Camelot Unchained and Crowfall: MMOs’ best hope?

Massively multiplayer games are in a poor state. While there’s still plenty of money to be made, the current crop are having a rough time. WildStar [official site] is barely scraping an income, Black Desert Online [official site] saw a strong start but petered out not long after launch and Guild Wars 2 continues to see a decline in revenues. Even the resilient World of Warcraft [official site], despite buoyant Legion sales, still isn’t willing to divulge subscription numbers; a sign that things aren’t eternally rosey.

With a lengthy list of massively multiplayer casualties over the last few years, including Warhammer Online, City of Heroes, World of Darkness and EverQuest Next, it’s fair to say the genre is in need of an intervention.

Between actual MMO failures and the lackluster success of some survivors, there’s a frightening level of consistency that connects them all. While some of the blame inevitably falls at the feet of publishers pushing products out the door too early (notably WildStar and Warhammer Online), most simply promised too much and delivered too little. The end result, in many cases, saw bloated products with little focus and with implementation of ideas and mechanics too poor to justify the price tag or subscription fee.

Swathes of publishers and developers who might once have been interested in creating or releasing an MMO have placed a red cross on the genre’s door as a no-go zone. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, and it’s in games that focus on one aspect of the genre, aiming to innovate or perfect it rather than being a jack of all trades. The two most notable examples are Camelot Unchained [official site] and Crowfall [official site].

The studios behind these projects – City State Entertainment and ArtCraft Entertainment, respectively – are disposing of many tried and tested traditions, carving their own path in the hopes of finding new and fertile ground.

Where most “themepark” MMOs tend to cover all bases by including PvE, PvP, raids, crafting and everything else in between, CSE and ArtCraft cannot do this; they have neither the budgets nor the manpower. Instead, they’ve chosen to play to their strengths and acknowledge that with crowdfunded budgetary limitations, they need to remain steely focused in their approach to design.

Camelot Unchained took to Kickstarter in May 2013 under the stewardship of Dark Age of Camelot designer Mark Jacobs. Promising a spiritual successor to the much-loved Realm versus Realm MMO, it not only blazed a trail for ArtCraft Entertainment and many other small developers to follow, but proved that with a refined vision and a not-too-outlandish set of promises, people were more than willing to part with their money.

To date, Camelot Unchained has amassed more than 4 million dollars from backers, with many having bought into the vision of what’s effectively an old-school, player versus player product. There’s no leveling via player versus enemy, no traditional raids or dungeons (though it does have The Depths) and players rely almost entirely on one another to gain weapons and armour (you’ll find no auction houses here). Even its combat is intentionally against the grain, catering to an audience who want something more than point and click. With the exception of the player perspective and a selection of archetypes, it couldn’t be any further removed from what we’ve all grown accustomed to after the success of World of Warcraft.

As for Crowfall, J Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton (of Shadowbane and Ultima Online fame) took to Kickstarter several years after Camelot Unchained. Not only did they exceed their original goal of $800,000 by almost a million dollars, but they have since gone on to raise over $10 million through their official website.

Blending multiple genres, Crowfall incorporates strategy, politics and survival – all from a traditional third person perspective – and throws them into a melting pot to create a huge open world, PvP-centric MMO. As the developers of Camelot Unchained have done, ArtCraft Entertainment ripped up the rule book when it comes to character advancement, the leveling process and even the location of play. Instead, they’ve designed something unique that would take hundreds of words to describe. They say a motion picture is worth a thousand words, so observe.

Such success on Kickstarter doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on either of these games reviving a flagging genre, or of them even following through on their promise on release. What it does do, however, is set a precedent for experimentation within the genre, showing that there is a player base willing to support something unique. Innovation within MMOs has been in short supply for some time.

World of Warcraft may have found such success because the genre was stagnating and its approach (arguably a highly polished amalgamation of everything before it) revitalised the genre. In many ways, Camelot Unchained and Crowfall are attempting to do the same, but instead of spinning plates across multiple game modes, they’re utilising their resources and industry pedigree to innovate in a much narrower space.

It would be doing both games a huge disservice to suggest that they’re simply offering another PvP MMO. Instead, each studio has started from scratch when it comes to core design decisions. The way players deal with death, how they craft, use abilities, design their homes or even choose their archetype have all been radically altered. Additionally, both studios are ensuring the development of their titles are community led, complete with realistic timelines. Most importantly, each studio is conscious of the fact that they can’t please everyone and so have no intention of trying to.

Risk is inevitable when such radical changes to a traditional formula are made, especially when those changes have the potential to alienate the very players you’re trying to entice. But even if both games fail miserably upon arrival, City State Entertainment and ArtCraft Entertainment should be applauded for attempting to find new ways to allow masses of players to interact and play together online. We could also look to Worlds Adrift, which is putting physics-based exploration and combat, and persistent hand-built locations and crafts at the heart of its design.

MMOs have followed predictable designs for a long time, adding more features and systems to their worlds rather than concentrating on innovation around a particular feature or idea. Things may be about to change for the better.

94 Comments

  1. MiniMatt says:

    Interesting article, re the consistency seen among failures (and successes) it surprises me that none have really risen to challenge EVE Online’s position – everyone and their dog has had a stab at Killing Ten Rats, few have even attempted League of Spreadsheet Equipped Space Bastards.

