MMOG Concepts and Ideas to Dominate in 2011

I’d like to welcome everyone to 2011. A year I’d officially call “The Year of Hope” for the MMOG industry. We can all attest to what a disappointment 2010 has been for the most part. We’ve seen new releases with a severe lack of content, major intellectual properties turn in to games that don’t do them justice, and were even ‘lucky’ to witness the shortest lived MMOG in history. As such, most gamers will remember 2010 with a sour taste in their mouth, and hope that this year will more than make up for the failures of the past.

2011 sure does promise a lot of new games worthy of our attention…or so it seems at first glance. Perhaps, a few of you have lost all hope for innovation in the industry at this point. No? Then let’s examine some of the concepts that new games aim to either introduce or develop further in the year 2011.

If everyone is different…are they not the same?” – Philosoraptor

Probably the most noticeable difference is the expansion of the term ‘MMO’ to include games that significantly differ from each other, much as their single-player colleagues do. Judging by existing games like Global Agenda, Need for Speed World and upcoming titles like Firefall, World of Tanks and Tribes Universe, it seems that the ‘MMO’ label can be successfully slapped onto a sandwich, provided that it is eaten by fifty or so gourmands at the same time. Whether this adds more choice to the genre or is just a cheap way to monetize gameplay, which should have accompanied a single-player release, varies largely from game to game. Coupled with a wider acceptance and prevalence of free-to-play projects, this can lead to some interesting combinations. Let’s just hope that these newer titles are examples of quality before quantity, which was a problem of the early F2P genre.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a T-Rex (Ed’s Note: Someone training to be a paleontologist?)

Combat in 2011 is moving towards relying more on action elements and player skill, rather than pure number-crunching we’ve been used to in the ‘good ol’ days.’ Games like Blade and Soul and TERA aim to challenge our agility, precision and situational awareness. For some gamers, this really brings out the issue of player skill, one that has been lacking severely in old-school games. Finally, we get games where gear isn’t the deciding factor and where true winners can carve their own success.

To others, this might be an unwelcome introduction to a genre that previously took a deliberately slower approach to action and was (somewhat) akin to a speedy game of chess, albeit one with unicorns (Charlie!) and spells. With existing projects like Vindictus and DCUO beta, another important issue has been brought up in the fact that some players can’t always handle the physical strain that these games deliver. Thus, whether the newer releases will create a successful blend of both traditional and new combat systems is still up for debate.

You’re coming back to Earth, and things are getting more and more dynamic.

WAR did it with Public Quests, then Rift took the idea and ran with it and finally, Guild Wars 2 came along and (in theory) trumped them all. Thanks to these, and other titles, the notion of dynamic content has been brought up frequently in conversations on various forums and in the minds of MMO gamers. We have always wanted a world where our actions mattered and have a meaningful impact on the surroundings. Dynamic content is seen as a relatively simple way of doing just that, without the need to create a full sandbox experience. Is this the much needed fresh idea for a stale genre or just a collection of glorified quest systems? Only time and execution will tell.

I’m in your consoles, stealing your MMOGs

Another noticeable change is the bigger push to get MMOGs on consoles. Games like DC Universe Online and FFXIV (to an extent) are showing just how serious developers are in their attempts to capture this market. There is even an unnamed zombie MMOG from UndeadLabs coming exclusively to consoles.

From a business standpoint, it is easy to understand why companies see dollar signs whenever they look at the Xbox 360 and PS3 crowd. Consoles open up a huge target audience that can pull in much more money than PC gamers alone. Provided that the game is done just right for the systems, of course. Whether you welcome this change or couldn’t give a damn, consoles are getting a bigger piece of the once PC-exclusive pie.

What has once been seen, cannot be unseen

In today’s cutthroat market, companies really can’t ignore the importance of intellectual property (IP) and the value it adds to their businesses. Don’t believe me? Star Trek Online still has people playing it and trust me, a good portion of those players aren’t some rabid, die-hard Cryptic fans who’ve been brainwashed to like any incompetent product pushed down their throats. Nah, they keep those guys in the closet, saving them up for rainy days. A large chunk of people play it simply because it’s Star Trek and there is no other game on the market where they can get the same kind of interaction with their favorite IP.

Games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and the Warhammer 40k MMOG, all use the lure of their respective universes to attract more customers. With a huge following behind it, a game like SW:TOR can get people to pay for it, even if they’ve never played an MMOG before. Now that is powerful, right there! Even existing games like EVE Online, with its Dust 514 shooter tie-in coming to consoles, and Guild Wars 2, providing novels that build on the lore of the game, are all taking additional steps to keep people invested in their franchises.

More love to the niche

2011 will be the year that previously overlooked market segments and certain types of players will get some deserved attention. Games like Black Prophecy, Jumpgate: Evolution and Taikodom are all entries that will add much needed variety in the Space MMOG genre. Recently launched Perpetuum Online and upcoming titles like Earthrise and Xsyon will also expand the number of available sandbox titles. This is the beauty of the market system at its best: if large companies and publishers don’t want to risk their money on launching niche titles, there will always be indie studios willing to do so, and hopefully, able to satisfy the demand for them.

All in all, 2011 seems like one hell of a time period to exist in and I hope that this year, you will find the right game for you, among the various new entries to the genre.