The future of the MMO (Part 2)

The MMO is potentially the most lucrative genre in the world.

And in the coming years there are some major new MMOs due for release, from APB, to Star Trek Online, past Star Wars: The Old Republic, Dust 514, The Agency, Warhammer 40,000 Online, Guild Wars 2, DC Universe Online Final Fantasy XIV and Lego Universe.

But can any of these games hope to topple Blizzard’s World of Warcraft – which has over 11.5 million subscribers?

In the second part of a roundtable with the industry’s biggest MMO players, we discuss how to create a world-beating MMO and if anyone can hope to take on World of Warcraft…

In this roundtable we speak to:

Erling Ellingsen, Director of Communications at Age of Conan developers Funcom.

Wes Platt, design lead at Icarus Studios, who developed Fallen Earth.

Rob Smith, COO at Jagex, the company that publishes popular web-based MMO Runescape.

Jaeho Lee, CEO of MMO developer and publisher NCsoft West.

EJ Moreland, design lead on Realtime Worlds’ upcoming MMO APB.

Dirk Weyel, COO of MMO developer Frogster Interactive

Stephan Ansari, Vice President European Operations for OGPlanet. OGPlanet are a publisher of free-to-play online games.

Jack Emmett, COO of MMO developer Cryptic Studios.

Can any of the big name MMOs due out over the next two years dethrone World of Warcraft?

Jack Emmett, Cryptic Studios:
World of Warcraft has essentially captured the entire monthly subscription market. There’s very little room for other games to succeed in that environment. To compound it, many companies try to replicate WoW’s gameplay. That’s just silly. If someone wants WoW, they’ll play WoW.

No game will topple WoW, but I expect Star Trek and Star Wars to do very well. The only thing that will topple WoW is time – when the game looks and feels dated – or technology.

Wes Platt, Icarus Studios: Considering the fact that one of the major new MMO titles will be World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion, I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone will dethrone WoW except for WoW. There are some other MMOs coming out that have awesome potential, but WoW’s pretty safely entrenched at this point, I think.

Rob Smith, Jagex: Unlike in previous years where publishers have aimed directly for the World of Warcraft audience with titles such as Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, the outlook for 2010 looks remarkably different.

A game to topple WOW doesn’t have to come from the fantasy genre, or even from the retail MMO sector, you only have to look at the success of games such as Farmville or Mafia Wars on Facebook to show how popular these casual MMOs can be.

2010 will see the release of a number of hardcore space and science fiction MMOs such as Star Wars and Star Trek online alongside the introduction of other successful IPs such as DC Online and Stargate. These games are unlikely to topple the likes of World of Warcraft from its throne, at least in the short term.

Stephan Ansari, OGPlanet: In short: No.

World of Warcraft is a juggernaut, it’s the easy to learn difficult to master paradigm, which has captured so many new gamers that have never considered playing MMOs before. Its hold over this sector is like Madonna’s hold over the music industry, the ability to reinvent one’s self, building on the strong foundations that have already been implemented to date keeps WoW firmly at the top of the table.

With the introduction of new MMO’s we see players trying them out but Blizzard has put a polish on their creations that if not equalled gives them the ability to win back any lost players. We should not also over look the fundamental fact that MMOs are so all encompassing that it’s rare to find someone playing more than one so once you find one as polished and engaging as World of Warcraft it’s hard to let go.

Erling Ellingsen, Funcom: Predicting the fall of World of Warcraft would be futile. The game has proven to be incredibly resilient against the test of time, not only because it’s a great game but also because it’s turned into somewhat of a pop-cultural phenomenon. Predicting success or failure in the MMO segment is dangerous, but I think it’s safe to say that World of Warcraft will be around for a long time.

That said, I think there is one game that might have a chance of becoming very successful both in terms of sales and subscriber numbers in the long-run, and that’s ‘Star Wars: Old Republic’. Not only is this an amazing license, Bioware is also one of the few developers out there who has got the expertise and resources required to pull of such a monumental production.

What’s the key to creating a successful MMO?

Dirk Weyel, Frogster: One of the most important key success factors is having a well-tested and well-balanced game from the beginning.

It doesn’t have to be perfect but it needs to be fun, the players have to have the impression that they are treated fair and the developer needs to be transparent and credible in communicating to the community, especially when talking about existing problems, bugfixes, upcoming patches.

Jaeho Lee, NCsoft: By nature, MMO is a game to play with others, a lot of different people. Making the gamers feel fun to play with others is more important.

In addition, since MMOs are not just games, but services, they must offer a positive player experience outside of the game in areas like community interaction as well as billing and customer support. Ultimately your game needs to build a strong community of players who feel passionately about the game and who will help to spread the word to other players.

EJ Moreland, Realtime Worlds: Understanding what you want to deliver with your core game and being disciplined about only including the features that support and add depth to this core game. If your game, at heart, doesn’t capture the imagination of your audience… all the bells and whistles won’t change that.

In addition, it is crucial to ensure that the game you’re planning on delivering executes well on the features provided – you don’t get a second first impression from the market. In most cases, a developer is better off reducing the feature-set to ensure that each has this level execution rather than throwing more features into the game that haven’t had the time to mature and be polish.

To read Part Three, click here
To read Part One, click here

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