    • Cerulean Shaman says:

      Despite it’s fairly huge populace it is still somewhat of a niche game. Pretty much every game has played or knows of WoW, (like my 68 year old professor), but far less are aware of EVE other than possibly hearing about it. It’s definitely not for anyone though. FFXI is equally fogotten and often considered “SE’s failed mmo attempt” by the fresh FFXIV players, but the has had a powerful playerbase since its birth even if it doesn’t enjoy the media spotlight of other MMOs.

    • pastry says:

      Westwood did a space-mmo before WoW or Eve that had PvP, PvE, crafting and even raids. Unfortunately it was under EA who spent nothing on it and shut it down.

      I long for a decent scifi mmo but keep coming back to Warcraft, is like an old shoe. Anything new either apes it and fails or focuses on one aspect and becomes niche.

    • clownst0pper says:

      I think Eve Online is an odd one because it’s neither commercial or particularly exciting. In fact, it’s downright dull at times and yet engrossing at the same time. It does a great deal badly but also does some things exceptionally well.

      • Someoldguy says:

        When I think of all the older MMOs, they all came with a fair amount of boredom. I played most of them, including Runescape on and off for more than a decade and part of the fun of the gmes was the cameraderie that had time to build up because you weren’t hair-trigger button pressing all the time. It was relaxing to go whack trees for an hour training woodcutting and chat with everyone there whacking trees alongside me. The more the game revamped itself to concentrate all the best gains solely on boss fights just like other MMOs, the more tedious it got because you couldn’t be social and make progress at the same time without a headset – which meant you had to shut yourself in your room or drive the other occupants of your house insane with your one sided conversations about stuff they didn’t care about.

        These days there are just so many games competing for our time. Phone games may be simpler but they can go with you anywhere and a number of them are pretty good at sucking you in and your cash out of your wallet far faster than an MMO sub. If you get into one of those games then it’s hard to put it down just because you’ve got a PC at home. If you can, there are more PC releases than ever competing for our time and our cash. It’s harder than ever to ignore them all just to concentrate on grinding a little more bling for one online avatar.

    • Kelvin says:

      I tried EVE. Talk about boring.

      I didn’t even finish the trial. What for? To mine asteroids in HD?

      Those EVE online players could probably play online poker in front of a spacey screensaver and have just as much fun. It’d have all the cool space pictures, all the risk of losing your money, and even more control of the actual ships on the computer.

      • Daemoroth says:

        You’re not obliged to like EVE and it doesn’t matter to me, but you sound so much like my friend’s wife. They both tried out EVE a few years ago, and the first thing she did was focus on mining, even after I warned her that she would get VERY bored VERY quickly.

        He, on the other hand, started with exploration, into wormhole space, etc. Joined a corp, went out to nullsec, took part in wars, and so on.

        Long story short, she quit after a week, he’s still playing.

        My point is, if you find yourself bored in a sandbox MMO, it’s most likely your fault. You have the opportunity to do whatever you find fun, if you stick to something that’s not, that was your mistake. Some people like mining, others hate it and so, they do something else, like exploration, wars, piracy, industry, research, trading, faction warfare, incursions…

        Obvious caveat: That doesn’t mean that every sandbox MMO automatically has a fun option for you somewhere, it may not have anything available you like, but you moaned about mining forever, which reminded me of that story.

  2. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Just watched the Crowfall video and holy crap I want that game, anyone been brave enough to give them all your money yet, is it worth joining as a Early Access player or should we wait?

    • Cerulean Shaman says:

      I’m an early, early backer. Though the game shows incredible promise it’s totally not worth it right now, are just about to go 24 hours somewhat soon but there really isn’t much outside of random bashing and technical testing of stuff.

      You’re more than welcome to follow the forum; my suggestion is to wait until the game officially leaves alpha and beta testing starts which should be around 6 months at least (just a guess) as not all of the archetypes are yet released.

      You could always just back to show your support, of course, as every year each supporter tier have less value (so 2015 gold packages are better than 2017 gold packages).

  3. jellydonut says:

    To summarise Crowfall: imagine if someone saw EVE Online, decided to build a game learning the lessons from it, and then also made it fantasy. Add dashes and sprinkles of good stuff from MMOs I didn’t even play like SWG and Shadowbane.

    Crowfall has so many elegant solutions that CCP simply cannot implement in EVE Online because it would be too radical a change for a 13 year old persistent game, but I think it will work really well when the game is delivered in this fashion.

    • Michael Anson says:

      So, Pathfinder Online, then.

      • LexW1 says:

        Nope. Pretty much every idea Pathfinder Online was pushing was bad, it was based on an pretty poor IP – an unusually boring generic fantasy setting, attached to what is essentially 3E D&D for people who thought 3E was neither complicated enough nor broken enough, and I say that as someone who has played plenty of pen and paper Pathfinder.

        Crowfall is going for something much more daring, dozens of times more daring, essentially, and isn’t tied to a poor IP.

  4. ShadoW865 says:

    You should check out CHRONICLES OF ELYRIA!!!

  5. Premium User Badge

    Styxie says:

    I had a lot hopes that EverQuest Next would bridge the gap between World of Warcraft and er… Worm online. Beyond that these projects are a bit too enthusiast grade for my taste.

    I keep coming back to the idea of a Dark Souls MMO of some sort. I’d happily play that for all of eternity.

    • Faxanadu says:

      My wet dream also.

      Outside mouse aiming, I don’t think I’ve ever seen actual skill-based combat. Oh, sure, you can play whack-a-mole with ability cooldowns, but it really feels just that.

      In Dark Souls, the skill curve just never stops. It feels like it does, but it’s really moving all the time. It’s wonderful.

