Are We There Yet?

Sun and clouds - RL

One of the things that hit me recently in the lull between waiting for the next big MMO (aka Guild Wars 2) to wind its way round the hype machine.

Have we hit THE point that we (or at least I) have been waiting for? Have MMOs come to maturity?

Seven or so years ago, practically the only MMO people talked about was World of Warcraft. That was pretty much all that had come to public consciousness.

(Sure, before that, there was Everquest, and there was Ultima Online, and there was MUDs and so on, but they were all in their little separate communities.)

When WoW came along, nearly every blog you read, you could trip over a reference to WoW. The bright-eyed optimism and naiviete that most bloggers were displaying was a bit of a sour taste in my craw at the time, since I’d just come off being very jaded with the whole raid/loot grind/progression mechanic – which I had the (mis)fortune to experience a lot earlier in more primitive form in a MUD.

Cassandra-like, I predicted a good number of people waking up to the whole affair of being enslaved to game “obligations” about four or five years down the road – about the same time it took for me to progress through all the stages of burnout in that old MUD.

Sure enough, a number of people did start realizing that setting alarm clocks to tend to a game and brushing off significant others in real life because twenty four other real people are waiting behind a digital screen might not be the healthiest way to continue forward with gaming.

To my initial surprise, many of these people stopped gaming entirely in response. Some permanently, and others just hung around waiting for the next big MMO.

The blogosphere followed Lord of the Rings when it launched, really went full swing into Warhammer Online and subsequently fell out of love just as unitedly, trooped into Age of Conan (some stragglers fell away), marched right into Aion (more stragglers fell right off) and then went…

…where?

All over, it seems like. Everyone is playing different things now.

Some have found a purpose and impactful consequences in Eve Online. Some have gone back to old stalwarts like Everquest 2, Vanguard, Lord of the Rings, and yes, even World of Warcraft.

Many people dabble with all kinds of MMOs now – the range of MMOs has expanded beyond fantasy to superheroes (three of ’em now), science fiction (several big space themed elephants in the room and some FPS hybrids), real world (cars, tanks, aeroplanes, you name it), FFA PvP sandboxes (they’re niche, but they exist – Darkfall, Mortal Online), classless/crafting/skill-based (Wurm, Runescape) and other weird unclassifiable hybrids or niches (Glitch, Puzzle Pirates, A Tale in the Desert, Spiral Knights, Realm of the Mad God, the list continues…)

Subscriptions are not seen as the only way to pay for an MMO now. Various games have been experimenting with various options to varying degrees of success. It’s not so important now to commit for years to a single MMO titan unless you really wanted to.

So are the days of “one MMO to rule them all” finally over? Have we come to a point where there is a surfeit of MMOs for us to pick and choose from, each to their own tastes and desires?

And are there enough MMO players or enough spare hours to satisfy the supply that MMO companies are now throwing at us?