Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 21, 2009
Is the MMORPG market saturated?

When I was young, people used to wear buttons saying "What if there was a war and nobody went?". Today I feel more like "What if there was a new MMORPG coming out and nobody cared?". This month is one with lots of new MMORPGs coming out, Aion, Champions Online, Fallen Earth, but apart from the usual suspects who get excited about everything new, the reception in the MMO blogosphere appears to be muted. Personally I checked all three of them out in beta, and they all failed to evoke much emotional response from me. The only one I actually disliked was Fallen Earth, where the controls were even more post-apocalyptic than the rest of the game.

What I found much worse was my personal reaction to Aion and Champions Online. I could clearly see that both of these games are quite good, but I simply felt no desire whatsoever to play them. And it isn't as if I was too busy with any other game to be interested in new games: I do play a bit of World of Warcraft at the moment, but at low intensity, no raiding, no PvP, and only the occasional group.

Compared to the hype and disappointment cycle from last year for Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, maybe the muted reaction of MMORPG players this year is a more reasonable one. But I get a certain vibe that the MMORPG market is so saturated now, that nothing much excites players any more. Maybe the real big releases, like SWTOR and the next Blizzard MMO will bring back the hype. And personally I'm very much interested in Star Trek Online. But I also got a bunch of press releases in my inbox about games nobody is waiting for. On the one side there appears to be nearly too much choice when selecting a MMORPG, with most of the old games still around and a bunch of newcomers. On the other side the majority of these choices are all very similar to each other, with a basic game design around quests and levels and solo combat without challenge.

What do you think? Are there too many MMORPGs around now? And are they too similar to each other? Is the MMORPG market too saturated for yet another level-based, quest-guided, standard MMORPG design? What would it take for a game to break out of this circle of apathy and really get people excited?
I keep playing WoW for the achievments (that is equipment). But I don't start an MMO, because of achievements.

I start, because I like the setting the classes, the immersion, the world, the credibility; and the feeling of something new !

If you copy what makes WoW great today (the relentless achievement-gathering) you ignore the reasons I'd start to play your MMO.
Are there too many MMORPGs around now?

No, never

And are they too similar to each other?


Is the MMORPG market too saturated for yet another level-based, quest-guided, standard MMORPG design?


What would it take for a game to break out of this circle of apathy and really get people excited?

Look at my last comments in the previous thread :)
We need choice and diversity, just like any market.

Not a couple of big names, or heavens forbid, just WoW.

So long as the MMO's are making money, new ones will be released. And people can laugh at how low their subscription numbers are compared to Blizzards, but so long as they are profitable, it doesn't matter :)

What has to stop is designers hanging on Blizzards coattails. They should forge their own niche. How many here would play World War 2 Online, a hardcore, MMO "simulation" with a very steep learning curve? Yet the game has carved out it's own niche, it has low subscription numbers, but it's still soldiering on (*groan*).
In my humble opinion, the MMORPG Fantasy market has been saturated for years now. More specifically, as someone pointed out in another thread here:

"I played UO and EQ because they were new and the only things available. I played DAoC because it was the first PVP MMO. Then I played WoW because it was a refinement of both PVE and PVP."

The bottom line is, nothing that has come out in the past few years has been even remotely creative. LoTRO, AoC, Warhammer, and now Aion - it's all just attempted rehashing of a successful business model that is Blizzard. What companies and developers fail to realize is that while Blizzard paved the way into mainstreaming the MMO scene, they also took a unique and non-replaceable spot in the MMO market for eternity. Failed game after failed game arrives just trying to capture some of that magic, and they're bound for mediocrity from the start.

So yeah, the market is saturated. Mainly with recycled crap that keeps getting spewed out from unimaginative, souless companies. I'm sure some devs on these teams do actually want to revolutionize the market and make something worthwhile - but in the end they're held down by corporate executives with solid business models or insane CEO's set to make a game with a certain vision no matter how shit the end game ends up being.

