The Death of the MMO
By Ramin Shokrizade
In early 2005 I noted that the continued weakness of Western MMO launches dependent on the unlimited subscription monetization model, combined with the perceived strength of Eastern MMO launches utilizing microtransactions, would cause all MMO development to go the way of microtransactions if an alternative was not developed. While microtransactions are not inherently bad, the way they have been used in the East has been to use them to sell game objectives. Any game where the objectives can be purchased immediately becomes “not a game”, what I call an “entertainment product”. A classic example of this is that if I let both players buy extra moves in a chess game, whoever spent the most would win the game. As soon as I allow this chess is no longer a game.
Thus I went down the path of pioneering the field of applied virtual economics in 2005 and had developed the first alternatives to both subscription and microtransaction monetization models in 2009, as first described in my 35 page Sustainable Virtual Economies and Business Models paper. Now in 2012 I am reading in Gamasutra where they quote in the Global Games Investment Review 2012 (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/162929/Social_casual_market_domi...) that 57% of game investment is occurring in the social [network] games space and 30% is occurring in the mobile space.
As a general rule, games are not made by designers, programmers, or artists. They are made by investors. All of the games in the social network space currently are either single player games, small group games, or multiplayer “pay to win”/ante games as I describe in my “How “Pay to Win” Works” paper. There are no massively multiplayer games at all in either the social network or mobile space currently. If investors keep making more of these, they won’t make any more MMO’s.
In my eyes, the last successful MMO’s, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, EVE Online, and Final Fantasy XI, were all made almost ten years ago. EA’s recent Star Wars:The Old Republic is more of a massively single player game than an MMO, and would have been more successful if designed as such. The only two recent multiplayer products to have found a way around both the classic subscription and microtransaction monetization models are Wargaming.net’s World of Tanks and RIOT Games’ League of Legends products. What makes these games different from their competition is explained in my upcoming Supremacy Goods paper. These small scale match-based games are still not what I would describe as an MMO. The scale is too small and without an understanding of what makes these games successful, investors will not fund more complex versions of these. Even if they did, these two titles bypass the weaknesses in their models by not permitting most forms of social interaction. Thus they would not scale up in an elegant fashion.
For gamers, the social game revolution peaked some time around 2003-2004, and it has been downhill since then. As investors pull the plug on massively social games and move their resources to social network games (not the same thing), gamers are going to have to endure an extended “Dark Age” while investors unsuccessfully attempt to give us what we want. I would think that the ante game bubble will burst severely, and soon, and then perhaps a new Golden Age of social gaming will be born on the other side. The risk is that as investors catch fire during the bubble burst, they will reallocate their resources to other industries, thinking ours is “too high risk”.
It could be some time before MMO’s make a come back, especially when you factor in the time required to make them after they receive investor funding.