Reviewing My 2012 MMO Predictions

At the end of 2011 I made a set of predictions about MMOs and the MMO industry. This is a pretty common thing to do, but I also feel I should own my predictions and actually check how accurate they were. As such, I’ve finished skimming through the roughly 5.5k articles released by Massively.com last year to see how my predictions actually stacked up.

Prediction: Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWOR) will have some big launch numbers announced – 1.5m to 2m launch copies sold within the first 10 weeks – and the success of SWOR launching in new regions (Brazil, India and Asia have a lot of potential players) will be trumpeted, but the next twelve months will see significant chunks of SWOR’s launch base move on. Why? It’s too much “more of the same” at its core, no matter how pretty the outer packaging.

Nineteen BioWare employees with arm tattoos of either the Republic logo, Sith logo or a combination of the two.

Has there yet been a game released where the development team getting tattooed with its logo turned out to be a good idea?

Correct. SWOR launched with 1.7m active players and a lot of fanfare. EA was very happy. Then the numbers tanked, BioWare saw multiple layoffs and SWOR was shifted to a free-to-play (F2P) hybrid payment model. EA is now a lot less happy, as are its stockholders.

As for the ‘why’, I did cover that earlier, but at least part of the problem was that the game wasn’t sticky enough to keep those World of Warcraft players because it was too similar. The “fourth pillar” of in-game story just wasn’t strong enough to hold up been-there-done-that game mechanics.

Prediction: Oh, and SWOR will get a cash shop / real money transaction (RMT) system in 2012. There will be much wailing and nashing of forum teeth, but EA won’t be able to hear it over the ching! ching! ching! sound of their cash registers.

A picture of a Hutt with assistant robot talking to a Twi'lek.

Hutts are natural born F2P Monetarisation Consultants.

Correct. Along with the transfer to F2P, EA BioWare implemented a Cartel Coins system where players can pay real money to unlock in-game cosmetics and functionality within the Cartel Market. There were complaints about the F2P hybrid offer and issues with players getting the coins they were promised, but EA BioWare have seen improvements in player metrics which would just have to include some kind of player spend measure like Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU).

Prediction: NetDevil aren’t coming back. The lights will go out on Jumpgate and Jumpgate: Evolution in 2012 when someone at Gazillion gets a bill to renew the domain (and the lawsuit with Codemasters is settled).

Correct. Okay, so it wasn’t a big prediction to say that NetDevil were dead forever (and a Kickstarter involving a number of NetDevil people including Scott Brown and Ryan Seabury also failed, so that streak continues) but did you know that all of their games – owned by Gazillion Entertainment – are also dead? LEGO Universe closed in January (having been sold back to LEGO), Fortune Online was shut down in February, Jumpgate Classic was shut down in April and the Jumpgate: Evolution pre-launch site was shut down at some point during or before July.

So NetDevil has pretty much been wiped from the face of existence. The actual Jumpgate Evolution domain expires on February 13 2013, which will probably be the end of that.

Prediction: There will be more of these kind of [hacking / player data theft] attacks since they are a data goldmine for fraud. Failure to prevent these attacks will start to erode gamer confidence in the ability of these studios to protect their details. MMO companies will need to get serious with data protection or see a lot of players leave.

Correct. In 2012 the following titles and gaming companies announced they’d been hacked, had security issues and / or had account details compromised:

There were degrees of security leaks, of course, but my original point was that this is a big problem that isn’t going to go away. And it isn’t.

Prediction: A number of F2P titles (especially converted F2P titles) and developers are going to announce their closure / sell-off this year. If they do sell-off the title, it will likely be to an Eastern (read: China or South Korea) F2P aggregator / publisher.

Half correct. F2P titles that shut down this year included:

There didn’t appear to be many sell-offs in the F2P space; it appears that if a F2P title fails at this point in the market, no-one else is really interested in giving it another home. Regarding the closure of F2P converters, CoH/V was the big shock closure announcement, while titles like Earthrise shut down before they could get F2P in place (but did manage to attract a saviour investor past that point who will be relaunching Eathrise as F2P).

Prediction: Post-SWOR’s launch, there won’t be any AAA MMO that launches using a subscription-only payment model. RMT / hybrid payment models for all!

A group of key The Secret World characters gathered around, staring back at those who view this image.

Hey, don’t look at me – I thought The Secret World should have gone F2P from the very start. And B2P isn’t a particularly attractive payment model right now.

Wrong. The Secret World launched with a box cost and subscription model. And then totally tanked, swiftly changing to the box cost-only / buy to play (B2P) model. I could argue on a technicality in my language – yes, I said “subscription-only” – but I know what I was thinking was that no AAA MMO would launch with the subscription revenue model being their main approach again. TSW did, no matter how bad that choice turned out to be.

