PAX East 2014: The future looks bright for the next generation of MMOs

While last weekend saw a surprising lack of noteworthy announcements at PAX East 2014, one panel gathered several industry veterans to answer a not-so-simple question: How does the future look for the MMO industry as a whole? The panel, titled Next Generation MMO Games: What's Next for Multiplayer Trends?, featured Ian Fisher (Director of Design, Robot Entertainment), Stephen Frost (Game Design Producer, Carbine), Dave Georgeson (Director of Development, SOE), Kjartan Pierre Emilsson (Principal Game Designer, CCP), and Stephen Johnston (President, Guild Launch) in a roundtable discussion about where MMOs have been and where they're headed. While panelists agreed that there is a huge barrier to entry when funding, developing, and launching a new MMO, their outlook was positive overall, and in general they believe there is still plenty of room for growth in the industry.

The ideal business model

Funding will always be a topic that sparks contention, and in the current age of MMOs, no business model is as equally lauded and criticized as free-to-play. The question of whether or not it's the right move for the industry -- especially as more AAA publishers bank their entire launch strategy around the sheer popularity of the F2P model -- has come up time and time again. But even Georgeson, who currently heads development for SOE's EverQuest Next, believes that the model can't and shouldn't be expected to work for every game.

Instead, panelists argued, companies should decide on a model that gives a positive cost-to-service ratio. Frost, the only panelist representing a completely subscription-based business model (WildStar), noted that if a game has enough content for players to feel that they are getting their money's worth, then the subscription model is a sound business decision. By that same reasoning, though, panelists cautioned that the F2P model could not be an excuse for developers to push unpolished content. If anything, F2P games should force developers to make a high-quality product right out of the gate.

Players should hold a higher stake

When asked what would propel MMOs into their next evolution, the panelists agreed that players themselves were the biggest driving force. More than in any other genre, players are what keep MMOs alive. But keeping players interested for 10 years or more requires giving them certain tools for engagement. In this respect, panelists stressed that player-generated content is not only the future but is in some ways preferable to developer-generated content, as developers will never be able to match the passion and creativity of their fans.

While player-generated content does partially combat the staleness of an aging game, Frost warned that if players aren't emotionally invested, nothing else matters.

Funding is still the biggest challenge

It's no shock that developing an MMO is a huge undertaking, and one of extremely high risk. With studios closing and projects hitting the cutting room floor, developers have to bring something new to the table. Despite the success many multiplayer games have seen on Kickstarter, panelists agreed that it's not a viable platform to fund the traditional MMO, as the game's scope may grow exponentially over the course of the project. If a Kickstarted MMO underestimates the funding needed -- as often happens in the traditional MMO setting -- fans are left with an incomplete game and the distinct feeling that their money was wasted.

Drastic differences... or maybe not

So what is the ultimate future of MMOs? As tempting as it is to dream about major tech advancements and how they might turn the industry on its head, panelists had a more conservative view of the MMOs we might be playing in 2025. In fact, most members of the panel agreed that the MMOs of the future won't be that different from the MMOs of today. Fisher theorized that while the content of games will change drastically -- perhaps moving more toward simulation and player-driven content -- the technology for accessing those games will likely stay the same. Georgeson was the only panelist to take a more a blue-sky approach, putting his faith in virtual and augmented reality, something he seemed particularly excited about and has touched on before.

Massively was on the ground in Boston during the weekend of April 11th to 13th, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2014. Whether you were dying to know more about WildStar, Landmark, or any MMO in between, we aimed to have it covered!
This article was originally published on Massively.