The Think Tank: Massively's MMO industry predictions for 2015


It's that time of year for looking ahead and trying to predict just what will happen in the MMO industry in the year ahead of us. Will we play it safe this year or predict all sorts of wild and crazy things that everyone can quote and laugh about next December? Magic 8 ball says yes. Go big or go home when it comes to predictions!

Join the Massively staffers for this next-to-last Think Tank of the year and share your own predictions in the comments.

Anatoli Ingram, Columnist

@ceruleangrey: My predictions are short and simple: We'll start to get a great deal of information about EQ Next. A new big MMO will be announced as being in development, but fans will still be so burned out on releases of the past year and the resulting struggles that everyone will cast a wary eye on it, particularly if it claims to do anything differently. Final Fantasy XIV'sHeavensward expansion will launch and bring in a huge influx of new players to the game, and a few veteran players will claim it's been ruined. Years from now, some people who started playing during Heavensward's heyday will say it was the only time the game was good. ArenaNet will announce Guild Wars 2's first traditional expansion at PAX Prime for release in 2016, and the major features of it will be new Legendary items, one (and only one) new weapon option for each profession, and mounts, but no player housing. The setting will either be Elona or the unopened areas surrounding the current map.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief

@nbrianna: I think we'll see both WildStar and The Elder Scrolls move to a buy-to-play model in 2015, the latter just in time for its long-delayed console launch. WildStar will perk up a bit, though probably not to SWTOR or FFXIV levels of rebound. I fully expect to see ESO bragging about 3-4 million players after that console launch, but that'll fade by the end of the year. I don't see ArcheAge recovering, though I do think Trion will somehow manage to clean up its image this year, probably through RIFT and maybe by announcing a new home-grown MMO. World of Warcraft will drop down to 8 million players by summer, but it'll go back up to 8.5 million when the next expansion, Murloc Invasion, is announced at BlizzCon in the fall (instead of farms and garrisons, the "special" mechanic will be swimming pools). Heavensward will be huge and run away with the expansion of the year. Marvel Heroes will rebrand itself Marvel Heroes 2018. H1Z1 will launch and make a bigger splash than anticipated because it's not indie fast-cash junk. Cryptic will finally announce that secret MMO it's working on, and it's zombies.

Finally, we have to be getting a Guild Wars 2 expansion/campaign, but I think it'll launch late in 2015. It won't be Cantha exactly, but it'll be big; Toli's probably right about Elona or the northern desert. It won't come with a level cap bump; it will come with a new playable race (Tengu?) and two new classes whose mechanics didn't port over yet (Rit and Derv, though maybe not called that).

2015 is going to be a recovery year. All of the disasters of 2014 have a solid year when they can rebuild and mature before the hype cycle for the next round of games begins. I'm looking forward to it.

Eliot Lefebvre, Contributing Editor

@Eliot_Lefebvre: At the start of the year, ArcheAge finally gets out of its launch fiasco and starts settling into a reasonable groove; it never makes a huge splash, but it's solid for the people who want to play it. WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online both make the free-to-play leap and ESO's console launch gets quietly shoved under the rug. Final Fantasy XIV continues to pull good numbers leading into its first expansion, until by the end of the year people sort of have to start realizing that the game managed to sort of slip a lot of radars but is making plenty of money. Destiny finally announces a PC port.

H1Z1 fails to make the desired impression and fades into the background, while the early versions of several Kickstarted games start coming out and getting met with harsher-than-expected reception outside of the backer circles. Skyforge turns some heads by being better than it ought to be. World of Warcraft's subscribers dip again, and we hear about another expansion toward the end of the year, but the looming threat of another content lull does the game no favors. Guild Wars 2 announces its first expansion (complete with cries that it should have come out far sooner), Star Wars: The Old Republic puts out another expansion, Lord of the Rings Online gets a little bit closer to Mordor.

Another studio picks up the concept of a Transformers MMO. Champions Online quietly moves into maintenance mode; Cryptic's other games continue to do good trade. The Secret World expands again and turns some heads by moving into southern Africa. Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen will start attempting to raise money by selling untaxed cigarettes.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor

@Sypster: 2015 will be an interesting year of transition for the MMO industry, especially as more games start hitting the console market -- and hit it big. Elder Scrolls Online will finally come to consoles in the spring and be so well-received that it will make up for the long wait and will propel that title back into the spotlight.