UPDATE 14 Jan 2013: Green Armadillo correctly points out that TERA also launched with a box cost plus subscription revenue model in 2012. And has already announced its conversion to F2P.

Prediction: SOE will continue to be the big MMO development group costing on past glories. PlanetSide Next isn’t going to set the world on fire – MMOFPSs being less attractive to players than MMORPGs – while players leave existing SOE titles to play white-hot competitor titles.

Half correct. Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) converted the last of its key titles to F2P in 2011 / 2012 (Everquest, Everquest 2, DC Universe Online, Vanguard) which helped revitalise their player base. PlanetSide 2 did launch at the end of 2012 and appears to be going along okay, but anecdotally is already seeing player numbers decline. They’ve started the hype train for Everquest Next – hardly breaking new ground there – and will also act as Western publisher for hardcore MMO Wizardry Online and F2P team-based FPS Bullet Run – which both seem more like filler apps than killer apps.

Where I was more wrong was that SOE would see its players head to “white hot” competitors, which 2012 really didn’t deliver except for perhaps Guild Wars 2. So SOE trundles on, growing its portfolio of MMOs while also becoming a F2P studio.

Prediction: DC Universe Online, being the only AAA F2P MMO on the PS3, will continue to do very well for itself on the console, exceeding DCUO’s PC-oriented performance.

Correct. About 70% of DCUO’s revenue comes from the PS3 version.

Prediction: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes goes F2P. Or shuts down entirely. But most likely goes F2P.

Correct. Vanguard went F2P in 2012.

Prediction: Final Fantasy XIV starting to charge subscription fees will lead to empty FFXIV servers. The hardcore will stick around, but the damage has already been done.

A screen grab of the end of the FFXIV Reborn trailer telling us that "But every end marks a new beginning..."

Square-Enix calls a do-over. But it’s a bit late since the damage has been done.

Hard to say. As a bit of history, FFXIV was so bad at launch that Square Enix dropped the subscription requirement to play. The subscription fee was brought back (at a reduced rate) early in 2012 and it is hard to say if players came back or we driven off… but we do know that Square Enix shut down FFXIV version 1.0 and is working on FFXIV: A Realm Reborn for release some time in the future.  I suspect that if the sub revenue figures had been good, Square Enix wouldn’t have shut down FFXIV to relaunch it.

Oh, and FFXIV will remain a subscription-based title when it relaunches – no F2P for them – which invalidates one of my above predictions anyway.

Prediction: NCsoft will remain engaged in the Western MMO market, but with revenue dropping from this region at the same time Lineage grows revenues in South Korea, they aren’t planning launching any others until Guild Wars 2 and / or Wildstar test the market for them. Operations layoffs (especially in quality assurance and billing) point to this. So Western localisations for new NCsoft titles launching in South Korea – Blade and Soul looks both oh-so-beautiful and oh-so-sexist simultaneously – seems very unlikely.

Half correct. Blade and Soul has had a localised version announced so I was wrong there, but NCsoft’s skittishness in the West is still very apparent. I believe that that success of GW2 gave NCsoft some confidence in bringing Blade & Soul to the West; however it should also be pointed out that NCsoft West did a lot of cost cutting and reorganisation over 2012. Importantly, NCsoft hasn’t announced any new Western-developed MMOs since Wildstar, which is a project started over 5 years ago. It’s an issue when a developer-publisher doesn’t have the confidence in a market to invest in developing new properties, preferring instead to rely on ports.

Prediction: Guild Wars 2 isn’t the MMO Gaming Saviour that a lot of vocal players say it will be. Assuming it launches in 2012, GW2 will do well for itself and for NCsoft, but it isn’t going to revolutionise anything.

Correct. This is a bit subjective – and yes, GW2 did sell very well for NCsoft – but I think it is very hard to argue that GW2 did much to revolutionise MMOs in 2012. Perhaps it launched too late in the year for that. Arguably the most that GW2 achieved was providing a slim glimmer of hope for MMO developers in year that was full of pretty bad news.

Prediction: The MMOFPS will remain the poor cousin to the MMORPG, despite launches of titles like PlanestSide Next and Dust 514. MMORPGs let players win 80%+ of the time while MMOFPSs see evenly matched players win only 50% of the time and require a lot more dedication. Plus there are lots of FPSs that let you play the multiplayer element for free.

A picture of a mech from Mechwarrior Online.

Titles like Mechwarrior Online here call strongly to the possible MMOFPS gamer and draw them away.

