During the 00’s global phenomenon of MMOs rising from a once cult-like following mega-hits like World of Warcraft, the MMO genre went through some incredibly accelerated growing pains.
Wild speculation as to the future of the genre flew abound. Now, nearly two decades since the explosion, some are right to think it died.
Many titles went live and died in that time, the time which so many look back to nostalgically as “The Golden Age” And yet it can be argued, somewhat ironically, that the “Golden Age” of the MMO genre is now, not then.
For while we see far fewer attempts to create a “WoW-Killer” or another thousand-and-one carbon copies of Blizzard’s goliath, we do see nearly every new game with an online component treated as an MMO.
You can thank MMOs for the ubiquity of the “games-as-a-service” model that we see proliferate across the industry so aggressively today.
While not every game could be shipped to have all the elements from the titans of the halcyon era, the most general could be implemented – and to incredible degrees of success.
Take just a cursory glance at any major title that has come out within the last half-decade. Nearly each instance features a product that includes built-in social connectivity that goes far beyond merely being able to play with fellow players.
Social prestige, rank, reputation, and cosmetic glamour are now part-and-parcel of nearly every new game that comes waltzing out of the studios.
Undoubtedly, there are those that lament the changes the games industry has adopted over the years, often citing a purist standpoint against the implementation of social connectivity and interplay.
Yet we can’t find ourselves agreeing with them. While online play has its own challenges – mainly the persistence of player toxicity – we firmly believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives; and that the best is yet to come.
This console generation saw the first stirrings of actual cross-platform support by nearly every major developer – and we’ll be damned if that trend doesn’t continue well into the future.
We truly seem to be standing on a precipice where everything that follows will be able to qualify as an MMO. After all, to what extent do we need to see and interact with other players for it to be constituted a Massively Multiplayer Online experience?
We often think that the only thing to constitute playing online with another is to see them literally represented on your screen at any given time – and to watch their actions impact yours.
However, there are far more subtle – and not so subtle – ways that players can influence one another.
Take the idea of a leaderboard.
Regardless of if the players vying for the top spot will ever interact with one another directly, their mutual interest in a highly exclusive and limited position puts them in the quadrant of players who are, technically, playing online together.
Even a simple inclusion such as a real-time leaderboard can offer the first bit of connective tissue for online interactions.
We feel, however, that the future will be anything but subtle.
MMOs have shown that the spaces inhabited and shared with friends are far more real than many would have anticipated. Friendships form, love blossoms, and rivalries churn.
This, all ahead of a new generation of high-powered consoles that could lead to a cultural phenomenon that we may not be ready for.