WildStar -- but not ESO -- will go free-to-play and gradually turn the game into a respectable and crowd-pleasing title. H1Z1 will be buggy and somewhat forgettable, while Landmark will get everyone jazzed up when it officially launches next summer and EverQuest Next will begin its beta program. We'll see at least one major sleeper hit of the year, which will most likely be Skyforge.

Cryptic will finally reveal its newest MMO, which will be a (why not) post-apocalyptic horror western with a strong showtunes element. The Secret World will announce that it's going to Africa with its next expansion, while Lord of the Rings Online will reenact the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Turbine's going to reveal a funky little mobile MMO that will make the industry rethink that space, while the Oculus Rift will fade into the novelty section of our memories.

Larry Everett, Columnist

@Shaddoe: I'm hopeful for WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online to make a turn around. I enjoyed different aspects of each game, but if I were to make a prediction regarding both them, I'd say the one that has the biggest chance of turning around is Elder Scrolls. The IP for ESO obviously has a great following, but I think the clincher for that game turning itself around will be things like the Justice system. When the game launched, I don't believe the designers had a firm grasp on what it took to make a good MMO, but now that they've had time to get their feet wet, they will put out content that MMO players and Elder Scrolls fans will both enjoy. Will it go free-to-play? I don't think it will until they launch the game for console, and then it will not be a true free-to-play (not even a hybrid like Star Wars: The Old Republic) but a trial like World of Warcraft.

WildStar, on the other hand, will actually create a true free-to-play model. I foresee the game creating a modular design possibly based on C.R.E.D.D. The price of C.R.E.D.D. will drop, and we will see certain aspects of the game cost a certain amount of C.R.E.D.D. For instance, raiding might cost one C.R.E.D.D. and PvP would cost another. And since you can buy C.R.E.D.D. with in-game currency, there will be people who can play the game literally for free. The rest of the studio costs will be made up from cosmetics and consumables which will be sold in the cashshop.

For my Star Wars: The Old Republic predictions, well, you'll have to catch a future edition of Hyperspace Beacon to get those.

Mike Foster, Contributing Editor

@MikedotFoster: Let's see. Elder Scrolls Online is going free-to-play. World of Warcraft's three million subscriber boost will probably vanish by mid-year if not earlier. SWTOR might enter hemorrhage mode, depending on how much interest Shadow of Revan was able to generate. FFXIV will hum along under the radar like it did in 2014, slowly leeching people from this or that MMO. This time next year no one will remember there was a game called H1Z1.

On the positive side: Landmark might make some good gains if its features are on par with what SOE is promising. Guild Wars 2 will get at least the promise of an expansion. Star Citizen will make eight hundred million more dollars. And e-sports will continue to seep into the mainstream, bringing bigger championship pools and higher quality productions. Crowdfunding and Kickstarter might even get better now that the initial gold rush has slowed and people are being more careful about whom they trust.

Oh, and The Division won't launch.

MJ Guthrie, Contributing Editor

@MJ_Guthrie: This is how I see 2015: I see H1Z1 finding its groove and filling a fun niche, taking over the post-apocalyptic genre. At some point during the year the difference between Landmark and EverQuest Next will finally click and people will wonder why they were ever confused in the first place (possibly even denying they ever were!). Landmark launches after a lengthy open beta, and then EverQuest Next launches soon after, surprising only those who didn't get the dual-development situation. After the amazing adventures players cook up with Landmark's game master system, someone in the community is going to get a job in the industry creating quests and events while another moves on to join devs in developing assets! Shroud of the Avatar will continue to grow and pull in sandbox fans, winning over anyone who revels in player-generated content and community in a grittier fantasy setting. ArcheAge can actually go either way: It will find a way to move past its troubles and deliver a solid experience for the fans or it will do a server merge and the game will crash and burn due to the land fiasco. To the chagrin of detractors, Star Citizen will deploy modules that will utterly wow folks and the resulting frenzy to back the game will net even more millions. On the other end of the gaming spectrum, Wander will quietly gain a strong, if small, following.

As a whole, the industry becomes more comfortable with and accepting of the idea of niche games, focusing on fulfilling the needs of the few that will support the game until their last breath and stop chasing after WoW-esque numbers and paychecks. It will be the year of of the sandbox (even more than 2014) as more titles with those coveted features become playable and not just concepts. And a few more games -- thankfully -- embrace the subscription or buy-to-play models.

Oh, and someone implements a Vanguard-style diplomacy system in an MMO, or creates one solely around that feature. And we'll see a craze for a newly minted Bowling MOBA. It may or may not have dragons.

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.