Decline to accept the end of it.

A sudden increase in real life activities has reduced the options in my schedule to touch base with my portfolio of virtual worlds, vis-à-vis reducing their year-on-year pig populations by leveraging a downward trend in numeric button height alignment to synergise skills with emerging b2b (boar to boar) stabbing opportunities. Coupled with a nasty cold which dramatically reduced my enthusiasm for anything other than possibly giving oral pleasure to those persons who invented balsam-infused tissues and Lemsip, I think it would probably suffice for me to say that gaming hasn’t been terribly high on my list of priorities this past week.

Strangely though, I’ve found ‘absence from blogging’ to be reflected in a more general malaise that seems to be taking hold in the part of the MMO blogging archipelago which I observe. There have been some long-standing names taking their leave of MMO reporting/punditry/enthusiastic babbling/satire recently; Ysh reports from her quantum mechanical blog –which is at the same time both finished and not finished– that Elder Game are moving on from general blog punditry into other areas of discussion. Not to mention the news of the Van Hemlock team hanging up their collective wide brimmed, face-shading podcast hats, possibly temporarily, possibly long term. For now, at least, they’re measuring ‘finished’ on the finished/not finished blog superposition state.

This latter announcement has been quite the blow to my blogging world view. It was m’colleague who truly started me out on the whole blogging affair, so I suppose you have him to blame; other friends were already blogging and offering encouragement, but it was m’colleague who pointed me at first to Tobold, and then Van Hemlock and others, before beginning his own musings while encouraging me to do the same. Tobold’s was probably the first MMO blog that I read regularly, and it was his blog that fuelled my enthusiasm for MMO blogging as a reader, but out of the big-name bloggers at the time, it was Van Hemlock who made me want to blog. I cannot tell you how many times I read and re-read the Ranterbury Tales, the title, theme and content of which appealed to me on many levels, and where the slightly irreverent tone in which the various tales were delivered revealed to me that blogging didn’t have to be all ‘Serieoues Bysinesse’, as Chaucer might have said before the cool kids came along and made the language all terribly confusing with their ‘srs bsns’s. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the MMO space is considerably poorer without the abundant richness of the posts of Tim ‘Van Hemlock’ Dale, and the subsequent evolutionary step into the excellently professional and seemingly effortless podcast banter between himself and the equally lucid Jon ‘Jon Shute’ Shute.

But we mustn’t forget that the blogosphere is a curious entity, entirely different from one person to the next. Since there are far more blogs out there than any one person could reasonably be expected to follow, drawing judgements and portents based on one’s own perspective of the MMO blogosphere is like trying to determine the shape of a pineapple from a pineapple ring. For what it’s worth, however, my own MMO blogosphere is noticeably quieter these days, where the overall level of enthusiasm seems to be the sort of mild head-drooped tail swishing excitement of an old arthritic dog at the prospect of a long walk, where the memories associated with it stir the centres of happiness, but the deep awareness of the inner self knows the truth of it: that it will be more pain and effort than it’s really worth. This stands in stark contrast to the boundless bouncing enthusiasm of the small yapping puppy which, in years past, the blogosphere appeared to me to be. Deep down I feel that I should urge games such as Guild Wars 2 and SW:TOR to not delay their releases too long, lest it be too late. Taking the time to ‘get it right’ is something that most bloggers have preached at one time or another, but I fear that in the time that developers have come to realise the truth of this (primarily through the industry’s own mistakes), the enthusiasm in the MMO space has entered a decline.

In the half year or more it takes for ArenaNet and Bioware to release their games, I wonder how many more bloggers will have left us. I’m not concerned from some foolish belief that the MMO blogosphere is important, that it influences the desires of the playing populace or developers. Instead I hold to the viewpoint that the MMO blogosphere is the mirror-surface on the pool of opinion which reflects the desires of the playing populace. If the people who are enthusiastic enough about a genre to take the time to write about it, for no tangible remuneration, are slowing down and slowly drifting away, then perhaps these are the ripples at the edge of the pool which reflect a deeper disturbance at its centre.

Then again, maybe I’m just miserable from having had a stinking cold for the past five days, and subconsciously I wanted everyone else to feel it too, in which case you can consider this the textual realisation of a runny nose and sore throat; take a couple of paracetamol and it’ll probably all be better in the morning.

16 thoughts on “Decline to accept the end of it.

