The 12-year reign of World of Warcraft is awe-inspiring, but in its shadow lies a gloomy reflection on the condition of the MMORPG genre. Are Asian and/or mobile free-to-play games the only chance for salvation from being pushed into the abyss?
Nowadays, almost everyone has access to the Internet. For a few years now, we have been observing the growing popularity of online games, among them MMORPGs. The trouble is, however, that this genre has come to a standstill. There is a lack of new titles, especially from American or European developers. Houston, do we have a problem?
MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, which simply means a large number of players can play with each other in a virtual world. Sounds serious, right? But you'd be surprised at the origins of the genre, which we owe to MUDs (Multi-User Dungeon). Imagine a game based entirely on subtitles alone. The system was sending us information about the world in text form, and we controlled the character through typed commands. We could fight with monsters, explore or communicate with other people. It was happening in the years 1978-1980, so in the distant past.
So imagine that the first real MMORPG was launched only in 1996. I'm talking about Meridian 59, a production that provides a worldwide reach. After it came the Ultima Online game, the first part of Lineage and the cult Tibia. Of course, we can not forget about EverQueast or RuneScap. All these titles paved the way for the genre and allowed newer productions to take over our free time. Today, hardly anyone remembers them, except for (not so few) groups of fans. The younger generation, however, would be surprised at how many of the mechanisms from those old games are present in modern projects.
Let's move on a few years later, to the birth of true legends, which are still talked about even today. I'm talking about MU Online, Ragnarok Online and Lineage 2, which conquered the world, offering a kind of fun which was unknown before. For many, these productions became the ultimate games, after which nothing better was created. However, it's hard to agree with this statement, since in 2004 Blizzard gave players World of Warcraft. It is one of the biggest sales successes of games in history. Why? This title required a monthly subscription, and yet it was played by an average of about 10 million people.
The king has been on the throne for over 12 years
In 2001, in the magazine Computer Gaming World appeared a 10-page article entirely devoted to World of Warcraft. Blizzard production even appeared on the cover of the issue. It was at this point that most players first heard about the company's project and learned what it was to be. Tauren, orcs and humans were announced, but nothing was mentioned about character classes. In the article, Blizzard promised that the game would not have loading screens between lands, long wait times for monsters or repetitive quests. I guess that worked out, didn't it?
So where is the much heralded crisis? So many people paying for one game, and here I am suggesting some problems? Despite appearances, yes, because that's where it all started. It's not like the genre ended with World of Warcraft. There were a few good productions after that title, like Guild Wars or Cabal Online. The thing is that these are relics of the past, old, fondly remembered, but not as popular today. Not counting WoW of course.
November 2016 marked 12 years since the release of Blizzard's masterpiece. During this time it has earned six expansions, with the last one, Legion, restoring its former number of subscribers. Unfortunately, only rumors and market analyses have to serve as confirmation here, because the creators stopped publishing official data. We know only that the game was in crisis, having "only" 5 million subscribers. Now there is talk of returning to 10 million. Why all this information? Well, it turns out that the hit from 2004 is still the most popular MMORPG in the world. What's better, nothing indicates that this state should change.
Far behind World of Warcraft we have other titles, which are doing quite well compared to the rest. We're talking about Guild Wars 2, for which Arena
Net is responsible, The Elder Scrolls Online created by ZeniMax Online Studios and Final Fantasy XIV Square Enix. Now we come to the funniest part, which is their release dates. The first production listed was released in 2012, the next one in 2013 and the last one in 2014. I hope you can see this disturbing void in time?
Blade & Soul despite more than four years on its neck still looks pretty good.
It's not like no MMORPGs were made between 2004 and 2012. On the contrary, there was a veritable flood of different titles during this period. Unfortunately, most of them duplicated the old schemes and did not offer players anything new. Aion from the creators of Lineage series after four years (counting from 2008) resigned from the subscription system, moving to the free-to-play model. The game even got a Polish version and a separate server for our countrymen. TERA, on the other hand, was released in 2012, but after nine months also changed the business model to free with micropayments - despite the fact that the production stood out from the competition with its original "non-target" combat system.