Torchlight, Magic, and the downgrading of MMOs

I guess I want to preface today’s post by saying that I will never advocate that every game in the world needs to become an MMORPG. I’m totally fine with studios setting a vision for what they want to make with whatever features and then going for it. If that’s single-player, multiplayer, co-op, or MMO, so be it. But it’s started to irk me when studios start to make MMORPGs and then along the way downgrade them into something less, perhaps to appease the virulent anti-MMO crowd out there.

Beware: There may be virtual strawmen in this article.

We’re in a weird era for MMOs right now. There are some titles enjoying extremely long and profitable lives and plenty of crowdfunded and investor-funded MMOs on the way. Emulators are becoming more common, volunteer-staffed projects are dotting the landscape, and development is skewing away from WoW clones while heading in exciting new directions. But there are also fewer full-fledged MMORPGs in development, and out of those, only a handful boast a reasonably big budget and studio muscle behind them.

What prompted this post was that recently, Cryptic/PWE had two titles under its umbrellas that were described as MMORPGs — Magic Legends and Torchlight Frontiers. As a big fan of Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, I was understandably excited about seeing what other MMOs would come from this company. But then Magic Legends revealed that it wasn’t really an MMO, and about a week or two later, Torchlight Legends rebranded as Torchlight III while dropping its massively multiplayer scope. Both became, more or less, Diablo clones with some multiplayer and persistent characters but far less than what I’d hoped for.

Seeing MMOs downgrade into something less is really disheartening to me. I may be tolerant and supportive of all types of video games, but MMORPGs are where my heart is at. This is what excites me the most and gets the most of my gaming time, and by gum, I want to see more of them made and successfully launched!

Magic and Torchlight aren’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing happen. Remember H1Z1? SOE’s weird successor to Star Wars Galaxies (for some reason) that was supposed to be an MMO? And then it became a battle royale title and the MMO was dropped for good. It’s what a lot of folks are fearing about Ashes of Creation or any other developing MMO that abruptly announces a side project.

And then there are studios that were formerly all about the MMOs taking definitive steps backwards. Funcom? It was all about MMOs, and then it was about survival sandboxes and weird solo spin-offs. Seems like this is what’s happening with PWE right now too.

I get it — making MMORPGs is hard, and they’re no longer going to succeed just on the novelty of what they are. But I’m growing weary of studios flinching at the challenge and then reducing their scope until the games they churn out are small and forgettable.

Swing for the fences, people. We love to cheer on a home run, not a bunt.

5 thoughts on “Torchlight, Magic, and the downgrading of MMOs

  1. Isey February 6, 2020 / 10:44 am

    You are so optimistic! I have little to no hope anymore.

    Right now, the “phase 2” MMOs / MMOish are all indefinitely delayed after unbearably silly development Phases. And all are, until being shown something real and reasonable, all high probabilities of becoming vaporware as easy as they are becoming launched products.

    Lets see on that list…

    Star Citizen (8 years and counting)
    Camelot Unchained (5 years, working on a second, separate title now instead, release date next 5 years?)
    Pantheon (6 years in development… launch when? The head creator has passed, sadly. Where does that leave development)
    Didn’t Lord British recently launch a flop?!?
    Crowfall (5 years and counting, release date?_

    All seem like organizations more interested in fundraising instead of shipping a product, and have now been in development past cycles that would be considered reasonable. I think all of them had a 2-3 year launch window on their kickstarters.

    All of these guys are swinging for the fences… and I am guessing most (if not all) will strike out.
    That is definitely unfortunate as I was looking forward to them. I think it is unrealistic to think someone will launch anything that resembles an MMO that stands the test of time like the ones we have that have survived.

    MMOs are the new dial up phones 😉

  2. Yeebo February 6, 2020 / 1:05 pm

    The thing that has surprised me the most is that there is now less of a need for proper MMOs because seemingly everything has become MMOish. GTAO, and I assume Red Dead Redemption Online make absolutely absurd amounts of money, and provide huge virtual play spaces with tons of simultaneous players. That checks off a lot of the boxes in terms of what I enjoy about MMOs. Some online shooters like CoD have added minor role playing elements (e.g., needing to grind up ranks to qualify for weapons). Pokemon Go and now Sword and Sheild also have a lot of MMO elements to them, and are making berserk amounts of money.

    Depending on how you look at it, the market for “MMOs” has shrunk severely (perhaps consumed by other online games), or expanded exponentially.

    Lest you think I’m ignoring the point of your post, let me say that my tastes definitely run to “proper MMOs.” To me that means games that includes a lot more RPG mechanics than most of the examples above, and that try to create the illusion of a world rather than being satisfied with a shared playground. I completely agree that we aren’t seeing as many of those come down the pipe, and that it’s a shame. However, I would argue that the massively multiplayer shared virtual gaming landscape is larger than it has ever been. Certainly far larger than I ever would have anticipated a decade ago.

  3. bhagpuss February 6, 2020 / 2:19 pm

    I was going to say that I think the main reason few teams are trying to make full-scale MMORPGs any more and that those who do either take a ludicrously long time doing it or downgrade to co-op multiplayer is that they al find out it’s a lot harder than they imagined it was going to be. But then I thought Cryptic have made two proper MMORPGs already, so they know exactly how hard it is. And many of the still-running older MMORPGs were made by smaller teams for less money in a much shorter time-frame. So it really can’t be that it’s too hard.

    The Torchlight announcement did actually say that the main reason was that the huge majority of beta testers just didn’t want an MMO in the first place and made that quite clear. There’s a perfectly reasonable argument that they should never have considered the MMO route for Torchlight in the first place. We might see it as an upgrade but the legions of Torchlight fans may very well have seen it as a slap in the face.

    I think a big part of the problem is graphics. All those older MMORPGs that got churned out in three years or less didn’t have to match the photo-realistic visual standards people seem to expect today. That and feature creep. Every game has to have ALL the features these days or people claim they’re being ripped off. If teams stuck to a much smaller portfolio of features it would help. Whether anyone would buy or play the games if they did, though…

  4. Telwyn February 9, 2020 / 3:44 am

    That the Magic game is a Diablo clone and not massively multiplayer was a double blow, I’ve long admired the imaginative worlds of the card game, even if long ago stopped playing it. It has such a rich potential canvas to paint on; an action RPG where furious clicking overrides any attempt at storytelling does not appeal to me.

    Yes, Diablo 3 showed you could still do story (by having the voice overs carry on after your conversation gets interrupted by yet another demon mob). But I just don’t see this sub-genre as being a suitable vehicle for rich story-telling. Cryptic *have* shown they can use an action MMORPG engine to tell good stories though, Neverwinter has a lot of story surrounding the quests packed with frantic combat.

    I’ve no real buy in for Torchlight, it just passed me by as a franchise. I can certainly empathize with the views of franchise fans on this, but then also with those hopeful for a Torchlight MMO (finally) as well. That doesn’t stop me being disappointed with these announcements all the same. I sometimes miss the heady days of 2011/2012 when there were so many games coming out…

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