Winter is breaking and spring is on the move!

A week ago Spinks wrote a thought-worthy post wondering if we’re currently in a “long dark winter of MMOs.”  In the article, she writes:

“And as Winter is coming in real life (in the UK at any rate), it feels as though MMOs are drawing into a long Winter too. SWTOR and GW2 may be the last ever AAA MMOs as we would know them, and now more than ever it seems to me that we could be remembering lessons from the past.”

Oddly enough, I feel the exact opposite.  I think we’ve been in a long “winter” season for MMOs and are currently making the transition into spring.  As a Michigander who’s intimately familiar with long winters, the imagery hit home.  Winter can be a dull affair where the world descends into whites-and-greys, where the weather is inhospitable, where the sun is seen less and less, and where depression, melancholy and boredom often sets in.

Looking at the past couple years, I think this adequately describes the MMO scene.  It’s not that we haven’t been playing MMOs (we have) or that there’s been no news or no discussion, it’s just that we’ve been more or less in a lengthy hibernation following the MMO glut  2008/09 (Warhammer Online, Wizard101, Age of Conan, Aion, Free Realms, Champions Online).  2010 was a sad affair for new titles, with piddly-to-middling MMOs such as Star Trek Online, Final Fantasy XIV and LEGO Universe sporadically making the scene and then fizzling out.

I had huge hopes that 2011 was going to be better, as I figured that many of the huge projects in the works would make their debut, but really we’ve only seen the debut of RIFT (an admitted success) and a handful of smaller, often F2P titles.  MMOs we’ve been following have been delayed, pushed back, or otherwise kept in the development cycle longer than we’d anticipated.  So there’s no wonder that some might feel like we’ve been slogging through a winter season, looking in vain for not just new MMOs but new paradigms as well.

I think this is about to change with 2012.  I think spring is almost upon us, and I’m a-tizzy with excitement.  We first have the launch of one of the most anticipated MMOs of all time, Star Wars: The Old Republic, on December 20th, which really makes this a 2012 title for all intents and purposes.  On top of that, there’s the April launches of TERA and The Secret World, Guild Wars’ beta and (hopefully) launch, WoW’s next expansion, and so on.

Those don’t tickle your fancy?  Even if you aren’t putting any stock in the big name efforts, there’s plenty of promising potentials waiting in the wings.  38 Studios’ MMO.  WildStar.  ArcheAge.  Turbine’s secret MMO.  Blizzard’s secret MMO.  Neverwinter.  PlanetSide 2.  EverQuest Next.  (Maybe) Fallout Online.  Marvel Universe.  Warhammer 40K.  World of Darkness (although, y’know, don’t hold your breath on that one now).  Dust 514.  Salem.  Wizardry Online.  Transformers Universe.  Defiance.  Otherland.  Shadowrun.

Just looking over that list of games, I’m gratified to see just how diverse they are.  Scifi and fantasy, big IPs and small ones, hardcore permadeath and carebear coddling, shooters and tactical thinkers, sandbox and themepark, sequels and original projects, console and PC.  SWTOR, GW2 and The Secret World could all go bust and I’d still have so much to be excited for it’s not even funny.

But just having new games in the making doesn’t necessarily mean that other aspects of an MMO “winter” will go away.  Perhaps there is a lot of burnout, jaded cynicism, and restless attitudes out there.  Maybe some of the most faithful have been burned too many times to want to become excited ever again.  Who knows, we may even need new lifeblood in the community — new bloggers, fansite owners, voices — that can replace those who have since retired.

With the new competition comes changes to older titles, which have to adapt to survive.  It’s no surprise that we’ve seen a heapload of F2P conversions of subscription games in the past two years, and even some of the most longest-running MMOs have reason to step up their game and try a few new tricks or face extinction.

But on the whole, I’m optimistic.  I feel like spring is about to dawn, and I’m ready to bust out the shorts and go jogging through it all.

7 thoughts on “Winter is breaking and spring is on the move!

  1. When RIFT came out, I felt exactly as if spring was coming and the ground was thawing.
    To me SWTOR and GW2 will be everything drying up after a very muddy spring.

    And LOTRO is still soaring above us in the clouds ;)

  2. When it comes to MMOs I think it’s been an endless summer since I first stepped into a virtual world in 1999. I’m fully confident the sun will be shining for the rest of my life and long, long afterwards.

    Honestly, what more do people want?

  3. bhagpuss, I don’t know about endless summer. Having begun shortly before you did (The Realm), I’ve seen the genre move itself forward with each iteration. UO improved upon the Meridian59 gameplay. EQ introduced the first/third person (instead of the isometric or top down view) with more (PvE) depth. DAoC brought the three faction PvP thing. AC tried to inject a vertical social connective structure. AO brought us instancing in the MMO space (though it had existed in MUDs for years prior technically). City of Heroes brought the sidekicking mechanism, allowing people to group regardless of level difference. WoW showed us what ‘polish’ can accomplish (without actually innovating in any way) and how polish in and of itself can arguably be considered innovating in some sense. But we haven’t seen anything really driving the genre forward. BioWare’s bringing the story based aspect to the genre but besides that, I don’t see anything really bringing any major new features to the genre. However, I cannot agree with Syp’s assertion that we’ve been in a long winter already.

    Syp, hasn’t this year (and last, if you want to be technical) brought us the acceleration of the free to play/”freemium” model to the West? That’s a major feature/development, wouldn’t you say? In previous years with the old thinking, DDO would be dead by now (canceled due to not being able to maintain a sustainable population) as would several other titles (I’m lookin’ at you, possibly taking my $300 and running, Champions Online). This year has seen the freemium model absolutely catch fire like tinder in Arizona & New Mexico and absolutely take the genre by storm. I think we’re going to see a lot more “concept MMOs” (meaning: not clones of any existing game) since the freemium model means you don’t need 100,000+ boxes sold to be successful. So it should be easier to get financing to make something new and different that may not have an example to point to for supporting numbers. At least that’s my hope.

    But the winter won’t start until the spring, I think (after TOR, GW2, TERA, and the rest release) since there really isn’t anything in the pipeline for the middle to end of 2012, is there?

  4. I agree that the Winter is ending, not beginning. We have had nothing beyond Rift come out for the past few years. Most other games were flops and disappointments. I would have kept playing Rift if only it had been set in something other than fantasy. I want some sci-fi or modern day or something other than damn swords and dragons. I’m so sick of that. Setting does matter. It’s why SWTOR excites me more than GW2, the setting.

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  7. The grass is always greener in games that haven’t yet come out because reality hasn’t yet crushed the dreams of players.

    In fact, that list of titles points to a big issue – the sheer number of MMOs out and coming out. MMOs are (traditionally) meant to be titles with a long shelf life, but here we are complaining that enough haven’t come out in the past 6 to 12 months. There just isn’t the player base to support all of these titles (unless they all are F2P, which will also hit a saturation at some point).

    This is fine from the player perspective, because we have choice and a failure doesn’t cost us much (just lots of angry blog words) but from an industry perspective it is a highly corrosive force for games to fail and studios to close.

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