Let’s not mince words. World of Warcraft, the biggest Western MMO ever, boasted thirteen million players. Unimaginable! Diablo 2, one of the top PC RPGs of all time, sold around 4 million.
And 52.5 million people watched the finale of Friends.
I think my posting history here makes my position clear… I play EVE Online, arguably one of the nichiest of games in a niche. I don’t even think that niche gaming is a bad thing — if you’re going to satisfy a market, why not satisfy a smaller market really well? But is the serious MMORPG itself doomed to a slow decline due to niche appeal, in today’s era of risk management in AAA and focus on high ROI in casual and social arenas? Is APB’s monumental collapse a harbinger of things to come, or an anomaly? Is the rash of F2P conversions (DDO, LotRO, EQ2, PotBS) the emergence of a new market paradigm? SHOULD I RUN AROUND SCREAMING AND WAVING MY ARMS OVER MY HEAD?
Personally, I think we’re seeing an incremental move in the traditional game industry and there’s no call for panic. If you make more money by “giving the product away” (except for fast travel, easy advancement, and teh shiniez), then I expect to see more people move in that direction. And since MMORPGs are mostly designed by MMORPG nerds, I don’t expect to see World of Farm any time soon, either. I suspect the near future will contain games much like we’ve seen previously, with micropayments being added to the mix in various and interesting (or not so interesting) ways.