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CAN there be another MMO success?

While Syncaine laments that the MMO genre hasn’t gone anywhere in 12 years, I was left pondering a different question: can the MMO genre go anywhere? Can there be another breakout success?

I would suggest the question is less straightforward than it might seem, for a few reasons.

The first reason is due to the nature of the genre itself. Even if you are a super-fan of Half-Life 2 and believe it to be the best game ever invented… you still likely bought and paid for other FPS titles in the past 12 years. The same is not necessarily true of MMOs. I’d wager that most people that stick with the MMO genre long-term generally find one game and settle in. And why wouldn’t you? Someone would move on from Half-Life 2 because eventually you would run out of content to explore. That is much less likely in MMOs, because they are updated regularly, expansions are released, other players generate content, and so on.

The above generates the curious (and fairly unique) phenomenon that a lot of MMO players – possibly even a majority – are still actually playing the most influential MMOs (Ultima Online 1997; EverQuest 1999; EVE Online 2003; Second Life 2003; World of Warcraft 2004). If the market for FPS titles is 40 million people, each new FPS has 40 million potential customers. Meanwhile, the market for MMOs is X – Y, where Y is the number of people currently satisfied with their present virtual home.

The second issue is one of definitions. While it might not seem so at first, “MMO” as traditionally defined is rather restrictive. For example, most people would suggest that Crowfall is a MMO, despite its “persistent” worlds having an expiration date. That sounds more like a long-lasting lobby to me. But why is Crowfall an MMO and Destiny not? Or PlanetSide 2, which is arguably more persistent than either? A game like Fallout 3 can be said to move both the FPS and RPG genres forward in specific ways, but MMO-ish games often fall outside the standard MMO purview, thus limiting potential genre-changing titles. In other words, experimental MMOs can innovate themselves right out of the genre.

Third, a given game can only really be considered influential if it, or its derivatives, are a success. Consider the glaring omission from the Top 50 list: Star Wars Galaxies. I would have thought that with the amount of name-drops SWG receives in just about every MMO dev design sheet, it would be a shoo-in contender for sure. But if you think about it, not only has SWG shut down, but I don’t even know if any other game claiming its mantle has survived or even been released yet. Anyone know of any? Regardless, this means a given game must both shake up the genre and be successful in a general sense to count – just the first is not enough. Which leads me to the next point.

Fourth, not to be alarmist or anything, but… I’m pretty sure the MMO genre as we know it has peaked. As recently as 3-4 years ago, over half the MMO market was just WoW, and WoW has lost half of said playerbase since then, and is still top dog by a factor of 3-4, minimum. Where did all the bodies go? Not to other MMOs, for sure.

This leads me to the question in the title: CAN there by another MMO success? FF14 has come the closest, but is there anyone out there that seriously believes we will see a second WoW-like coming ever again? I personally doubt it. There was always an element of “right time, right place” to WoW’s meteoric rise, and not only has that time passed, but there is pressure coming in from other genres co-opting the traditional MMO strengths, in the same way we see “RPG elements” everywhere today.

So, basically, I do not see that list of late 90s/early 00s-only influential titles as a deficiency of development testicular fortitude, but rather a simple systemic and semantic issue. Other genres can take greater risks because they need only make one sale, not twelve per year in a F2P environment, while also maintaining a healthy population. Even if smaller MMOs were released and did innovate, chances are they remain too small to be “Massive” or just shut down after a few years and thus no longer be influential.

It is lose-lose-lose for everyone, but there it is.

Cheesing Alts

Guild wars 2 is remarkably unfriendly to guilds. The fundamental component of such a collaboration, in my opinion, is the guild bank… something that is sequestered behind a 2500 Influence timewall. After a week and a half, my small guild of WoW expats have just gotten halfway there.

But I get it, I get it. Can’t expect ArenaNet to sell $7.50 bank extensions if just anyone could create a guild and get 50-slots “for free,” small guilds be damned.

The good news for smaller guilds is that you can cheese the Influence system a bit with alts. A guild generally gets 10 Influence for each member that logs in each day. Each of your alts counts as a unique member. Ergo, if you log onto all five characters every day, your guild should get 50 Influence points during the “Attendance Checks.” You do not even have to do anything on that alt; just log on, and then go back to the character selection screen. Done.¹

Now, 50 Influence might not seem like a lot, especially in terms of guild groups rolling through Events – but that is 50 quick Influence points per account per day. Get five friends doing that everyday for 10 days and you got your bank. If you want your own personal guild bank extension, that is a mere 50 days of solo log-ins.

By the way, know what else is counted on a per-character basis? Resource nodes and chests.

Why log-in on unused alt accounts in the middle of a city when you could do so standing next to a Rich Copper Node (etc)? Personally, I have two level 12 alts parked in the Shamans’ Rookery area I talked about last time, such that when I give my guild its daily 10 Influence, I snag 2 silver worth of Copper Ore and then spend 2-3 minutes snagging a Splendid Chest to boot. And then I do it again.

If I was really feeling cheeky, I could go outside and farm the Potato… farm just south of there, snagging the normal chest along the way. Since this is the Norn starting area, chances are good you will get pushed into the Overflow server, which has its own version of resource nodes too. From my testing, it looks like ArenaNet closed the loophole that would allow you to gather from both the normal and Overflow farms. However, these farms are also character-specific, which means any alts parked nearby can loot it individually.

¹ It is entirely possible ArenaNet fixed this. I tried testing today, and it did not appear multiple log-ins caused the counter to increase immediately, like it did previously. Still, I have have a screenshot of our six-person guild’s Influence History tab which shows “7 members logged on for 70 Influence.” I’ll try and do additional testing in the next few days. The resource node/chest thing is 100% legit though.