  1. Jon Shute

    It feels to me like the MMO age we all wrote/talked about has ended. There used to be great excitement about the genre and it was going to be the next big thing. Every game was talking about how they would MMO-ify in order to reach more people and keep them playing, but those days have gone and are now talking about features from social games instead (Autolog in Need for Speed, the new Call of Duty subscription service etc). At the same time MMOs are changing as the subscription model dies giving people a natural cut off point where they can stop if they feel they no longer have anything to say.
    The fact that we’ve all said everything again and again now doesn’t help. Those of us with long memories no doubt have had a “this subject again?” moment when reading while knowing that odds are no new ideas will be presented in that post. I’ve lost count how many blog posts I abandoned because I realised that what I wanted to say just wasn’t bringing anything new to the discussion.
    We had a joke when making the show that if we were ever really stuck for a topic we would go with “how many bag slots is best” as it seemed to be the daftest and boring idea we could think of at the time. I think when a certain MMO site ran with that as a piece I knew that all the important topics had been discussed and it was time to move on.

  2. delicious.crab

    Hmmm… the two good friends of mine who introduced me to MMOing seem to be drifting away as well, which leaves me in a bad spot. I never really made any “online” friends and still have quite a bit of enthusiasm for the genre as a whole and DDO in particular (the only one I’ve played.) So I suspect that I too may begin to drift away. ]

    That’s the thing about social media (which includes MMOs in a broad enough definition) – they’re social, and I wonder if there’s some sort of domino effect in the blogosphere. Oh, and if you stop blogging, I’ll so something, I know not what… but something.

  3. Rem

    I guess at any given time there was and will be a certain degree of discontent with the current MMOfferings and a certain anticipation of future releases making everything better. I think Jon has a point in that currently the genre in its fundamental ideals seems to have run off the rails a bit, not quite getting that Facebook is Facebook and online games are online games and they’re absolutely not the same thing, seemingly only those of us who’ve been about for a while longer understanding the difference between an instant messenger and a virtual world.

    I think bloggers stop blogging not because they run out of things to play, but out of things to say. Look at Kleps: who knows what he’s playing now, but he has another crazy thing to say every day, and thank god for that!

    Some old pundits will always be leaving the space, and some new voices will always jump in their place, posting about subjects they think they may be able to give a fresh angle, after reading some inspiring post or comment by someone who may not be about themselves already.

    Except for Tobold. Tobold will always be about. And I hope so will you, no idea what I’d do without your intricate metaphors and infinite sidetracks. Get better with your cold :)

  4. Melmoth Post author

    @delicious.crab: MMOs are utterly curious beasts, existing in a strange simultaneous social and asocial state. Players so often wish to solo, and yet without friends and guildmates available to them while they solo, the game quickly loses its charm for many of them.

    The similarity between the MMO social space and the blogging space is a good point, and the social domino effect is an entirely believable supposition.

    “Oh, and if you stop blogging, I’ll so something, I know not what… but something.”

    Something involving jelly, I hope.

    @Rem: I completely agree that there will always be churn in the blogsphere; having been following it for a few years now I’ve witnessed a fair amount. Something feels a bit different now, though, a feeling that’s been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, but recent events have brought to the fore. Again I’m having trouble expressing what ‘it’ actually is however, there’s just that ineffable sort of feeling that something is different and wrong.

    “no idea what I’d do without your intricate metaphors and infinite sidetracks.”

    I hear delicious.crab is doing something wonderful with jelly.

  5. Sente

    I think that MMOs as such have gone into a stagnation stage and has been there for a while. But also the world around has changed so what may have been a special experience 7-12 years ago is not that anymore.

    I am quite sure many game developers are also confused or concerned. They may be chasing patterns in behaviour (facebook etc), try to polish what is pretty much true & tested with some twists, or chase the idea about “the story” being the saviour in different ways.

    Solo play used to be the idea that would save MMOs in the past few years – it did not do that, perhaps because games threw away a lot of other things in order to cater for the solo play. Questing also used to be another saviour and again that failed becuase people got fed up with too much of it and too similar.

    You see this kind of things all over the place in IT and other areas; there is always something that is the magic solution to everyones problems. Of course, that never is true and that is only after a few years of trying to solve every conceivable problem with XYZ that people start to realize some of the good and bad things about it – unless they just throw it away for the next shiny thing.

  6. ArcherAvatar

    Feel better soon…

    Blogging is all about opinions… essentially, an ‘endless’ run-on of Op:Ed pieces, and here’s the thing; opinions are like a**holes – everyone has one, and they usually stink.

    In all seriousness though, the blog’o sphere is self perpetuating. So long as someone has an opinion and the desire to express it (inevitable) there will be others who are interested in reading that opinion, and either supporting, or attempting to counter it (eg; comments)

    I was also disappointed to see the announcement on VanHemlock’s site, but remain hopeful that at some point something will stir them enough to roust them from langour and back to full bombastic pronouncements – complete with regular schedule.