      As for Crowfall, meh, instanced gameworld? Great, because I need to feel more disconnected from other players. WoW did the same mistake.

      • Jekhar says:

        That’s because the whole positional tracking needed for action oriented combat would be a bitch to implement at a mmo scale.

        • nearly says:

          In a similar vein, Dragon’s Dogma did an MMO that basically aggressively bans anyone who tries to play out of region. Not quite as punishing as Dark Souls (or punishing for different reasons), but my impression of the MMO version was that they basically had to succumb to big number bloat and other traditional MMO trappings. Still, looked interesting and I would have liked to try it. If Dragon’s Dogma, as is, were a MMO, it would probably be my dream game. I’m hopeful that such will be possible in the future based on, for example, Destiny’s patrol areas and the casual multiplayer in something like Watch Dogs 2, but I think the technical requirements, when approached first and foremost as an MMO, put people off too much or take up too much development resources that leave the actual gameplay with short thrift.

      • Svenn says:

        Crowfall is not an instanced game world. The Eternal Kingdoms are instanced, but those are essentially glorified player housing. The actual game worlds are the campaigns which are separate servers with varying rulesets. Within a campaign there are no instances at all. It’s one giant world.

    • keefybabe says:

      To be fair you could pretty much already call Dark Souls an MMO, it has ridiculously rich multiplayer.

  6. OmNomNom says:

    Having not bothered with any MMOs for many years, interestingly my flatmates have returned to DAOC since DAOC is now free here – link to www2.uthgard.net and some other places too.

    They’ve spent hundreds of hours grinding to level 50 and they seem to be really loving it. Impressive that a 17 year old game can do what nothing newer can do.

  7. malkav11 says:

    If PvP focused games like these are the best hope the genre has I’d just as soon it be mercy killed. Open PvP is the easiest way to produce a completely insufferable game experience I know of, and more structured forms of PvP really might as well not bother with the MMO angle for the most part. (Planetside is perhaps an exception.)

    I’d happily welcome a PvE focused MMO that skips all that other nonsense (PvP included) with strong narrative and worldbuilding…but honestly at that point, why not just make it a singleplayer game with the possibility of inviting friends in for campaign coop? I mean, aside from visions of money factories you’re unlikely to actually achieve.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      I wonder actually that most of the ‘innovations’ in the MMO space seem to revolve round some sort of PvP idea whereas Warcraft’s big draw (at least to someone on the outside) seemed to be in the casual play with your friends space. Where are the anti-Eves that look to build on cooperation and shared fun rather than conflict between players? (See also the success of Minecraft servers)

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        There you have it, Minecraft is your anti-EVE. About the only thing it doesn’t have from the checklist is a single persistent world.

        • Darloth says:

          Instead it has… hundreds? At the very least dozens of large scale persistent worlds, though admittedly most can’t quite manage thousands of online players at once. That, and countless smaller servers with private or semi-private playergroups, mods, etc.

    • paxundae says:

      “I’d happily welcome a PvE focused MMO that skips all that other nonsense (PvP included) with strong narrative and worldbuilding…but honestly at that point, why not just make it a singleplayer game with the possibility of inviting friends in for campaign coop?”

      Have you tried The Secret World? I think it has exactly this strength and, perhaps, exactly this weakness.

      • Imperialist says:

        What people need to understand is that MMO’s with “Stories” are largely pointless. The entire point of old school MMO’s was to make your own story, and interact with other people doing the same thing. The genre is ailing because of shoehorning non-MMO or roleplay elements into what was built originally as an RP environment. Also shoehorning “action combat” has merely made repetitive things more repetitive, and much further from the definition of RPG. CU looks like a welcome return to the roots of the MMO’s of yore, but im unsure if it will stand the test of time for the whole “ADHD, moment-to-moment, action combat” generation we have today.

        • DoctorSax says:

          Agreed. MMOs fail to hit the mark because the loudest voices belong to players that would be better suited playing solo or co-op RPG titles and not MMOs at all. WoW had its moment and then it went full-on arena fight PVP mode, teleport to dungeon systems and ultimately what do all the old fans yearn for? The days when it was open world and dangerous, when PVP actually could surprise you around any given turn in the road. “Vanilla” servers will return to WoW because of the profit foreseen by Blizzard now, and the game is dated, but soon there will be fresh alternative MMOs that focus on the PVP “niche”. As far as I’m concerned, it’s overdue. I miss the Wild West days of UO.

      • malkav11 says:

        I love The Secret World, but it’s got PvP and crafting and all that other nonsense so I don’t think it qualifies per se. (Though the PvE seems like the clear emphasis.) And yes, in a lot of ways it would have been better served as a singleplayer game.

    • Imperialist says:

      There are plenty of MMO’s that successfully have a pvp focus. Hell, DAOC is still ALIVE after all these years, and it pretty much pioneered the idea of mass pvp.

      • malkav11 says:

        Perhaps I’m not making my distinction clear: open PvP is in the larger MMO environment and largely untrammeled by rules about who you can fight when. There is absolutely a reason to make it an MMO in those cases, I just consider the resulting gameplay fundamentally miserable and hateful to a degree where I would happily play literally anything else over an open PvP MMO, catering to all the worst bullshit in the worst sort of player.

        Structured PvP would be like, WoW’s instanced PvP scenarios or similar, and at that point you might as well be playing fantasy Counterstrike or similar.

        • LexW1 says:

          You seem confused.

