MMOs Are Dead, Long Live The Multiple MOGs

I know the true meaning of this picture is all the other MMOs attacking WoW until the giant in the center crumbles...

The Age of the MMORPG is over.

Amidst the much foreseen migration of players out of Wildstar to either nowhere or to the next new big thing Archeage, Tobold wonders where it’s all gone wrong. Why is it that these games aren’t attracting and retaining the numbers we’re expecting out of them?

He proposes two reasons for it:

The lack of new blood -real newbies flowing in to the MMO genre. which WoW captured in a big way, riding on the Blizzard brand name and subsequently a critical mass which turned it into a pop culture phenomenon

Way too many games now on the market – all competing for a limited number of players who have finite time to commit, some offering way more attractive prices than others

In a way, I think he’s right.

MASSIVELY multiplayer online roleplaying games are dead.

If we find ourselves only able to play MMOs who report a population of 10 million players, there is no MMO out there today that can suit you anymore. No, not even WoW. The king has toppled off its throne and continues to crumble.

It’s time to play MOBAs – League of Legends has apparently 27 million players online daily in Jan 2014 (how many of them are bots collecting free stuff, I don’t know, does it work like DOTA 2 where there is some kind of incentive to make multiple free accounts and keep them logged in for whatever reason?) – or maybe Candy Crush Saga.  46 million monthly, says the Forbes link.

If we chop off the unstated RPG from the word MMO, maybe you can tell yourself you’re playing an MMO when you play the above games?

If we dial down our expectations to a more modest ‘a million players or so,’ you can probably play WoW or GW2.

Nosy Gamer suggests that those are the top two MMOs played by Xfire users, and given that both have launched in China, I think it’s reasonable to assume that both have comfortably exceeded a million players globally and won’t suffer attrition down below the magic 1,000,000 for a while yet.

If we drop to *shock, horror, gasp* only several hundreds of thousands of players, then I guess you can play all the ‘dead and failed’ MMO carcasses out there that are still clinging on to life for some unknown reason only known to the developers and their bean-counters.

That’s the rest of those on Nosy Gamer’s Xfire list – SWTOR, Eve Online, Final Fantasy XIV, Tera, Aion, Wildstar, Runescape, LOTRO, Neverwinter, TESO – and charitably, perhaps TSW, DDO, RIFT, Star Trek Online, Everquest and the rest of the SOE lineup make the cut?

Or maybe they’re only in the 10k-100k players range, along with any other MMOs I forgot to mention.

Who knows? MMOs tend to stop reporting their numbers below a million, but curiously refuse to close down.

As Bhagpuss mentions in Tobold’s comments: “How are we defining failure here?… All of these and more certainly failed to satisfy and hold the attention of a particular segment of the MMO commentariat but that’s hardly going to bother the companies still raking n the money or the players still happily playing, is it?”

He’s right too.

And I think I’m right too when I say, you all had better just get used to this state of affairs.

WoW was a one-time phenomenon. It brought in players who don’t usually play MMOs. Hell, it brought in players who don’t usually play GAMES.

Many of those continue to subscribe to WoW comfortably, like a magazine subscription they’ve almost forgotten about or take for granted, and browse through the pages from time to time. Others, when they got tired of WoW, simply stopped.

If we’re lucky, some of them moved on to other games, having learned that they are not the work of the devil.

If we’re really really really lucky, some of them stuck with the MMO genre.

We have also seen demonstrated over time and across a whole sequence of games now, since WoW and Warhammer and whose latest consumption was Wildstar, a migratory flock of gamer locusts that pick up and play each new game for 1-3 months and then move on to the next new and shiny.


This is the usual state of affairs for games, especially single-player games or just ordinary PC games that can be played both single and multiplayer, whose major money making strategy is the sale of the price of a box to players willing to pay a premium for it as it launches. They play it for a while, and then happily move on with their comrades to the next new game, plunking down $60-100 for the privilege of playing it during that vaunted hip and cool time where all their friends are talking about and playing it too.

If you find yourself attracted to this group, you’d best just get used to spending the money and moving on, cupcake.

That’s the price you pay for the excitement of launch (queues, bugs and all) and the ephemeral feelings of hope, promise, potential and dreams. Archeage is your next best bet now, it’s that way, hop to it.

Sadly for you, game companies are catching on and offering you oh-so-prestigious Founder price packages now.

In the distant future, we can look forward to Landmark, EQ Next (maybe), Star Citizen (maybe?) and Eternal Crusade (of which I’m personally on the Founder bandwagon, I expect to be disappointed, you can point and laugh later, it’s ok, Warhammer 40k fans are used to paying ridiculous prices for a piece of cheap plastic, if all I get is a CoH-like character creator that lets me play dress-up doll with WH40k colors, I guess I can pay $40 for that and the hope of pewpewing some guns with them.)

I’m also right when I say that you can rewrite your damn expectations of what MASSIVELY (not the website, the descriptor) needs to be, and settle down in one of many of the current crop of MMOs out there.

That’s what several thousands to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people are doing, after all.

