Letter from the Editor – The MMO Crash

A number of games publishers made the decision five years ago that they were going to have the next big MMO hit. When it became apparent that Blizzard, as well as a few publishers in the Eastern market, were drowning in money from subscription based games that simply needed regular management and tinkering, any publisher with a decent IP, a studio and a wad of cash to invest decided to get a piece of the action. It seemed to be a no-brainer to just pop out the next WoW-style game rather than having to build new titles from the ground up just to get a one off payment of 50 bucks from gamers and then go back to the drawing board a few months later and do it all again. The last few years has seen some of the results with the release of LOTR Online, Warhammer Online, DC Universe Online, FF XIV, Star Trek Online and Star Wars: TOS. From any perspective it has not gone well.

The development and structure of these games have meant that while gamers tastes and expectations, the technical and economic landscape and the whole games market itself has changed beyond recognition, MMO’s haven’t been able to adapt and end up launching with a woefully out of date payment model and more importantly old fashioned mechanics and ideas. Sure once out in the market and once the publishers have fleeced and pissed off the hardcore early adopters these titles are ready to switch down to the now ubiquitous but morally ambiguous free-to-play model but there’s not much can be done about the core concept behind the games. Star Wars: TOS has already lost 400,000 subscribers since launch. EA’s response, and I’m paraphrasing here, was “Those guys were dicks anyway”. But more interesting is the fact that their stock fell by 10% too. Even more interesting is that our respect for them and developer Bioware also fell… probably by more than 10% and that could be less easily recovered. Bethesda seem hellbent on making the exact same mistake with Elder Scrolls Online ‒ five years in the making and looking creaky as hell already. Square Enix soldiers on, begging us to give FFXIV a second chance while threatening to destroy the good name of Dragon Quest too with the tenth game in that illustrious series also being a subscription-based MMO for the Wii and Wii U. It already sounds like a terrible idea. These publishers aren’t just losing money on these games; even if they do actually make their money back or even turn a reasonable profit for a little while there’s a deeper unrecoverable loss happening. The abortive, limping launches, the loss of subscribers, the change in payment models within months of release, the drab outdated gameplay attached to previously shining franchises ‒ it’s an embarrassment to the industry and disastrous for business in the long run.

The mistake was these publishers looking at the runaway success of World of Warcraft and thinking that if they invested in that exact concept then in five years time they could repeat the exact same success. The problem is that WoW was the right game at the right time. You can’t help but feel sorry for more progressive titles like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World launching in an era that will come to be known as “The Great MMO Crash of the 2010’s”. Publishers need to step back from the payment models, sales charts, trend reports and statistical analysis, look into the eyes of gamers and remember that they are meant to be selling us dreams and adventures.

Kirsten Kearney







2 responses to “Letter from the Editor – The MMO Crash”

  1. tina avatar

    here here

  2. Mark P avatar

    I’m going to run naked through the Microsoft E3 presentation with this URL tattooed all over my body, screaming “THIS! THIIIIIIS!”

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