It is no secret that the MMO genre of the video game industry needs a shot in the arm. You only need to look at the previously declining number of World of Warcraft users to see that the MMORPG market is in transition mode. We know that there are changes on the ground, but we still do not know what final shape the market would be or the genre it would take in the coming months. As more and more users leave the paid subscription model, many are signing on to the free to play model. But not all of World of Warcraft’s subscriber erosion could be attributed to people wanting to save money by playing free to play. There is another dynamic in play here. The numbers do not add up. All told, there are just quite a number of people dropping out.
The question is what is happening to the MMO genre and what needs to take place for it to be revived and better yet achieve a higher level? There are many limitations facing the MMO space. It is quite predictable. It is also increasingly becoming very expensive to even enter into this market. While the MMORPG game model was brilliant and innovative several years back, the sheer repetition of the formula has really made people suspect that the genre as a whole and all its elements are fairly shallow. Think about it. Last time you played World of Warcraft or Star Wars The Old Republic, many of the “quests and missions” are really just basic variations of “fetch me this.” You fetch something and you get rewarded. Great. Big deal, right? It seems that a lot more MMORPG players are beginning to walk away with that impression. That can only mean bad news for the genre as a whole. More and more players are entering the MMORPG space, but they are not really innovating the standard building blocks of the genre to provide people who have dropped out, people that are standing in the sidelines thinking of investing their time and/or money in an MMORPG to jump in.
Many MMORPG fans and industry observers are looking at The Elder Scrolls Online as possibly the title that would give people standing on the side lines that push that they need to give MMORPGs. This is the push that is precisely needed by the MMORPG space for it to enter a renaissance. Based on first impressions, The Elder Scrolls, at least on the surface have the elements that are needed to possibly start a renaissance in the MMORPG space. Its graphics is different. Its game play is different. Its game lore is very rich and player and PC interaction is different. Moreover, based on the recent plans revealed by its developer, Bethesda, the game will also feature larger battles. All these factors combined should be enough to give the MMORPG genre a shot in the arm, right? Not so fast. The current formula for MMORPG is still restricted. It is still all about fetching and all about leveling up. Is there anything that The Elder Scrolls online brings to the table that would either deepen these two components or add new components to the MMORPG equation altogether? That is the million-dollar question and hopefully we will get more details coming from the development team behind The Elder Scrolls online on how they plan to address these limitations. Frankly, most of the MMORPGs flooding the market, whether they are free to play or subscriber paid games, basically ignore designing levels and designing experiences.
This is one key element where The Elder Scrolls online can make a difference. Currently, most RPGs are playing the game design process quite cheaply. What they would do is instead of investing the proper amount of time, money and resources to making sure that they are designing the user’s experience as the user progresses from one level to another to make it as distinctive, as immersive and as experiential as possible, they are instead opting for very linear dungeon-type progressions and wide-open game play above ground. The end result of this is a fairly generic MMORPG experience. If the basic mechanics of game play is the same from one MMORPG title to another and the same business model applies, then it becomes a fully generic experience and no wonder people drop out. The Elder Scrolls online on the other hand does work from a different development history since The Elders Scrolls has rich experience in sculpting level progression. There are many ways you can level. Hopefully they can fine tune some of that experience and produce a refreshing leveling experience component of MMORPGs. This would be a first great step in fully pushing the MMORPG ball forward. However, it still remains to be seen if the game would introduce enough truly novel elements that would make MMORPG playing interesting again. For the sake of the genre, let us hope that The Elder Scrolls online succeeds, perhaps not immediately but at hopefully in the form of updates that are to come soon.