The Heat Death of the MMO


Everquest: Next is dead, and with it, so goes the genre – at least according to some people. Are they right? Perhaps, but not necessarily in the grandiose nature their title implies.

Everquest: Next‘s cancellation does appear to be the last hurrah for the era of triple A MMO releases. After a decade of stagnation and cloning, the megastudios have pulled out of the market with the abandonment of the one game that was ever interested in changing it up. The spark of innovation was the fire that fueled this genre’s rise, and as the same tired formula was rehashed over and over again, that fire died. The heat death of the MMO has finally arrived. From here on out, it’s all indie titles as far as the eye can see.

This is of course nothing new. I said it a year ago in my article Craft Beer, Crowdfunding, and the Rise of the Bespoke MMO, and plenty of others said similar things beforehand. We all saw it coming; the heat death of the MMO just hadn’t actually occurred until Everquest: Next‘s cancellation last week.

Things are going to be different now. The indie MMOs in the pipeline are throwing the idea that a game needs to appeal to as many people as possible to the wind, with developers working to create focused, niche titles excelling at only a few specific objectives. Crowfall and Camelot Unchained are to a large degree PvP only titles. Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is bringing back the idea that MMOs should be about playing in a group, going so far as to include absolutely no solo content. None of these MMOs are going to come anywhere close to World of Warcraft‘s 12 million player zenith, but they don’t need to, either. An MMO can be successful with only a few thousand players – especially if it’s an indie studio unburdened with the substantial overhead that comes with being a larger company.

The heat death of the MMO is a fantastic event. If you’ve ever complained about the genre’s stagnation, it’s cause for celebration, not despair. It’s hard to take risks with a $300 million MMO. It’s even harder for an indie title with a tenth of that budget to compete in a market inundated with those massive triple A titles. The heat death of the MMO was a necessary step in the genre’s rebirth. This is how innovation happens; this is how progress is forged. When we’re finally able to find something new, something great – that’s when the next big thing will finally come along.

I, for one, will dance in the cold ash wake of the genre’s heat death, awaiting its phoenix-like rebirth.

4 thoughts on “The Heat Death of the MMO

    • I do wish that Everquest: Next, specifically, had made it through; at least in some alternate reality where Storybricks were able to acquire SOE instead of a private equity firm and the game made it to fruition while staying true to the original vision Dave Georgeson presented.

      With it gone though, the third generation of MMOs has officially come to an end. To that, good riddance.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The times they are a changing. I agree it does look like MMO’s are finally going to crawling out of Wow’s shadow. I do think we are going to see a lot of misses as well as hits, though who knows. Then again that depends on how we measure success. For example Star Citizen and its crowdfunded ilk don’t need to recoup the cost of making the game. Ah well either way new stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Star Citizen is that magical indie title that managed to amass enough money to rival a triple A release. It has enormous potential to be the next big thing, if they can really pull it off.

      That reminds me – my Star Citizen article should probably get published soon…

      Liked by 1 person

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