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?