Last year I made a number of predictions about the MMO market for 2013. Time to pay the piper.
Prediction 1: EA wouldn’t announce any new MMOs in 2013, not even in distribution deals
I think I got this one correct. Sure, EA released the middling-to-poor Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar in 2013, but I don’t think they announced any new MMOs in development. EA’s Mythic Entertainment didn’t fare well this year (and has just seen its two long-term MMOs handed over to a new studio) and BioWare keeps plugging away at Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWOR) which didn’t really deliver on its launch expectations.
MMOs require a lot of time in development before launch. Not announcing any MMO titles in 2013 means that EA likely has no plans to release a MMO in 2014 / 15, and probably beyond. And why would they? SWOR cost a lot and failed to deliver. Warhammer Online was a limping disappointment for a long time. The heat has gone from the MMO market and EA was burned too many times. Even just distributing a new MMO isn’t worth EA’s time.
Some may like the idea that EA have moved away from new MMO development, but the failure of this big publisher to score several times with things that looked good on paper is a warning to all other companies that MMOs are hard. Besides, everyone knows the kids are into MOBAs today anwyay.
(Let me know if I’ve missed an announcement that proves everything I said here wrong.)
Prediction 2: MMOs that have been localised / converted from Eastern markets will dominate the MMO releases of 2013 in quantity (and maybe even quality in one or two cases)
Wrong. Although some localised games (e.g. Age of Wushu, Wizardry Online) launched in 2013, a good number (like Arche Age and Black Desert Online) were held back to 2014 and beyond. Localised MMOs didn’t dominate the release schedule because they didn’t, well, release.
As I said above: MMOs take a long time to develop and release, which is a rule that apparently still goes when a MMO has already been released in a different language.
Prediction 3: The Elder Scrolls Online won’t launch in 2013
This one I got correct. Originally slated to launch in 2013, TESO is now due out later in 2014.
Prediction 4: NCsoft keeps hold of the City of Heroes / Villains IP over 2013, which means it stays closed
No buyers emerged from the woodwork to take City of Heroes / Villains from NCsoft last year, so this is correct.
Prediction 5: The number of new sandbox MMO titles launching in 2013 are going to end up stealing each others customers – at the end of the year (assuming all launch) there’s only going to be perhaps one winner / success story and a lot of empty sandpits
Not many of the sandbox titles originally promised to launch in 2013 actually did so. Given that I thought more would launch, I’m wrong for this particular prediction.
Prediction 5: Neverwinter attracts a lot of player attention and Cryptic Studios gets a reputation rehabilitation as a MMO studio who can make successful F2P casual MMOs
Neverwinter did catch a lot of attention when it launched and was generally thought to be a solid-if-maybe-too-linear F2P casual MMO. For a studio that has taken a battering about its titles, Cryptic surprised some of its critics when Neverwinter was – dare I say it? – fun straight out of the (virtual) box and didn’t make players pay to get to the good parts (even if it strongly suggested that putting in some dollars might be a nice idea).
Neverwinter isn’t a title that was for everyone, but given what happened with Champions Online and Star Trek Online at launch, this title was a step in the right direction for Cryptic. As such, I think I was correct in this prediction, but feel free to disagree.
Salute To The Fallen
I picked ten existing MMO titles that I thought would either be shut down or entering maintenance mode by December 31 2013.
How’d I go? My selections were…
- Warhammer Online: Correct. Closed December 2013.
- Fallen Earth: Still ticking along and releasing some new content. It appears that there’s some overlap between the Fallen Earth’s and APB’s development teams that might mean development of FE is spread pretty thinly. However, I lack the evidence that the prediction was right, so on this I was wrong.
- Age of Empires: It’s still active but in maintenance mode. So this was correct (admittedly the warning signs were in early in 2013 though).
- Planetside: Wrong on the timing, since it was in January 2014 that Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) announced Planetside was going free-to-play and would “not see further game development“. I was a month off!
- Guild Wars: Correct because ArenaNet announced in May 2013 that GW was going into an automated mode and was going to see minimal (if any) new development.
