Will 2009 be the best year ever for MMOs?

In 2007, you could have surprised absolutely nobody by predicting that 2008, last year, would be the biggest, best year ever for MMOs. Triple A titles abounded — Age of Conan and Warhammer Online were both just going to tear WoW a new one, but heck, even WoW was coming out with its second expansion. Pirates of the Burning Sea would take MMOs into a new direction, Chronicles of Spellborn would be an indie hit from Europe, and Flagship would be following up Hellgate: London with their MMO homage to Diablo II, Mythos.

Well… Wrath of the Lich King was a hit. AoC and WAR have retrenched and are slowly rebuilding their player bases after the WoWians returned to WoW, as everybody knew they would. Spellborn was delayed and delayed, PotBS didn’t get the numbers a RvR-focused game needs to thrive, and Flagship imploded suddenly and spectacularly and who knows what their creditors will do with the games…. 2008 looked sunny in 2007, but now we’ve learned to manage our expectations a bit.

2008 was the year of bet-your-company releases. In 2009, we get the MMOs that don’t have to have a million subscribers in order to be considered acceptable.

Chronicles of Spellborn, released last fall in just a few European countries, gets its worldwide release in the next couple of months. They just want to be a good alternative for people who want an unusual combat mechanic, intense PvP, great lore and a setting drenched with atmosphere.

EVE Online will soon release its first boxed expansion in years, Apocrypha, that will undoubtedly trade on its huge reputation as the one Western PvP-focused game where “impact PvP” isn’t just a buzzword, but where goings-on in the game world Really Do make the real world news. Even WoW doesn’t get THAT kind of coverage.

SOE’s Free Realms is due out in April. This family-focused MMO wants to compete in Wizard 101’s market — and Wizard 101 has just quietly signed up its millionth account since its launch last September. Family MMOs might be the next big thing, and this could be a surprise hit for SOE if they can market it correctly.

Cryptic hopes to double team the MMO world in June with both Champions Online and Star Trek Online. If the Star Trek movie does well and Cryptic can keep to its schedule, then STO could really take off. It looks like they are, in fact, bringing us the STO we want. Champions Online is the City of Heroes sequel that NCsoft hasn’t brought us, combined with the free-form and limitless customization possibilities offered by the Champions pen-and-paper game.

And all this is just in the first HALF of 2009. From this end of things, it seems after the deafening roar of the giants battling it out last year, the still, small voice of trumpets can be heard in the sudden silence afterward.

It COULD be the greatest year yet.

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20 thoughts on “Will 2009 be the best year ever for MMOs?”

  1. Well it shouldn’t be too hard to top the mess of 2008, but I’m not going to get too excited…yet.

    Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive who likes to sign his comments because it makes them 10x more valid)

  2. Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive who likes to sign his comments because it makes them 10x more valid)

    I’m going to start signing MY comments this way, too.

  3. @Openedge — well, it COULD be. It COULD be a signal to the companies that think they can force market success with money that less ambitious games could do the job better, for less, with more customer satisfaction. I mean, if you bill your MMO as the end-all, be-all, you will accept being #2 but you’re giving WoW notice etc, you really have nowhere to go with that but down.

    Tipa (resident idiot of the West Karana barbarian fishing village)

    (Edited to add signature)

  4. I have to say, I’m looking forward to Free Realms. I don’t really care whether people point and laugh about it being kiddy or about how it’s from SOE so the very devil itself has tainted the game (or will taint the game a few months down the road, because that’s just what the evil greedy devil does) — I was charmed by the art direction, the whole mini-game thing, the “multi-classing” thing, the pets, and just the whole fluffiness of everything. I think it’d be a fun filler game for when I’m just not really up to focusing or doing anything serious, which appears to be more and more these days.

    I think I’m going more casual as time goes on. I don’t know why. It’s not like my life is more stressful than before. Maybe I’m just a bit burned out / tired of the usual MMO systems in place and just want to fool around and be amused by mini-games and other things like that?

    I’m very interested in Gatheryn (though goodness knows when -that- is going to come out). It reminds me of my MUDding + hardcore RPing days. I’m also keeping half an eye on The Secret World — I suppose it says something about me that I knew about Ragnar Tornquist developing that before I knew that Funcom was doing an Age of Conan MMO (this was a couple years ago or whenever it was that cryptic emails began going out to people from “A Friend” with clues about a mystery/the world ending/etc). I guess I’ve always had a bit of a crush on Tornquist since The Longest Journey (an adventure game), though Dreamfall (its sequel) rather disappointed me.

    The game I’m hoping against hope will be released in 2009 but will most likely be released (at the end of) 2011? Diablo III.

  5. I thought STO would be more 2010-2011 than this year. I am really interested in trying out Champions Online. There are at least a couple of other SciFi-themed games thay may be out this year also, like Jumpgate Online, Earthrise and Fallen Earth.

    None of them are really big high-profile releases and I think that is a healthy sign. I do prefer to see more titles that do not have the ambition to the single game you would play for years to come, but rather be one of many online entertainment options people may play at any given time.