    However, if not, someone else will step up to the mic. I’m very old, and probably won’t be around for all that much longer myself but, that does give one the benefit of having seen the ‘cycle’ repeat itself a number of times… it’s true what they say, “Change is inevitable” and “nothing ever truly changes…”

  7. Melmoth Post author

    @Sente: I wonder if the problem is that we’ve been waiting all this time expecting the genre to take some huge step from what we thought was an embryonic prototypal stage, and we’re just now beginning to realise that what we experienced very early on was ‘it’, and there’s nowhere left to go that is feasible or affordable at the current level of technology.

    I suppose the question then becomes: why this level of expectation with MMOs, and not with other genres of games such as FPSs or single player RPGs?

    Why do MMOs spark the imagination in just such a way, for better or worse, where other game genres don’t seem to?

    @ArcherAvatar: I agree that the blogsphere will always go on (everyone sing Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ with me now), but recently I seem to be losing more bloggers from my RSS feed than I’m adding, whereas in the past I was always picking up fresh talent (not like that, no red lights were involved), and my RSS feed feels lighter.

    If there’s been a lull like this since 2006 or so when I first started following blogs, I must admit that I don’t remember it. But then I suppose 2006 is still newbie territory to some veterans of the blogosphere, so I’m certainly not claiming that this sort of thing can’t have happened before.

  8. Jim

    Heh, there certainly is some malaise in the mmog blogosphere these days!

    The mechanics are in a rut, let’s face it. The games are so expensive to make and the ones that took chances (Tabula Rasa, W:AoR, and AoC) released so unpolished that the risk taking was ultimately blamed for the failure.

    Right now it seems the biggest concern for developers is coming up with a business model that works. If only the games themselves were as different as the ways to pay for them!

    We have 4 big titles coming up that will determine the course of our genre: ToR, GW2, Secret World (my dark horse fav) and W:40k (the one I worry about because of THQ’s instability).

    And so we sit and wait for change. But change is coming. And our interest and affection will be renewed. Not like the 1st time we flew out of Ironforge, or saw Rivendell with the stringed melody behind it. There will be new heroic moments shared with new, interesting players.

    Get well soon Mel. You’re the community’s Joyce. There will be new streets.

  9. Melmoth Post author

    @Jim: “And so we sit and wait for change. But change is coming.”

    Absolutely. I just hope it comes in time.

    At least we have delicious.crab’s jelly as a fallback option, though.

  10. epic.ben

    Think how terrible it would be if you were a movie blogger and had nothing to write about except comedies and dramas, and how all of the plot lines that would ever be written were written.

    Oh, wait! People blog and write about movies all of the time. :)

  11. moonmonster

    Could also be what happens with most any … thing, as it enters the mainstream. The amateur enthusiasts that kept it going when it was (relatively) small tend to get disillusioned and leave, or find niches to dwell in.

    It’s a kind of stagnation and conservatism, but it could also be considered a stability and maturity. Now, whether or not you’re happy with where it all stabilized (a few degrees north of WoW), that’s your own business.

  12. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    I agree, there seems to be a bit more malaise these days. As KTR pointed out, it really hit home when Pink Pigtail Inn went quiet; as much as I generally dislike WoW-specific blogs, PPI was just a great breath of fresh air.

    Melmoth wrote:
    …there’s nowhere left to go that is feasible or affordable at the current level of technology.

    It is NOT technology holding us back. Basically, for all the complaining about wanting something new and different, the audience simply isn’t supporting games that do something new. People have shown they want polish more than innovation, and polish is the opposite of innovation. Look at RIFT as a perfect example: it’s obviously patterned after WoW with a few things (notably the rift events) added to it. But, they needed to follow WoW to such a high degree to get that level of “polish” that people want.

    At any rate, I’ll join in with the chorus of threats if you stop blogging. I’ve met you in person, so I know what you look like. And, I won’t use anything quite so friendly as jelly. I’ll show you why they still call me “Psychochild”. (Hint: it’s not the child-like purity and innocence. ;)

  13. Melmoth Post author

    @epic.ben: Hoom, I’d say it’s probably more akin to writing only about comedy movies, where every movie reuses the same set of jokes. Although we may be in danger of needing more otters.

    @moonmonster: Indeed, certainly it could just be the section of MMO blogosphere which I choose to follow that seems to be going dark. I imagine the relative success of Guild Wars 2, SW:TOR and others, will show the true state of things.

    @Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green: Yes, PPI was very popular, as was Righteous Orbs at their height. Both left in short succession, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that they were both very WoW specific, I would probably have become concerned earlier than I did.

    “It is NOT technology holding us back. Basically, for all the complaining about wanting something new and different, the audience simply isn’t supporting games that do something new.”

    It’s a fair point, but I’d also maybe have to ask you to define ‘audience’, because really I’d say that ‘audience’ to most MMO publishers is ‘everyone that ever subscribed to WoW’. EVE, Darkfall, ATitD, and others prove that there is a market for innovation and being different, but that’s not the market that most publishers want. Obviously, MMOs are generally insanely expensive to make, and so naturally publishers want the widest possible market, so I would argue that it isn’t a lack of audience that’s holding it back either.

