Once in a while, in the middle of a long caffeine and video game binge, Joshua Wirtanen starts making wild predictions about the future of gaming. In this weekly column, we will take a closer look at some of these predictions. It's up to you, the reader, to decide whether these have any truth to them or if it's just the caffeine talking.
The MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) is an interesting phenomenon. Thousands of gamers can get together in a digital environment to slay monsters, raid dungeons, or just hang out with good friends. Currently, we are seeing a massive amount of new MMORPGs hitting the market, each with its own unique take on the genre.
For example, recent releases in this genre include World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion for the hardcore MMO fans, Final Fantasy XIV for gamers who simply can't get enough Final Fantasy in their lives, Lego Universe for the little tykes, and DC Universe for those who prefer an urban setting. Future prospects look bright as well. Rift will be arriving soon with its space-time-bending premise, The Lord of the Rings Online has a major expansion due out this fall that will bring players to J. R. R. Tolkien's famous Isengard, and who could forget the eventual release of Star Wars: The Old Republic?
On the surface, it may sound like a great thing for MMO fans. More MMOs mean more happy fans, right?
On the contrary: the MMO is a completely unique beast in the gaming world. While a gamer can easily pick up Mario for a couple hours, switch to Call of Duty later in the night, maybe mix it up with some Halo even later, and try out some great indie hits the next day, MMOs demand your full attention. You don't play one MMO for an hour, then swap to a second MMO. MMO players need to spend hundreds of hours – thousands in some cases – with their favorite game in order to just barely scratch the surface. Of course, this introduces problems unique to the genre.
The typical business model for the MMO is to have players pay for a monthly subscription. In order for players to be willing to shell out money for more than a month or two, a game must have enough interesting content that even the most hardcore players will stay busy for extended periods of time.
This means two things. First of all, a MMO must be insanely large from the beginning. A fledgling MMO with a tiny amount of content is not going to be able to sustain any regular fan base. So MMOs are, by nature, much more expensive to produce with a higher risk factor in producing them.
Second, the world inside each MMO must be continually expanding. Long-term gamers need to continue to be tantalized by the newest content updates: new lands to explore, dungeons to raid, better gear to acquire. If players run out of things to do, they will leave. Thus MMOs are more expensive to maintain.