Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The MMOs of 2007: Year End Review

I wanted to do a post about the big MMOs that are being released next year but during my writing I kept referencing games from this side of New Year's Eve. I realized that as much as I wanted to avoid a year end review, it was probably best if I organized my thoughts. Despite what a lot of people are saying 2007 wasn't that bad of a year for MMOs. True we had at least one horrible disaster but the majority of games released were highly polished.

The New Games


The only game that seemed to purposely ignore the lessons of the last three years was Vanguard. Sigil originally intended to release Vanguard as a hardcore raiding oriented game but changed gears when they saw how successful World of Warcraft was doing. Unfortunately, the company didn't have enough money to do the full circle redesign they wanted and the game launched filled with bugs and with fun not included. In the end the game went where most independent MMO failures go, the SOE all access pass. Reports are coming in that SOE has a small team slowly but surely fixing Vanguard but most of the original fan base seems to migrated to EQ2.

Lord of the Rings Online
Turbine got much needed respect with the launch of LOTR especially after their so-so work on the Dungeons and Dragons license. Many people loved the game in beta and signed up for lifetime and special rate memberships when it went live. The Shire has often been quoted as being one of the best looking and well designed newbie zones ever created for a MMO. However, everything in the game which attracted people to it at first seemed to disappeared after a 3 month period. Most reviewers attribute the declining subscriber numbers with problems that don't really become apparent until late in the game.

1) No class customization system like talents/achievements.
2) Small number of dungeons for a fantasy MMORPG
3) Questing becomes group required in the higher level zones.

Tabula Rasa
This was a very high profile game that had repeatedly had its release date pushed back over the years. Initial beta reviewers gave it mediocre reviews and proclaimed it only held their attention for a short period of time. Richard Garriott was the lead developer for the project and had often called it revolutionary and genre breaking. In the end the bullshit and bad beta reviews affected how many people picked Tabula Rasa. However, the game seems to be picking up the pace a bit as people remark the game has improved greatly since beta testing. Tabula Rasa seems to be the polar opposite to LOTR in terms of how its subscription base started out small but is slowly growing.

The Sequels: Current Market Leaders

Guild Wars: Eyes of the North
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
Everquest 2: Rise of Kunark

The sequels of 2007 either sold more units or kept more subscribers then any new entry into the MMO market. This might be the reason why some gamers look back negatively on the year. It seems as if new MMO games haven't really improved that much overall except that "most" of them now released polished and mostly bug free. This was especially obvious when a sizable portion of World of Warcraft fans left the game to explore Lord of the Rings when it first released. Several sources tracked a dip in subscriber numbers for WoW and later on a corresponding increase three months later as these fans returned.

This seems to highlight a trend of the current market leaders really having perfected their games since 2004/2005. If subscribers do leave them for a new game it seems that its mostly because they want new content and not a new game. A World of Warcraft clone is never going to be better then the original but it might steal some subscribers because it has new content. However, once players get to the end of the content they are going to choose the better game. A game that has three years to perfect its design is always going to win over one that has just released.

As I see it there are only going to be two ways to break this trend. One is to make a game that is clearly better then the current market leaders, probably not going to happen. The other is to focus on areas which are ignored or done poorly by the current market leaders. The second one is where I think we'll start seeing some rising stars. Tabula Rasa might even become one since it combines FPS elements into its game play in a way clearly superior to Planetside. The only other game on the radar that is attempting the same tactic is Huxley which has been extremely secretive on details or a firm release date.

Next Post: The MMOGs of 2008: The Coming PvP Storm


Rhey said...

Most sane people will just play Starcraft II, if it ever finishes getting made. However if they mess it up I wouldn’t be surprised if North and South Korea put their differences aside so that they could launch a joint attack on Irvine California. So its quite a moral dilemma on one hand a bad game could literally free millions of people from a horrible communist regime while on the other I could play an awesome game. Even though Zerglings still can’t jump real high and attack Battle Cruisers like they should be able to, just look at their calf’s people.

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