Because I spend so much time thinking, playing, and writing about MMORPGs, I feel like I’m sensitive to how the industry is changing and shaping. Last year there was definitely a dearth of hope among many players, proclamations that the genre was dead (or dying), and despairing observations about the lack of future games being made and hyped. And going into the first part of this year, it wasn’t that much better, with five MMOs closing up shop in January alone.
Yet (and I really don’t want to prematurely jump the gun with this, so take it with a note of caution) hope has started to bloom this year in earnest. We’re not just seeing some really promising semi-MMOs in the making (Sea of Thieves, Destiny 2, Anthem) but some genuinely big, full-budget games in the works. Here are four indications that the MMO might be turning a corner into a more interesting and brighter future:
1. When you weren’t looking, we started accumulating some promising MMORPGs.
In the past week — just one week — we had two significant honest-to-God MMOs announced: Cryptic’s Magic the Gathering MMO (which is the first MMO based on an existing IP since, oh, Elder Scrolls Online) and Fractured (which is using SpatialOS, more on that in a bit). Wild West Online burst out of nowhere a month or so ago with a publisher-funded western sandbox.
While Amazon Game Studios has been quiet, we know that it’s working on at least one MMO (New World) and possibly a second with John Smedley at the helm. I see more studios, particularly newer ones, using the “MMORPG” label with confidence alongside more bold and innovative designs than what we’ve gotten in the recent past.
But going back to the Cryptic/Magic announcement, that’s a big, big deal. Cryptic handles two very successful IP-based MMOs (Neverwinter and Star Trek Online), and Magic: The Gathering still carries a lot of name recognition with the geek community. I felt this announcement got dismissed because it’s easy to hate Cryptic for lockboxes, but that studio’s put out some popular games and kept growing them over the years (and on various platforms). It would be foolish to ignore this.
2. Ashes of Creation’s amazing Kickstarter
Another topic I thought we’d see a lot more discussion about was the absolutely stunning conclusion to Ashes of Creation’s Kickstarter campaign. $3.27 million raised by fans in 30 days for an MMORPG that is an original IP and has no recognizable developer name attached. Did the team do such a spectacular job selling the game in advance? To an extent, yes, although there’s a lot yet to be revealed. But more than that, this powerhouse of a campaign — the biggest MMO Kickstarter ever so far — suggests that there is a huge demand out there for visionary, beautiful MMOs that push the genre forward and take bold risks. Just ask Chronicles of Elyria last year or Crowfall two years ago about their takeaway, and I’m sure they’d say the same thing.
MMOs aren’t dead and the MMO community hasn’t evaporated. It’s just hungry and ready for a real meal.
3. The rise of SpatialOS
Right now it really feels like too many people are oblivious about SpatialOS, but that is not going to be the case forever. We’re seeing story after story and game after game announced in connection with this acclaimed world-building software platform, with some seeing this as not just the future backbone of MMORPGs but many other industries too. It’s allowing smaller teams to create virtual worlds of a scope that would be well outside of their budgets and resources otherwise, and that is significant for future possibilities.
Worlds Adrift is being made in SpatialOS, as is Chronicles of Elyria, Identity, Seed, Metaworld, and Fractured. Jagex has expressed interest in SpatialOS for RuneScape. Bill Roper (of Diablo/Hellgate fame) has joined SpatialOS developer Improbable. Improbable has partnered with Google Cloud to help devs see their visions be made reality. Mark my words, this is the start of a revolution of some sort, and we should not ignore it.
4. The maturation of indie games
Part of the despair of 2016 was the fact that so little actually released, because all of the games being made were still cooking. Now in 2017, some (but not all) of these indie titles are nearing launch and we’ll see what the next generation has to offer. Albion Online, Worlds Adrift, Shroud of the Avatar, Project Gorgon, Dark and Light, AdventureQuest 3D, and SkySaga are all looking at a release this year, with another wave coming in 2018. And then there’s always the looming bomb (either explosive good or dud bad) of Star Citizen over the next few years.
It’s always hard to judge the state of an entire industry, but for the first time in a while, I’m starting to see real movement and real home where there were only glimmers before. All I know is that the future will be different than what we might have anticipated (or even envision today), but that there will be a future of massive online gaming.