Death of the WoW-Killer: With WoW Subscriptions in Decline, Will Upcoming MMOs Take More Risks?
World of Warcraft, the fantasy MMORPG that's been defining the genre for nearly a decade, is hemorrhaging subscribers. There are certainly a lot of reasons why this could be happening, including the rise of other team-oriented online games like DOTA 2 as well as the decreased popularity of pay-to-play subscription models. It's pretty interesting stuff, but it's a topic for another day. I'm much more interested in how WoW's decline will affect the MMO landscape.
WoW's dominance has meant that countless MMOs launched with the intention of being a "WoW-killer", and if they weren't applying that label themselves the press has been more than eager to do it for them. Of course no one game has succeeded in doing this, largely because most of them have tried to replace World of Warcraft by replicating it. There's very little incentive for people who are already well established in WoW to start all over in a new game if that game is really just more WoW.
So what will this mean for upcoming MMOs, most notably EverQuest Next and the highly anticipated Elder Scrolls Online? Will they be more willing to ditch Blizzard's baggage and take a few chances on their own? It's still early to say, but here's why I'm optimistic:
The Elder Scrolls Online... Actually Looks Like an Elder Scrolls Game
When ESO was originally revealed in Game Informer over a year ago, most fans (including myself) were not thrilled by what they saw. I feel fairly comfortable saying that most (again, including myself) were hoping for something that looked more like a multiplayer-capable Skyrim, but instead saw a game that looked like... Well, just about anything else; WoW, Rift, any number of 3rd person fantasy MMOs. To the developers' credit they listened, and have made quite a few changes since then. ESO is now much closer to what the audience expected and wanted in the first place, especially with the addition of a proper first-person camera POV.
In general, Elder Scrolls games are very unique in their structure and gameplay, and very unlike most RPGs/MMORPGs, so the further they move towards the original ES game experiences the more they'll be moving away from the stereotypical WoW-clone fantasy MMO. On the other hand, there are a lot of things about Elder Scrolls gaming experiences that could break a massively multiplayer game (for example, how difficulty in the single player games often scales to your level rather than being defined geographically is it would in an MMO). It won't be easy for Zenimax to balance everything out, but hopefully their willingness to listen to the fans will help them venture even further out of the MMO comfort zone.
EverQuest Next Is Taking Cues From... Minecraft?
When EverQuest Next promises dynamic spaces and permanent change, I'm pretty skeptical. Guild Wars 2 made similar promises, and as much as I love that game I can recognize how much of a PR spin they put on their area quest system. EverQuest Next will also apparently have multi-classing and professions that will offer a different take on character leveling, but again, I'm taking that with a grain of salt because I'm just not sure how significant this change will actually be. So what am I so excited about? Obviously it's the voxels.
EQ Next uses voxels. Like Minecraft. The entire environment is apparently made of voxels, meaning that players can build and alter and destroy things in a variety of ways. As they demonstrated during a recent presentation, players will even be able to age and erode building pieces like columns for varying effects. While a lot of this will likely be limited to players' personal building spaces, they also mentioned that players will be able to submit buildings for public areas as well, which means there will likely be significantly more engagement between players and the world around them than most MMOs have offered before. While EQ Next is also doing its fair share of "standard" fantasy MMORPG play, it will be rather interesting to see how the aspects of the game inspired by far less conventional group gaming experiences will play out, and how much weight will actually be put on them after release.
I suspect it will be some time before we see major MMOs taking significant steps away from the core aspects of WoW, but both EverQuest Next and The Elder Scrolls Online appear to be taking their games in fresh, innovative directions. It remains to be seen whether or not they can deliver on their promises, but with any luck we may be on our way to putting a decade of MMORPG stagnation behind us.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.