Do genres die? Do they just become less popular until they fade into obscurity but still exist in there, somewhere? Do they die for all but a few hipster throwback titles that exist to capitalize on nostalgia? Perhaps they never do. Can you think of a video game genre that we can say for sure is completely dead. Even genres that have barely been touched on since the 1990’s can’t be said to be completely dead. Take the Multi User Dungeon for example, which eventually evolved into the modern MMORPG that we know today. So will the MMORPG ever die?
Is it doing so already? Developers keep trying to bring out new MMORPGs, but they all seem to be falling flat into the same trap: massive subscription loss after several months, followed by going to free-to-play and implementing a cash shop. Hell, even World of Warcraft, the most successful subscription based MMO (based on it holding the highest number of subscribers of any MMO in history at its peak) has begun to sell premium cosmetic items and, more controversially, the ability to instantly boost any character to level 90. A possible hint to Blizzard’s plan for the future of WoW’s payment model, perhaps? The free-to-play model seems to only be increasing in popularity and one can plainly see the appeal for so many of these games to take up on it.
Then why do so many of these new releases initially decide to try first the subscription based model, when the history of similar moves doesn’t exactly look favorably on them? Having to switch from one payment model to another makes a game look as if the initial model failed them, and that they could not draw in enough long term players to make people want to pay a recurring fee. So wouldn’t it, in light of the amount of failed sub-based games that came before them, developers see that the model just isn’t working and skip straight the micropayments stage? Perhaps it’s just an honest-to-god attempt at overtaking World of Warcraft from the number one spot in the genre. If so, you have to praise the ambition as the MMO market has no gone almost ten years with very little competition for Blizzard’s behemoth. And when a market lacks competition, it stagnates and results in choices that are ultimately bad for the player.
Or maybe it’s just a cash grab. Cynical as it may be to think about, subscription MMO’s do tend to make massive amounts of money in their first few months of existence before eventually dying down to a point where a micropayment system would be far more profitable. Mike Preach once posed a good theory that these games aren’t made to last but instead make all the profit that they need during the first few months that they run on a subscription, and everything that comes after that is a nice bonus I suppose. I suppose it’s good for a business model, but not a terribly good way to dip your toes into a genre of gaming that’s known for it’s longevity.
And again, games that are supposed to die after six months offer no competition in the MMORPG genre, which once again forces passionate MMO players to pretty much deal with whatever they’re given by whoever owns the leading title. Where else are we going to go if we don’t like it? The Old Republic?
So is the MMORPG genre done? Despite a distinct lack of change of dominant titles, there has been a consistent change in the way things are done in MMOs, both new and current. Things are becoming overall more casual-friendly, possibly to combat the rising popularity of other, less time intensive genres, like the rapidly popularizing MOBA. So perhaps the genre is not entirely dead; it’s still evolving after all, but it is extremely close to stagnant and the lack of competition in it continues to be very concerning.