I’ve heard a few folks recently talking about the end of traditional MMORPGs, sometimes with some fairly dramatic terms used describing the death of the genre and the imminent demise of its Warcraft overlord. There’s probably quite a bit of overstatement going on there, well actually there’s no probably about it, MMORPGs are not going to die out anytime soon, but I think it would be more than fair to say that the genre has stagnated in quite a big way. The current lack of imagination (effectively game development by numbers) means that all the games coming out are still just Everquest with sprinkles on top. They might look different, be available in a range of flavours and some might even have a flake chocolate bar stuck on top, but essentially they’re all just bloody ice-cream again and again and again.
The only goal is to upgrade your equipment. Sure, you could perhaps claim it’s the achievements of beating bosses and dungeons, but if that was true then having beaten the boss once you wouldn’t repeat it over and over, after all people don’t often play through single player games more than once. Players are only repeating dungeons whilst they need upgrades from them, it’s not like these dungeons are better than single player experiences and the most fun thing ever... So like it or not, the whole point of the game is that upgrading of equipment. To do this you will collect 10 missing socks, kill 10 rats, go up levels, farm the basic dungeons, get raid ready, start raiding and then raid, raid, raid until all upgrades are done. By which time an expansion arrives to raise the equipment bar and you’ll repeat the process.
That in itself is fine, we’ve had a good time over the last 14 years of MMORPG gaming and I’m not saying that the concept of the games has been flawed or anything. It’s just that I’m now seeing many veteran gamers burning out on games far earlier than before. Once you’ve seen all the new scenery, mastered playing your choice of class and done a good chunk of the instanced dungeon experience, things start to get a bit meh a whole lot faster. Can you really be bothered to go through the hours of grinding raid content to get to the final event? A final event that is only a temporary finale anyway, since an expansion will arrive and cancel out all your past effort. And you’ve done all of this before in EQ, WoW, AoC, Aion, EQ2, RIFT, etc, etc. Better surely to move on to the next game and go through the process with new scenery and things to learn, then move on to yet another game once this one gets dull.
We used to stay loyally subbed to one MMORPG for years, but now I feel that this stagnation is nudging us more towards being game world tourists. The theme-park moniker for games like WoW, RIFT, etc has become all to true. They are turning into somewhere we go on holiday to, have a great time, but then we leave and go somewhere else. I’m expecting SWTOR and GW2 to have roughly a 3-6 month lifespan for most people, after which people will start to succumb to that nagging sensation of déjà vue. We’ve been here before… it’s all the same… disappointment kicks in and back to Warcraft (most people’s first MMO) they go. I think this is one of the major reasons so many people end up going back to the comfortable familiarity of WoW, it’s not because of some incredible difference in quality, it’s simply because people move on expecting new stuff, but the new games are not actually new. They’re just WoW reskinned, or Everquest with extra sprinkles.
So you’ve got the WoW hooked people only dipping into other games for a holiday and then returning disappointedly to WoW, or you’ve got us veteran types totally bored of WoW that just move from game to game looking for Eldorado, but ultimately we’re just stuck in a never ending coach tour of virtual worlds.
Of course when it comes to the amount of time subbed to a game there are exceptions for everyone, when a game has an IP that is special to us for example, but there are no games coming that we’ll ALL be playing long term because of the “game” itself. Folks can talk about WoW beaters all they like, but I just can’t see anything reaching and most importantly maintaining those kind of sub levels until something offers genuinely different motivations to play. Right now, no matter how people try and hype up SWTOR, GW2, etc, there is nothing on the horizon that isn’t just bloody Everquest again.
Note I’m talking about MMORPGs, not MMOs or arena games, as those are a whole other kettle of fish :D