The ideas are out there. Some indie companies see these and try to take advantage of them - like Darkfall and Fallen Earth, using two recent examples. There is an empty void in the MMO-sphere of sci-fi games and sandbox games; of PVP-centric games and non-linear, open development. Sadly, these indie companies fail because of the sheer amount of resources needed to make and more importantly polish a MMO.

So, here's some billion dollar advice to anyone out there with the resources at hand: Make a MMO that isn't fantasy, doesn't use a level system, and most importantly, is fun. This last one is not only the hardest to implement, but often overlooked by companies who think players will just play something for the hell of it. Any QA testers or long time developers of games like AOC / WAR / Darkfall should have sat down after playing the game for a few months and said "So, is this game fun?" - Their evident answer of "No, it's not" might have helped shape these games into something different than thebargain-bin, cautionary MMO's that they are today.

TL;DR version: Yes, and we're all doomed. ;)
DikuMUD derivative market is pretty saturated. MMORPG market? Not so much.
It's not that there's too many. But I am starting to think that there may not be room for more than a couple to dominate. I'm thinking Facebook and Myspace are a good comparison here. Between just the two of them, they dominate most of the "social networking" scene. WoW is, to a degree, a social network. Part of what makes it popular is the fact that it is so popular, despite the apparent circular reasoning there.

And I think we've had enough of the questing, leveling, raiding design. Like many have said before, Blizzard has too much of a head start, and they keep working to stay ahead. Any new game should be aiming in a noticably different direction if they want to attract attention, though they still need a similar level of polish.
I think that its more of a case of reasonable expectations now. Most gamers are aware that the next MMOG isn't going to come out of the box as a WoW killer and will more likely than not be making incremental changes over whatever the state of the art (and I do mean art in this case) in their area.

The WoW killer is out there--or maybe even 2 of them--but I don't think either one of them will look like it when they launch.

Why 2 WoW killers? Well I think that you are going to have 2 types of games inherit the title of WoW--one will be the game played by most of the people who read this blog and will be more challenging, harder core (perhaps a shade or 2 more difficult than current WoW) and a game for those who still haven't heard of MMOGs, or tried them, for the casual market.

I know I was just about insulted at my briefing for the new boss in VoA as a DPS--don't stand in the fire.

The real problem with being a WoW killer is that this hypothetical game needs both depth of content and real quality. And nothing improves quality more than thousands or hundreds of thousands of players beating on your content.
Are there too many MMORPGS?

There is no way that all of these MMORPGs are making a profit. Lots of publishers must see the insane income Blizzard is making from WoW and think "I want that too". And end up making a product that almost bankrupts them.

What would it take for a game to break out of this circle of apathy and really get people excited?

If you make a game that's like WoW you have to compete with WoW. A product that has seen a decade of development with millions of man hours. You need to have a very good clone that's even *better* then WoW if you want to succeed. And so far noone has succeeded in beating Blizzard on their own terms.

Of course you don't have to copy WoW. There's always room for originality. Give us something entirely new. Revolutionize the genre and people will play your new game.

Only the very big companies should try the first option. Smaller companies can try to let a fresh wind blow through the MMORPG land.
What Nils said.

The market isn't saturated... it's just full of copy-cat MMOs that do almost nothing to differentiate themselves from each other.

In short, they're boring and we've already played hundreds or thousands of hours of exactly what they're offering.
Catch 22. People know these games aren't going to be popular, so they don't bother with them.

= # # =
Everyone I know and speak to, me included are chomping on the bit for SWTOR.

Some guy in my WOW guild was thinking about switching to Aion, but just for a change, as a stop gap until SWTOR comes out.

A lot of the MMOs that have been released recently (and I have tried most of them) where just too WOW like, but not as good as WOW. Bottom line, so why switch?

