Developers and publishers are avoiding the term MMO to describe their games due to the level of expectation that comes with the genre, says former Blizzard chief creative officer Rob Pardo.
Speaking to Develop at the recent Games First Helsinki event, Pardo said massively multiplayer online games have expanded and evolved away from how people used to describe them. He said following the runaway success of World of Warcraft after its launch in 2004, a game that still boasts some 7m users to this day, a wave of companies tried to copy the winning formula. Not one of these were able to replicate the same level of success, however.
Pardo believes developers have now given up trying to do the same kind of MMO.
Fear of expectation
“What you’re starting to see now is people are creating persistent world games with lots of players,” he said. “But different types of games and different types of gameplay, rather than trying to create the same type of game as World of Warcraft.
“If anything, I think people are even avoiding the term MMO. A really good example is Destiny. It clearly is an MMO. But they’re really trying to avoid calling it that, and obviously it is a very different type of game. But I think that’s a good example of how with MMOs, the term has been eliminated. But you kind of continue to see the influence in games that are persistent world games that have spawned out of that. It’s just people seem to avoid the term MMO now.”
Pardo said publishers are largely avoiding the term to evade comparisons with World of Warcraft and the general expectations that come with making MMOs. EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic famously struggled to attract players – the definition of this criticism partially stemming from comparisons to Blizzard’s hit. NCSoft’s WildStar is another that couldn’t hit the same level under the MMO banner, and has now gone free-to-play.
I think people are even avoiding the term MMO. A really good example is Destiny.
One major factor holding many MMOs back is also what made the genre popular. Pardo says its rare to see a breakout hit in a genre ever replicated, though shooters have become an exception to the rule. He identifies Riot Games’ League of Legends as an example in the MOBA genre. It’s a space even Valve has had trouble replicating in terms of sheer scale.
He added that these leaders in their genres make it difficult for new entries to make headway – despite promising what seems like a new market ripe for picking.
“You couldn’t come out with WoW to the exact same feature-set today – it would get crushed by what WoW is ten years later,” said Pardo. “That’s one of the challenges with trying to compete at that genre. It’s not just competing against the five-year development cycle it took to make WoW, you’re competing against 15 years of development.”
Though it was never officially announced, Blizzard was at work for seven years on a new MMO under the codename Project Titan. However, the self-described ambitious game was scrapped in 2014. The studio claimed it hadn’t hit the level of quality and fun it was after.
Pardo said that though unfortunate, Project Titan is one of a number of examples of canned games at Blizzard, along with the likes of StarCraft: Ghost and WarCraft Adventures.
He stressed that Project Titan’s cancellation wasn’t a disbelief in the MMO genre, however.
“I think there’s still a big belief within Blizzard that MMOs are a great genre to be in,” said Pardo. “But I think that the other thing to keep in mind with something like when we started ProjectTitan at least, we never had an expectation that WoW would have this many subscribers ten years later.
“So I think that another thing is we kind of had expected probably by this point that all the World of Warcraft developers would be on Titan or on other games at the studio and that never really happened, which was very fortunate.
“But I think that allowed making decisions on games within the studio that made sense, and they still got to stay in the MMO market.”