lot about playing EQ1 again but even though I'm way off the current cap at 94 on my highest character, even that is way too much like hard work so I'll probably just run around the Karanas at level fifteen or so killing Aviaks and gnolls. That literally never gets old.

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