Black Desert Online was the only survivor of the classic, sandbox-y core concept of MMORPG. Even its existence was singular, and it’s curious that the game that got closer to that ideal was a Korean-made game, since that ideal was born and developed (and then killed) in the West. Now it is going to be corrected.
Pearl Abyss, the company that develops BDO in Korea, and that ironically bought Eve-Online recently, announced a sequel-inspired new MMO titled “Crimson Desert.” Players have already noticed that in the past year development on BDO slowed dramatically, an obvious sign that developers resources are being moved to new projects (PA announced more than one new game).
And it’s more than irony that Crimson Desert is built on the basis of what they learned from BDO, and they decided to develop Crimson Desert… as a single-player game shoved clumsily into a MMORPG.
Doing more things, all of them poorly (nothing in a single-player game benefits from a MMORPG, nothing in a MMORPG benefits from single-player, they are antithetic in pure game design).
So, the reason why these days the mmorpg genre is in the shape you all can see is that it FAILED. These days we can see that the most successful are those with a very conservative design, like Destiny and similar structured games, where only the general context is shared and there’s nothing “massive” going on.
The genre died because it faced significant technical and design problems, and the industry as a whole eventually embraced the path it always embraced historically: the one of least resistance.
The reason for this is that a mmorpg is the most complex game software you can make. It’s the culmination. And for these reasons making a mmorpg COSTS A LOT. Maximum costs are then matched with maximum risks, exactly because there are plenty of things that can go wrong and make you ambitious project (and invested money) collapse into nothing.
Maximum costs + maximum risks = lots of failures in so many years. Eventually all game companies decided to take the easy, safer road. The easy road was making copies of World of Warcraft, and for many, many years that’s all we got. Simply going for that recipe made by others that was proven successful. WoW that itself was rather conservative and very simple in its design. And yet none of those thousands of copycats even got half as good as WoW. Because they were just that, pale imitations without insight or competence. Even “copying” is an art that requires skill, diligence, study, at least a little bit of passion for what you are closely observing to steal its secrets. And those were instead just greedy attempts at stealing some golden eggs that WoW left unattended, since its hoard was so immense.
The mmorpg industry as a whole fed on WoW’s scraps. Like hyenas.
Crimson Desert comes from the same philosophy of trying to copy those paths of least resistance. In this case the lure of a simpler, more directed single-player experience whose recipe appears so much easier to get. It’s a mmorpg that goes to copy the proven recipe, the safe success. The path of least resistance.
That’s why it’s not a mmorpg, even if it will eventually use the genre to excuse its shortcomings. You don’t make mmorpg sequels because mmorpgs exist as if they are gardens, organic environments, alive, that need to be taken care of with dedication and devotion, and then slowly grow and improve. It’s a long journey of hard work and learning, that the developer has to do hand in hand with the player, and that is the very opposite from the ivory tower of superiority and privilege where most developers in leading positions prefer to live in. If you instead destroy everything every few years, you end up with nothing, because things take time and dedication to grow properly (and these games simply aren’t very suitable for an industry that devours and wastes).
We can go all the way back to Tolkien, who also tried to build a world, and still is today the most successful attempt. Tolkien spent all his life building and precisely refining his world. He never restarted from scratch every time he decided that he learned a valuable lesson.
The mmorpg “industry” is dead because it failed. We now have a former, consolidated game industry that “adopts” some mmorpg-light concepts and integrates them into classic games. The carcass of mmorpg has been torn apart and scattered. It is unlikely it will show up whole again. It’s done. It’s dead.
Back to mmorpgs, we continue to see mmorpg-sequels solely because mmorpgs are still being built as linear games. And the industry still today prefers to copy the conservative recipes. Even BDO, as a clumsy attempt of trying a sandbox, is now being sacrificed to go back to the recipe of tacked on single player linear game. And that’s why, being greedy and jealous of what other companies do better, they’ll end up loosing what they had, and obtain nothing else either.
Maybe this time PA isn’t copying WoW, it’s copying The Witcher. The result is just the same. Wait and see.