The only ones that really grabbed my attention were the ones that were genuinely different, Puzzle Pirates, Wizard101 and Free Realms. I personally think Free Realms rocks for innovation, the only problem is that there doesn't seem to be any community, just a bunch of individuals running around doing their own thing. But it's still fun to hop on for an hour or so.
I think a lot of the MMO market may be illusory. People are playing WoW, but many are playing because of addiction, not because of real enjoyment. Expecting them to go to another MMO after leaving WoW is like expecting someone to try cocaine after successfully kicking their heroin habit.
I completely agree that the current (and soon-to-be) crop of MMOs do very little to excite me. The thought of yet another cycle of quest/ding/quest/ding/end-game is stomach-turning. As you said, the new games are not bad enough to comment on, they are not great enough to get hyped for, they are just there.

I'm in the minority though in that DarkFall for me is about as good a time I've had in an MMO in as long as I can remember. Fresh, different, all the features I'm looking for (virtual world, impact PvP, player-skill based), hell even the odd typos and quirks entertain me for some reason (anti-polish?). Without DarkFall though, I'd be one very bored MMO player right now.
The only game my friends and I are excited about is DDO becoming F2P (or pay as you go rather). However, it would not run on my friends' computer, it's more powerful than mine but it crashes constantly, so that is out the window. So we're all still stuck in wow together.

At least till SW:TOR comes out.
I think people learned not to believe the hype as much. After AoC and WaR (which people had been talking up for YEARS) crashed and burned, you realize that being too enthusiastic is a great way to ruin your credibility with your friends.

I think its probably a good thing for the new MMOS as well; they don't have to deal with the noobswarm that comes in, clogs everything up for a month, then storms off and badmouths the game.
The subscription MMO market is most definitely over-saturated. You can't expect people to buy the box copy and pay a subscription fee, and also play other games that also require a subscription fee. $15 a month for a game is fine, but if that become four games, then it gets to be too much.

So any new MMO coming out that does the subscription model is just asking for failure. It's just dumb. The market is way too saturated. SOE knows this and is dropping the model, and Blizzard is already making plans to be ready to drop WoW's fee if needed.

Business models change and if you don't adjust and change with them, you die off. This is the problem the music, movie, television, newspaper and many other companies have come to face in the internet era. Those that refuse to change their business model go crying to governments or suing people.

Hopefully game companies would be a little smarter and simply learn to adjust. Subscriptions were fine when the choices were EQ, UO, AC, and DAoC. But there are far more than a handleful of quality games, and thus, the business model needs to change.
@ Dick.

I wouldn't play more MMOs if they cost less.
The amount of MMOs I play is limited by time alone and I wouldn't like to play an MMO that doesn't give me enough to do and thus allows me (forces me) to play another MMO in addition.
Everyone seems to be looking to SWTOR as the great messiah that will relieve them from their WoW funk.

Isn't SWTOR simply WoW in space? Unless I'm off the mark, it looks to me like SWTOR follows the same model as WoW:
1. class-based
2. pve quest-to-level
3. some pvp mixed in, but not the main focus
4. grind for gear

I'm seeing SWTOR start to follow the same overblown hype as WAR did. I have a feeling we'll see 1 million sales of SWTOR which will drop to 200,000 accounts 6 months after as people complain about the game and head back to the familiar waters of WoW.

I'm playing Champions Onlie right now, because I at least want a switch from the class-based play. Other than that, it's the same as WoW for points 2-4. It does throw in some nice features like WAR's public quests, and the really unique nemesis mechanic where you create your own villian nemeses that harass you later in-game. However, everything else is really WoW in tights.

I think there should be as many MMOs as the market can stand. Use 'em up and wear 'em out. The days of playing one MMO for years and years are as far behind us now as Full Employment and A Job For Life. We don't need fewer MMOs to keep us salivating, just better ones.

I'm in Betas for 4 MMOs at the moment, all quite low-key.

One of them I am very enthusiastic about indeed. I would be playing it all the time if I wasn't worried about doing too much before I get to make my "real" characters when it goes Live. It's both like and unlike other current MMos but sadly I can't say how or why because of the dastardly NDA.

