14 Jan 2011

A Fashionable MMO?

Let me start off with an admission: I like beer. I know, it’s surprising. I bet you’re all incredibly shocked. That’s not all though: I’ve not always liked the same beer. My tastes have drifted from Budweiser (the American version) back when I didn’t know any better through to the real ales I prefer now.

That’s not to say I always drink the same beer now. I have a staple favourite that changes every so often (currently it’s Leffe Brune), but there’s all manner of other beers and ciders that I like to try occasionally. Sometimes I find something I like, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I grow bored of the taste of one beer and move to something else.

You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with Warcraft and MMOs. What I’m trying to say is that Raid Warning is right: MMOs are like beer.

Do you drink the beer because you like the taste or because it’s the one all your friends drink? Do you try a different beer based on what you hear about it or because your friends recommend it? Do you find that if a new, popular style of beer pops up that other firms try to emulate it?

Do MMOs really follow trends, with popular games spawning the development of further “me-too” titles. Or do genres have a default popularity – a roughly set percentage of MMO players that will always play games from that genre? Can a hugely successful game influence which genre becomes dominant – will we see a switch from Fantasy to Sci-Fi MMOs in the future? Can the tastes and fashions of MMO players shift?

World of Warcraft had a blockbuster release in 2004, enjoying immediate and long-lasting success. Following on from it were Dungeons and Dragons Online (2006), The Lord of the Rings Online (2007), Age of Conan (2008), Aion: Tower of Eternity (2009) and Final Fantasy XIV (2010). Of course I’m cherry-picking titles that I’ve actually played, but it feels that ever since WoW launched the big mainstream titles have mostly been in the fantasy genre.

It doesn’t end there. A quick look at MMORPG’s list of MMO games shows that 34 are slated to launch this year as a blend of free-to-play, subscription based and blockbuster retail games. Eighteen of these games (that’s over half) are listed as ‘Fantasy’ games, while seven are labeled ‘Sci-fi’. There’s a clear trend to produce Fantasy MMOs. What’s not clear to me is if that trend is because of the incredible popularity of Warcraft, or if it’s because players genuinely prefer fantasy settings.

Is it because we really like Fantasy beer, or because we’ve never tasted a well-brewed Sci-Fi beer?

It also seems like developers like to make games that feel familiar to new players. Part of that is the interface , the controls and the combat. Another side of it is the genre, the style, game world and the creatures it contains. We want games that are easy and intuitive to pick up and play, yet we want them to feel fresh and unique. The same, but different.

It’s why the recent Rift adverts that WoW Insider highlighted tend to put me off the game. I don’t feel that they’re mocking Warcraft players, but instead they seem to be highlighting the similarities between WoW and their upcoming game. It might be genre-boredom but I’m really not interested in sinking £40 plus a subscription in something that’s similar to the game I’ve been playing for the past five years. I don’t feel the need to switch from one brew of Fantasy beer to another.

This is also why I think that Titan will be a Sci-fi MMO. I don’t think it’ll be heavy-Sci-fi like EVE or Star Wars: The Old Republic, but instead it’ll be more post-apocalyptic. Think of things like Star Trek: Enterprise, Fallout, Firefly and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the same universe as Starcraft, yet set much earlier. Familiar, yet unique.

But will this bring about a shift in genres? If SW:TOR or Titan become huge hits will we see more Sci-fi MMOs produced in response? Will the genre become more fashionable in the eyes of both developers and players? Or are the number of players in fantasy MMOs always likely to be higher than those in Sci-fi ones?

It certainly feels like there’s change afoot within the MMO marketplace, although I’m not sure if it’s that desire to be unique or general genre-boredom that’s propelling it. I know one thing for certain though: I won’t be buying into Fantasy for my next MMO.

Like this? Try these other related posts:

Tags: , , ,