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The Think Tank: Massively's 2013 MMO predictions

Shawn Schuster

We're spending this edition of The Think Tank to explore our predictions for next year's MMO-scape. Which games will launch? Which games will be postponed or cancelled? Will we see any innovations in the MMO space?

Remember, these are our own individual opinions and may not align with yours, so be ready for that. Also be sure to take a look back at the previous year's predictions and see how close or far from reality we were!

The Think Tank 2013 predictions
I predict that most of the big stories will come from the big games, while there are still millions of happy players playing games that rarely show up on the "AAA" radar. I still hold to my prediction about browsers being where most MMOers get their game on, even if it's probably already true. Heck, RuneScape has how many now? And that's but one title. We'll see a few closings as usual, and with each one, there will be a group who will claim it's proof of the end of free-to-play, subscriptions, or whatever other model.

On top of all that, MMOs will continue to be largely ignored by the non-MMO press, save for the very few games that cost many millions to make. And, as I pointed out, millions of happy gamers will just continue to game in one of the most successful gaming genres in the world.
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
The Elder Scrolls Online will be delayed into 2014. ArcheAge still won't land in North America, but Age of Wushu will tide over sandbox fans temporarily. City of Steam will make for a nice sleeper hit, while WildStar and Neverwinter will be the heavy-hitters of the year for the more traditional MMO crowd. Guild Wars 2 will continue its dominance; NCsoft will reward that loyalty by shutting down Guild Wars 1. Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World will finally find their footing, and both Wizardry Online and Blade & Soul will flop in the West. Expect more whispers about Titan and EQ Next but nothing concrete. Studios will stop trying to cram new MMOFPS/MMORTS titles down our throats in favor of making still more MOBAs to fill that already-crowded space. RIFT, Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II will all see new expansions by the end of the year as well (but forget about ever seeing Gondor before we're all old and grey). World of Warcraft will not deliver on more frequent expansions. And lastly... Turbine will announce Asheron's Call 3!
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
My predictions for next year are that we will see more games follow the Guild Wars 2 model of F2P from the get-go, in an attempt to capitalise on the fame that the game has.

We will likely lose a few of the lesser-known MMOs as well, but it's to be expected.

I am also predicting that The Elder Scrolls Online will probably go the same way SWTOR did: pay-to-play and then free-to-Play based on the current state of MMOs today. More MMOs will probably adopt the single-server style of game, since it is a superior way of housing communities.
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
Guild Wars 2 will continue the Ascended gear climb for a few more patches before the studio starts redirecting development slightly. That won't help the game as a whole, but accessibility improvements made through the year will, and there will be rumbles of a standalone expansion akin to the original Guild Wars toward the end of the year. The Secret World will revamp its business model again toward the middle of the year, as it faces an unusual problem; player retention is fine, but player acquisition is pretty rough, even with the buy-to-play model. Content updates will drop off somewhat, but the game's systems will remain largely intact with some slight tweaking. World of Warcraft will end the year down players again, even with rumors of another expansion hitting toward the end of the year, and there will be talk that the next expansion will start going in more of a RIFT-like factional direction.

This will be the year when cracks start showing in RIFT's foundation; while Storm Legion was a success, it will turn out that Trion took on a few too many projects. Defiance will launch, the show will be acceptable, the game will be pretty fun, but neither will exactly capture the world's interest. DUST 514 will also launch, and EVE Online will be faced with a lot of DUST players who want to make use of the integration but aren't really into the sort of game that EVE provides. WildStar will be in beta by mid-year, and impressions will be strong but not overwhelming, leading to the game's becoming a quiet but strong performer and prompting a lot of "most underrated" votes. Star Wars: The Old Republic will trim up its free-to-play model, launch a couple of new systems after Rise of the Hutt Cartel, and will end out the year with a steady stream of content and a broader leveling path.

The Elder Scrolls Online will undergo some pretty major feature shrinkage as launch looms nearer. Final Fantasy XIV's relaunch will take place; fans will be largely pleased, most of the world won't care, and at least one or two promised features will have to be patched in a few months later. At least one Kickstarter project will shrivel up and die, while another will launch and be met with outrage, and by the time another launches with all features intact, no one will notice any longer. Champions Online will receive an influx of players from City of Heroes expats. Marvel Heroes will launch to lukewarm reception. Asheron's Call 2 will receive rave reviews and lots of speculation, but it turns out that Turbine just wanted to bring it back from the dead and it's not indicative of a new project. At least one more game will shut down, two or three more exciting projects will be announced, and a lot of people will continue to insist that MMOs were ruined by World of Warcraft. The rest of us will have cause to be happy.
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
The Elder Scrolls Online will go through several delays as the studio tries to make sure the game lives up to the high expectations of fans. Guild Wars 2 will put off releasing an honest-to-god expansion as long as humanly possible. Blade & Soul will be unexpectedly delayed for the Western market, possibly indefinitely. WildStar will come out at the very tail end of the year and won't be nearly as popular as it deserves. Blizzard will let Mists of Pandaria hold World of Warcraft fans for a while and mutter about other games, most probably Titan. Neverwinter will be the new haven of UGC fans. Expansions for everybody!

Kickstarter will continue to be the last bastion of "games industry veterans" long-since divorced from any established studio. Nobody will attempt to put hot bars on the cash shop; several people will try to put hobby horses (or their equivalent) on the cash shop at exorbitant prices.
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
I see several more studio and game closings, a couple of them major but most in the mobile/social/casual space, since the economy sucks worse than last year and the market is more competitive than ever. It's not all bad, though, and I think ArcheAge and TESO will be 2013's answer to The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, respectively. ArcheAge will be localized by the end of the year, and it will make starving sandbox fans very happy while baffling and/or irritating everyone else. TESO will attach a slick buzzphrase to a feature that's been done before, spend a ton of marketing money wooing bloggers and game journos, and ultimately make a boatload of cash with the same old fantasy grind.