Another, "Dawntide" , I can name and describe because it has no NDA. It's full of potential and I think it might grow into a very interesting niche game, but it's really more of an Alpha at the moment and I'm not holding my breath that it will go Live in less than a year at least. It's also full-loot PvP, so there's not much chance I'd play it in a Live environment anyway.

The third is exactly as you suggest, a very close version of well-established MMO tropes. That said, it's got personality and I may well play it when it goes Live.

The fourth is just plain peculiar, not at all like any mainstream MMO, although it has some similarities to some recent free titles. There's no way I will be playing that one.

I'd say I am as fascinated and interested in MMOs as I have been at any time in the ten years since I discovered them. I can;t see that ever changing now, any more than I'll stop reading books or listening to music.
Not so much saturated IMO, just saturated with the same old fantasy, comic-book hero, or sci-fi based rehash of other titles.

I'm waiting until something truly new comes out before I begin playing again. That, or the new WOW expansion.
Yes and no. There are alto of MMO's out. The problem with MMO's is their aren't enough consumers to support multiple ones out.

If this was any other genre it wouldn't be an issue. Changing MMO's is a fairly large commitment for most people, they don't make that decission lightly.

Mediocre games that don't require a monthly fee to play could probably recoup their production cost on box sales alone. However even a mediocre MMO costs alot of money, and box sales plus a few thousand subcribers wont make yor money back.
Yes, the market is saturated with way too many games are the same old DIKU design, but there is room for more different designs.

The bigger trouble is that too many of them use the subscription model, which is a fairly exclusionary beast. Most players won't subscribe to more than one game, so there's no reason to get worked up about something new if you're happy with what you have (or are just so beholden to inertia that you won't change).
Others have already said it, but it bears repeating - the subscription model is killing games that might otherwise be good. It's not killing them for the reasons you might first expect, either; it turns out that people *will* pay $15/month for a game, if it's done well.

The problem is that the subscription model is forcing developers to design games in a certain way, and that way is basically always the same. The designers serve two masters: on the one hand, they want to create a game that's fun, but on the other, they want to drag the experience out as long as possible to generate more revenue.

A game designed around this model simply won't ever be as fun as it could potentially be if play length wasn't a criterion for success to the manufacturers. Compromises to gameplay will be made to keep the player playing (content rehashed, weaker quality content, progression barriers, etc) and only so much of that will be accepted by the market.
I'm with Syncaine here.

When I started WoW, it was a blast. It was gorgeous, it was engrossing, it was completely new (to me), and it was *fun*. These days, I enjoy occasional PvE and PvP at 80, but I have no stomach for leveling; my rogue, for example, sat at 72 for months even though I would've liked to PvP with her.

Part of the problem is that questing now feels like a grind. Paradoxically, Blizzard's efforts to streamline solo questing actually made things worse: you don't really need to plan your quests, and you never need to interact with other players in order to complete them. And even with heirlooms and rested leveling, the feedback cycle is too slow; it takes far too many hours of solo questing between each ding.

So, when I look at a new MMO, the idea of investing all that time, of killing ten rats thousands of times, makes me log out after the first quest.

My WoW killer will be the game that allows me to play how I want, and when I want. Thirty minutes here, an hour there, some solo activities, some group activities, and no requirement to grind my way to an arbitrary level cap before I can interact meaningfully with other players.
I think using the excuse that "I will only pay for 1 MMO" is sort of a cop out.

It's not that people are only willing to pay 1 monthly fee, that's not true because alot of people own 2 WoW accounts.

It's that they simply don't have time. If EVERY MMO was free I would try more but I would still only play one once I found which one I liked.
I don't think the MMO market is any more saturated than any other genre in the games industry. I think it's just that we're so close to it, we see it in that way.

I'm sure if we all blogged about RPS games, we'd probably be talking about the same thing and how they are all the "same" :)
I think this saturation was caused by a korean MMORPG Creator application. Most of new MMORPGs , from the small and unknown companies, are being done using that application. The engine used on these games are the same. The GUI looks like a CTRL+C and CTRL+V with few modifications on it.
D&D is now around 40 years old, and may have be perfected 20 years ago.