Correct. Although 2012 saw a big push in the MMOFPS area – PlanetSide 2, DayZ, WarZ, Firefall, etc. – none have really shaken the hold of the MMORPG paradigm on the category. I think that is in part because of the rise of League of Legends-style multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs) that are diverting the kind of players who would be interested in the kind of player versus player (PvP) that MMOFPSs provide.

You could argue that I’m being unfair – that MMOFPSs have done really well in 2012 – and while I’ll agree that after many years of promise MMOFPSs have started to take off, there is yet to be a title in this category that grabs and keeps hold on players to the same critical mass of MMORPGs like Everquest or even City of Heroes / Villains. There is just too much FPS competition out there for the MMO version to hold large numbers of players for extended periods of time.

Prediction: CCP will refocus its efforts on EVE Online, but this this won’t have much of an impact on player retention because it is already too late for a lot of players – the damage has been done. Also, given that CCP has been made to look like Mittani’s bitch once, they don’t have the ability to appear as devs in charge of their own ship any more.

Wrong. CCP really seemed to be able to flip out of the failure of 2011 and into a bright and prosperous 2012. EVE Online achieved a record number of subscribers in 2012 with 450k, while the power that the Mittani had over EVE seems to have been at least dented when a bad joke in a public venue backfired. I’m not convinced that DUST 514 is going to be successful, but CCP have certainly put themselves into a strong place to deliver on that title.

Prediction: This one I’m completely pulling out of my ass…umptions: Valve will announce a MMO of its own in 2012. It seems odd that Valve is such a PC-centric company and major PC-gaming enabler yet isn’t an active part of the very-heavily-PC-MMO market, so I’ll call 2012 as the year that this changes based on no evidence whatsoever.

A small display of the different kinds of hats available in Team Fortress 2.

There’s money in them thar hats.

Wrong. It was pointed out to me that Valve actually has a MMO-of-sorts, and that MMO is Team Fortress 2. Valve certainly thinks so, saying that they weren’t interested in getting into MMO development, but were happy to take the bits they like and put it into the TF2 and its MOBA stylings.

Ahh, that one was a long shot anyway.

So, out of 15 predictions I self-assess that I got 9.5 predictions correct (or 8 correct and 3 sort-of-right-sort-of-wrong) . Not bad at all. Next up will be what I see happening in MMO-dom for 2013.

8 thoughts on “Reviewing My 2012 MMO Predictions

  1. Pingback: Quote of the Day | Bio Break

  2. What does MMO even mean anymore? I think there’s value in making a distinction between traditional multiplayer and massively mulitplayer, but I think I’m in the minority on that one these days.

    • I agree – where it used to be clear what an MMORPG was, it isn’t so much any more.

      I use MMO as a shorthand for a wide range of titles including MMOFPSs, MMORPGs and MMORTSs, but it is also a case of laziness on my part – MMORPGs dominate the MMO category so much that they are almost one and the same. If I can save three letters repeatedly in my already-too-long posts, I’ll do it. ;-)

      Where things are headed are much more towards that MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) which a few years ago wouldn’t have been covered by MMO sites, but things are so dire in the MMORPG space that they are looking for new paths to travel. MOBAs are hot and drawing players, so the lines have been blurred by both games coverage and players themselves.

  3. Wow, you did pretty darned well for yourself given how many times you rolled the dice.

    Two quibbles – I’m not sure if Elegium launched, and Tera also went with box plus subscription for its launch (with its inevitable retrofit already just about done).

    The impact of GW2 does in part remain to be seen. LOTRO in particular seems to have rolled out a fair number of GW2-ish features in its current expansion, and I’ve heard more than one multi-game player remark that it’s hard to go back to the old stand and spam combat model after playing a more active version in GW2. Perhaps not revolutionary but it could easily be the biggest evolutionary jump we’ve seen in a bit.

    • They’re are just all guesses. ;-)

      If Elegium was still in beta, then Frogster were selling in-game cash to players. In my book, that’s no longer beta, even if the devs don’t want to call it a launch.

      You’re right about TERA – I’ll update.

      I’m also waiting to see what happens with GW2. Most crucially will be the issue of seeing players hang around – it started out well, but then so did SWOR. So GW2 might be a game changer in 2013 rather than 2012, but my prediction only covers 2012.

      However, that particular prediction and answer I admit is possibly the most subjective response. Although it looks like GW2 did everything expected of it well, I didn’t see it really exciting the market past its launch month. I’ll have a look at NCsoft’s financials at some point in the future and see what those say.

  4. Pingback: MMO Predictions 2013: Morituri Te Salutant « Vicarious Existence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s