Usually at this time of the year I’d be writing up a full year review about how MMOs have been doing for the past year. Or even just reviewing my predictions and
making up forecasting new ones. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to do that now (actually, I don’t even have the time to write this post; SHHH, DON’T TELL ANYONE).
But following on from my recent “not the way with buy-to-play” article about The Secret World, I had another thought that can actually be written up in less than 1000 words. It is the absolutely largest problem facing the MMO industry and no-one has yet come up with a solution.
(Someone else probably has written this thought before, but it is new to me at the moment so I’m going to treat it as original.)
On nearly every single objective measure you can name – stability, performance, technical graphics and sound delivery, effort put into the content, etc – the MMOs released in 2011 and 20112 are better than they’ve ever been.
According to loud protest and falling player numbers, on nearly every single subjective measure, the MMOs released in 2011 and 2012 aren’t worth p(l)aying with for long.
That’s a hell of a gap to cross. It’s not about developers doing their job better, because they are (at the industry-level) delivering on their job tasks to a higher standard than ever before. Instead, it is about players no longer feeling it, no longer getting the connection that would see them pay for a subscription fee month after month for years. There are just too many free options out there that will serve a similar enough need and players are at a point where every small miss-step is a flaw worth quitting over because some other MMO they like (but may not play) has that feature or hasn’t made that mistake.
Which is why this age of MMOs is in decline. I’m sure some people will show up in the comments bearing their favourite crosses – sandbox! PvP! player housing! innovate! make EQ / DAOC, but with better graphics and all the new stuff I like! – but that’s not going to save the MMO any more than story as the fourth pillar was going to. MMOs are released that contain those features, but for a critical mass of players they aren’t done correctly so don’t count.
And MMOs need a critical mass to work. MMOs without critical mass go into maintenance mode or get shut down.
In entertainment media like video games, the subjective experience beats the objective delivery. You can point out that TSW is in pretty much every technical and content production way imaginable a better MMO than Everquest, but then someone will go on about that time in EQ when they managed to get there corpse back after a dangerous run and it was THE BEST TIME EVER and not something that TSW can match. (They probably won’t tell you or will downplay how many hours it too to re-level that character up, which isn’t something they’d stand for today.)
If you are in a situation where you are doing your job better than ever, but your customers get ever more dismissive of your output, it’s time to find another job. Because even if they are right – you might think you are doing your job better, but you really aren’t – it’s not an easy thing to turn around.