Mature D&D is still a more enjoyable experience than current MMOs:
- huge immersive dungeons/worlds/lore
- great social interactivity
- creative decision making
- no grinding or loot-obsession

MMOs still have a long way til they recreate mature D&D .....
If you think it's bad now wait until the end of 2010.

IMHO, I feel that the market is saturated and will get even more "cluttered" as time passes.

You will see many indie studios pop up with there ideas. Wherein the larger ones will try to consolidate the weaker titles and concetrate on the stronger ones.

Three good reasons...
1) Them gold in them that hills! Watching Blizzard make headlines and billions of dollars off of wow has motivated many studios.

2) Catching the vapors of a market that seems to be booming, and will continue to boom as technology advances.

3) Supply meeting demand. As long as there is an audience, the circus will come to town. MMO's forums are never quiet as more and more new players log into old games while crying for a new idea. There is always someone listening somewhere, and someone is always looking to cap off of someone elses failures.

4) Everyone feels that they have a great idea. Many do, but a lot are just a rehash of a formula that has already shown success. ex: Runes of Magic.

If you look on the bottom right of's front page you will see 10 more titles slated for '09 release. Besides the heavy hitters you mentioned there is a lineup that stretches into 2012.

It's a classic bubble-type phenom that we saw in the 90's with the internet expansion and this past years real estate debacle.
I agree. I was super excited when AoC and WAR came out. I purhased them both on day one. Neither game lasted longer then the trial 30 day period. I felt like I sank $50 on nothing both times. Now I am excited to play Aion, but I really feel like I'll be let down if I buy it. Also since I hear patch 3.2.2 is hitting today I'll be plenty busy with WoW. I ended up quitting WoW months ago and started back up prior to 3.2 hitting. I'm so addicted to WoW again, it's like I never left.
I really don't think the MMO market has grown much over the last 2 years... it's jus shifting from game to game.

I'm sure if we added up the sub's for each game we could get an idea of how many people play MMO's. However it wouldn't be very accurate because of people who own more than one account at a time.

Shifting the market doesn't mean it's growning. Once Blizzard's new MMO launches I think we are going to see everything shift back to their court too.
I don't know that the market is oversaturated, but it's definitely undersaturated when it comes to quality, polished titles. This is where WoW comes in; it has set the bar pretty high when it comes to quality and the current crop of MMOs have a hard time measuring up. Now it took WoW awhile to get to the quality level it's at now, but that means little for a competing MMO releasing today; expectations are higher. The future MMOs I'm excited about are either significantly different than WoW or stand to offer a similar level of quality and polish. The aforementioned titles are:

1. APB: GTA + Second Life = ???? The customization in this game looks rediculous and the concept intrigues me. Hopefully its sandbox approach pays off. The prospect that even the devs don't know where the game will go is either a really good thing or a really bad thing.
2. Star Wars: TOR. As other people have put it, it looks like WoW in space; however, it's being developed by Bioware, which is the only studio I feel is capable of putting out a title that's on par in quality with Blizzard's WoW.
3. The Secret World: I have my doubts about this one since Funcom is involved, but the concept and what I've heard about the game design sound different and unique enough to pique my interest. Also Ragnar Tournquist (sp?) is involved so the story and universe should be interesting. I'm also craving a modern day, supernatural MMO and this one fits the bill.

I think the biggest problem plaguing the market has been the "me too" attitude that other posters have remarked about. Other game publishers saw the numbers Blizzard touted and they figured they'd be able to take a piece of the pie. They underestimated the rough nature of the market and assumed the rules that MMOs played by 5 years ago still hold true today, but as I've said Blizzard has set the bar pretty damn high. Also, don't copy what is held to be perfection (or the gold standard) if you can't come close to the quality of the product you're trying to emulate.
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