I’ve been feeling oddly detached and indifferent to all the launch mania that’s been going on these past few weeks. Defiance, Neverwinter, Firefall, Startrek Online and Wildstar keys – I feel exhausted thinking of them all. Every other week I google a new acronym to find out what MMO people are talking about this time. Someone said on twitter that it’s not about the games anymore, that he’s just “addicted to launch rush”, a restless nomad never setting up camp. Far be it from me to criticize such behavior or rain on anyone’s parade but that’s the thing really: there are no parades to rain on anymore. There’s one-night stands and short-term flings, no more falling in love or grand statements of exclusive or at least deep affection. If you told me Defiance was great yesterday, then post an article on Neverwinter today while tweeting about tomorrow’s awesome STO session, you’ve lost me at “it was so much fun”.
Not that I’ve had any big hopes for 2013. It’s been pretty clear that TESO aside (and even that remains to be seen) there won’t be surprises or smashing hits for me this year. I am happy to delve deeper into Guild Wars 2 and maybe return to Rift’s Storm Legion. Yet, I feel gloomy looking at the current trend of MMO launches, the speed of playing and the fraction within the community. Many bloggers have predicted a future of variety and niche titles for this genre. It seems we’re slowly catching up with that vision, I’m just not sure it’s quite how I pictured it. I’m searching for genuine excitement and enthusiasm around me. Even on known community websites hasty reviews read as if written by people who aren’t “feeling it” but jump at every occasion to well, write reviews for something. How wonderful. Maybe I am deluded to think it was ever different but wow, I am so not catching fire!
If we accept this as the future of MMOs, what does it mean for the social factor of the genre? How will bonds be formed within a community of game “grazers” – will they shift to other social media, without specific games retaining their own dedicated community? Or will the experience of playing with and inside an established player base simply disappear?
There have always been MMO players happy to solo, pug and mind their own business, no matter what games they play. And then there are those still looking for the social gaming experience, scrutinizing new games for grouping and guild mechanics. Only – social and cooperative game design matters very little when games can’t retain that player base which would rather be inter-railing between virtual worlds. It seems to me this issue matters a great deal more right now than social game design, great group content, guild incentives and whatnot.
Somewhere these two factors are probably connected. Maybe division doesn’t just stem from the fact that there’s more and more variety at a cheaper price; but is it a lack of social game design that creates the current community – or did the changing playstyles of an aging target audience not rather ask for game design that requires less dedication? More importantly: can niche games do anything about this or will they too be overrun by the grazing trend?
Personally, I still yearn to be dedicated. While my life and net gametime have changed, I’d still like to play that one game with that one guild or group of people. I don’t think less overall gametime must be a hindrance, as long as it’s regular and you’re playing with peers. I could see myself doing this in Guild Wars 2, LOTRO or Rift – it doesn’t even matter that much. But I’m not close to a single stable, dedicated bunch of people anymore who play together longterm. As for guilds, they are dying and dying everywhere. It seems we’re looking at a future of loose cross-platform / cross-game communities at best, spamming raptr stats or chatting via twitter. To be clear, I wouldn’t mind either in addition, but on their own they’re horribly subpar alternatives to real ingame communication.
How well will true niche titles (which NW and the likes are not) be able to carve out their unique, stable communities? And what if I never find a niche MMO that suits me?