In the late 90s early 2000s MMOs had proven to be a game for hardcores. It offered an infinite number of activity options to players who were sick of an entirely single player experience. MMOs had taken hold of a demand that no one was fulfilling, multiplayer.
MMOs attracted the most hardcore of the hardcore. These were people with broadband when everyone else had dialup. These people had Pentium 2s when few people even owned a Pentium 1. These people could spend 16 hours a day playing games and have no worries about life.
Today we don’t look at hardcore as being that hardcore. But back then, that’s what hardcore meant.
MMOs attracted a lot of people, but they also pushed people away. This “hardcore” life style was not for everyone… and indeed not for most of anyone. As it turned out the MMO format actually scared a lot of people away. When thinking about playing an MMO people thought about a time investment. This caused people to flock to single player games that offered multiplayer.
In the initial transition of the MMO genre the hardcores were in denial. I know this, because I was one of them.
I can even remember when the big transition happened.
The year was 2009. All was well in the universe. Wrath of the Lich King was in full swing. Warhammer Online was losing subs left and right.
But something was wrong.
An evil was lurking on the horizon.
An MMO so different that people would deny it was even an MMO. It was called…. Farmville.
Farmville was an MMO designed entirely around… building a farm.. The word MMO was so stigmatized at the time that they wouldn’t even refer to it as an MMO.
Instead they referred to themselves as a “social game.” I can pretty much say with certainty that with the massive success of Zynga’s Farmville transformed a viral app into a paradigm.
Farmville to this day is not only the most popular MMO in the world but also the most popular game in the world.
The success of Farmville saw the mass re-branding and re-appropriating of the MMO genre into a social game.
Prius Online had some weird branding calling itself an “Emotional MMO.” This may have been a very terrible translation error in an attempt to call it a social MMO. Lucent Hearts however was specifically released as a “social” MMO.
Since the success of Farmville mainstream MMOs have attempted to integrate being social more and more. Blizzard setup a massive Battle.net social network allowing you to communicate with friends cross-server and cross-Blizzard game.
Rift took a giant leap by letting people access their Facebook and Twitter from the game.
Star Wars: The Old Republic created a leveling stat called “Social” entirely designed to get people to play together.
After all the years of MMOs the developers finally realized the reason why their games were so successful was because it gave friends a game to play together… not to give people an epic feeling.
But alas, another trend is forming.
The adoption of the “social game” aspect of the MMO was a powerful trend because it emphasized a new strength. The old strength of MMOs was simply multiplayer. But then everyone got multiplayer.
Now every game is getting a social aspect to it. It is becoming almost standard to include the ability to make a social network when playing a game. Wargame: European Escalation even has a clans system. Anno 2070 is linked into a UPlay social network. Last night I was playing the Anno 2070 event and a person invited me to play with them that I had never talked to before.
Yes single player games are once again taking popular aspects from MMOs and putting them into their games.
So where do MMOs go next? If the genre is to survive it will have to do something that no one else is doing.
Right now MMORPGs are just RPGs with worse graphics, worse stories, worse combat systems, worse leveling, and worse stats systems.
Right now MMOFPSs are just bad FPS games with no sense of balance.
Right now MMORTS is just the longest and most boring RTS game ever made.
No matter what it is doing right now MMOs are doing it worse.
MMOs are massively out sold by single player games and only really survive when the developer is willing to give it up for free.
So where will MMOs go next?
Maybe the morgue?