          These are not “open PvP” games in the manner you describe (which matches stuff like Ultima Online), nor are they “structured PvP” games like WoW.

          They’re RvR-type games (In the case of Camelot), which absolutely merit being an MMO and provide a very distinct experience from other games (as DAoC showed). Crowfall is a little more esoteric, but is still not open PvP.

          Planetside is absolutely the closest analogue to Camelot here.

    • Cerulean Shaman says:

      The esports scene is alive and well right now, more than ever before, and by its very nature dominated by PvP games.

      Why wouldn’t you think someone would love a vast, exploreable world where they can fight for glory and greed? Half the love for Game of Thrones as a tv series comes from its grim setting and the political and physical conflict; Crowfall aims to imitate that.

      It’s not like ESO where you infinitely trade points of interest. I.e., you need stone to build and on the currently generated map youe guild may have no easy access to it, so you either find allies who do, buy it or trade for it with neutral guilds, or grow envious and greedy and either scheme or conquer your way to obtaining it. Of course that will cause ripples along allegiances, trigger the hunger of other opportunistic guilds, each act spurring new allegiances and betrayals as guilds fall… well, you can easily imagine why some people would love this game.

      Considering Crowfall campaigns have an actual end, all the better. That’s a big deal for me and a lot of other people. They themselves explain it best; rather than being bored to death in a never ending game of Risk, the game ends, the board is cleared, and once again the sky is the limit for all involved.

      • Darloth says:

        The fact that the campaigns -end- is the main reason I’m interested in it.

        It means you can join near the start of one (whenever you happen to have actually begun playing), make your fortune, or not, and consider a victory or a defeat in a not unreasonable length of time. Compared to the eternal war of Planetside or even Eve, and this seems like a very good thing to aim for.

        Another little-known multiplayer game called Time of Defiance that attempted this benefited greatly in my opinion, though it’s not around anymore.

    • Treners says:

      If you’re interested in a PvE focused MMO I highly recommend Final Fantasy XIV online. There is PvP but it’s entirely optional and has a strong story and cool world. Also a 2 week free trial.

      • malkav11 says:

        Again, FFXIV is one of the MMOs the article is talking about that tries to do everything. If focusing on one specific thing and doing it very well is the key to saving the MMO, as the article is arguing, I’d want that to be PvE. And nobody’s doing that to my knowledge. The focused games are focused on PvP. And while plenty of MMOs offer a ton of PvE content (and I have either played or am at least aware of 90% of them, thanks), they’re not willing to go without things like PvP and crafting.

        • LexW1 says:

          Mentioning crafting as “against PvE” seems like some serious goalpost-moving.

          Most people would consider crafting to be part of PvE, and indeed, it’s been in MMOs since there were MMOs. So has PvP actually. If you don’t even count crafting as PvE, though, that’s bizarre, and you probably need to explain what you even mean by PvE. Because it’s not what most people mean by it.

    • Captain Narol says:

      2 less-kwown MMOs without PvP :

      Ascent the Space Game : Collaborative space exploration and colonization

      Tyto Online : Science education on an alien planet

      There can be MMO outside of the overused action-focused MMORPG model, that just requires a little imagination…

      In a way, you could also count No Man’s Sky as non-PvP MMO, as there is other players in the same massive world but you cannot see them nor fight them !

    • qeloqoo says:

      @malkav11 I could try talking about “Massive Multiplayer in MMO”, “games about living world and not hero journey”, “importance of player interaction, both friendly and hostile” but that would be in vain. I’ll just tell you “Filthy carebear!”

      • malkav11 says:

        It’s great that you like those things but to me that’s always been code for “get dicked over by colossal assholes for no reason”.

  8. Painhertz says:

    But what does this have to so with Shadowb….. Oh, right.

  9. DoomBroom says:

    Bring on the VR MMOS!

    I’m Playing Vivecraft VR MMO at the moment link to nornsvrcraft.net:8123 and it is super fun! The triple A studios need to get on this!

    I want a Sword art online type of MMO experience in VR!

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      Dear god why. Isn’t real life horrible enough without turning your gaming time into another life you have to maintain? I don’t want to come home from work only to strap on a headset and go to another job grinding XP in some bullshit MMO, personally.

    • JamesGoblin says:

      For what it’s worth, Crowfall will have VR option – they announced it in March 2015 and had a Kickstarter stretch goal dedicated to VR.

  10. badmothergamer says:

    You may want to take another peak at Black Desert Online. It offers a nice mix of PvP (large and small scale) as well as PvE and non combat options (which are what I enjoy). Plus, for an MMO, the game is beautiful.

    Population fell quite a bit after the “pay2win” fiasco but there has been a resurgence lately with the release of the Dark Knight as well as the Magoria expansion. The majority of servers show as “crowded” on weekends. Plus they knocked the base game down to $10 and give a free 7 day trial. NA/EU are almost caught up with Korea though so the rate of expansions is expected to slow after the upcoming Kamasylvia region is released.

    • knelse says:

      I’ll actually second that. Black Desert is in a decent state right now, especially so if you’re not going to grind all the time.

    • Daemoroth says:

      Thirded. I’m one of those who ‘came back’ though the fact that it happened during the Dark Knight release was completely by accident (I just tend to ‘check back’ on MMOs every once in a while), been a blast and completely worth it.

