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.