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Explaining the MMO hype vacuum

Games studios once again seem excited to be making MMOs, so why does it feel like so few people are excited to play them?

Another week, another new MMO announcement. Just this past Thursday we learned that a new Warhammer MMO is on the way. This news came hot on the heels of the announcement that a new Lord of the Rings MMO is also entering development. For the first time in what seems like quite a while everyone wants a slice of the MMO pie – so why am I not hyped?

At the end of last year, I suggested that we may be entering a new golden age of MMOs. Certainly, on paper, there are more upcoming games in the genre than there have been since the 2000s. The excitement during that decade can be split pretty evenly down the middle.

The first half of the decade was defined by a mix of novelty and potential. When so many households were only just getting access to the internet for the first time, the prospect of being able to play games not just online, but in shared worlds with hundreds or thousands of other people at once was akin to magic.

That was the promise that united these virtual worlds – of which no two played the same. All that changed of course when World of Warcraft was released in 2004. With that game having cracked the formula of what we generally think of today when we use the term MMORPG, the main source of excitement now became one of scale. WoW‘s playerbase kept going up and every studio and every IP holder had a rival in the works.

Just as with today, two of the biggest upcoming franchise-based MMOs at that time were Lord of the Rings Online and Warhammer Online. Being arguably the two biggest fantasy franchise’s around there was a considerable amount of hype for both games, but neither had the polish or momentum to topple WoW.

As it turns out, no game did. While some, such as Warhammer Online, came and went rather unceremoniously, others, such as LOTRO, have ticked away quite nicely, presumably making a tidy profit over the years.

Games have come a very long way since that last MMO boom though and so it’s inevitable that we’re now facing a new era.

Amazon’s New World, which launched in 2021, offered hints of how a modern MMO might play. It had a terrible launch, but it’s noticeably a game from a newer generation than the WoW-clone era. Of course, it looks shinier (and has notably terrific sound design), but it’s also taking cues from outside of the themepark MMO genre, cherry-picking design elements from survival games, third-person single-player titles, and battle royales.

Modern plus experimental should equal excitement, but that just doesn’t seem to be the prevailing sentiment among either the MMO community or the gaming community at large.

With New World, Lost Ark, Throne and Liberty, Blue Protocol, and the new Lord of the Rings MMO in their catalogue, Amazon is set to be a major powerhouse in the genre.

MassivelyOP’s Justin Olivetti recently asked the site’s readers how hungry they are for a good new MMO, and the responses were pretty evenly divided between those who were and weren’t.

This in itself is telling – a large number of the people who are really into these games are simply happy enough where they are. They don’t care about new graphics and they don’t want to learn new systems and settle into new communities. Nothing, it seems, is going to convince them to go elsewhere.

On the other side of the coin are the people who are desperate for something new. The thing is, none of them seem specifically hyped about any of the many, many upcoming MMOs which have been announced.

Gauging impressions from the comments in this thread, on the MMORPG subreddit, and on Twitter, there seem to be two reasons which come up time and again which explain why none of these games are currently generating much hype.

The first is quite simply that in many cases we know absolutely nothing about the game.

There are doubtless plenty of people who would be up for playing a new MMO set in Middle-earth, but with game development times being what they are these days, ain’t nobody getting themselves all worked up for something which is almost definitely not arriving until the latter end of the decade.

The upcoming Warhammer and LotR MMOs, as well as Blizzard’s Unnamed Survival Game, Zenimax’s Unnamed MMO, and Riot’s Unnamed MMO all belong to this category of games which exist merely as either press releases or informal announcements.

Even games which are supposedly launching sooner rather than later, have a suspicious lack of tangible footage or information on how they function.

While some upcoming MMO-adjacent games, such as Wayfinder and Diablo IV have been releasing a steady feed of press and social media content (not to mention beta tests), games such as Throne and Liberty and Blue Protocol – both of which are presumed to be launching in 2023 – feel suspiciously absent with regards to press and community engagement.

Still, at least you can go poking about on YouTube to find video evidence that those games actually exist in something like a playable state. Meanwhile, Dune Awakening, Crimson Desert, and Chrono Odyssey are among the list of MMOs which are presumably coming in the next year or two but are for now, little more than flashy teaser trailers. Nobody knows how the dang games will actually play.

There is, in a lot of cases, a whiff of vaporware in the air. MMO players have been stung too many times in the past to get all that excited over a bit of marketing fluff.

It’s all a bit bleak, innit?

The second reason – the main reason I’m not particularly hyped for anything – is that there simply aren’t any games that feel like they’re being made for me. Where are the sci-fi games dangit?!

Alright, there’s Dune Awakening, a game based on a franchise which I am somewhat a fan of, but it’s a setting which is so devoid of levity that I can’t imagine why anybody would want to actually ‘live’ in such a virtual world.

I’m sure there are some unannounced MMOs which will break the mould a little, but as of now, there’s a definite lack of variety.

Everything that actually feels as though it might be launching in the next year or two seems to be falling into two extremes – gritty Unreal Engine action MMO, or ‘comfy’ wholesome MMO. Do you prefer your MMO Dark Souls or Animal Crossing flavoured?

I would speculate that fewer people want exactly this thing than studios might imagine, though I also wouldn’t be the least surprised if one such game in either category were to become ‘the next big thing’ – something which is impossible to predict. There are among them games that I’m interested in playing, but nothing that has me drooling in anticipation.

So, am I hungry for a good new MMO? I mean, I sure wouldn’t say no to one. Am I more than happy playing old ones in the meantime? Absolutely.

Honestly, it’s hard to think of any combination of genre, aesthetic, gameplay style, and development studio which would have me wanting to throw myself wholeheartedly into the hype cycle. What’s the point? There are just too many variables for why it wouldn’t work out.

It’s fun to get properly excited about something and it’s a good thing to be vocal that “this thing interests me and I want to give it my time/money if it delivers on its promise”. Beyond that though it doesn’t really matter all that much that there’s a hype vacuum in the MMO landscape at present.

After all, to hype is human; to be pleasantly surprised, divine.

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