    On considering this, I then wondered, is it the way MMOs are developed that holds them back? Would a more Minecraft-ian approach work, where a small core of game play is developed, and then players invest in that if they like it, which then funds further development, and so on. I think Mortal Online perhaps tried something like this. Still, with less investment risk, developers could perhaps afford to be more ambitious in their innovation, and if they hit on something that strikes a chord with players, they would be rewarded with investment to develop it further. Fair enough, funding from players alone wouldn’t be enough, but if you could show a VC fund that you had X hundred thousand minor investors already, then perhaps there’s strong evidence that your innovation is worth investing in.

    “At any rate, I’ll join in with the chorus of threats if you stop blogging.”

    Well it’s very kind of you all to say so, but I’m not thinking of stopping, outside of the normal occasional existential blog crisis.

    And you may well have met me, but you neglected to take photographic evidence, so you cannot prove anything, for all you know I may just be a figment of your imagination, the Tyler Durden of MMO discussion – well, it would at least explain the jelly fetish going on around here.

  14. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Melmoth wrote:
    …I would argue that it isn’t a lack of audience that’s holding it back either.

    Oh, there is an audience, obviously. What I said was the audience doesn’t embrace new games despite crying for something new. The existing audience have only really demonstrated that they want WoW type gameplay, or if a game can manage to survive a terrible launch for many years then it might eventually find an audience like EVE did. MMO players are like what my GF complains about when we talk about lunch:

    Her: What do you want?
    Me: I dunno.
    Her: How about hamburgers?
    Me: No, not that.
    Her: How about sub sandwiches?
    Me: Anything but that.
    Her: How about pizza?
    Me: Naw.
    (Repeat endlessly, usually ending with me agreeing to something I already said “no” to either from poor memory or desperation just to eat something.)

    Would a more Minecraft-ian approach work, where a small core of game play is developed, and then players invest in that if they like it, which then funds further development, and so on.

    As I’ve said before, Minecraft was an aberration. People have tried that model before with single-player games. It just happens that Minecraft blew up big and therefore you’ve actually heard of it, unlike the dozens of indie type games trying that model that came before and never went anywhere.

    Keep in mind that the first public iteration of Minecraft was walking around a randomized world and placing like 8 different types of blocks. Yeah, enough people loved it to get it to grow, but to get to that point in an MMO, even a modestly small indie one, would be even less awe-inspiring; a Minecraft-like slice of an MMO at that level would probably be logging on and walking a blue box around a nondescript grey box. So, you need money from somewhere, and that’s where the trick comes along.

    Honestly, I had hoped to bootstrap with Meridian 59: have a base, work up some income, expand and grow. But, people didn’t care to support the game. Anything I did to promote the game and grow an audience for other games didn’t work. Even a major (for us) investment in revamping the graphics engine came to naught; the audience is purely interested in the short-term and not investing in the long term. Not that I can blame them, but that makes it hard to build a business model around the audience supporting you generously for something not quite complete. Also, see references to “polish” and the blog post I linked in my previous comment.

    Of course, note that you can make an MMO with little funding, but it’s not going to look like the typical games you expect. It’ll look like Golemizer a brilliant game all in Javascript focusing on crafting. But, I know this hasn’t made the developer rich.

    So, for a traditional type MMO, you need funding. Where does it come from? Publishers bring all the baggage they do from the traditional game space. Venture capitalists and other large investors are only interested in funding the next Google (or maybe Blizzard, which is why you saw big money pouring into WoW-clone flavor of the week a few years ago) in order to get big returns.

    Kickstarter is pretty good, but it has a fairly low success rate for projects over $10k, which is probably still not enough to get you really started. But, honestly, this would be the best way to fund a truly innovative game. The problem is that this requires people to pull out their wallets en masse (or for someone to just have had a rich uncle die and leave them the whole estate) in order to support. For an audience where they think $15/month is a king’s ransom and should get the developer’s undivided attention every time they hit a snag, I’m not sanguine on this happening. Not that I’ve given up hope, as my current project is something crazy and ambitious. But, it’s not like you can just launch something and get a lot of support and then repeat Minecraft.

    Anyway, sorry for the bit of a rant, but it’s something I’ve dealt with over the last several years. If it were a simple thing, I definitely would have done it by now. But, still, it’s not about the technology requirements.

  15. ArcherAvatar

    Damn… is this the law of 3s? Just heard today that Relics of Orr (a podcast I listen to for GW2 talk) will be closing down after episode 45. With VanHemlock gone and now RoO shutting down soon, my podcast list is shrinking precipitously.

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