MMORPGs will die. Soon.

Another recurring topic in this genre is “instancing” Vs “persistence”. I’m not going to get involved with it again because I already expressed my opinions diffusely. I started with a glance here, then I expanded slightly the idea with a lot of redundancy, Stephen Zepp brought up the problem again and the discussion lead to delve more in the gameplay toward a different attitude where I explained some of my ideas. On Terra Nova another discussion lead me to draw a distinct line between “PvE and PvP” mirroring exactly, at the same time, the line between “instancing and persistence”. The result is that the design turns over. How you build PvE is the opposite of how you build PvP.

“Instancing” is a shape. A shape that will determine if what you want to put into it will fit or not, so it’s important that you choose the shape for its content and the content for its shape. PvP and PvE are also shapes for different types of content. These are basic oppositions, basic design structures. Essential dichotomies: “PvE vs PvP” and “instancing vs persistence”. My point is that they not only come in pairs, but they are also linked one with the other, PvE with instancing and PvP with persistence. Isn’t one of the main duties of a designer to choose suitable structures?

It’s the reason why in my idea for the “dream mmorpg” I tried to plan the structure of the game-world trying to put both parts where they belong and consequently draw all the best they have to offer. But so why that “pessimistic” title at the top? Because these discussions aren’t concrete. They are ideas. And not all ideas are easily actualized. Because, as per definition, they are simply “potential”. So the question changes in: why I’m sure that the path of persistence is going to be ditched?

The reasons are in the market. What happens isn’t that the ideas shape the market, but that, instead, it’s the market to set the trend and drag along the ideas. It’s another “upside down” process. The market isn’t a designer. It is a reaction. But, even if just a reaction, it mantains a strong impact on everything, to the point that it sets its *own* reactions. Big Bartle underlined the same point because the “audience” follows a similar behaviour. Supposedly are the developer to plan ideas, give them shape and then propose them to the “audience”, or playerbase. But at some point it’s the playerbase to take the lead, put deadlines, ask for precise features and decide what will be developed next. It’s a delicate process.

The problem is that these situations need an interpretation. Since the market is a mere reaction it cannot “remember”. It has no perception of history and it isn’t able to think outside the box to understand the reasons why something happens or happened (or will happen). Why something is effectively successful. It’s like a dream taken for its straight meaning without considering it as a symbol. Symbol: something standing for something else. The market is blind about this “something else”. The symbols, the reactions are straight. No interpretation. Direct meaning.

But, again, the market isn’t only a reaction, it also drags itself along, exactly like Big Bartle explained. All this brought to what I wrote on Grimwell recently:

“Worlds” are NOT the future because we do not have meaningful and successful examples of them to suggest a direction to the dumb guys who hold the money and are able to do something in the concrete. And we also do not have awesome designers leading projects that are heading that way. It. Won’t. Happen.

Things can change in two cases:
1- When there are big successes of $$$ that set a trend that will make everyone jump in the bandwagon (and, in general, fail because noone is able to “read” why the first example was so successful in the first place)
2- When there are geniuses and an infinite list of lucky shots that are able to join good ideas with their concrete realization.

I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

Now the argument becomes more complex. Finally someone else is starting to see how I also expect things will go. Quoting Rich Vogel:

People go to the next shiny thing.

It’s fun because I disagree basically on every point he made. This point included. But it still allows me to explain how I believe things will develop. The time for steady, rock solid subscriptions is over. Peoples will stop to watch the same movie over and over. The “genre” isn’t anymore about factions built around two games. Rich Vogel says “communities are portable”, “Today’s audience is more casual” and “People go to the next shiny thing”. But he forgets *why*. He observers what happens, put that on a nifty list. But *why* that happens? Peoples move for dissatisfaction, not for greed. Peoples cancel from World of Warcraft because of the queues, or because of the lack of updates but at the same time the genre comes up as an emergent level. It’s not anymore a single title, a single experience. You start from a point and then you look around for something similar that is able to better fulfill your *new* expectations. This is why EverQuest2’s exploit is a malicious winner.

With the time the players will become more and more casual subscribers. One element is the consequence of the other. If the games try to appeal the casual players they will also obtain casual subscriptions. The life span of a “world” will shrink. New games will require a *strong* impact and all the resources focused on that aspect. The market becomes a “zerg rush” in a similar way to what happened with the other types of entertainment: movies, television, music and so on. In Japan they call their typical phenomenon as “idols”. Excessively famous singers that simply vanish after a six-month span. Vanishing to be replaced. It’s the eritage of the consume society. So the trend isn’t anything new if you just look just some more from the outside.

What’s the direct consequence? It mirrors what I wrote above. The market not only reacts as it reacted till today. The market starts to set the standard, it demands actively and it will determine what will be delivered. This means that, with these elements, the optimization of the process will just lead to more games, coming out more quickly, fighting furiously for a slice of the pie. To do this they’ll need as many subscribers as possible, those that gladly jump from a game to the other and that will also easily jump away even from this new game that temporarily stole them.

From the production process point of view (the only one that matters, it seems) the best way is to develop quickly types of games that are able to be successful in a short period of time. Who cares if they do not hold subscribers? This would require again to “think outside the box”. Instead it’s the market to drag along the ideas and the result is that the developers will second what happens. If the market wants zerg rush successes forgotten in six months, this is what will be delivered. If it will become increasingly harder to work on the persistence (both of the world and the subscribers), the developers will simply run in the opposite way. They’ll push out brand new worlds every six months that are designed and expected to “expire” with that timespan.

What will rise to the visible level of the “news” is about those emergent winners. Like City of Heroes. Noone cares if they will fall months later or if they’ll simply vanish. Because they are consumables. Designed to be used and forgotten.

It would make sense to believe (like I do) that “worlds” aren’t supposed to “expire”. That the development should go exactly in the opposite direction, allocating more and more resources, developing the structures of the game even more radically. But this isn’t what happens nor what will happen. Another path is possible. The development could consolidate instead of shatter. From this point of view Mythic releasing Imperator isn’t a bad idea, because they aren’t offering their previous game in a new flavor. Instead they are exploring a new genre to deliver something that wouldn’t fit in the previous. The players may appreciate this because it consolidates the choice on a type of interest instead of a direct comparison of the same offer. The opposite of this idea is building sequels. Like EverQuest moving to become EverQuest 2. It’s a natural process of erosion. The mudflation applied to the whole shape of the game.

Honestly I do not believe that this idea will move from its potential status to be effectively actualized. “Instancing” is easier than persistence. It presents less problems to face on every level, it gives more control on the content and its development. It will allow more easily to shape up “disposable worlds”. Considering how the market is shaped and its requests, it’s the way to go.

We will have mmorpgs that do not remember why they are called so.

EDIT- A follow-up can be found here.

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