  11. EwokThisWay says:

    The article totally ignores The Secret World, Star Wars The Old Republic or The Elder Scrolls Online. Those three games, love them or hate them, are still alive and do really interesting things in their own ways, despites some of their obvious weaknesses.
    The 3 of them have very interesting lore and storytelling and are mostly single players MMO. TSW has a really unique atmosphere and strong world building, SWTOR has great dialogues, storytelling and role playing possibilities, TESO has a beautiful world backed by the strong lore of The Elders Scrolls, very fun exploration and action oriented combat (for a MMO, of course…).

    • Someoldguy says:

      I don’t think it ignores them. The latter two sunk huge amounts of money into development and are not losing money but they are not the studio-pleasing cash cows the money men desperately needed them to be. If they had been, more full-budget MMOs would be in development.

  12. pandiculator says:

    I mean, I know it is on consoles too, but FFXIV?

    • Treners says:

      Yes I was also wondering why FF XIV doesn’t get a mention here. While it isn’t quite as big as WoW it’s hardly struggling, and is a pretty traditional MMO.

      • JamesGoblin says:

        I guess that, together with some aspects of WoW, games such as ESO, EVE, FFXIV and couple other eastern ones simply didn’t fit well in “MMOs are dying” tone of author’s dark intro.

      • Zhiroc says:

        FFXIV is pretty well put together, but I wouldn’t call it particularly innovative, or a huge seller. SE specifically advertised last mid-last year that it had surpassed 6 million cumulative players, which was at its 3 yr anniversary. Given attrition, I can’t imagine it has more than a million subs–my guess would be more in the vicinity of 500k, but that’s purely speculation on my part.

        • pandiculator says:

          I’m not particularly disagreeing with you that it is not innovative, because it isn’t really, and your estimate of 500k subs is probably pretty accurate, but it is widely lauded about these parts as WoW but better (depending on how far back you go in the archives…)and the game is doing quite fine. It seems odd to me to not examine it at all as it is one of the few P2P MMOs left when talking about the present and future of the genre.

  13. Cerulean Shaman says:

    Maybe not MMORPGs, but I’m deeply invested already into both CU and Crowfall because, between all the MMO releases early in dev or on the horizon, they really are my last final hopes.

    Have a bottle of wine ready, either to celebrate or soften my disappointment. =\

    • JamesGoblin says:

      Just one bottle? I have six-pack champagnes prepared for each =)

  14. Jane Doe says:

    My hope is with Pantheon. The world needs a new EverQuest.

    • Cerulean Shaman says:

      I think I’m done beating lifeless mobs with AI and difficulty levels (outside of endgame dungeons) that would immediately throw a single player game into review hell.

      I’d rather just player a single player game with better challenge and an actual story… but a human opponent, so dynamic that he might be cunning or foolishly idiotic? Nothing comes close to that.. and that’s why a truly PvP focused modern MMO gives me the tingles.

      • Sound says:

        Precisely.

        It has always been the case that single player is better at creating immersion, and multiplayer is better at creating challenge. Now that the novelty of the traditional MMO is entirely gone, what remains is a framework that’s ultimately a compromise that excels nowhere.

        The combat isn’t as good as a single-player game, likewise with immersion. And the challenge cannot compete with a dedicated PvP game. Meanwhile, the social element is also flawed, as it’s main foundation rests on sharing gameplay time and objectives. Yet this gameplay is increasingly designed to rarely, if ever, require reliance on other players. The foundation is quicksand.

        Eve Online has always been at the frontier of where MMO games ought to focused: Fellow humans. This is the place where there is no compromise required from an MMO, this is the place where these games have a unique edge.

        I truly hope that Crowfall, and the next, will become real competitors with Eve for this way of gaming.

      • keefybabe says:

        Yeah, if I’m primarily interested in the world an MMO will fail because of the chat window being spammed with lols or someone talking about how they couldn’t believe someone didn’t know that x stat made effect x. Not realising that maybe other people aren’t logged into the game world for 16 hours a day.

        And the problem is that rarely have I seen worthwhile combat in an MMO, so in my experience you end up choosing between a game for its mechanics (generally not an MMO) or a game for its world (also not an MMO)

        So all you’ve got left is do you like being around a lot of people.

        Maybe I’ve been playing the wrong ones, I dunno.

  15. Uberwolfe says:

    Pantheon’s combat looks absolutely horrid in its current state…

  16. Faxanadu says:

    There’s nothing wrong with PvE and PvP MMO’s. It’s just that no MMO has done PvP well. WoW with its killing of world pvp and atrocious balance is the worst offender. I believe WoW with zero instances, phasing or crossrealms is the ideal MMO. PvP and PvE all mashed together in a beautiful mess. Wanna go raid a dungeon? Better post some guards outside or the Horde will come and take the spoils when you’re about to be done.

    It would be glorious.

    • Jane Doe says:

      Indeed. Instances killed the important social aspect of MMOs, and WoW is the worst of it. Its nothing more than Diablo these days.

      • Asurmen says:

        Seems to me like you have that backwards. Instances drove social interaction.

        • Sound says:

          This looks like a semantics issue, but I’d like to try my take at clarifying what The Problem(tm) is: Less teamwork was required for basic/core gameplay, over time.

          In Everquest, if you did not group, you were basically stagnant. It’s social foundation was strong. In World of Warcraft, if you did not group, you were cut off from most mechanically rewarding content, or even moderately decent rewards. It’s social foundation was pretty good, but not as strong. And so on.

          So in that regard, it isn’t instancing that killed, nor drove, social interaction. It was the core need to team up.