Seriously, think back to the most fun and/or most populated (those two do not necessarily correlate) MMOs you’ve ever played, and start counting.

All the people you can name, first of all, that you remember for their personalities and for being a meaningful part of your life.

Then count the rest on your friends list, your guild rosters (preferably those that were online at the same time as you) and maybe a rough estimate of the number of people you need running around you to feel an ebb and flow of life around you.

Please actually spend time taking a screenshot and counting name tags at some point for best accuracy.

Prior experience playing WvW in Guild Wars 2 suggests very strongly that most people are unable to estimate numbers with any sense of accuracy. (“OMG a zerg!” Then 5-10 people show up… Or “Oh, maybe 10-20ish people at this camp.” Folks get there and find 60. Ouchies.)

There are 33 people on the outskirts alone, not counting the disgusting clump in the center, which probably has anywhere from 40-55 players.
There are 33 people on the outskirts alone, not counting the disgusting clump in the center, which probably has anywhere from 40-60 players. Most people, in my estimation, define this as too fucking crowded. That’s only 100 people. 150 at best, as that’s the limit on GW2 maps.
26 players, not including myself. I consider this somewhat zergy, others will happily classify this as zerg.
26 players, not including myself. I consider this somewhat zergy, others will happily classify this as zerg or still too damn crowded. Personally, I expect this amount of players around me in a town center or capital, and maybe 10-20 more at best to feel that the place is bustling and has folks around trading posts / auction houses and crafting stations.
13 players visible here, not including myself. I find this comfortable, others might still find this zergy.
13 players visible here, not including myself. I find this comfortable enough to play with, and more or less, roughly keep track of in terms of positioning. Less so in terms of what skills each individual is actually using or firing, mostly due to my crap computer culling them, but clear enough to tell when someone has fired a knockback or has used a blinding field or some other combo-able field, and for me to act on it. With a better computer displaying animations, I think the number here would be trackable. Played CoH on a regular basis in a team of 8, after all. But 24 in trials was a bit too much. Others might still find this zergy, or maybe this is all the people they need to see around them on their travels or even in towns.

If you even manage to exceed 10,000, I’m going to be very surprised.

Far more likely, that number is going to be somewhere in the 100-300 range, or what I tend to think of as Dunbar’s Number when it comes to MMOs.

No one really needs a million players around them. It’s just an easy shorthand to assume that the game they like won’t close down just because there’s lots of people paying the game company and keeping them afloat.

Guess what. You don’t actually have any say in when the game closes down or not.

Chances are likely the game will close -someday- because all these things are finite and computer technology progresses inexorably onward, making things look and feel better and better and older games more and more unplayable to many.

But if you play -and- pay for a game that you like, there’s a bigger probability that you may be able to delay that day for a while yet.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll be having fun, in the game you like enough to pay for.

If you can’t seem to find any game fun enough, especially when we’re talking about dropping dollars on it, then I guess your lot is to accept that you enjoy migrating with the herd and the social experience more than any individual game.

Go find your community and stick with them. (Just remember that every herd needs new births from time to time to thrive.) Move from watering hole to watering hole with them, and maybe one day you’ll get enough of wanderlust and settle down in a village in a game that you do like.

And if you get tired of settling down, pull up roots and travel again. It’s not a one-way trip.

14 thoughts on “MMOs Are Dead, Long Live The Multiple MOGs

  1. I agree, though at the same time, I’d love to see more MMOs designed with the intent of only a 100k subs or so. I kind of miss the days when the biggest MMOs were still pitifully small when compared to a megatitle like World of Warcraft or the many attempts at capturing a large portion of the pie since.

    So time to downgrade Massively to … Largely? Plus-sized? Or maybe something really ambiguous.

    I vote Advanced Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, especially since AMORG suggests where the genre now lies in wait for its burial.


    1. World of Warcraft was only a big success from its advertisement. You had the company spamming different commercials like Geico ads or someone running for President. You had Tyra Banks, Chuck Norris, Mr. T and so many other celebrities telling people come play with me. 2004 and up, all you saw were the ad’s and them playing these characters. No other MMORPG’s have ever did this type of advertisement and at the level of World of Warcraft. Yes, they had a great game but the advertisement of all the celebrities and famous ones during the time helped the game a lot.

      My first video game and MMORPG Final Fantasy 11 with a boyfriend and his best friend. I never got the Chuck Norris thing they would do. I noticed it was used a lot on that game and online. When WoW had Church Norris on a TV ad and you come play with me. I instantly saw it bringing many people to their game. No game will ever be WoW without the old day WoW advertisement on TV. I would love to see a game created for long-term sub players.


      1. A lot of that was during the first expansion. They launch of the game attracted a couple million subs on just the word of mouth and good will Blizzard had earned from its other series. That, plus competition wasn’t really there in 2004.

        I think there is definitely some argument to WoW’s crazy growth being from a well marketed game, but to say that’s all it was would discount the very good product they launched with and have since perfected.


