Monday, May 7, 2012

The Biggest MMO Stories Of 2012 So Far

On Friday I posted a story in which I analyzed Massively's lack of coverage of the Burn Jita event in Eve Online on 27-29 April.  While I could understand why Massively reported the way it did, I disagreed with the decision because I thought they were missing covering an element of one of the major MMORPG stories of the year.

My criticism led to the obvious question: what are the biggest, most significant stories currently out there in the MMO space?  Below is a list of 5 items that will make it onto most people's top 10 story list of 2012 at the end of the year.

1.  The success of Star Wars: The Old Republic:  I maintain that the success of SW:TOR is the biggest story of 2012.  With a speculated development cost of nearly $200 million, EA has stated that the game needs to attact 500,000 subscribers to make money.  As a game that doubled-down on the DIKU model of games by utilizing massive amounts of voice acting, a successful run could leave investors believing that only big companies spending huge amounts of money can make a successful MMORPG.  And we could see a hardening of belief that games must be theme-parks to make money.  A crippling failure of the game could lead investors to believe that investing in MMOs is too risky and thus slow down development of AAA games if other new games can't be successful under a different model.  Looked at this way, SW:TOR is a lose-lose proposition for those who dislike theme-park MMOs.  I'm awaiting the verdict to see what direction the industry will follow.

2.  The selling of New Eden:  While EA/Bioware's major innovation is the introduction of voice-acting, Icelandic game developer CCP is thinking completely outside the box and in another universe with its plans for its Playstation 3 exclusive title DUST 514.  CCP along with Sony worked together to make DUST 514 free-to-play; the first MMOFPS designed as a free-to-play on a console platform.

But the unorthodox moves do not stop there.  DUST 514 is linking into the same universe and same server infrastructure as CCP's flagship game, the PC MMORPG Eve Online.  Eve Online, unlike every other large MMORPG, has all 400,000 accounts sharing the same game world.  Add in all the players of DUST 514 and the universe of New Eden will break Second Life's record for the highest number of peak concurrent users on a single game world.

In a genre in which game developers are often criticized for a lack of imagination, CCP is taking huge risks with innovative ideas.  That makes DUST 514, Eve Online and the crazy pack of space vikings in Reykjavik one of the big stories in 2012.

3.  Pandas in Azeroth:   Anytime Blizzard releases an expansion for World of Warcraft the MMO world takes notice.  This year's expansion, Mists of Pandaria, will attempt to stem the decline of players from Azeroth and keep WoW with over 10 million subscribers.  Will a horde of kung-fu pandas save the day?  Everyone will be watching.

4.  Guild Wars 2 is finally here:  The long awaited sequel to ArenaNet's Guild Wars is currently in beta and due out sometime in 2012.  Based on the Xfire numbers from 29 April Guild Wars 2 should solidify the belief among gave developers that cash shops are good and subscriptions are bad.  But according to ArenaNet, the story is not just about financial succcess.  The company claims to have improved upon the genre's standard questing mechanics and made character development and progression unique.  If true, those ideas will transform MMORPG development in years to come.

5.  The Secret World has no class(es):  Up until now, the top MMORPGs except for Eve Online all used character classes to guide their players and levels to give them incentives to move through the content.  Funcom is joining CCP in making a game without classes and levels with its new game The Secret World.  The game is also breaking tradition by setting the game in the modern world, linking to Facebook and having to conduct research online to complete quests.  Not reasearch as in the best way to beat an NPC.  Research like in university.  I anticipate a lot of puzzles.  While EA/Bioware made a super theme-park in SW:TOR, Funcom is attempting to pull off what promises to be a unique game.  Can they pull it off?  If so, The Secret World's Creative Director and Senior Producer Ragnar Tørnquist will have stuck a blow for originality, or at least against conformity in the genre.

Those are my five top stories so far in 2012.  I expect the list will change some as unexpected events occur, but I expect all of them to fall in the top ten MMORPG stories of 2012.

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