          You might also factor in grind: The more one must grind to progress, the more meaningful your present gear was. In contrast, if you fly through the levels, you don’t need to care about your gearing, and therefore have little incentive to interact with other players. But as we mostly agree: Grinding sucks.

          Given all we’ve learned about game design over the past 15 years, it seems to me that social interaction must be de-linked from scaling mechanical rewards entirely. Instead, it might be linked to basic gameplay access, if you want a solid social foundation.
          Team up or die, basically.

        • LexW1 says:

          What your argument for that be?

          As someone who played MMOs since 1999, what I saw with instances was a steady decline in serious or positive social interaction. This declined became extremely steep with cross-server instances.

          For me the driving force seemed to be that there was no longer any point interacting with people as nine times out of ten you’d never see them again. People got nastier and shittier too, because they knew they could get away with abusing people they’d never see again.

          But why would you say the opposite?

          • Faxanadu says:

            Sound and Asurmen didn’t quite interpret right what I meant by “instances”.

            What I meant, was not the aspect of “a goal to be reached together” but the act of INSTANCING it OUTSIDE rest of the game world.

            The problem was (and is) separating players. Breaking community. Breaking space. Breaking immersion. Instances break so many things. But if you’d take away the portal entrance… It would be a whole lot different.

          • Sound says:

            For some reason, there’s no “REPLY” button for Faxanadu’s recent reply.

            I understand your point: Instances(and by the same logic, server shards) needlessly fragment the community, create significant extra anonymity, and provide insulation from repercussions(social or mechanical). Social bonds have little shelf-life, and little worth.

            My reply was directed at those replying to you. However, I think that your point is also correct. When there’s no repercussions to acting anti-social, people will be far more prone to being anti-social, selfish, and generally socially destructive. The opposite is also true: If there’s a reason to foster a pleasant interaction, many people will withhold their bad mood, if only to secure their phat lewtz.

            I don’t think it’s top-tier issue, though: Eve Online is an excellent example of a game that promotes social bonds, retains player reputation, and reduces the side-effects of anonymity. But despite this, to a large extent, people still find ways to be jerks to one-another.

            Yet, Eve has addressed what I think is the larger issue: Resilient incentives for creating social bonds. It’s quite possible to have a relatively small social pool – the result of fragmentation – of players who are nonetheless bonded to one-another. Everquest server communities come to mind, for me. But even your average guild demonstrates this dynamic.

            So I suppose my thesis here is that Buffs are a stronger force than DeBuffs, so to speak.

  17. CartonofMilk says:

    I’ve been a pc gamer for nearing on 30 years and I kept away from mmos and always did (except for 3 or 4 free to play shitty mmo i tried for a week or two and never went back) until 2012 when i decided to try DCUO because i loved the superhero theme and it was free to play (and city of heroes/villains seemed too old and besides you had to sub). I didn’t think i’d end up paying. Hell once i made it through the single player content i thought the game got boring at first. Raiding? fuck that. Redoing the same shit over and over everyday to increase stats and get rare loot? That’s hell. And then….then it got its goddam hooks on my brain. The reward system. They know what they’re doing. Then i was hooked. About 3 months later i started to pay. 21 more months went by during which i played no joke probably 6 hours a day and on the worst days (like weekends) easily 12. I gained 30 pounds. I was doing nothing else with my life. And everyday i’d think WHY THE FUCK AM IT DOING THIS? But the addiction. And those goddam daily bonuses resets. In any case i soon joined the top 1% players with the most skill points in the game. That was my hook, the prompt that you’d gained another skill point was my drug. Thankfully one day my gf did an intervention. And that day i resentfully said ok ill stop playing, you’re right but really thinking yeah but ill be back tomorrow or in two days because i don’t really want to stop, im just appeasing her. But the days went by and after a week i knew i wouldn’t be back. And i’m so thankful. Never again. In my opinion MMO’s aren’t really fun, they just know which buttons to push to get you coming back. They’re a drug.

  18. Collieuk says:

    One thing that has changed in recent years is more and more AAA games involve grind. MMORPG are all about the long grind and forging friends with those who play religiously alongside you. Now even the more casual games are grindfests. Look at Ubisofts many games or COD etc. And then the mobile games that are also swallowing players time… Clash of Clans etc. If you want to be part of a large community you don’t need a PC or a subscription based game. And kids these days would rather spend all day watching others play games on YouTube than play them themselves. It’s therefore harder for developers to get and keep the interest of a huge player base when their target audience has other interests.

  19. Zhivko Yakimov says:

    I am sceptical about this article, mostly because the number of PvP games has increased in recent years and competition is very tight. If the future of MMOs is PvP only, what sets apart an MMO from a traditional PvP shooter, for instance? The larger and possibly persistent world? I just don’t think it will be enough to let MMOs survive and regain their popularity.

    I am aware that this site deals exclusively with PC gaming, but you shouldn’t be blind to what goes on in the console world. Games like Destiny seem to blend features that are seen as MMO saviours, and there will be probably more to come. Smaller studios like these mentioned here simply don’t have the resources to offer the same amount of polish if all they offer is open PvP combat. DayZ or Ark: Evolved do the same already, for that matter.

    What I believe that MMOs have lost is freedom and interaction opportunities. Mind that interaction doesn’t necessarily mean combat. If players have freedom to build their own story and interact in a lot of different ways, they will stay. You don’t need a completely sandbox game for that and I believe Star Wars Galaxies had stricken a very good balance (before NGE, that is).

