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First of all, this is not a doom and gloom post. This is my opinion about the future of AAA titles. And we all know that everyone has an opinion, as well as an *******, but we won’t go there.
I believe there is a strong future for MMORPGs, but the genre is enduring a reset. There are plenty of players out there, 5.5 million in WoW, more than 3 million in ESO between the three platforms, over a million in SW:TOR. Whales, subs, ftp, blah blah blah, I’m talking total players, no matter how they play it. And how many are still playing EQ1, EQ2, Tera, Aion, Lineage II, Guild Wars 2… and how many are playing BDO? I don’t care for the game, but they have a lot of dedicated players.
So, the problem is that we were all spoiled by AAA releases that cost more to make than some USA city budgets. There won’t be any more of those any time soon. I think that anymore a typical budget for a “AAA” MMORPG from a large publisher is going to be 10-15 million USD, not 100+ million like several games from the turn of the decade like SW:TOR. And the large publishers cannot figure out how to do that yet. That is why titles like EQ:N get cancelled.
I believe that the formula for the resurgence of the MMORPG is simple, and it is being shown by Pantheon, well titled for this subject; Rise of the Fallen. A small studio gets a good deal on a game engine and develops a concept. They come up with an overall plan, and then figure out ways to finance it. Their release plan is for five years, not two like old AAA projects. The guys making Pantheon are making an investment. Once the game is finished and money is flowing in, they can start drawing a paycheck, including pay for what they already invested. They got an angel investor, they are seeking pre-payment on their website, and they did a Kickstarter (it failed, but now that there is a lot of info out on the game, they may try again and it will probably be successful).
Pantheon has a plan to have 10 races and 16 classes (they have 12 on their website, but have hinted that there are more to come). They have not stated a level cap, but I think they want something around 80. Don’t expect that at release. 4-6 races, 6-8 classes and a level cap of 40-50 are more likely. Their team doesn’t get paid yet, so the guys doing this need to have day jobs. So it is likely that not everything they are planning will be in the release.
Every race requires a huge investment in time (balancing stats, hit box sizes, class limitations because of gamebreaking racial traits, appearance customization, etc).
Every class requires balancing and lots of testing. Melee needs a way to deal with ranged attacks; cloth wearing mages need a way to deal with heavy hitters. I don’t except more than two each of the ‘classic’ classes to be released, and there might only be one ‘rogue’ type and one ‘mage’ type because of how complex they are to design.
Adding to the level cap means adding quests, monsters that are appropriate to the player level, dungeons, and so on. This is probably the longest step, since the maps evolve as players level. Once the tools are in place to make areas and dungeons, making this stuff is easy. However, making GOOD areas and dungeons is not. That takes tons of time and a lot of testing. We have all been in areas of a game that we swear up and down we will NEVER go back to… and we have all been in areas that we stay in even after we have outleveled them because of how fun they are. Well, getting these to be workable is a HUGE time sync for the design team.
Once the game releases and money is flowing in, a lot of guys on the team will quit their day jobs and become full time for Pantheon. Then we will see their eventual dream of 10 races, 16 classes and a level cap of 80 realized. And after a year or two, this game, if it goes well, will evolve into an AAA title.
And once the big studios see this method of getting a game off of the ground is successful, they will be making games that will evolve into AAA titles. They should be able to mimic their methods with paid staff that gets a title running in 3-4 years that will evolve into an AAA title in 1-2 years. The cost will be a more reasonable 10-15 million USD. With lower monetary risks they can take chances on niche titles. And once that happens we will see the renaissance of the MMORPG.Just my opinion, any others out there?