Out with the old year, in with the new. MMO predictions for 2012

I didn’t make a great job of my predictions last year. TAGN has a super gaming roundup of 2011, covering what actually did happen.

I was right about mobile gaming becoming ever more popular although I’m not sure any specific game has rivalled Angry Birds yet for popularity, and also right about the Android market growing. I predicted something big for Zynga and sure enough they went public, although the share price hasn’t been performing well.

I predicted e-sports to grow, which I’m not really sure has happened.

I also predicted more emphasis (in the PC and Xbox world at least) on Indie games/ bundles/ etc. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the breakout indie MMO, but this year has seen some super and well received new indie games. Dungeons of Dredmore and Terraria have been two that have seen particular play round my house. Avadon the Black Fortress is the one on my backburner, as it’s on my hard drive but I’ve just not had the time yet to play it.

Any fans of roguelikes out there? Check out the results of the Ascii Dreams Roguelike of the year 2011; TOME4 heads the list with Dungeons of Dredmore close behind.

I said, of the Nintendo 3DS, “This year also marks the release of the Nintendo 3DS, the 3D version of the DS. Whilst it will sell well enough to be marked as a success, they will signally fail to persuade most users to upgrade.” And also said I didn’t think it would be a good year for handhelds. Well I should have had the courage of my convictions, the 3DS was very disappointing for Nintendo. 3d in general has failed to really sell itself to gamers.

Blizzard failed to announce Titan, and also didn’t announce an emphasis on crafting features in the next expansion, preferring to focus on Pandas and pet battles.

Sure enough, GW2, TSW, and WoD failed to launch this year. However, D3, ME3 both also did not get released in 2011. And I’m not sure Microsoft has been able to do much to clear up the Xbox live chats.

MMOs I have played most this year have been Rift with bursts of WoW and LOTRO. I did (and still do) like Rift a lot, but for me the pace of new content and sameish events was a bit overwhelming. I wound up feeling that my lifestyle just didn’t support keeping up with Rift, not because it was grindy but because new stuff kept turning up so often. I think Trion did a super job with the game and will look forwards to seeing future games from them.

And as it turns out, the game I bought and played on Steam most last year was actually Duels of the Planeswalkers, the MTG computer game. I still think this is a pretty excellent game so there 😉

Predictions for 2012

I’ll keep things tight this year. The recession/ economic climate is affecting players and their expectations more now, and although you might think this would benefit F2P games, I wonder if people are preferring to both save their money and stick to more manageable games (ie. standalone indie/ older/ games) with known good reviews. Has the F2P sheen worn off? Are there so many F2P competitors now that it’s easy for players to hop from one game to the next before they get in deep enough to be wanting to spend much money? I suspect this may be the case. Zynga’s share price implies that others wonder the same thing.

Is it that the MMO fad is over? No, SWTOR’s release proves that there are plenty of people still willing and able to plonk down their cash for a solid AAA Diku style MMO. I think this game will have better legs than the naysayers are predicting – yes some of us will have level 50 characters by the end of the first free month, but if you enjoy the basic gameplay, there’s replayability in the alts, and the game itself is just good fun which is worth a lot. I know I’m recommending it to friends who I wouldn’t normally point towards an MMO.

Better legs in this case may mean stays strong for 6 months rather than 3, it’ll be down to Bioware in the end to persuade people to stick with it. I personally would like to see better social features, but they will have to balance this up with adding more content in other areas too.

There has been a fair amount of upheaval involved this year with sub games switching to a F2P model. While a sub game can survive on retaining players, a F2P game needs to either keep raking the newbies in or focus hard on retaining the actual spenders. So expect the big name AAA F2P games to push out paid for expansions/ patches this year even if the value for money isn’t great. LOTRO will continue to expand Isengard but Turbine will find a way to release something that the max level player base will want to buy (probably extra content in some way).

Diablo 3 will release this year, and although it’ll be a solid game, it won’t be the massive excitement that fans had been hoping. I’ve seen hints of this in beta reviews – people liked it, but there was something lacking. There will however be much focus on the real money auction house, which may overwhelm the rest of the gameplay in commentary (like the game is just a basic mechanic to support the AH). Torchlight 2 will also release this year, and will actually be the better game in many ways (world design, pace) although I would put my money on Blizzard when it comes down to solid game mechanics and class design. I will play and enjoy both of them.

Mass Effect 3 will release this year, will be highly successful. It’s hard to say whether Bioware are over-expanding when they have different teams to do all of these things, however being able to release a hugely successful standalone game at the same time as running a successful MMO will be quite an accomplishment. They will also announce DA3.

Pandaria (WoW expansion) will not release before the Summer. This will be at around the 6 month mark for SWTOR and a lot of players will go back to WoW to check out the new stuff. Blizzard has a real chance to keep them if they play to their strengths. But now the poor WoW voice acting will be more in the spotlight (it’s not that players need voice acting but if it’s there, the bar has now gone up.)

The Secret World will release, to mixed reviews. I still feel that I don’t know much about this game, except that they’ve been relying on ARGs to push out word of mouth. If they stick to that type of model, it could gain a small but very dedicated hardcore following and keep them. I wish them luck.

GW2 will release towards the end of 2012. I really cannot decide how I feel this one will do – but it will depend a lot on how well the dynamic quests and PvP work with the player base, and whether they make the WAR mistake of balancing it with the assumption of constantly full servers at all levels. I’d like to see GW2 succeed.

CCP had an anno horribilis in 2011 and are now claming to have cut back development on everything except Dust and space stuff in EVE. I predict slowly falling numbers for EVE – devs have been leaving, and I suspect internal confidence at CCP is falling. They hopefully will be able to keep most of the core fanbase happy but I think the events of this year will have affected player confidence too.

Other MMOs which have been hyped for 2012 include Tera and ArcheAge (both korean MMOs, I think), and Battle for Dominus (or Dominus as it is now known) which is a more PvP/DaoC type of western MMO. I wish them all luck but I don’t see any breakout successes there. I think Dominus could do well in its niche if it can attract a solid core playerbase.

Aion is going F2P in early 2012, as is Startrek Online (I recommend STO for people who want a more involved space combat than either SWTOR or EVE) there aren’t many other games left to do so other than WAR and WoW.

The games I am currently most looking forwards to in 2012 are (aside from D3/ Torchlight 2): Journey (PS3), and Dragon’s Dogma (PS3) — based on having seen/demoed them both at conventions last year.

There have been several large browser based MMOs launched in 2011. It will be interesting to see whether this trend will continue and how devs adapt the gameplay to the general strengths of browsers. In my opinion, browser games are fantastic for strategy, but I still am not really sold on them for straight out action. Still, that’s my pick for MMO trend in 2012, more browser games.

I will also be keeping an eye out for more news of Three Rings work on a new Doctor Who MMO (they made Puzzle Pirates and Spiral Knights, and were recently bought by SEGA.)

The LoL gameplay model has been fantastically successful in 2012 (and previously), which makes me wonder if some dev (maybe Valve or even Blizzard) will announce an MMO with combat based on that mechanic. A left field prediction might even be that Popcap would be encouraged to enter the MMO field with their polished casual gameplay.

2012 will end with no major new AAA MMO being announced as in development (other than possibly the one stated above), and will be seen as the end of an era. But the success of Skyrim in 2011 may mean more companies are considering large sandbox style open world single player games … will that take us back to the start of a new RPG cycle?