    Regarding these two games mentioned in the article, I am afraid that they will follow the fate of many others – being the flavour ofi the month (or several months) and thenj slowly falling into oblivion.

    • LexW1 says:

      I don’t think anything you’re saying is wrong, quite, but there is a real differentiation, and that is in the persistence and the community. That is what keeps people coming back to PvP-oriented MMOs, really, not so much the PvP by itself, but the PvP in the context of a community that is all engaged with it.

      Shooters just don’t have the same kind of community due to the lack of persistence.

      Destiny is somewhat similar but has a more PvE-focused model.

      As for these two, the main worry for me is they’ll just run out of cash before they achieve anything. It’s happened before, and it’s so staggeringly expensive to develop an MMO, even a PvP one, that I am concerned.

    • JamesGoblin says:

      “PvP games”, “PvP only” etc. is far from what Crowfall & CU will be, unfortunately both are often misrepresented by that simplification. They’ll likely be similar to Star Wars Galaxies or Ultima Online (Raph Koster, Gordon Walton and a number of other UO/SWG developers work on Crowfall) and they’ll be as PvP-only as, say, Minecraft or EVE.

      Good part of Crowfall following comes from “Kosterites”, people that enjoyed SWG’s social system crafting etc. DayZ or Ark: Evolved are different genre, just to begin with (…and, oh, God, please stop me from typing an angry off-topic textwall rant about each of these!).

      Speaking of any of mentioned games being flavor of the month then fading away, that won’t happen simply because they don’t have advertising budgets. They have zero ad money, people just don’t know about them. What will likely happen is something between quick death or, at best, slow growth a-la-EVE, with good thing being that the success bar, due to nicheness and small starting budgets, is much lower thus making failure much less likely.

  20. JohnAbbott says:

    I really enjoy playing Crowfall, but I don’t think it’s bringing anything revolutionary to the MMO genre. I would probably agree that PvP battles here end at some point and there are winners that begin all over in new worlds. Compared to other MMOs I’d say it’s a fresh & original feature, but not revolutionary at all. There’s one thing I definitely agree with – MMO genre is stagnating. Time to move to a next level has come, though I’m not sure what this next level should be…

    • JamesGoblin says:

      Well if Crowfall isn’t doing anything fresh or revolutionary (a number of things actually), then no game ever did it, and none ever will =)

  21. TrynePlague says:

    Tried so many.. always going back to Lineage II. Best MMO OST ever.

  22. Herzog says:

    Somebody wake me up if a developer attempts to make a Ultima Online 2. Until then, no interest in the genre.

    • Zanchito says:

      I think Albion Online is trying to fit that niche.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        It’s one vision of what UO2 might look like, yeah, and probably a better one than “UWO:O”. Minus UO’s seamless world unfortunately.

        Albion Online is pretty good. But I don’t think they’ve done quite enough work on the economy to fulfill the ambitions of their design goals. We’ll see. Still a few months of beta left.

        If nothing else I’m enjoying it as an online farming sim, growing carrots and petting horsies.

    • JamesGoblin says:

      For what it’s worth, UO’s lead designer (Raph Koster), Origin VP (Gordon Valton) and a number of other ex-UO folks are developing Crowfall.

  23. BaronKreight says:

    Well I think MMOs should go back to a more sandboxy experience. Less grind, more actual meaningful action and player freedom.

    • Captain Narol says:

      I agree, as long as it not open PvP without punishment or it will quickly degenerate in brainless gankfeast, thus really going nowhere…

      Most of the sandbox type projects that I see around take that road, and for me it’s a dead end.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    Aw, everything in the Crowfall video sounds so great, really advanced classes made of layers and choices, housing that seems to actually mean something.

    If only it was a PvE game.

    • clownst0pper says:

      Strictly speaking there is and I think you can quite happily just craft and look after players without doing any PvP at all.

  25. TheButler83 says:

    The problem with themepark MMOs seems to be the same as with the AAA games industry in general. Lack of innovative ideas, lack of a complete joined up vision for a game, lack of time to implent and bug fix. Compare it to ME4 or any of Ubisoft map collecting games they are safe, follow a template and spread content too thinly as quantity over quality. At least with MMOs like ESO (which is surprisingly good but glad I didn’t play at launch) I expect to get mmo style quests and there is a certain comfort in that. Its depressing that single player games are increasingly going down this route as well.

  26. kapoho says:

    No mention Albion Online, even though they are very similar to both games. Its the only game out thats literally EvE put into a isometric Fantasy and rare gem that is ACTUALLY a sandbox.

    It has its own issues, but easily overlooked if your craving a real sandbox mmo. They just started their final beta before release in june.

  27. Meeks says:

    These games both admittedly look cool, for different reasons. But it feels like a stretch to say that they are the “two most notable examples” of a “light at the end of the tunnel”.

    For those of us who have little-to-no interest in PVP, some of the questions posed here remain unanswered. While we can thank games like WoW for taking the MMO model and making it accessible to everyone with a paint-by-numbers approach to gameplay, it feels like this strategy may have also set us down the despondent path referenced at the beginning of the article. Once the luster of a mysterious, massive world filled with unfamiliar flora and fauna wore off, we were left with stale, rote gameplay that did nothing to satiate the mind’s desire for a challenging role-playing experience.