  2. Interesting post.

    The four biggest influences imho are:

    1.The genre is stale.People are over the format.Sure devs try again and again to be the “next big MMO” but it’s all the same cookie cutter formula with subtle variation.Character creation—>Quests—>Attain max level—>Grind out gear—>Stand around in hubs showing off and wondering what to do.People are bored of that, especially given the time commitment which I will raise later.

    I hate the term “WoW clone” as I don’t think a genre should be wholly defined by one game, even if they did it bigger and better than most, but the formula of MMO’s hasn’t really changed.It’s essentially exactly the same game regardless of what your playing, just with a different skin.

    2.Time commitment.

    Gamers, MMO players in particular, are atypically over 20 years of age and have lives and commitments outside of gaming. As such many, myself included, don’t have the luxury of time to spend 8 hours a day on an MMO in order to progress. Many MMO’s struggle with how to keep casual players involved while not creating segregation between those that can only play for 2-3 hours a night and those that roll out of bed, log on and only leave for meal and bathroom breaks before rolling back into bed.

    In the majority of MMO’s time investment is king. It has nothing to do with skill, knowledge or anything else…it’s time online.The people that play for more hours will always have more in-game power and freedom than those that cannot. This puts a huge demographic of players off the game as they can quickly conclude that unless they can commit dozens of hours a week to the game they will be at a disadvantage compared to those that can game all day.

    Until the majority, which now days is casual, is embraced MMO’s will struggle.

    3.Subscription costs.

    Out-dated and fail mechanic.Until dev’s wake up and realize micro-transactions handled properly to avoid pay-to-win scenarios and/or a scenario where you pay for time actually online as opposed to allotted time windows which have no sympathy for things like life in general are the future they will struggle.

    Full retail cost for a game with on-going subscriptions are fail for a reason.


    This is the future and totally un-tapped by most MMO games.People want a quick fix on their console, not the grind fests that most PC players go through. Until devs can design a MMO that caters to this market they will again struggle as they are ignoring such a huge slice of the pie.


  3. I think WoW created a skewed view of what “Massively” means both in the eyes of the players and perhaps more importantly in the eyes of the developers/investors. I can remember, in 2004, fellow soldiers playing 4-on-4 HALO on their off hours. That, apparently, was the limit of what the console was capable of. Before that, some of us played “Online” Risk, with the same capacity of 16 players. MMOs on the other were catering to Tens of thousands. That is several orders of magnitude. EQ changed that, upped the ante, then WoW blew the ante to the moon. But the potential for communities still resides in in the several hundreds range, not in the millions.


    1. Have to agree.My question is when will game makers set out with this philosophy in mind?We still seem to be in a generation where they release with hugely unrealistic expectations, and often subscriptions, only to quickly realize that they didn’t grab the 50% player base of WoW they were hoping for before going F2P.

      I honestly think once the makers of MMO’s embrace sub-genre mentality and lower the expectation of having millions jump on-board at release they will not only make better games but also have to fire less people 3 months after release.

      If they focus on smaller Dev teams putting out smaller but higher quality product that’s not trying to make everyone happy but focused on a sub-genre where by if 10,000 or so play it’s breaking even I think it will be a win/win for everybody.


  4. Love this post. I’m guilty of wanting to find an online community again. I give up – I am part of one already (blogging) but its hard to level here, and hardly massive =)

    So many games to explore for free, and more on the way. (including some of the sub ones today) *grin*


  5. yup, I do think in the future not just of games but of entertainment in general, there will be a smaller ratio of consumers to media. All u need is 1000 true fans anyways to make a solid living at something like this. Maybe not even that depending. I think there will be smaller tribes forming around more obscure titles ect, as people become more individualized ect


  6. I think this post is correct on one point in particular, over-saturation. Even games like battlefield and (gasp) farmville have taken a lot of mmo components. Since the social and community building focus is now spread across multiple types of games, and multiple role playing games, traditional mmo’s have taken a huge dive.


  7. Just wanted to throw a hand in here and mention project 1999.

    Even with 700-1600 players (depending on your log in time) this EQ1 emu is recreating my experience of a massive MMO. With a relatively small community in terms of MMO everyone is there to enjoy that classic experience making everyone you encounter a joy.

    EQ1 was not a game for everyone but I have to say I cancelled both my SWTOR and archeage subs to enjoy this F2P MMO.

    The graphics take some adjusting if I’m being honest but they’re not unenjoyable and the PVP of EQ1 left something to be desired, but with a host of dev events and community events I personally prefer this emu over any game on the market.


  8. I know some people are going to think think is stupid.. I think a company should take a look at the grandfather, Ultima Online. Its still running today and its 17 years old. Skill based instead of level, housing that changes the actual landscape. Tons of customization options for everything from creating a house that looks like no other, to changing the color of any armor you’re wearing. Its so different from any other mmo i’ve played. The graphics are very outdated, i know, but i think that’s an easy fix today… there are a million games that are aesthetically amazing, and exactly the same. I think the ideas and game play behind Ultima Online, have huge potential.
    As for the 3 month max per game discussion … I have no desire to put effort into a game that will be dead in 3 months, then move on to another… Even if i only play 2 days a week, I think its nice to log in and see a group(guild) that i have spent time with.


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