Rumors of online death have been greatly exaggerated

You know what’s more fun than jumping onto the bandwagon of “Game X is dying?”  Just outright proclaiming that the entire MMO genre is dying.  People love brash, brazen statements with no facts to back them up, especially if it’s said to an audience of cynics.

You know what’s a fact?  The MMO industry is more than just 38 Studios.  It’s more than just BioWare (and let’s not ignore that BioWare is actually doing very, very well for itself in terms of subscriptions and revenues).  Maybe back in 2001, you could count the number of 3D MMOs in existence and studios handling them, but we’re so far past that it’s crazy.

Pictured: A dying genre

MMORPGs are not a fad.  They have not peaked.  They are an extension of a long-running form of entertainment (RPGs, wargaming, and storytelling) coupled with the technology that allows people across the world to interact and play together.  The train’s left the station in regards to stopping the growth of this genre.  We hear of new MMOs being announced weekly.  While some never make it to launch, the ones that do have pretty good odds of operating for multiple years at a minimum (check out my MMO Timeline chart to see just how many launched MMOs are still chugging along, making money, and entertaining players).  The industry as a whole is growing: More games are being made, more players are engaging in MMOs, and more money is being made as business models are tweaked and iterated.

I find it absolutely ridiculous when people start proclaiming the end of MMOs as if it’s a foregone conclusion that isn’t somehow based in delusional fantasy.  My best guess is that when someone starts tromping down this road, it’s either an emotional response to a recent major event or an extension of how you naturally want to badmouth something you used to like but not longer do, and you figure that if you feel this way, everyone else does too.

Things change.  The MMO industry won’t remain static.  Some games will grow bigger, some smaller.  New ideas will be rolled out. Studios will continue to learn from each other and discover better ways to build these games.  I think we will probably see more financially prudent ventures, but then again, did the movie industry ever stop making blockbusters because of Ishtar and Waterworld?

It’s hard to imagine anyone having predicted just how the industry would have developed these past 15 years, and I think it’s quite impossible to predict what’s going to occur for the next decade or so.  There will be surprises and things we never saw coming, there will be disappointments and epic flops, and people will still be gaming and enjoying these types of games long after us crusty bloggers have retired.

So if you’re feeling down on the industry or wondering if this is all a flimsy house of cards that’s about to collapse with no promising prospects in sight, just remember: there’s a lot in the works right now.  38 Studios wasn’t the Maginot Line that was crossed and caused the downfall of all we know and love.

Phantasy Star Online 2.  PlanetSide 2.  EverQuest Next.  Titan.  Guild Wars 2.  The Secret World.  Undead Labs’ zombie MMO.  ArcheAge.  Salem.  Wizardry Online.  The Elder Scrolls Onlne.  WildStar.  Pathfinder Online.  Otherland.  World of Darkness.  End of Nations.  Defiance.  MechWarrior Online.  Transformers Universe.  Neverwinter.  DUST 514.  Marvel Universe Online.  Pirate101. Firefall.  City of Steam.  RIFT expansion.  DDO expansion.  LOTRO expansion.  All of these dang titles in beta.

Yeah, this industry’s got a peculiar way of going about dying.

15 thoughts on “Rumors of online death have been greatly exaggerated

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus June 5, 2012 / 11:17 am

    Metaphor check: France fell because the Germans went around the Maginot Line, pretty much ignoring it. I think you might be looking for a “crossing the Rubicon” reference there.

  2. James June 5, 2012 / 11:25 am

    You can also use the game list at, it’s about as thourough as possible.

    MMO’s are morphing into other areas as well – LoL and the upcoming End of Nations makes for an interesting direction. How about social games, too? I haven’t had a day in years without a request in Facebook to join a game!

    Perhaps when people say that MMO games are dying we should ask “which facet or genre of MMO games?”

  3. biophazer242 June 5, 2012 / 11:28 am

    I would like to think that the next few years will show the developers trying less and less to create the ‘end all’ MMO and be more content with just being a niche market title that has a loyal crowd that can sustain them. These titles will be more creative and unique and create diversity in the MMO field. Titles like Salem, Undead Labs MMO, Wildstar.. they are hopefully not setting out with the illusion they can get 10 million subscribers and as such will be structured to be successful with smaller numbers. So while I do not believe in the ‘death of MMOs’ I do hope for the decline in super financed MMOs and the proliferation of niche titles.

