Normally I avoid talking about YouTubers and streamers. Today’s video centric video game commentary scene is much like blogging was 20 years ago. It’s a good fit for today’s short attention span gamers and it works perfectly in today’s smartphone enabled world. In fact, the content of video game commentary echoes modern video games which are full of frenetic visuals, and pyrotechnics.
Technology changes and people’s tastes change. Fair enough.
Many YouTubers are are bombastic, shallow, and self-serving but a few of them are worth watching: TheLazyPeon, ForceGaming, and of course the insightful and always entertaining Asmongold the virtual Pied Piper of Azeroth.
One video in particular has caught my attention. It’s “The Absolute State of the MMORPG Genre” by TheLazyPeon. It’s worth a watch and it rekindled a spark of concern in me for the genre that inspired this article:
As someone who’s been heavily immersed in the MMORPG world for 22 years, the state of the genre occasionally weighs heavily on my mind. I admit, it’s hard to see something you spent a lot of your life participating in, believing in and pondering, just fall by the wayside in a smoking heap of ruin.
There is such little fanfare and excitement for MMORPGs these days that YouTubers like TheLazyPeon have decided to start cover other genres like survival games. I doubt he’s the only one.
MMORPGs have a bad name now. Potential investors run like a healthy man runs from a plague when they see that term.
After the release and subsequent massive success of World of Warcraft in the mid-2000s, the fantasy MMORPG genre was set to explode. Everyone thought the sky was the limit and that the future would hold great promise.
The problem is that none of these predictions ever happened. The genre stifled leaving pundits and player scratching their heads asking:
“What the hell happened?!?”
Various theories have been postulated over the years. The best ones laid the blame squarely at the feet of Blizzard Entertainment:
Virtual world guru Raph Koster offered an explanation that Blizzard killed the genre because WoW perfected the MMO.
Industry veteran and Crowfall executive Gordon Walton lamented that WoW sucked all the oxygen out of the room and investors eager to replicate WoW’s success wanted to emulate it and, in the process stopped experimentation which left no room for other MMOs with new ideas to compete with it.
Richard Bartle once predicted they would devolve because of their need to offset the loss of players by churn and have to attract new players by resorting to dumbing down content.
All of them are partly right. I also think that Sony Online Entertainment under the leadership of John Smedley who is now working on New Word MMORPG and doing penance at Amazon Games, also bears much responsibility for failing to keep the genre healthy. Even after Blizzard left a legacy of important lessons for developers, Smedley kept doing things his way and pissed away untold millions of dollars over almost two decades on a series of missteps and failures. To this day, there is no new version and viable version of EverQuest. That is squarely on you John Smedley.
MMORPGs are not like indie games that can be made for a couple of hundred thousand dollars or less — they take many millions of dollars to complete. As a result, the barriers to entry are ridiculously high and that ensures that fresh ideas, new perspectives, and innovation will almost never happen. The MMORPG genre is an exclusive geriatric gentlemen’s club that rarely allows new members in.
Just imagine if there were only a handful of directors that were allowed to make films in the world. That would in effect kill the industry. Competition would be non-existent. Innovation would not exist and the films would be predictable and awful. This is the wretched state of the MMORPG industry.
Companies like Blizzard and SOE, should have used their massive resources to give back to the community and by creating a framework like Unity or Unreal that would enable non-coders to use their tools and systems to create new virtual worlds. They did no such thing and instead greedily hoarded their tools and technology for themselves and killed the genre in the process.
SOE and Daybreak Games has failed to even keep their flagship MMORPG current by refusing to keep EverQuest up to date and fresh with new playable character models. Instead players are forced to play with the awkward, garish, and amateurish character models foisted on them when The Shadows of Luclin expansion was released in 2001. How those ugly as sin character models got past EverQuest’s art director at the time Scott McDaniel, will be a mystery for the ages. How docile players still willingly put up with these stiff monstrosities is a badge of shame that EverQuest players have inexplicably been wearing all these years.
The MMO genre is dying because of a lack of imagination and chronic neglect by those in power. It is also dying because of the insatiable greed Activision shareholders and Bobby Kotick imposed on WoW after executives like Morhaime and others cashed out, took the money and ran. By doing this, they fed their MMO to the dogs of Wall Street. The venerable WOW got dumber and dumber in an effort to appeal to a wider demographic and in the process lost its soul and essentially became a glorified single-player game.
Even the first two MMORPG player celebrities Alex “Furor” Afrasiabi and Jeff “Tigole” Kaplan have faded into the mists of time and no longer have anything to do with fantasy virtual worlds. They too have voted with their feet and walked away from a dying genre.
Someday I may do an in-depth article entitled: The Men that Killed MMORPGs. You know who you are.
To be fair, players must shoulder some of the blame as well. For some reason, players got too comfortable with the genre and stopped asking questions, stopped caring, and became like brain addled addicts in a Victorian opium den. Nobody wastes their time writing about MMOs anymore, except for a few curmudgeonly masochists like myself. We all stopped demanding better from video game studios. Too many players become fanboys and tried to silence dissent.
I wish I had some good news. But maybe the MMORPG genre was never meant to last that long or amount to anything. Maybe it’s just another flash in the pan gaming fad that came and went. Civilizations rise and fall, perhaps video game trends are the much the same.
What are your thoughts on Pantheon? I know you wrote a piece on it, a while back. But I’m wondering if your views have evolved at all.
I recently stumbled upon another great YouTube channel called “Worth a Buy”. Coincidentally it was through watching a LazyPeon video and seeing it in the related videos. The guy’s name is Mack and does good, honest game reviews and seems like a curmudgeonly masochist, much like yourself 😉
I fondly remember the days when I was fantasizing and daydreaming how to make virtual worlds even better.
It seems if there will be any major MMOs in the next time, they will be rather from Asia and there first and foremost Korea, the company that made Black Desert e.g. is swimming in money and expanding. The problem for me is that their games don’t quite work for me, particularly the visual style of the characters and the lore/story.
I tried New World recently. They didn’t want to go full pvp and while I am not a pvper, I wonder if their major design shift back to PvE will result in anything but another quite standard MMO adding to the huge graveyard of quite standard fare MMOs with one-two special features that got released and failed for many years by now.
The audience has changed as well, and we are in the middle of a culture war that negatively influences all gaming studios and genres. Movies and literature are affected as well. The only major trends coming out of gaming lately were streaming, more social media and influencer stuff. They replaced the blogs of old.
I am afraid I am jaded on top of a general decline in design and quality. I couldn’t even like the recently released Valheim that is highly praised. I can’t help, but nowadays we are forever in Early Access. Which means Alpha-Beta state ad infinitum in too many cases.