    For sure, many found a continued challenge in PVP. But for others like myself, the true holy grail for MMOs lies in cooperative PVE. MMOs are at their best when interesting lore is presented in a setting where success is determined, not by one’s ability to follow directions, but by their ability to improvise and find a solution based on a multitude of factors like terrain, weather, AI, equipment loadout, pattern recognition, role interplay, etc.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that Crowfall and Camelot Unchained won’t offer this as well. But do they stand head-and-shoulders above all other titles on the horizon? In some ways, yes. But, for me, none offer the promise of exciting skill-based PVE gameplay more than Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. Will it hit the mark? It’s too early to say. I’m no Pantheon fanboy, but based on everything I’ve seen of the next generation of MMOs, it tackles more of my gripes with the current MMO paradigm than any other upcoming MMO I’ve seen.

    • Zhiroc says:

      I’d have to agree, though even more strongly in one aspect: not only do I have zero interest in PvP, I refuse to have anything to do with it.

      The problem I see with PvE MMOs is that the game worlds are not just “persistent”, they are static–frozen in time, in fact. And in many, the areas are frozen at the point the story plays through it.

      The true holy grail is to somehow bring the player agency that is present in EVE to a PvE-oriented game, without there be the months to years between content updates. If there’s a threat for players to counter, it shouldn’t be limited to beating the same boss in a raid, over and over. If there’s an invasion, it should be played out over the course of time naturally, where players get to push back and take objectives, and vice versa. And without the other side being controlled by regular players.

      • Meeks says:

        While my post was mostly focused on gameplay, you bring up an interesting point and another dimension that shouldn’t be ignored. While many games claim to have a system where your actions actually impact the world and the story taking place within it, I struggle to think of one in which this occurs in any meaningful way. In a heartbeat, I’d sign-up for a game that managed to introduce the challenging cooperative gameplay I outlined in a way that you describe.

      • Sound says:

        You guys raised really great points that I hadn’t considered.

        Personally, I have zero problem with PvP, and have up to this point found it to be the apex of an MMO’s unique purpose, the thing that truly sets it apart from a single-player game. Other players are not so bound to a script, rendering them the sort of challenge that stays fresh. But I was part wrong: I did not fully consider the enjoyment of Cooperative PvE, which is also partly unique and accessible within MMO’s.

        Other factors you put on the table is agency, and also personal efficacy(for lack of a better word). Or in more direct terms: How can my character’s story be uniquely of my making? And how can my story have meaning if they can not make permanent changes?

        Given what I know that PvP excels at – real stakes, and challenge – this leads me to consider the possibility of leveraging PvP’s strengths while muting it’s uglier elements? What if your cooperative PvE interactions and choices were at a one-step remove from direct PvP? What if the game’s tactics, strategy, and challenge were PvP in nature, but indirectly? Whereas your ‘combat’ equivalent isn’t against another player, but rather against the results created by another player? Where you get together and coordinate in a way similar to how you might in a traditional MMO dungeon/etc, and where there’s no opposing team present. Only allied players. But the challenge you face will be the result of a prior, opposing team?

        Could this conceptually be appealing for someone who’s largely avoidant of PvP?

        • Zhiroc says:

          I don’t think I agree with the “real stakes” part of that for most games, at least nowadays. PvP in many MMOs has been relegated to “arenas” where it’s just a match. Some games may include modes where ranking is at stake–whether that is “real” enough is up to the individual.

          While I would probably not mind indirect PvP, the big question is designing any sort of direct or indirect PvP into something compelling. Is there enough “story” if the whole game revolves around a battle for territory?

          I look towards EVE Online, which has, in my opinion, been the best example of an MMO that has developed into a game that truly is “MMO”–where the players themselves have shaped the universe. But saying that, while I played it for about 3 yrs at its launch, it holds zero interest. The events told about the intrigue and battles are very interesting, but IMHO, the actual gameplay is lackluster, and for the most part, an individual player is just a cog in the system. You probably need to be an officer in an important corp or alliance to have much of an impact. While the scope of battles is huge, I know it used to be more of a slideshow when thousands of ships are fighting. Perhaps someone knows how well that works today.

          But still, even with the extent that EVE allows players to direct the game, is there really any more to it than just a battle for territory? Maybe that’s all that MMO gaming can ever do? But I personally would love to be able to take part in interactive fiction, where it unfolds in more realtime than most games (never really could get into GW2, but I have heard that they do frequent story updates).

          The trouble is, I don’t really know what would work and what wouldn’t. And with MMOs being so expensive to create and run (not to mention ongoing development like this), what company is going to take that risk? I think the only way forward is for gamers like me to back some indies who are focused not on slick graphics, but on experimenting with such emergent gameplay.

  28. Danarchist says:

    The last few MMO’s I tried followed the same march to the bin:
    1. start out buggy, but fun
    2. angry nerds and forum monkeys complain about balance until everything gets nerfed to oblivion, classes end up generic and they all feel ‘samey’
    3. after enough time in the game you realize its just kill 10 wolves again. Log out. ignore texts for more persistent friends to log on. Game goes FTP.

    SWTOR i still play as a solo game sometimes because I honestly like the writing. The game itself gets old super quick. It is almost intentionally hard to play with my friends.

    I still miss Asheron’s Call.

  29. Captain Narol says:

    Seeing the number of comments on this article (90 so far), it seems clear that people who says the market for MMO is dead are utterly wrong and that there is still a lot of interest for the genre.

    What seems to also appear clearly is that fans of the genre are desperate for some innovations on the formula, but maybe in different directions, some wanting better combat and more focused PvP, others at the contrary requesting instead dynamic PvE in persistant worlds and no PvP at all.

    Food for thought, indeed.