Friday, January 18, 2008

How many MMO types are there, anyways?

If you look at the MMO market from a high level perspective all you really see are two categories of games: Fantasy and Other. If you ignore the subscription numbers and look at all the titles equally then you can see some differentiation but its not very healthy. Most games are not only locked into one genre but also have very little innovation in their combat or advancement systems. Most of the time innovation in the market is only done on small scale games. Publishers then expect to be able to charge the same subscription price as the most popular games even though their ideas haven't proven their merit yet.

In my mind their are three big categories when describing what type of MMO you are going to make.

Options: Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Historical
As you can see there aren't that many choices for each area. Genre especially has had little variation with fantasy and science fiction being the only choices for a long time. Pirates of the Burning Sea will be the first commercially viable MMO with a history background though ATITD and WW2 Online are both in the same category.

Options: Melee and Special Powers, First Person Shooter, Vehicles
Combat has had probably the most tinkering done to it but mostly because developers have just ripped elements from others types of video games and stuck them into a MMO. Most of the time while this greatly changes the game from its competitors it doesn't integrate very well with the persistence of a online world.

Character Advancement
Options: Skill Based, Level Based
Advancement has had the least change over the years with games based on levels being easier to implement and more popular because of their reward curve. However, over the years fans of player vs. player combat have express a desire for skill based systems that reward better planning and research instead of blind grinding.

List of Realistic Current MMO Categories

1) Fantasy + Melee/SPower + Level: EQ, WoW, LOTR, FFXI, Lineage, GW
2) Sci-Fi + FPS + Level: Star Wars Galaxies, Tabula Rasa, Planetside
3) Sci-Fi + Melee/SPower + Level: City of Heroes
4) Sci-Fi + Vehicle + Skill: EVE Online
5) History + Vehicle + Level: Pirates of the Burning Sea

There is really no next most popular category after the number one option. Developer's trying to be different usually go for a science fiction setting in hopes of gathering those who don't want yet another elf based MMO. A recent popular trend is making science fiction based MMOs that use first person shooters elements for their combat. These games then make use of a level system which controls what type of weapons/vehicles players can use. While it makes for interesting game play none of them have been a success even by pre WoW standards.

The big alternative success story really has been EVE Online though its reputation has been marred by several developer scandals. Still its the most different from the popular fantasy games which is probably why its attracted so many players to itself. All combat is ship to ship fighting and it uses a interesting real time skill training system for advancement. Its mostly focused on realistic PvP combat (aka unfair ambushes) and people argue whether this is a positive or minus for the game. Whatever the case the game has slowly been increasing is subscription base since release which usually signifies the developers are doing something right.

I think this hints at the future of the MMO market in the years to come. Most of the games slated to be released in 2008 are yet more fantasy games but with a higher emphasis on PvP combat. After the upcoming PvP storm I think players and developers will be looking for something different. Since science fiction has started to prove itself viable in the market I think we can look forward to many releases in 2009-2010 being in that genre. Off the top of my head there's Stargate, Starcraft, and Knights of the Old Republic all being rumoured to be released in the next few years. While Stargate is the only one confirmed most people are pretty sure about the other two. In the end I have a feeling that while true innovation will be slow, the stranglehold of the fantasy genre on MMO's will start to weaken.


Gophur said...

PotBS will be commercially viable? I certainly hope so. Not many games last for several years of stable subscriptions. I hope them all the best.

Relmstein said...

I expect Pirates of the Burning Sea to at least hold onto 100k accounts when they release. If they can actually build their numbers up from this like EVE Online did then they could be around for awhile.

While I'm enjoying Tabula Rasa the fact they only have four servers at the moment does not speak for a long lasting career.