The Think Tank: What will MMOs look like a decade from now?

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The Think Tank: What will MMOs look like a decade from now?
A reader in my Working As Intended column last week penned this thought-provoking gem:
"I have no idea what games will look like say in 10 years time. I am sure some of these current games will still be going and doing well because of the investment of those playing them now. What new stuff will be coming out then, I have no idea, especially as the 'Minecraft generation' gets older."
What will the Minecraft generation make of World of Warcraft? What will MMOs look like in 10 years? These are the questions I asked Massively's writers in today's Think Tank.

Anatoli Ingram, Columnist
@ceruleangrey: I think one of the major influences on MMOs in the next ten years will be portability. Yeah, you can run an MMO just fine on a laptop now, and it's getting easier to run some of them on tablets, but I predict that things are just going to keep getting more polished in that area. Eventually we'll start to see a few MMOs designed for portable play -- probably sooner rather than later -- and the major advantage desktop gaming will offer will be a huge increase in technology to support immersion. Big wraparound monitors, virtual reality technology, interactivity, and so on. After that it's just a short hop to raiding with our brainwaves and being able to 3-D print our loot from dungeons into the real world! No? Too far? Bah.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: I've been playing MMOs for 17 years, and some days it seems the genre has changed so much in that time, and other days it seems it hasn't changed very much at all. I don't think that MMOs will be dramatically different in 10 years. The MMOs from 10 years ago are still recognizably MMOs, many of them still playable and wonderful, and many new MMOs wouldn't have been particularly out of place in 2004, so why should MMOs in 2024 be so different? Change for MMOs, even with a behemoth like WoW, is incremental and plodding. I fully expect to see a more fleshed-out genre, better AI that can actually do what designers wish it could, better and less exploitative business models, better cross-platform and mobile play, better ways of keeping wildly diverse playerbases happy, better ways of incorporating other genres without driving away people like me who by then will have been MMOing for 27 years (!).

I'm just not ready to give up on the ideal MMO, and I see the Minecraft generation not as a foe but an ally in the fight for virtual worlds that deeper than cheapo murder simulators. They'll understand and play WoW when it's 20, but they won't settle for it. Keep the pressure on this genre. Don't let them charge $15 for killing ten rats. Demand construction and destruction and creativity and joy. I think the Minecraft generation understands those things better than anyone.

Eliot Lefebvre, Contributing Editor
@Eliot_Lefebvre: In the next decade, "multi-platform" won't be a smart business move, it'll be the default. When the internet is nearly everywhere you can be, companies will be hard-pressed to avoid integrating mobile apps with the core game. You might not be able to play the full games from a smartphone, but you will be playing with it from your phone. That seems almost inevitable. I also imagine that console-based MMOs are going to take a downturn, no matter how well Destiny does; as we continue to move away from the idea of the TV as the central element of household entertainment, consoles are going to change more and more, and what we see a decade from now will likely be very different from the present.

Mechanically, I've said before that we will look back at raiding in the same way that we currently look at mandatory open PvP, a throwback that games thought was necessary but was never even remotely necessary. Games will have a higher emphasis on solo and small-group play, seeing that as the core experience, working in shared spaces even if you're not working together at any given time. I don't think we're going to necessarily see a greater emphasis on crafting, but we will see more emphasis on customization and player individuality.

Do I see any titles that are out now still being a big deal in a decade? I don't think the MOBA genre will still be nearly as vital, but the big ones will probably still have some share. WoW's star will fade by that time, and some of the real long-runners will be gone by then as well -- my money is on FFXI and Ultima Online finally waving goodbye. I don't think any of the titles that are out now will be the big thing that emerges to dominance, really, but I think we will get another rising star within the next five years.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor
@Sypster: It's hard to look ahead but easier to look back and perhaps draw a few conclusions based on history. Nostalgia and retro gaming is pretty big these days, from pixelart-style mobile games to the revival of older styles of play. I've observed that the newer generations appreciate the ability to discover what they had previously missed by virtue of age, and I would imagine that it might be the same with some of our aging MMOs. What is cool becomes lame and loops back to cool again, after all.

To take these "aging gracefully and coasting downhill" MMOs and bring them back into the public awareness would require some marketing magic, but I don't see why it couldn't be done, especially if it is aimed at drawing in a completely new generation that had missed out on the past.

Mike Foster, Contributing Editor
@MikedotFoster: I think the major focus from established MMO developers is going to be on multi-screen experiences that extend player engagement. I don't anticipate the actual games changing all that much. We'll still have our fantasy RPGs and our sci-fi RPGs and we may witness the birth of a new niche (the way MOBAs exploded this decade), but I would expect publishers to work on getting more out of what they already have rather than reinventing the wheel. The big boundary for MMOs right now is the power switch on the console or PC -- once the player steps away, he or she is out of the publisher's grasp. For a company like EA, extending the SWTOR experience to phones and tablets (for instance, porting Galactic Starfighter to the iPad) is probably the path of least resistance to keeping players connected to the game longer. We've already seen this in limited action on some titles; I would be surprised if companion apps don't become a core feature as we move forward.

Google's Ingress MMO is another direction games could go, blurring the lines between real life and digital life. I honestly don't know if this is something that could ever go "hardcore;" it seems unlikely that all-day raiders would want a game that requires physically moving from one location to another. Not because they're lazy or afraid of the outdoors (plenty of us game nerds still do the exercise thing), just because it's an inefficient way to ingest content compared to other options.

I also expect to see some experimentation with payment models. An MMO delivered in paid chapters, perhaps?

MJ Guthrie, Contributing Editor
@MJ_Guthrie: I've never really been one to speculate; I like to see things unfold around me and be surprised by a story or ending I didn't anticipate. That's what drew me into MMORPGs in the first place! I do, however, see virtual reality becoming a bigger component and more mainstream in our games. I also see games branching out to keep players engaged in various ways, from different platforms for mobility to more tie-ins so you can accomplish parts of the game and keep in touch with it even when not physically logged in.

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 most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.
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The Think Tank: What will MMOs look like a decade from now?