  6. “Yesterday’s unveiling in Las Vegas by Mr. Leonard Nimoy himself, brought along with it a new gameplay trailer for Star Trek Online for the PC. The MMO based off the coveted sci-fi franchise which has been picked up by developer Cryptic Studios, where others have failed. Set to launch sometime in 2009 you can enjoy the gameplay trailer below if you haven’t already.”

    And I THOUGHT I had heard it was also coming out in June, but I can’t find anything to back that up. It would make sense to push it out in some form to catch the movie’s momentum, if it has any (and if it is ready).

  7. @Mallika: I am very much more casual than I was. While I truly enjoyed my time in EQ, the times when I could just come home and play for hours is past, long past. There is no way I could keep up with even modern EQ any more, and EQ2 is a struggle. More and more, I find myself just wanting to relax with a game like Wizard 101, where I can even be watching a movie or spending time with my cat without missing a beat.

  8. I’m very curious why you feel Cryptic is bringing us the ‘STO we want’.

    From what I’ve heard STO is almost laughable in it’s departure from the franchise we know and love. I mean ‘Kill 10 Romulans and get a better phaser?’ give me a break!

    I’d love to see a blog post by you on what you know about STO and why you feel it’s the game that we want :)

  9. From what I understand, the “kill 10 Romulans” was more of something we had when Perpetual had the license than now. But why I think Cryptic’s STO is the version we’ve been waiting for would be a really good post, actually. I’ll write one up, but as it stands, the ship customization, character customization and the ability to select and train your bridge crew, the episodic mission structure, etc, will be a far cry from the repetitive, numbing slayfest that is most MMOs.

  10. I agree that this may be the year of the family MMO, and/or the (not so-)microtransaction MMORPG. The entry barrier – both for the publisher in funding the game’s development, and for the consumer in paying $50, installing a client, downloading a patch, etc – in the monthly fee MMORPG space is high, and there’s enough competition that you really need to be offering up something different before people will even consider canceling their WoW or Station Pass subscriptions to play your game.

    The one caveat is that we may see a backlash on pricing. Some free-to-try games are structured in the hopes that players will spend MORE than the $15/month that a traditional subscription title costs. I wound up having to rely on old posts here at West Karana (thanks for those! :)) for information on what W101 crowns and crown items cost in real dollars for a post I wrote today – that information is very very conspicuously absent from the portions of the site you can access without an account. Some parents may not take kindly to the genre when their kids approach them for permission to join a “free” game and then come back in a few levels asking for $10 a month in subscription fees and an additional allowance for crown items.

  11. I have nothing productive to add to this blogpost. I just wanted to sign my comment.

    Remedy (resident blogless idiot of the interwebs who is now jumping on the comment signing bandwagon)

  12. There is definitely a lot of good MMOs coming out this year… although didn’t EQ2, WoW and CoH all launch in 2004? It would be tough to beat those in terms of quality…

    If GW2 and SW:TOR had of launched this year, then 2009 would definitely be the best so far.

  13. 2004 was a great year, too. But 2009 has the potential to be even better — and more widespread, with many more different *kinds* of MMOs coming to market. WoW and EQ2 were both re-imaginings of the original EverQuest. City of Heroes was truly unique, though, and it’s been five years before anyone has tried to compete with it.

  14. I’m idly reminded of the five year lifespan of the console market. Interesting in that it may just be more of a psychology thing than something tied to any particular market segment.

  15. Honestly i don’t see much of interest coming out in 2009… everything seems more of the same soup, just with less content due to being new. Technology isn’t making any big jumps lately, so even graphical innovation is loosing it’s sense of wonder it had in the past years.
    I will probably try most of the MMOs that come out this year, but i’m not holding my breath for them.
    In the end the only things that interest me enough to bother discussing them are expansions/new content/features incoming for existing MMOs, like the ambulation expansion for EvE (I’m almost totally uninterested in Apocripha, find it pretty bland), and the Tomb king expansions and possibly new capitals in warhammer.
    Darkfall took no more than a few days to sorely disappoint me, champion online is completely under my radar. The star trek universe doesn’t interest me in the least, and god forbid me mixing with the ultra-casual crowd in free realms. Paint me uninterested.

    PS: the wowians may have returned to wow, but how many of them are already re-returning to warhammer or other games having already seen all the (quite few) there was to be seen in WOTLK? There’s no day in warhammer in which i don’t see someone lf the exodites coming back. They might have checked blizzard’s new underdeveloped stepchild, they might have had some fun with it, but in the end there wasn’t much new in it to bother with any continuated interest. many already noticed. Pretty sure many more will in the next few months.

  16. The line to which I was referring is:
    “In 2009, we get the MMOs that don’t have to have a million subscribers in order to be considered acceptable.”

  17. What about Aion? Buzz for it has been really low, but if they can break into the western markets — fantastic! NCsoft could use another success. Its presence in the West is a *good* thing. That said, I, personally, am not in the market for another Eastern grinder.

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