There was a time, not so long ago that the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG) ruled the PC gaming landscape. With titles like Guild Wars, Final Fantasy XI: Online, Everquest and of course World of Warcraft, dominating the scene and hosting populations of millions of concurrent players, it seemed like sky was the limit for the genre. But over the past half-decade the genre has quietly been fading, faced with dwindling populations, stiff competition and users not willing to subscribe on a monthly basis anymore what was once a vibrant genre seems resigned to cater to only a few dedicated, core players, all of which begs the question – is the MMORPG dead?
MMORPG’s are a big time commitment. They often require players to dedicate hours upon hours just to gain a few levels or grind out new weapon or armor pieces. While this was perfectly fine back in the mid-2000’s as not many genres required a very long commitment, as online features, DLC and extra content began to become the norm the console arena, a lot of gamers simply ran out of time to dedicate to their favorite MMORPG’s. Games like Grand Theft Auto V, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (among many others) are all massive in their own right and on a scale that we simply didn’t see before, so essentially MMORPG’s were robbed of their most previous resource. Time.
Speaking of time to play games, gaming has never before been more accessible, especially in the domain of the MMORPG – the PC. Services like Steam have made the platform an extremely vibrant place for all manner of types of games,giving players an unprecedented amount of options when it comes to choosing what to play next. That and their’s been a big push in recent years to standardize PC gaming components, meaning that, more than ever before anyone can assemble a computer that can competently handle many modern games, once again muscling MMORPG’s out of their comfort zone.
Of course, the fact that players are no longer rushing to play MMORPG’s like they used to does not mean that players aren’t playing online – far from it actually as online gameplay has become an integral part of many games, which not only takes more time away from the already time-investment heavy MMORPG but helps blur the lines between the traditional games in the genre and games that offer a new type of experience. Games like Grand Theft Auto: Online, Destiny 2 and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds all blur the line between an MMO and a more ‘traditional’ online experience, but share the fact that they require large time commitments in order to get the most out of them. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as nearly every major release of this generation includes online functionality and/or DLC in some shape or form. Simply put – it’s taking longer to play and finish video games, making it hard to have commitments to single games that go beyond a year or two.
However the biggest factor in the decline of the MMORPG has actually nothing to do with ‘time’ or the amount of games on the market but actually a problem with MMORPG’s themselves. World of Warcraft was a monumental release for the genre and in many ways set the standard for what an MMORPG should be. The problem is that, since its 2004 release there has been next to no real innovation in the genre. The other big releases in the genre, all emulated WoW in many ways, creating a very niche genre that only a certain subset of gamers enjoy playing constantly which has stagnated in recent years. MMORPGs are in desperate need of new blood and innovation and frankly, we haven’t gotten any in years.
The MMORPG definitely has its fans. Players who have put thousands of hours into their virtual worlds and keep putting in time until the servers are shut down forever. But that player base is dwindling and the amount of new MMORPG’s on the market is in decline, replaced by games longer games elsewhere that keep delivering content long after their release but also present new ideas, experiences and innovations, qualities which the modern MMORPG scene is in short supply of. So no, I don’t think the genre is dead, but it’s definitely not healthy and needs a spark if it wants to stay relevant for much longer.