Wildstar, Defiance, and Neverwinter will excite a few folks and bore the majority, while Marvel Heroes, Transformers Universe, and DUST 514 will be spectacular piles of flaming fail. CCP will attempt to stop the bleeding by announcing a PC version of DUST, followed shortly by a heartfelt we're-sorry-for-straying-from-internet-spaceships mea culpa from the CEO. Darkfall: Unholy Wars will launch... in November.
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
I think that 2013 is going to be a quieter year than 2012 for MMO gaming. It almost has to be, right? While there are a lot of titles on the deck for release, it's nothing like the onslaught of this past year. So we're probably going to see a lot of small titles cross the finish line and perhaps one or two big ones (take your pick: WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, or ArcheAge). I predict we'll be benefiting from a couple of Kickstarter MMO projects by the end of 2013 as several others fall flat on their faces.

Guild Wars 2 will announce an expansion, as will Star Trek Online. EverQuest Next will finally be revealed and will prove to be highly divisive among the gaming population. We'll get a smash hit mobile MMO (most likely on tablets) that will blow the existing crop out of the water. World of Warcraft will not reveal a new expansion after months of hinting at it. PlanetSide will be canceled, as will Warhammer Online. Final Fantasy XIV will still suck, new version or no. Turbine will announce the development of Asheron's Call 3. And oh yeah, City of Heroes will come back and Project Copernicus will be snapped up by a different studio and finished. Because WHY NOT.

The Think Tank 2013 predictions
I think Pathfinder Online, assuming it isn't delayed (it probably will be, multiple times), will be a success, albeit not necessarily a huge one. I think it will, however, find a solid niche of devoted players that it will continue to cater to. As has already been said, the stable of World of Warcraft, RIFT, Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest, etc. will get expansions. Final Fantasy XIV will see a surge of activity when A Realm Reborn goes live. Call me a naive optimist, but I think it will be good and put FFXIV back on the map. And maybe, just maybe, mobile MMOs will start gravitating away from the "press-this-button-to-proceed" style of game design (but probably not).
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
I definitely predict 2013 will be sort of a lull for MMO gaming. I predict that we see a lot more copycats in terms of payment models, especially hybrid F2P and B2P kinds of gaming. We will see a lot more exploitative moneygrab cash shops; I wouldn't be surprised if WoW and/or SWTOR have lockboxes and grab bag items by the end of 2014. We will see more integrated social media stuff, too. You will probably be able to log into your favorite MMO via Facebook. Most MMO Kickstarters started in 2013 and 2014 will fail. A class-action lawsuit will get filed against the makers of The War Z and they'll have to shut down.

Titan will probably have an actual game title sometime near the end of the year. EQ Next will go into beta, also probably at the end of the year. ArcheAge will launch, but nobody except Jef will care. EVE will have PvP-free high-security space. DUST will fail spectacularly. More MOBAs will launch, all claiming to be revolutionary, but again, pretty much no one will notice and everyone will go back to Dota 2 or League of Legends. TESO will launch, but it will do nothing original and it'll sell millions of copies, then bleed subs like crazy shortly afterwards. PlanetSide 2 will sell like crazy, and everyone else making an MMO shooter will wonder what they did wrong. Neverwinter will have an incredibly buggy launch and terrible gameplay balance. No idea on WildStar; I'll just assume that it does OK.
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
MMOs are in a weird transition period at the moment. For several years, these games have all been trying to duplicate the World of Warcraft and EverQuest model. It seems as if the majority of players want something different and don't want the subscription fees. But since these games are often in development for several years, we're still seeing some games like SWTOR and The Secret World launching and then adjusting their business models before they even reach their first anniversary.

In 2013, I think we'll continue to see more MMOs embrace the free-to-play or no subscription fee model. I also think we'll see more titles taking some interesting chances in terms of setting and game mechanics. I'm still waiting for a game that strips everything out of the MMO except for PvE raiding. Picture a League of Legends gallery of characters and matchmaking system, but the gameplay is cooperative dungeon crawling and strategic boss battles. Someone make it happen!
The Think Tank 2013 predictions
The MMO as we know it will begin transitioning into the next phase of its existance, with the previous phase shift being the general acceptance of free-to-play in 2011 and 2012. This next phase will see game devs finally admitting that they can't be World of Warcraft, ever, and that there's a happy medium out there between familiar design and innovation, but too far in any direction will result in raging masses.

The obvious predictions: Guild Wars 2 will release or at least announce an expansion. The Secret World, RIFT, and PlanetSide 2 will achieve a LotRO-like comfort plateau with dedicated fans but fail to made a dent in those players always looking for the next best thing. The first wave of popularized Kickstarter games will begin releasing, and they won't be as great as we hoped a year ago when we first backed them.

The not-so-obvious predictions: Not one of the already-announced games will do exceptionally well in 2013. In other words, there will be no new Guild Wars 2s in 2013. MMO gamers will be happy with playing multiple smaller games, and studios will take note. Just as indie console and single-player games enjoyed a popularity explosion in 2010-2012, indie MMOs will dominate as server technology gets more advanced and less expensive, allowing studios to run a virtual world on less hardware and staff. We'll especially see this come through on tablets and other mobile devices.

And finally, TESO's progression will be a direct reenactment of what we saw with SWTOR. Fans will go nuts for it, early reviewers in mainstream media will wonder what the fuss is about and call it something embarrassing like "A Skyrim World of Warcraft," and launch will be overhyped. This will lead to the inevitable backlash and nitpicking by die-hard Elder Scrolls fans, and the first three months after launch will ultimately be plagued by the same problems that BioWare faced.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.

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