Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MMOs are a dying genre!!! ...or maybe not

Using the power of Google Insights, Tobold recently asserted that interest in massively multplayer online roleplaying games is declining. Looking at the most recent google insights results, interest in "mmmorpg" is down almost 40% from the peak in 2009. You get similar results from mmo. This isn't total voodoo, this tool does a very good job of reproducing trends we pretty much all agree are real. For example the peaks and declines in interest in Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. That is about how the populations went, as far as I can recall.

All that said, I found myself wondering whether "mmo" and "mmorpg" are really the best search terms to use. Those are pretty generic after all. What happens if we get a little more specific? Check out "ftp mmo" and "ftp mmorpg". They are both in the middle of historical peaks of interest, at least judged by google searches. Compare to the results for "subscription mmorpg." Pretty clear difference in the trends. That also seems to accurately reflect where the market is going. A lot of commentators have posited that SWTOR is going to be the last really big budget sub based MMO that we will see, and I tend to agree. Even now, the diversity and quality of FtP MMOs is such that being asked to buy a box and agree to a sub plan just to try a game out seems a bit daft. SWToR is more than likely the last game I'll be willing to do that for.

Talking to a friend of mine about this last night while hunting boars in LoTRO (yes, it was boars..of course it was boars), he posited that maybe everyone already knows what an MMO is by now and so fewer people are Googling "mmo" and "mmorpg." Relatively few people need help figuring out what MMOs are, they need help picking out one to try. The results for "best mmo" back him up. The number of searches has been steadily increasing, and is projected to continue to do so for at least the next few years.

A certain subset of bloggers do indeed seem to be losing interest in modern MMOs. However, I've seen no evidence that the overall mmo market is in decline. One game, WoW, losing 20% of their subs (and still being played by millions) does not mean that MMOs are a declining genre. The games I play regularly seem to be chugging along just fine, despite the proclamations of doom that have hounded them since launch. Further, I personally will be astounded if SWTOR isn't a hit, regardless of whether it's innovative enough to satisfy the jaded veterans of the blogosphere. If quest based "theme park" MMOs and cash shops are abhorrent to you, the genre has left you behind. As for me and John Q., we're doing just fine.


  1. I think it's about the games. This isn't a fantastically exciting time for the genre in terms of what's actually available right now.

    Tons of good stuff coming soon but what have we had this year? Just Rift?

    That's incredibly quiet by MMO standards.

  2. The genre may not be dead, but I do think the the Golden Age of the MMO is over. Hopefully there will still be MMOs from here to the end of time. But as soon as social games stole the spotlight, MMOs became the niche that every other store of hobby eventually falls into. That's the natural life cycle.

  3. @Stabs: I will grant you it's been a slow year for MMOs. Rift was solid but grew stale for me quickly. Rise of Isenguard is also a solid expansion, but that leaves something like a six month stretch of the year where there was nothing new I got very excited about.

    @Anjin: I think the golden age of sub based big budget MMOs is certainly coming to a close. However I feel that the FtP market is still picking up steam. I also think there's a lot of room for small studios to expand into niche markets that are currently underserved. For example, where is the modern sandbox MMO with consensual PvP?

  4. It seems to me that there are a lot of variables here. The economic downturn may be a factor.

    Ignoring that, as people learn what "mmorpg" means and try to find what "best mmorpg" means, I suspect that it's only a matter of time before they realize that paradigm behind mmos hasn't changed that much in a while.

    This could all change with "the next big thing". With better technology comes opportunity for newer features and/or a more ambitious combination of previously seen features.

    Speaking as a Software Engineer, I question whether the current art of Software Engineering is up to the challenge of developing more complicated mmos.

    Even if it is, are there any financiers out there willing to tie up investment capital long enough to turn something "bigger and better" out?

  5. sacrifice some chicken and do my voodoo then is MMO GAME OVER. the genre is just regrettable. we all know it must come to an end.

    f2p, p2p, pvp, pve...whatever, is all shit you don't need to know.

  6. @Jomar: Good points. I think if we do see any major innovations in the near future, it's going to be in some obscure MMO no-one has ever heard of. No one is crazy enough to put a really big budget behind something that includes a lot of untested design elements. Well, maybe whoevere is funding GW II :-)

  7. I agree with your friend, in that we have to factor why someone would be googling the terms mmo or mmorpg in the first place. I'm with him that more people know what an mmo/mmorpg is now, those who google the genre will probably instead of googling the actual titles of games.

    I don't really think we're losing interest in MMOs, I think we're just...distracted. As the genre became more popular, new games were being made and I think we all got conditioned to desire the next big thing. We're getting bored with what we have and are looking forward to what's coming out instead of enjoying what's in front of us. And then the cycle will probably repeat.

  8. @Mmogamerchick: That made me think of one of Yoda's more famous quotes from Ep V :-)

    "All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was."

    I have to admit, I'm guilty as well. Little of what we've gotten so far this year is as exciting to me as games that are on the horizon

  9. Maybe part of the problem was that the genre was inundated with bad MMO's that were trying to capitalize on WoW's success. Gamers are just getting picky with which game or games they are willing to invest in these days.

    I may be way off on that, but it sounded good.

  10. @Jaydub: I've been happy with a lot of new MMOs since WOW launched personally. However, I have to admit we experienced a pretty long dry spell of good new offerings for a while. Some that stumbled out of the gate like STO and AoC drastically improved later. Some like WAR never seemed to find their footing.