- Pirates of the Burning Sea: After being dropped by SOE, this title is seeing further development from a very small team. Things appear to only really have picked up from the end of 2013. Wrong, but only just, since it looked for quite a while like POTBS had died.
- Darkfall: I’m strongly tempted to make this too close to call – when one of Darkfall’s developers did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) while drunk and reveals that the game is slowly dying and studio Aventurine is finding it hard to pay its debts, things aren’t looking good. However, the prediction is wrong as it DF is still going and still releasing at least some new content.
- TERA: Wrong, as TERA still seems to be ambling along well enough after the transition to F2P.
- WarZ: Changed its name to Infestation: Survivor Stories to hide from its terrible launch. Apparently a lot of work has been put into making this game better, so I’m going to go with wrong.
- Gods and Heroes: Apparently the servers may be up (sometimes), but Steam no longer sells the game and the official website no longer works. Correct.
Overall, in my obviously biased view, I got 8 out of 15 correct, so about half right. Funnily enough, I was too optimistic about new titles getting launched but too pessimistic about some existing titles being shut down.
I think this will be my last MMO prediction post of this kind. MMOs don’t have the future they used to, which I’ll cover in an upcoming post.
OK, I’ll go ahead and disagree about Neverwinter. I’ll give you a “half-right” since it was a two-part prediction. Yes, it did get a lot of attention at launch. But I don’t think the game has improved Cryptic’s reputation at all. This is just the sense I get from a variety of Internet comments and forum posts, but people seem to think the egregious balance issues far outweigh any fun factor. Now that the blush is off the rose, I can’t imagine it’s generating a lot of revenue. It certainly isn’t generating any positive press.
Yes, I don’t think that Neverwinter will be particularly great for holding onto players, but a lot of people were surprised that Neverwinter was a big step up compared to what Cryptic delivered with ChampO and STO at launch.
There is the issue of Cryptic making casual-friendly MMOs that aren’t what certain (vocal) segments of the market are looking for. The people getting excited about Everquest Next probably aren’t the kind of people who are (openly) going to be complementary towards Cryptic.
EQ Next, eh? This is where my cynicism shines through. The level of skepticism you feel toward Kickstarter is pretty much exactly the same level I feel toward any MMO that claims it will be groundbreaking.
True, SOE has managed to work out a lot of the technical kinks in working with voxels, destructible terrain, and open-world building — and more power to anyone who considers those things revolutionary.
But looking at the roadmap and reading between the lines of promotional videos and interviews, I feel more and more like they are going to squander this opportunity to truly break the traditional MMO mold. For example, they are dead set on making Landmark a prettier Minecraft clone when they could have been so much bolder and more interesting.
Likewise, I suspect — for all their talk of horizontal progression and “not playing D&D anymore” — Next will very likely become yet another MMO where players grind their way to the perceived “endgame” as quickly as possible, huge sections of the world become ghost towns, and the player base becomes stratified according to who is capable of what tier of content.
Every announcement they make seems to chip away at the sandbox nature of the game and bring it more in line with the comfortable theme-park progression routine so many players seem fond of. They’ve replaced character levels with equipment tiers, but that doesn’t make it any less of a race (or grind) to the top. Rallying Calls already seem to me like a smaller-scale version of the expansion treadmill.
Bells and whistles like storyblocks and voxels are nice, but in the end, I don’t see the “core game” being all that different from EQ1, which is 15 years old.
I completely agree that the ‘core game’ of EQ Next will be the same as the original EQ, which is a huge problem that is at the heart of the demise of the MMO. Most genres have games that offer very similar play types (e.g. FPS, platformer, third-person action, etc.) but what those games don’t require of players is the investment of huge numbers of hours in repetitive tasks to ‘finish’ the main game. Sure, you can sink hundreds of hours into Skyrim or GTA V, but that’s the player’s choice. MMOs make that repetition a basic requirement – every MMO requires you to start from the beginning, such as it is, and face a multi-dozen hour journey into competence through killing rats. In comparison, if you’ve played FPSes for a while, you’ll have an advantage of some kind when you start a new FPS in terms of your skill level.
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