Circa 2004 a little game came to fruition known as World of Warcraft that quickly rose to dominance in the MMO market and, for better or worse, changed said market forever. Over a decade has passed and the landscape of gaming as a whole has changed in ways very few would have proselytized. The predictions of the gaming market either for a specific title, or a specific piece of hardware have rarely panned out in ways that have made developers confident in doubling down on “Triple-A MMOGs” with the same gusto as we’ve seen not but 5 years ago. Is this the end of the MMO?
The steady decline of MMO releases has been going on for nearly a decade. In fact, we have had more MMOs set to release in 2008 and 2009 than we have had in 2013 – 2017 combined1. If you’re asking yourself, “Where have the MMOGs gone and will we ever see the next big MMO?” it may behoove you to also ask yourself if you’re even looking in the right place. Don’t fret dear reader, there will be a resurgence of the MMOG, and as we’re on the cusp of new technologies, new cooperation and a flurry of innovation, here are some places to expect the “next big thing”.
The Mobile Market
I can hear the sigh and see the eye-rolling from here, but to deny that the mobile market has been killing it in both gaming revenue and device ownership for the past several years would be blinding oneself from reality2. Mobile gaming is very simplistic by nature, which lends itself to mass appeal from gamers and non-gamers alike.
Mobile also isn’t without its own set of issues, which includes hardware limitations and the current assertion that the only successful mobile game must rely on loot box mechanics. The former problem is only a matter of time, seeing as how current generation smartphone mobile graphics have already purportedly surpassed the graphics of the Xbox 3603 , and new battery technologies to aid in lasting untethered gameplay are on the horizon4.
The latter issue of loot box monetization that scares off many long-term players is currently seeing opposition in countries around the world including the United States5. Even in the event loot boxes don’t end up being outlawed, new monetization schemes could be concocted to appease gamers who feel burned by the practice. The mobile market of today could be drastically changed much faster than we anticipate, making the way for an influx of more easily accessible titles built around monetization systems looking to keep people playing for the long haul. If that isn’t the right formula for a new MMO, then what really is?
The AR MMO
2018 is here, but can we take a look back into the past to the holiday season of 2016. In fact, 2016, the year as a whole, was tremendous for another emerging technology known as Virtual Reality, which, in truth has been around for decades, but had made its way into gamers’ crosshairs with the Oculus Rift, the PSVR, the HTC Vive, and a whole host of mobile headsets vying for Virtual Reality dominance. Market analysts were atwitter with the preeminent rise of Virtual Reality, but little did the market even realize, a little game called Pokémon Go foreshadowed all of the headsets’ accomplishments, all by utilizing pocket monsters, and the buzz acronym of AR.
The power of Augmented Reality, or Mixed Reality, began to permeate into everything from Google’s Camera features in this year’s Pixel 2 phone, to Samsung’s Note 8’s features. Semantics aside, AR features became a hot commodity in 2017, with a new Harry Potter AR game announced, capitalizing on the popularity of another beloved intellectual property, and merging with the appeal of Augmented Reality.
However, let’s not put the cart before the Thestral. (Harry Potter humor, deal with it.) Despite the somewhat gimmicky tune of stickers, filters, and overlays, Mixed Reality was slated to have heavy hitters with some seriously powerful mobile hardware hit the market, but release dates for consumer systems have been pushed back6 on everything except the Microsoft tethered devices. Mixed Reality has already shown that it can garner mass appeal, and mobile mixed reality devices that won’t ostracize you from the outside world when you’re out and about will eventually have their place in the world in both the work and leisure departments with the only question left to ponder is, “When?”. This entirely new medium is perhaps the perfect space to watch a new kind of MMO not only emerge, but to grow exponentially.
The Cross Platformer
There was a time when a Console was a Console and a PC was a PC and they were kept separate in their own little ecosystems, never to speak, with only the fans of their respective platforms to battle it out between the Console Kings and the PC Master Race. Childish belittlement aside, the differences between consoles and PCs are getting slimmer and slimmer with each passing year. Even within their distinctive markets, Microsoft and Sony have not so silently spoken about the potential for more cross console play7, with Microsoft vehemently at the helm of cross-play promotion in advertising cross-platform play between the PC and their Xbox Console.
Microsoft has even gone so far as to make Minecraft available for cross-platform play on any device, which means you could be on iOS, Android, Xbox, Nintendo, PC, or even playing in VR and still be able to play with your friends8. Minecraft as a potential rehearsal for a massive open world cross-platform game makes perfect sense as it is by far one of the most popular and influential games of the past decade, entertaining millions of players on hosted servers daily. In short, the fastest way to reap the benefits of a new behemoth MMOG might not lie in any one platform, or any single type of game, but in an open hardware approach congregating millions of players into one shared universe. While the future might hold several titles to this effect, what made World of Warcraft so popular is not just the game itself, but that the game launched at exactly the right time to capitalize on a market that had just begun to gain steam. Could we see the right cross-platform game launch in our near future? It wouldn’t be completely out of the question.
Regardless of your views on what makes an MMO worth playing, or what makes a platform worth buying into, we as gamers believe that over the decades of gaming, we’ve seen it all and often overlook those places we’ve regarded as being “beneath our radar”. Unfortunately, the landscape we as gamers grew up with has changed so drastically, to neglect new mediums for exciting and fresh gameplay would be a massive faux pas. Look out fellow gamers, the next big MMO might just be on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time.