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MMOs in The Year 2015

When I get to the end of the year celebration, I think about alcohol. But I also think about what has come prior to this point…and when it comes to MMO’s there has been a whole lot more going on this year than any I can immediately recall. This is owed more to just poor memory than the previously mentioned alcohol, I promise.

Overall the year has seen some trends, some pitfalls, and seen existing titles grow even larger. Let’s review, shall we?

The Year of the Expansion Pack

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It’s not too far-gone to say that 2015 has been all about expansion packs and the excitement that swirls around them. Some of the largest news focused around existing games getting even larger. Heck, even just the announcement of an expansion’s arrival still sits as one of the top articles on this very site. The power of the expansion pack is strong, and 2015 was a year that embraced it.

Final Fantasy XIV saw Heavensward arrive, a classic expansion to one of the more classically-styled MMO’s out there today including a brand new area, several new jobs and a continuation of the epic story of the Warrior of Light. Guild Wars 2, meanwhile, completely threw aside its previously stated mention of “no expansions ever” ethos in favor of improving its game in its own way, with a variety of new classes, a deep overhaul of its systems and the addition of Raids. Star Wars: The Old Republic has expanded itself in a direction that builds upon its release design of larger, deeper stories in the Star Wars universe. Even EverQuest 2 got the expansion fever as it grows ever larger. 2015 saw the big MMO’s get even bigger. Whether that also translated to better is another matter entirely, but fans of existing games definitely saw more added to the titles they love.

Shifting Business Model Tides

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As some titles grew larger, others adjusted to the tumultuous change in MMO monetization. Free-to-play, buy-to-play, freemium, subscription, soft launch, paid alpha – 2015 opened up a variety of ways for MMO’s to make money, and many titles had to swiftly adjust to weather the storm. Many assumed that WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online would go free-to-play or falter, and sure enough both titles did…but arguably nobody saw Guild Wars 2’s switch to the model coming.

With the change of business models also came some changes in mindset. No longer was a title going free-to-play a death knell, but rather a way for a game to return from the brink of disaster. Star Wars: The Old Republic has arguably led the charge in showing how a business model shift can change a game’s fortunes, and a great many MMO developers took heed. It’s still too early to ultimately know whether the changes in monetization will benefit each respective title, but the barriers to entry falling like old curtains meant MMO gamers had more choices than ever before.

Kickstart My Heart…And Arguments

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Crowdfunding games began to take center stage in 2015…and not always in a positive light. We saw games arrive, see near-launch and falter in Das Tal and Pathfinder Online, we’ve seen games stall out in The Repopulation, and we saw games come out of nowhere to capture large amounts of attention such as Camelot Unchained and Crowfall. However, these stories pale in comparison to the circus that was Derek Smart vs. Star Citizen.

The self-described Internet Warlord waged a holy crusade against Chris Roberts and RSI, starting a wildfire that spread across the MMO universe that is only now beginning to smolder slightly. Whether you believe one side of the story or not, it’s hard to ignore the effect the matter has had on both Star Citizen’s development cycle as well as feelings towards crowdfunding. Meanwhile, crowdfunding has continued to bloom as developer teams work to put their wild designs to life and deliver on promises funded by thousands.

The Rise of the Pay-To-Beta

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Coupled with the increase of crowdfunding, we saw the sharp rise in MMO games making people pay for the chance to beta test their title. While the practice has raised a great many eyebrows, it continues to have a buyer segment. With MMO development becoming more and more expensive, it’s perhaps natural progression to charge people to beta test a game. Still many contend that beta testing should be used as a way to actually improve a game, not as an avenue of cash flow. Regardless of where one falls on the argument, the practice doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon, and 2015 saw its great share of games offering “Founder’s Packs”, from Blade & Soul to Devilian.

Consoles See Some MMO Love

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The PC has been the exclusive domain of MMO’s for years, and for generally good reasons – porting over a game that features two or three rows of buttons with ten buttons per row was challenging to translate to a control input that only featured a maximum of eight buttons on it. However, MMO developers managed to not just work around this limitation, but design systems to accommodate it. Final Fantasy XIV made A Realm Reborn a trailblazer in this department in 2014 with its Cross Button UI layout, and soon other MMO developers were able to take up the challenge.

Most notable of the “standard” MMO’s reaching the console was Elder Scrolls Online, which took the PC version and saw it fully realized on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The console crowd also saw more multiplayer online action games hit their system of choice with Destiny: The Taken King, Neverwinter and PlanetSide 2 all seeing release. Not only did more MMO’s come to people overall, but they arrived in more platforms than ever before.

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Whatever 2016 brings to MMO’s, it’s going to be hard to top this past year. However one thing I can personally be assured of: it’s likely not going to be boring. Overall, MMO’s continue to grow and proliferate, and it remains a point of personal delight to see where it all leads to next.

So here’s to you, 2015. You were bumpy, discordant, unexpected, expansive and all-around fun. Cheers!

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About Chris Hughes

Chris is a literal wolf who has managed to learn how to use a computer. He enjoys cooking, roleplaying, writing, and reading those who do the same. You can find him staring at Twitter or read more of his attempt at humor at his blog, or in-game primarily on WildStar, Blade and Soul or Final Fantasy XIV.