The places I frequent for my online reading material (the soon-to-be-launched Massively Overpowered and the fabulously talented and likely incredibly handsome or beautiful writers of the blogs I follow) all appear to have something of a rolling theme going for them: the fact that the MMO genre is on the bubble or is in danger of some imminent collapse or things are about to explode in some righteous fireball summoned by Peter Molyneux for his crappy interview that was written by the idiots at RPS.
I swear to God I’ve written this before. As a matter of fact, I know I have. This blog has been not only an exercise in my own attempts at writing but a place to accentuate the positive. That can be trying in times where there’s news of Sony Onli–I mean Daybreak laying off high profile names and a turf war between NCSoft and Nexon that is about as silly as the turf war in West Side Story, though significantly more dangerous than a choreographed dance fight. Worry is a natural reaction in a world like this, especially when there have been numerous games that have launched from a cannon and bellyflopped on to the sand instead of the lake they were aimed at.
I get it…but I also think a lot of folks who are carrying this worry are forgetting a few key pieces with regards to MMO design.
The first point I’d like to make is that MMO games are a marathon and not a sprint. Of course, the need for ROI is vital, and a strong launch makes investors of any sort happy. But I also don’t think a lot of people who are investing starting capital in these sorts of things are that dense to believe that these games will return all of their money immediately. Granted, it requires money to keep things going and to design new stuff, but the fact that new stuff can be designed is what’s being missed. If a game launches and doesn’t do amazingly from the starting gun, the game can still be adjusted in response to what’s happening. Even the business model can change completely.
These games have metrics that are scrutinized and I gotta believe that MMO developers aren’t blind to this data. Even WildStar, as freefall-y as its launch has been, is turning itself around and away from the launch nonsense and developing around what people playing are actually playing. They might be under the gun considering their overlords and that company’s history, but not even NCSoft is that dense to think that MMOs will be a fountain of cash from the very word go. As long as there’s some level of profitability to help the cash flow of an entire line of products…or if they’re falling short of the mark, ample time to allow the developers to readjust.
And these games can be readjusted.
The second point is that the audience for these games is larger than ever. Sure, there are a LOT more choices out there, but that’s in response to an ever-growing market and a populace that’s more interconnected than before. When WoW came out, it blew apart because it was, for all intents and purposes, the only game around (EverQuest notwithstanding). There’s now even more people playing more games online than ever before, and developers are rising to meet a variety of styles, tastes and demands.
The market might be getting rather saturated, sure…but then the very nature of competition means that the wheat and the chaff will be separated on its own. Whether that’s the smaller MMOs being released from Korea or the larger titles, these things can sort themselves out after being given ample time to recover. If a title doesn’t recover even after a publisher has allowed time to adapt, then that game has very likely have brought it on itself.
Thirdly, the amount of games being issued from Kickstarter and indie firms is more of a delight in my view than a worry. Sure, we can have another Stomping Land event. We could have LOTS of those…but where larger publishers get gunshy, smaller indie groups or larger names who want to have another swing have an avenue to make MMOs that not only could be successful, but could push the genre in the ways it needs to be pushed. This scene isn’t something to be scared of, it’s a scene that needs to be embraced as an alternate form of creation funding.
That’s the rub there–alternate form. Not the Ultimate Answer to All. This should be approached with the same level of healthy skepticism and caution as any game being designed by a “AAA developer” or a large corporate publisher. These are people who have huge, fascinating ideas that are asking for money for a dream. You need to be cautious, but you shouldn’t be outright scared. You never know what amazing surprises can come out of these sort of things.
The genre is a malleable, wobbly, weird and amazing thing. It fluxes and falls and rises and adapts like a freaky, microscopic organism. But putting MMOs next to movies and saying “THIS IS THE HORROR THAT COULD HAPPEN” ignores the fact that MMOs are organisms. They can be adjusted, they can be focused, they can live and die and come back again. Movies can’t do that, even if they’re given reboots.
Worry comes out of deep love. I understand. Truly. But if you love something then you let it live its life out and watch it do things. You support the ideas you appreciate and ignore the ones you don’t. You look at the long-term and don’t focus on the terrifying stumbling first steps.
MMO gamers should be delighted and fascinated. Not scared. A meager dose of worry, a larger dose of critical edge, and healthy heaps of eagerness should be the mindset for this genre.