Chance for Future Success
I have a bold proposal to make, but I believe it will come from an unpreviously predicted direction. First, the proposal:
No MMO will ever be as successful as WoW.
Immediately, many of you will balk at such an absolute. Hundreds of reasons have been cited by others, from unique gameplay (which it really didn’t have) to cutting edge graphics (which it didn’t really have), to a vast depth of lore (which it did and still does have, but so do many other games, like LotRO), but none of these are my claims. Mine have more to do with our participation bandwidth and a sustainable engagement economy.
Both of these terms come again from McGonigal. I know, I know; you thought we were done discussing her when my last semester ended. However, it struck me while I was writing my recent Juggling epistle that there’s been a fundamental change in my own play habits, and after asking around, the play habits of a lot of people in my generation.
My logic (based upon McGonigal’s terms) goes like this. We have a limited amount of effort we can share among our endeavors. That’s our participation bandwidth, according to McG. Once that limit is reached, something has to be dropped before a new project can be picked up. When WoW appeared, there were relatively few successful games in the genre: Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, and, of course, Everquest. It was able to consolidate a lot of those players as their games were becoming stale and it provided much the same gameplay in a new, interesting, and enjoyable environment.
Now, though, new games release into a sea of MMOs, both big budget and small, both subscription and free to play. Go check MMOhut if you don’t believe there’s a veritable industry just in making MMOs, and that’s not even all of them; MMORPG.com‘s list has others (but is less well kept up). Every new MMO is struggling like a baby crocodile to survive without being killed by a predator, starved from lack of capability, or even devoured by its own parents or siblings.
We used to have a sustainable engagement economy in the MMO world. We were able to play a single game for hours at a time without many distractions that provided a similar type of entertainment. That’s no longer the case, and as a result, I truly believe no MMO will ever be as successful as WoW, not due to a lack of ingenuity, creativity, or design, and not due to anything particularly special about WoW, but simply because there’s too many obstacles out there to be able to pull so many people under a single umbrella. In other words, the popularity of the genre has killed a hopeful future for the genre.
Malcolm Gladwell writes in Outliers, his book about success, that timing means a whole hell of a lot. Most of the computer magnates of the day were all born at about the same time. The same is true with rock icons and hockey players. There’s patterns that we can’t usually perceive that drive success far beyond individual capability. WoW came out at the exact right time into the exact right market and provided the exact right type of fun. Then the window started to close.
I believe we will continue to be inundated with similar models of MMOs because that’s what’s been successful and it is, after all, a business. When something new comes along, something like Star Wars’s “story based” gameplay (we’ll assume I agree for the sake of staying focused on this discussion), it won’t do as well as previous models did, so future games will not take into account its developments and will simply go their own way. The more of these “half-successes” that exist, the more difficult it becomes to have another blockbuster simply due to the market being so flooded with choices. Like being sunk into a pool of chocolate pudding, we’re drowning in something we love.
I haven’t a clue how to solve this problem, or if it is even solvable. I think we’ll probably simply see more of the same for days on end until something truly new breaks through the mold and we’re given something that’s no longer an MMO at all, something new, something we couldn’t conceptualize at this point in the same way none of us could really conceptualize an MMO when we were playing Darkside of Xeen or Legacy: Realm of Terror (or even Syndicate, which were basically my three gateway computer video games. I just didn’t want to mention Syndicate again since I just had last time). I can’t wait to see what that development is, and I look forward to the surprise we’ll have in store when it shows up.
Stubborn (and waiting)