The debate over casual gamers vs. hard core gamers, or free to play vs. subscription, or what's really an MMORPG, etc... it rages on. Why? Because these are real issues relating to where MMOs came from and where they are going. People, regardless of what side they are on, are passionate about online gaming. I've certainly thought a lot of about these and other related conundrums, and for now, I'll say this:
The MMO gamespace has grown tremendously in 16 years. More than 10 million people have now played MMOs. That's a lot of people, and their tastes and what they're looking for in an online game is going to vary, often significantly.
Some gamers prefer more 'solo play' -- they want to be online, and part of a virtual world, and to see other people. But grouping and teamwork and community interaction isn't necessarily what they're looking for. And while older MMOs targeted more social players, who enjoy grouping, shared experiences, interdependence, etc., many newer games are not being made to accommodate them.
IMHO, arguing over what MMORPG really means, or asserting one preference is more legitimate than the rest, or even saying things like 'hey, then go play a single player game' are really unnecessary. I also see a lot of posts by the peacemakers of the thread, trying to figure out or design a single MMO that could appeal to both of these disagreeing groups. I respect that, but also think it's really unnecessary, a problem not worth solving and likely unsolvable. I also think the days of trying to develop a massive, super expensive MMO in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible, the 'mass market', is over and can even be harmful to the entire online genre.
The future I believe are MMOs that have identified and targeted specific audiences. Like with any space that has grown tremendously and become much more diverse, developers need to adapt as well and make great games for these gamers but also be ok with this reality: several diverse yet successful games can co-exist, each with different mechanics and features and content. Likewise, if you make a good game, it doesn't mean that everyone has to like it.
Recently, the shift has been to appeal to the more casual, or the more single player oriented MMO gamer. That's fine and for many it makes sense, business-wise, creatively, etc. But the more social gamer, the player who enjoys playing a role in a team, who wants an MMO to become his home and to play for months, even years... the gamer who embraces the communities that form because of the interdependence seen more often in earlier MMOs.... I can understand their frustration with this shift. But there is a solution.
I won't debate here and now how many belong to this orphaned group, or to the newer group -- that debate is ongoing and can't be proven in a post on a message board. But I will say the orphaned group aren't some tiny, virtually extinct, odd-ball bunch of dinosaurs. And while I personally don't think they should necessarily be bothered by MMOs designed not for longevity but rather micro-transactions and cash shops, these newer designs do fail to meet their gaming needs. I also hope that Pantheon, the game I'm currently working on, won't be the only MMO that targets a specific demographic'; rather, I hope it will merely be one of the first. The MMO we're making, while modern and with new ideas and features, is also being built on a foundation that some would call 'old school', but that is really what makes an MMO work for players who want to group, who want more of a challenge, and who want to play a game with content that isn't devoured in weeks or months. And you know what, contrary to hyperbole that FTP revenue models are the only future model for MMOs, we firmly believe that the model should match the playstyle of the players the game is designed for. Subscriptions are not dead by any means -- just look at the millions still subscribed to WoW and other games.
I guess what I'm ultimately trying to communicate is this: it's good and healthy that MMOs are being built differently, appealing to the large number of players more newly attracted to the genre. There is no 'one' way to build or design a massively multiplayer game. And there shouldn't be. Debate as to whether these newcomers are the only true audience now, or arguing that the 'old school' games were better, or more truly an MMO, is really unnecessary and unproductive. There's nothing to win here, nothing to be proven, nothing that has to be protected, and also no need to declare one style or design somehow, magically, obsolete. Unfortunately, some behind some of the newer games that failed to retain subscribers, many of whom then intelligently switched their revenue model, have also (for whatever reason) proclaimed that their failure to retain gamers is because that gamer no longer exists, that the gamers who want to play long term, involve themselves with the community, and to work together in groups and guilds are gone now, or radically different.
I have to not only respectfully disagree, but also express some dissatisfaction, because people often listen to these assertions, both gamers and developers, and sometimes even analysts . So while I welcome healthy debate and applaud newer MMOs designs that appeal to perhaps a broader, or at least a newer audience, I do have to stand up for the 'old school' -- and not just the older players who loved the earlier MMOs, but also the younger players who are enjoying co-op and teamplay in FPS and other types of games and who would love to experience that cooperation with other players in an online, persistent, virtual world. Again, feel free to debate the actual size of this or any other group of online gamers, cite numbers or studies or anecdotal evidence, but don't pretend they don't exist or are so tiny that it will never make sense to make MMOs for them again.
Both types of online gamers (and probably other types as well) are here, are wanting to play MMOs, and it makes sense to create games targeting these groups. Another WoW is unlikely (even Blizzard agrees, having cancelled Titan). And, really, there is no imperative to make an MMO that somehow appeals to everyone -- again, the gamespace is just too big. I would encourage developers to make games not just targeting players that have distinct tastes, but also to get to know their audience as well. communicating and interacting with them during development. The result, I sincerely hope, will be more MMOs, smaller yet still profitable, with designs that make their audience happy and satisfied.
Early on, if you wanted to play an MMO, you didn't have a lot of choices. Now, while there are many more MMOs, most seem geared towards only one type of MMO gamer. A sizable group has unfortunately been orphaned, and this just doesn't make sense, creatively or financially. The future should not only be a variety of MMOs to choose from, but also a variety of styles to choose from, allowing players to play games without compromise... enabling gamers to choose an MMO that really entertains them and that has features, mechanics, and yes, revenue models they find both desirable and compatible.
Anyway, while I'm sure this post will not only fail to stop the debate, probably even re-igniting it to some degree, I also sincerely hope that it makes all MMO gamers at least stop and consider that there may be no right or wrong philosophy, no current and obsolete designs, no better playstyle or inferior playstyle. I also hope it makes publishers and developers stop and think too, and at least consider the idea that the future is about variety, about targeted, specifically designed MMOs. Because, when it comes down to it, it really hurts the entire gamespace and everyone who enjoys MMOs when massive amounts of money are spent trying to create a game that is all things to all people, and then when that objective fails, not only do some gamers feel neglected, but some even end up disinterested and disenchanted with the entire genre. And that's unfortunate, because quite the opposite is true -- while MMOs have been around some 17+ years now, they are still really in their infancy. There is still a lot to learn, especially now that there are so many more people interested in them.