Sunday, January 4, 2009

Outlook into 2009

Honestly, I'm a bit surprised by the negativity I see in many places about 2009 being a much worse year for MMORPGs than 2008. I don't see it that way. Because, frankly, 2008 wasn't all that successful. Several games folded, and even AAA titles like Age of Conan or Warhammer Online did less well than expected. What I do see is an opportunity: In 2009 the MMORPG domain can make great strides towards unshackling itself from the fantasy genre.

Fantasy will continue to rule to roost for years to come. At the end of 2009 World of Warcraft will still be the biggest game around, with a majority share of the market in the western world. But the doomsayers who falsely state that 2009 will have "no new games", only mean triple A fantasy MMORPGs. 2009 in fact will have a lot of new MMORPGs, but the majority of them will not be fantasy based. Champions Online, Jumpgate Evolution, Stargate: Worlds, The Agency, Earthrise all aren't fantasy. Nor are Star Wars: The Old Republic or Star Trek Online, but those are probably after 2009. But there are still some fantasy games, like Guild Wars 2, Aion, or Darkfall, trying to offer a different kind of fantasy than WoW.

The games of 2009 will also try new things in terms of business models. Especially the SOE games Free Realms and The Agency. Guild Wars 2 will remind people that not every MMO needs a monthly fee or other continuous revenue stream beyond expansions. And I'm sure we will see a lot more microtransaction and "free-to-try" games.

In the second half of 2009, Wrath of the Lich King will start to look old to many players, and subscription numbers will stagnate. As there will be no new WoW expansion before 2010, many of the games of 2009 have a chance to actually not do so badly. I'm not talking millions of subscribers here, but enough players to recover development cost and make a profit. A game like Free Realms could actually have huge numbers of players, because not necessarily all of them have to pay a monthly fee.

So I'm quite optimistic in my outlook for 2009. If anyone would bring out another AAA fantasy game, the naysayers would be booing "WoW clone, WoW clone!" from the back rows. So having super-hero games, sci-fi games, post-apocalyptic games, and something else but monthly fees on offer can only be a good thing.

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