Here’s a weird thought I had the other day: What if WildStar was, er, wildly popular right now? Same game, same patches, nothing different from Carbine’s end, but what if there was a much larger and more prominent community about it these days? If everyone was talking about it, if it was getting more coverage on Twitch and YouTube — how would that change things?
In other words, if nothing was different about the MMORPG itself other than increase activity and numbers with its community, how much — if at all — would that persuade you to play it or return to it?
At least for myself, I think it would matter a lot.
The “community question” is one that you see a lot in general MMO discussions when people are asking about certain titles or looking for recommendations. Players generally not only want an MMO that matches their playstyle, but one that sports an active community. Nobody wants to get seriously time invested in a dying game (real or perceived), and conversely, a lot of people want to belong to a surging movement. It’s exciting to be part of trendy games and to share in that excitement with others who are talking and playing. We want to be uplifted about our involvement and feel as though this game could last forever.
In all of the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve noticed — and felt — the pull to certain games when a lot of us are talking about them, when there’s big movement happening (launches, patches, events, expansions), and when the game’s popularity is on the rise. The games change and rotate with a few remaining pretty consistent in the top five. But that positive peer pressure exists and it’s a real factor in influencing players’ decision to jump into a title or not.
I kind of think that this is a shame, that games should be played and enjoyed for what they are, as we do outside of the MMO genre. But that’s the “massively” at play, and it’s a double-edged sword for our genre. It’s the inescapable factor of the community that’s intertwined with the games and the culture of this hobby. It’s terrific and also frustrating when it doesn’t swing toward games that you think deserve the spotlight. It can feel thrilling when it pushes a game to the top, and it can be terrifying when it cascades a game into oblivion.
I mean, look at the late great Marvel Heroes. It had a marvelous peak in popularity around 2015 and even into early 2016 with so much going for it, but then it lost that momentum and the positive peer pressure fell away and dissipated. Just about nobody was talking about it this year, probably because Gazillion was busy shooting itself in the foot and licensing issues and other nastiness going on behind the scenes. The school of fish darted away, leaving a few stragglers behind while everyone else went to seek more lucrative gaming grounds.
It’s hard not to be affected by this peer pressure, especially when it comes to wanting to play games that have been abandoned or are nowhere near the zenith of the popularity that they once were. It’s really odd playing DDO these days, because outside of a very small and tight-knit community, nobody is talking about it. I remember how it was scorching hot in 2009 when the whole free-to-play thing happened and how DDO had its 15 minutes or so in the spotlight as an MMO that a lot of people played and took seriously.
But that’s how the life cycle of MMOs go, and barring unexpected surprises (of both the good and bad variety), there’s a pretty predictable pattern.