  4. bhagpuss June 5, 2012 / 11:30 am

    It annoys me too. I think what’s behind it is a worry not that there won’t be any new MMOs but that there won’t be any new MMOs that are just like the old MMOs. Or, even more specifically, no new MMOs that bring back that feeling you had when you played your first MMO.

    Fear of change and/or aging, in other words.

    I have over a dozen of those above on my “will definitely try” list. Added to my “playing and plan to go on playing” list, I’ll have well over two dozen MMOs on the go over the next two or three years, during which time, no doubt, a bunch more will appear or be announced. The problem is always finding time even to give MMOs a decent run, not finding MMOs worth playing.

    (That Beta list over at Massively is looking a little long in the tooth, though. Some of those must have been on there for years).

  5. thade June 5, 2012 / 11:35 am

    This is the best MMO article I’ve read in a long time.

  6. Lenn June 5, 2012 / 11:56 am

    Damn, Syp. This is an outstanding piece. It should be a Soapbox on Massively.

  7. Hudson June 5, 2012 / 11:57 am

    Every year someone writes an article like this. Blah blah blah.

  8. clumsygrrrl June 5, 2012 / 1:44 pm

    *cough* Mists xpac for WoW *cough*

  9. auryx June 5, 2012 / 1:59 pm

    I don’t think it’s dying. However, I can see why people would get the impression it’s…well…stagnating. And I don’t believe that one either, really; but I think it’s inevitable, because we’ve moved off the initial “Big Bang” of exponential expansion and growth of ideas that marked the beginning of the MMO age, into an era of slower and more steady progress. The “rate” of new ideas in big areas (by which I mean things like: setting/genre, PvP mode, payment model, twich-based vs statistic based, etc) has slowed down because the obvious approaches have already been taken by some game or other, and so more things seem derivative than they used to. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a sign of the industry maturing. Innovations will come in different ways.

  10. jaggins June 5, 2012 / 2:47 pm

    Great article, it is nice to get a reality check based on logic and observation instead of reactionary adrenalin.

    BTW, between DUST and Planetside 2, we may be entering a golden age for MMO FPS games!

  11. Pai June 5, 2012 / 4:17 pm

    The only thing that is ‘dying’ is the insane budget bloat trend in the genre (hopefully). Which, in my opinion, will be a very good thing for MMORPGs.

  12. rowan June 5, 2012 / 4:17 pm

    I like the comparison to big budget flops in the movie industry. As you said, for every overbloated Ishtar or Waterworld (or John Carter?), there are several Avengers, Dark Knights or Avatars (a beautifully rendered crap-heap of a blockbuster movie). Remind you of how some people feel about a certain runaway hit MMORPG?

  13. Canazza June 5, 2012 / 5:17 pm

    There are two problems the MMO Genre faces in the coming years. The first is stagnation, when everything plays like everything else. Where recycling rather than evolution is the order of the day. The second is over-saturation. Can the number of people interested in MMOs keep up with the number of MMOs coming out, and how much cash they are willing to spend.
    What will happen is that some games will fail and others will succeed. It won’t mean that the genre is dying. There’s plenty of terrible games, or good games that failed to sell, in other genres, yet you don’t say Co-op shooters are dying because of Revolution 2012, or that RPGs are dying because Kingdoms of Amalur failed to prop up it’s studio.
    Every time an MMO dies, it’s players tend to spread to other games, actually HELPING the rest of the genre. I’m positive that those 2m subscribers WoW lost, almost all of them went to play other, probably free-to-play MMOs, or are playing SWTOR. With all those games you listed in beta (of which PS2 is my one-to-watch) of various different sub-genres, settings, mechanics, payment models etc, the genre is evolving faster than any other. MMOs aren’t even mature yet, to say it’s dying is hyperbole. It’s more like a Toddler with the norovirus. Lots of nasty symptoms and crying, but it’ll get over it and be stronger for it.

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