The Future of MMOs – Why Are There So Many WoW Clones?

Why do all modern MMOs fail? and what do you think the future of MMOs is? Well those are good questions and there’s no time like the present so let’s do this!

Those two questions are pretty intimately tied but let’s start by tackling the first one: Why do modern MMOs fail? Short answer: Because of no one’s thinking outside the box. Longer answer: Well it has a lot to do with psychology and business so you know… buckle up. The principal reason that MMOs fail today is money. Do you know how much it costs to make one of those things?

60-100 million dollars With that kind of money you could buy a video game every 10 minutes for the next 20 years and never run out. If you carried that much money around in 1 dollar bills it would weigh slightly more than a walrus. For most studios, a gamble of that size is a life or death risk. Almost no independently funded studio has the capital on hand to even attempt a venture like that means everybody that’s making MMOs has to answer either to a publisher or a group of investors. Investors want to know they’re investing in a company, not a project because individual games tend to be very hit or miss and they don’t provide the kind of long-term stability most investors are looking for.

This leads to new MMO studios to try and develop multiple games at once or create a web portal or start publishing games before they’ve even finished developing their first product. And while that might make sense on paper, in reality, it’s suicide for a starting developer. Investors will eventually become savvier about the game world but the way things are now, MMO developers are having to split their resources and their focus in order to appease those investors. And the result has been a pile of shoddy projects and cancellations. Alternatively, MMO developers can work with larger publishers to get the funding they need but the large publishers tend to be conservative when it comes to game design.

Historically they’ve preferred to re-skin game types they know will work rather than trying to push the envelope. And, as much as we love to push innovation here I have to admit – it’s a good business policy. Heck, it’s given us a lot of good games!

It just doesn’t work for MMOs. Why? Because console games are launched and then done, you beat the single player, you mess around with the multiplayer for a little while but then you move on. They’re not perpetual games MMORPGs, on the other hand, thrive on how much of the players time they consume they’re designed to be played to the exclusion of everything else.

People just can’t play two MMORPGs at once. Besides, MMOs are perpetual by nature they’re continually being updated and expanded creating an effectively illimitable amount of content for the player to explore. Couple that with the social bonds people form in these games that keep them from leaving and you have a very limited market. Do you see what I’m saying? Let me put it more simply: World of Warcraft is enormous.

It owns everything. Nobody can compete with it because users aren’t willing to play two MMORPGs at the same time, and unless users migrate en masse players will end up finding other games less fun because all their friends still play WOW. This means many MMO players spend their entire MMO lifecycle in this one game.

And the size of the market for traditional MMORPGs isn’t that large it’s probably close to its cap at about 20 million users now. But! Because Blizzard is making a billion dollars a year on this thing everybody wants to compete with it. Unfortunately, it’s so expensive to make an MMORPG that anyone who can afford to doesn’t want to take any risks. So they simply clone World of Warcraft. The problem with this strategy is that no amount of minor mechanical or graphical improvements will make a World of Warcraft clone better than World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft has an enormous player base a robust player-driven economy and well everyone you know is playing it. Add to that: that it has 10 years of development and content behind it and it’s simply impossible to build a WOW killer by cloning WOW. And yet, billions of dollars have been spent attempting to do just that. So… is it hopeless?

Should we just wait until Activision Blizzard comes out with World of Warcraft 2 or Call of Guitar Craft or you know whatever they’ve got planned. So we just give up on the idea of making alternate MMOs entirely? No of course not. But it would probably be better for everyone if we stopped trying to make World of Warcraft clones. So what should we do? What will the future of MMOs look like?

Well, first we have to ditch the idea that the terms MMO and MMORPG are synonymous. Today, all we have are MMORPGs because everyone’s trying to fight Blizzard over that little niche. But think how many other genres are out there. We could have MMO first-person-shooters. MMO racing games, MMO real-time-strategy, and brawlers and puzzle games I mean, why not?

Why don’t we see any of these things around? I mean, I guess we kinda do, honestly. We can see the first hints of the future of MMOs by looking to some Korean games like KartRider or Combat Arms. Or smaller western productions like Puzzle Pirates or Shots Online.

In the next 10 years, I think we’re gonna start seeing the MMO brought to every genre. Why? Because they don’t compete with World of Warcraft, and they’re much less expensive to make. A lot of those sorts of games wouldn’t need the enormous 3D worlds that we’ve come to expect. Because they aren’t RPGs, these games could get away with smaller shared hub areas and private rooms for most of the social interaction. Way cheaper than building a big-ass 3-D world and that lower cost means companies will be able to take some more risks and experiment in ways they couldn’t afford to with MMORPGs, which will, in turn, give us a new set of high-quality games like

We’re also gonna see social games blossom and evolve, you might argue that Farmville isn’t an MMO yet and certainly isn’t that deep but the next generation of social games will start to blur the line between themselves and web-based MMOs. But, I have a feeling that most of you are still kinda wanting to know what will happen with MMORPGs specifically. Well if I had to venture a guess about their future (which is always good for sticking one’s foot in one’s mouth) I think the dominance of World of Warcraft will slowly come to an end in a few years. Of course by then, Blizzard will probably have released some new MMO to pick up the slack but there will probably be enough players who got their first taste of MMORPG through WOW and are ready to move on to something different. At that point, the landscape may open up enough for a few smaller MMORPGs to get a foothold, so long as they aren’t just World of Warcraft 2 clones.

I think one trend we’ll start to see will involve more uncharted worlds, worlds where all of the players play in the same place. Kind of like EVE Online. I think we’ll start to see more emphasis on a story too eventually graduating to player-driven storylines. We’ll start to see a few ventures into user-generated content which will meet with some limited success and a strong trend away from subscription-based gaming.

At first, these games will likely move to microtransactions via in-game purchases and eventually evolve into more mutually beneficial systems. Such as uhh… like watch this ad, get some credit. Or allow us to use 3% of your CPU to crunch some data and you can play for free. We’ll probably also see a lot more and a lot better web-based MMOs, and last but not least: We’ll see the first attempts to cross over between MMOs, the web, and reality. Your future games might end up sending you on quests to the local Starbucks or to Potentially tacky, yes, but it could be used in some interesting ways. As you can see, there’s still a lot of room for the MMO model to evolve and grow, and it’s gonna be pretty exciting to watch it happen.