Could Diablo clones be the future of MMOs?


Back around 2007, I was in the beta for a little game called Mythos. Flagship — yes, that Flagship — originally created it to test some tech for Hellgate London and then liked it so much that it decided to spin it off as its own game. Unfortunately, the whole Hellgate/Flagshipped saga sunk any hopes of Mythos ever getting released, which was a shame because it was a fun little game (and this was before Hanbit got ahold of it and made it into a reanimated corpse of what it once was).

I was truly excited about it at the time because Mythos took the Diablo-style gameplay (action RPGs or “clickfests”) and put it in more of an MMO-style persistent world. Dungeon Runners was doing something like that as well and fared about the same in the end. I thought the combination of Diablo and MMO could be a hit, and it was disappointing that both games failed to get the audience and studio they deserved.

Today, however, I feel like we’re on the cusp of seeing MMOs move in some exciting new directions. Smaller indie projects that are taking risks once more. Flirting with virtual reality. And strong growth and popularity in the OARPG sector.

Diablo III, Path of Exile, and Marvel Heroes have all shown that not only is there a market for these kinds of (semi-)persistent games, there’s a huge market for them. These aren’t traditional MMOs, with an over-the-shoulder view, slower combat, and more skills than you could fit on four hotbars. Instead, it’s isometric country with frantic clicking, a handful of skills, highly repeatable content, and fast kills. Some players prefer it. Some, like myself, like it as an alternative for other MMOs.


We’ve got more on the way, too. Last year Trion took a stab at getting a slice of the market with Devilian, which is probably the most MMOish of them all, even if its classes and world are pretty generic. John Smedley’s Hero’s Song, Lineage Eternal, Lost Ark, Tree of Savior, Dragon of Legends, and the much-rumored Torchlight MMO are all on the way or being discussed.

Of course, OARPGs aren’t universally liked. They might lack the sticky factor that some need to really plant roots in online games. The isometric viewpoint can be a dealbreaker (not for me, though). But they are a different option for those that feel frustrated with theme park, action, and sandbox MMOs.

MOP’s Bree and I have been talking about OARPGs a lot on the podcast lately, as these games represent a segment of the industry that seems to be (1) on the rise, (2) incorporating MMO elements such as housing and raids fairly well, and (3) very accessible for gamers at any point along the hardcore-casual spectrum. We don’t have a lot of big AAA-budget games being developed at this point, but there is a nice little wave of these OARPGs on the way, and that’s cause for cautious celebration.

Diablo clones, so to speak, won’t be the only future of MMOs, but they could be quietly and surely growing into an important part of the coming years of online massively multiplayer gaming. I hope we see more emerge.


8 thoughts on “Could Diablo clones be the future of MMOs?

  1. bhagpuss January 26, 2016 / 12:43 pm

    They’re fine for what they are but they have about as much similarity to what I understand by the term “MMORPG” as the Cliffs Notes version has to the three-volume edition of War and Peace. So long as they stay in their own sector that’s not a problem but they darn well better keep off my lawn!

  2. Blake January 26, 2016 / 1:11 pm

    I agree that they’re going to continue to chip into the MMO market playerbase. Off the top of my head I know of three of my old MMO raiding buddies who have closed their MMO accounts and play D3, PoE and other more action oriented games. Bite sized gaming, especially as us old early MMO players age into our 30s/40s seems to be easier to digest.

    I still love MMOs, and am watching the industry hoping for a new shiny game to pop up that rekindles the desire in me to deep dive into a game again. Right now there just isn’t an MMO that I want to play even three or four days a week. That said, I might change that stance now that I’m about to give ESO a second chance (on the PS4 this time for something different) and FF XIV (PC) a shot so we’ll see.

    It also seems that the younger generation of gamers are into the faster pace games, at least it sounds that way when I talk to my nephew and younger cousins (teens through late-twenties). Not a single one of them have ever touched an MMO, but are obsessed gamers on both PC and consoles. DIabo 3 and Marvel Heroes are included among their games.

  3. Helena Khan January 26, 2016 / 5:17 pm

    Still have a copy of Hellgate that I fire up now and again 🙂

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus January 26, 2016 / 6:05 pm

    The whole action RPG thing has its moments, but they don’t really tickle the same spot as an open world MMORPG. I play them. I like them. With a fixed camera they are probably cheaper to make and, generally being buy to play, are cheaper to own. They can have even MMO-level lifespans… Diablo II was still making the top sales list a decade after it launched… and can be social as well, but I am not sure they get to that needle-in-the-vein level of attachment that an MMORPG that really clicks with you can engender.

    But maybe nobody has done it right yet.

  5. Jeromai January 27, 2016 / 12:41 am

    Spiral Knights was pretty fun when it launched as one of the first few free to play games on Steam in 2011 or so. Haven’t closed down yet either, so they must be doing passably okay.

    Far from being the future of the MMO genre though.

    If anything, the future is more the dilution of the MMO audience into many different subsets of multiplayer games that cater more to their specific preferences – MOBAs, survival sandboxes, crafting/building games, action rpgs, and so on.

    It may take really good, immersive VR to bring back that sense of boundary breaking, of doing something no one prior has done before, of experiencing an online space with real people in a created world. Current third person avatar, tab targeting combat models no longer have that magical spice, being a dime a dozen everywhere one turns.

  6. Isey January 27, 2016 / 5:52 am

    I think the premise of how they run is the future of MMOs. WoW would fundamentally not be that different if it was a lobby based game. Take your character, hop into a world with your friends, or strangers, and leave the world when you are done. There is little need/use for set servers these days.

  7. Hugo January 27, 2016 / 6:28 am

    As a long time MMO player and turning 40 in less than a month trying to balance time between my family, work, sports and playing games i also notice my gametime spend in MMO deplete and starting up single player games or ARPGs like MH2015 and D3 more and more since a half hour playing that seems more rewarding than half an hour in a MMO realising you can just about complete half a quest during that playtime.

    Hero’s Song really triggers my fancy by what i read and see about it but the way they handled the Kickstarter was really disappointing and i hope they can regain peoples trust in getting the marketing side of the project right… With all the game veterans working the game i have the feeling designwise we are looking forward to a really exciting and fun game i will be playing from day 1!

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