When MMOs Die …

So, after talking about how much I still miss City of Heroes last week, this weekend I managed to get in a little of The Old Republic. There’s talk about a server merge, which usually indicates a declining population, which then can indicate that, perhaps, the game isn’t going to be around much longer. And while I recently commented that TOR might end up being the only game I play for about a year, in thinking about it I realized that if TOR died I wouldn’t miss it anywhere near as much as I miss City of Heroes. But I would miss it.

Which gets into the things that a player would lose when an MMO has to fold. For the most part, for me, the things that I’ve missed have been things about the world itself, and not the gameplay or the social aspects. As I commented last week, there aren’t all that many superhero RPGs out there, so losing City of Heroes meant losing that world. Another of my favourite MMOs was Dark Age of Camelot, and there simply aren’t any games out there that combine Arthurian Legend, Celtic Myth, and Norse Mythology and crossover between all of them. In fact, there aren’t all that many games that try to even present one of those worlds, let alone three. And while RPGs in that era definitely occurred before, the eight story TOR does something that the other games don’t have the ability or funding to do.

It seems to me that in order for MMOs to compete, they often had to take on either unique experiences or attach themselves to existing popular worlds in order to stand out from the saturated crowd. After all, in terms of mechanics, gameplay and social aspects there’s not that much room to move or stand out, and if a player really likes that sort of thing they not only can keep playing the game that they first joined, they actually have reason to given that they’d have social networks already built up and a number of in-game advantages. If you want players to move, then, you have to give them something new, and a new and interesting world is probably the easiest and least risky way to do that. This means, though, that when an MMO goes away so does access to that world.

And I think MMOs taking on a unique setting is potentially bad for that setting, because it discourages companies from trying a non-MMO game in that setting. While the MMO is running, it can be seen as too much competition for the new game to handle unless the population is big enough to handle multiple games, which many MMO settings are at least not believed to be. And when the MMO dies and the competition is no longer there, there is always the concern that this means that the target audience is burned out on the setting, and so a new game in that space won’t succeed.

I’d love a new, good superhero RPG. Or Arthurian, Celtic, or Norse RPG. But I haven’t really seen any lately, and so without playing the MMOs I don’t get to play in those worlds anymore. I can and have to believe that if TOR closed that a new Star Wars RPG would get made, but it wouldn’t quite be the same. It’s almost a shame, then, how the MMO surge managed to get games in those settings made, since it’s not likely that their success will translate into getting new games in those settings when they’re gone.

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