The future of MMOs, post-Warcraft


So what comes after World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer online game (or MMO) that became so, well, massive, that it turned into a category killer that rumbled the industry? That was the subject of much discussion last week at the Austin Game Conference, as was the future of the game industry in general. Seasoned game designer Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies) gave a fascinating talk that invoked dinosaurs (that’s the industry as it exists now) and Chris Anderson’s Long Tail (that’s what the industry needs to read and learn from, to survive.)

“In many ways World of Warcraft, the genre king, is the last gasp of the dinosaurs,” Koster argued. “How do you trump WoW? Can you follow WoW? Sure. Can you do to WoW what WoW did to Everquest [the previous MMO champion, crushed by Warcraft]? No. Not unless you spend $150 million.”

Instead, Koster argues, developers need to move toward digital distribution and a long tail play based on a wide library of niche game which operate on different revenue models besides monthly subscription. Just as key, the industry needs to focus more on developing MMOs for the Web. (Web-based online worlds like Habbo Hotel and NeoPets, as he points out, have far larger audiences than Wow.)

Another Austin talk with Koster brought more nuggets of insight on the future of online games, this time in a panel alongside Cory Ondrejka, CTO of Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, and Cory Bridges of Multiverse, a new open development MMO platform. Mark Wallace of 3pointD was also on the panel, and did double duty by also live-blogging it. Some highlight takeaways:

– Bridges forsees the imminent rise of independent virtual worlds (i.e., not financed by major game publishers), but also envisions a collision between them and government regulators who will express concern for their internal economies.

– Regarding World of Warcraft, the panel largely sees its era as coming to a close, with Ondrejka reiterating his confidence that Second Life will likely overtake WoW’s numbers by 2008, with the rest of the panel agreeing that WoW is unlikely to build or maintain its existing subscriber base.

– Continuing themes from his solo talk, Koster pointed out the rise of Flash and Java-based Web worlds like Runescape, which are generating audiences larger than generally appreciated by the game industry.

Lots of great reading here and here, if you want to think about where the smart money for this space is going in the next few years.


Khannea Suntzu

If I have to become angry at something, it is mediocrity, superficiality and predictability of crap that is being offered to me.

If the fact that such neoprene crap as Neopets has been formulated into happy meals indicative of its success?

I’d suggest the reverse: it means that neopets is something that needs to be starved to death. It means it has lost the meme war for significance. It has become primal ooze again.

Blizzard, even though its wow formula smells and feels remarkably akin to the same wander-around setup we see in disneyland, is FRESH, new and inspiring and remarkable, even after me playing it two years. It is a BREAK from all that mass-consumer gluttonous filth I am seeing every day. It is the new thing, the urprise, the passionate and that which is (or appears) honest.

I have had it with anything that aspires to being in a happymeal. Once I see tauren shamans as happymeal objects (wielding two weapons!) I am quitting wow and moving for whats left being unspoiled and honest.

My definition of succes IS exclusivity. Once it becomes bigtime, it becomes Babylon. My definition of success is based on my loathing of the mundane, boring majority of mankind.

We do live in an overpopulated world.

Steven Russell

I’m no industry expert, but I’ve been playing videogames for over 10 years! Industry analysts cannot understand how big an achievement world of warcraft is. From every angle, world of warcraft is a masterpiece. Gameplay, artistic style, polish, and the sheer diversity of activities available make this a truly outstanding game.

This alone is what makes WoW so popular, and the guys who made this don’t turn bad over night. They have themselves been creating triple A titles for as long as the industry has been a mass medium, from earlier titles like Rock ‘n’ Roll racing on the SNES nearly a decade ago they have gone on to create the diablo series, the warcraft series and the starcraft series. Each franchise selling better than the last and each time the quality of the product gets better.

This has resulted in Blizzard aquiring the loyalty of millions of gamers world wide who have trust in the company to create an almost perfect game every time.

This isn’t something that is going to dissapear or slow down over-night, and the smart money should be on quality of product and services, with the aim of building a good production team over time – as opposed to your suggestion that the smart money is to basically run away in fear from Blizzards domination… where is the innovation and the will to improve the industry there?

WOW News

I cannot see World of Warcraft’s era coming to a close, it is really just starting…it is only 2 years old, it is still growing it subscriber base, it is putting out any upgrade, Blizzard is not going to let this game die.

I could see Second Life getting much bigger though, it has more of a wider appeal then does World of Warcraft, but I don’t think they would take customers from one and other.


I in my life have seen the french leave the trenches as soon as the yanks landed in france 85,000 went home without permission. they would not fight the germans in WW2.. In six days the germans owned the intire country In veitnam the french quit as soon as the poor vets got rifiles. Now the number two man in the government ” france will not fight the terrests”. cowards thru and thru. 99 and still mad at the frogs.

Ian Betteridge

The problem with Koster’s hypothesis is that it ignores both history and the nature of games. Historically, MMORPGs are following the same pattern as films. Even “niche” games like Second Life have cost more to create than pioneers like Ultima Online, just as a “low-budget” film these days costs as much to make as the original Star Wars.

Secondly, it ignores the fact that “long tails” include category killers at the high end. The long tail isn’t just a slew of small games: there are massive hits still at the “left” side of the tail. What’s at the left side of the tail? Warcraft – or someone who’s prepared to spend $200 million to create a more popular game.

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