There is a trend that I couldn’t help but notice as of late. More and more developers are suggesting that the AAA MMO is not the wave of the future and is soon to be an endangered species. Now there are (apparently) numerous casual games in development poised to replace our long term behemoth loves with their new, easy to play and stop playing offerings. One such game is the massively popular Free Realms. This MMO is free to play, extremely polished and lets players do whatever they want when they want. It is, without a doubt, a fun experience even if it isn’t heavy on the “long term build up to a single goal” style we’re familiar with.
I am a fan of what you would now call “hardcore” MMOs. By this I mean “the games we play more than an hour at a time to achieve something and frequently lead to raid or group content.” Previously you would call that an MMO and the hardcore was the top 5 or 10% that raided the hardest content. The “casualization” of the genre that WoW and many games to follow has brought have shifted the proverbial scale so that even relatively “easy” games look difficult. I’m not sure how I feel about that but I will agree about one thing, this is good for business.
If we should learn one thing from World of Warcraft and Free Realms it is that accessibility is king. We can no longer take the attitude that SOE did before the release of EverQuest that “if it is good they will come, even if the system requirements are insane.” These days good won’t cut it. If you expect someone to jump through hoops to play your game it had best be great, polished and new. On the surface this seems like a bad thing for people like me but I’m not so sure.
I believe that there will always be a new hardcore MMO around the corner. Even though there are new markets to expand into there will always be the solid base from which to pull. Many people will play the new casual games and then ask the question, “Is there more?” In a way, they are like a gateway drug. Most of us will crave a deeper experience besides simple mini-games and shallow (and I am not using this word with a negative connotation) character progression at one time or another. At the same time, however, those of us on the hardcore side will equally appreciate something that doesn’t constantly force us to grind. There is room for both.
In the future I imagine we’ll see MMOs on more than the PC. They have already crossed into the realm of the console and are growing in support there. I see them doing well on the cell phone of the future, though. A “play anywhere” type situation if you will. I can even imagine an MMO where you play mostly on your PC but can still achieve character progress via an application on your phone. Imagine a “lite” version of Eve on your iPhone where you can make basic character changes and chat. It would be easy to achieve since the groundwork is being laid.
I have most recently purchased an iPhone and am finding it amazing. I truly had no idea how powerful it was and what it could do. To poorly quote Buuncha, “Everytime someone buys an iPhone they just have to come over and show you every little thing they find. It is annoying.” I myself am doing it as I discover the power. It is like having a PS1 in my pocket. I’ve already checked out a few of the iPhone MMOs and while they are simple they offer a hint of what is to come. This is a captive audience that is growing daily and more than willing to fire off $2.99 here and there for a few hours of fun. I myself have been exploring Parallel Kingdoms and Epic Pet Wars (friend code kremolb if you want to join my posse). These freemium apps don’t offer much depth but they’re horribly addicting. If they tied into a larger ecosystem I would probably lose my job in a week.
It is hard to say what the future holds but I have a feeling it involves high powered cell phones and casual games. I hope it still includes long play session and deep games like EverQuest as well. There is no doubt, though, assumptions are being challenged and change is in the air. What do you think about it?