The Shape of Things to Come

This week, two main news stories made their way out of EA. The first one is that they bought Playfish, the social/ facebook gaming developer, for a eye-bleeding $300 million plus change.

And the second is that EA laid off a lot of staff, including 40% of Mythic, developers of Warhammer Online. I think it’s fair to say that WAR’s days are numbered, and there’s not going to be any magical expansion on the way to introduce a third realm and save the game.

This is not a post of doom though, the MMO genre isn’t dead. And no big game publisher can really ignore the massive success that social games have seen for the low cost to make. But MMOs have been going through a process of experimentation and refinement over the last few years. A lot of big budget games haven’t been as successful as they might have been expected to be on paper.

2010 may see the last gasp of the AAA big budget MMOs. It’s going to be a fantastic year for MMO gamers. It will see Star Trek Online, Final Fantasy whatever (14?), Guild Wars 2, Jumpgate Evolution, Cataclysm (I don’t really count this as a new game but it’ll be big) and SWTOR.

CCP still have to announce what they’re doing with Vampire even though it’s an open secret that they are working on a Vampire MMO. Blizzard haven’t yet announced their next MMO although they’re known to be working on it. But I doubt anyone else will start working on any new MMOs with that sort of budget and scope any time soon. It’s time now to wait, and see, and find out what players actually want.

As to where social gaming is going, Mashable makes 5 predictions here — of all of those, the one I have most confidence in is that EA will find new ways to monetize.

2010 is going to be an amazing year for MMO gaming, but will it just be the beginning of the end?

7 thoughts on “The Shape of Things to Come

  1. Pisa casts long shadows…
    The old principle of “The customer gets, what he (demands and) pays for”, turned into something like “If we feed them long enough with shit, they’ll ask (and pay) for it.” (as seen on TV).

  2. Don’t think so.

    I don’t really think Facebook games compete for the same audience as MMO games. I’m not saying there’s no overlap but if you drew a Venn diagram of the people who play MMOs and the people who play Facebook games as their main game the intersection would be small.

    And remember there’s a lot of unrealised potential for MMOs to expand if developers get better at putting them on consoles.

    Plus the trend towards item shops will increase spend per player overall so triple A MMOs that are successful (unlike Warhammer) will make even more money than now.

  3. SOE has confirmed that they are working on another EQ game, though not what it is, or whether it’s an MMO. Turbine’s got some cash from Warner Brothers to do something, which some people are speculating (with no real foundation) may be a Harry Potter MMO. There’s probably something else on the horizon, though I’ll concede that not all of these games may actually launch.

    On a broader scale, though, is it really that bad if people stop making games that are too big to succeed? Apparently 90% of games don’t have the development budget to delay release until the game is up to market standards, so maybe they should start aiming for something they can actually accomplish.

  4. When you said “beginning of the end” it got me thinking. Maybe what we know of today as an “MMO” is a brief growth spurt in the history of gaming, and its lasting legacy will be a new genre of social game (and I’m not talking facebook farmville or whatever, I’m talking something new and AAAA-level). A decade from now, maybe MMOs like WoW will seem as quaint as MUDs do nowadays, since you could almost say those were MMOs without the technology to quite be MMOs.

    What I think we’ll have is something with more game, and less grind, but a massively broad scope and appeal for casual activities to hardcore within the same world. But the game itself will be more fun, and the social wheels will be greased harder. Instead of building game systems, then plugging in a bare-boned guild interface and chat, the entire game will be shaped around social psychology, with a variety of fun and good-looking – and linked – games tacked on to a groundbreaking social engine. I think that’s where the future of MMOs is going to be. It seems almost impossible to achieve, but I’m imagining this “game” more as a platform that games can be plugged into, and EVERYONE has an account, just like “everyone” is on IM or has an email account.

    But maybe I’m dreaming. Anyway, I think it’s a cool idea that I should write about as soon as I have some blogging time again.

    • I’ll look forwards to seeing what you have to say, and I agree with you, I think we’re seeing some genre evolution going on.

      I really think that social games prove that people in general are fascinated by huge simulation games where they can interact with other people, and MMOs are not necessarily totally unconnected with that type of game. So we may eventually see some kind of interconnection — the huge virtual world of an MMO, and the mass interactions, simulation, social play, and casual access of a social game. Whatever it is, designers who cut their teeth playing EQ and WoW will be making it.

      The other thing I think we’re seeing is that /gaming/ and interaction are the social metaphor for our whole generation in a way that previously people tended to mostly watch TV, see films, and have information handed to them. We now expect to interact and to play. And that’s quite a big cultural shift.

  5. Pingback: A Brighter MMO Future

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