WarCry has assembled a number of the MMO industry's leading lights for a discussion on the state of massively multiplayer gaming, and their consensus is less than positive.
"It's pretty bleak right now," said Daron Stinett, producer of Perpetual Entertainment's Star Trek Online before it was cancelled and relocated to an as-yet-unnamed developer (rumoured to be Cryptic).
"If you take a look at the games in the shadow of WOW, you'll find a pack of MMOs that have managed to hold onto one or two hundred thousand subscribers," Stinett added.
"No one wants to compete with [WOW] directly, so they go off for niche markets," agreed Matt Firor, who worked on Dark Age of Camelot at Mythic before heading up Bethesda sister company ZeniMax Online Studios. He characterised MMOs as being in "a state of unrest, right now".
John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, said that accessibility - particularly on a technical level - was key to WOW's success and the failure of most competitors, including his own. "One of the biggest places we made a mistake with EverQuest II is the system requirements," he said, noting that the same mistake had been made more recently with Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.
None of this bodes well for notorious system hog Age of Conan, which launches this month.
There was some debate about whether innovation would be the key to emerging from WOW's shadow.
"If you try for too much innovation, you turn people off," said Firor. "That's the Catch-22 of MMO development. MMOs are about giving people a world they are comfortable in, and if you don't follow the rules they expect, then they are not comfortable and look for online housing elsewhere."
"We have the job of making great games, running great games and innovating," agreed Smedley. "I think you have to balance it. If you go too crazy with innovation, you might drive your loyal customers out."
Much more food for thought in the full article, so if you're interested in the future of MMOs, head over to WarCry and have a read.
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