MMOs 2012-2014 Analysis: Which Succeeded and Failed?

The last three years in MMORPG land were filled with attempts to reinvent the wheel, with titles that were supposed to make us fall in love again with the genre. There was WildStar, Elder Scrolls Online, ArcheAge and many more – but while most of them only ended up partly successful with their attempts at MMORPG revolution.

Their hubris was in underestimating the innovation and polish it takes to impress the current crop of MMORPG gamers that have hundreds of hours of World of Warcraft experience under their belts or are comparing the titles to their favorite next-gen console games.

In the Success Zone list below, we picked out the five MMORPGs that were able to live up to the hype or, in some cases, exceeded the very small expectations that critics and fans had of them.

On the other hand, the Failure Zone list contain the five MMORPGs that fizzled due to lack of originality, or launched with relatively poor quality characterized by persistent bugs and operational problems. Some in the list may have drawn in respectable release day crowds, but they failed to sustain their strong subscriber numbers post-release even despite AAA developer pedigrees.

Your experts, noobs and in-betweens at KillerGuides has put together this article of looking back at how the MMO has fared for the past few years. It is nothing too official and only based on the views and opinions of gaming aficionados.

Failure Zone

 

WildStar

Publisher: NCsoft
Developer: Carbine Studios
Release date: June 3, 2014
Expectation: WildStar succeeded in drumming up hype as a fun, cartoon sci-fi MMORPG that tries to one-up World of Warcraft and its generational kin. It’s a AAA title backed by a major studio, launched a pretty slick marketing campaign and offered a swath of gameplay elements designed to attract both the hardcore and casual playing crowds. The world and its universe of races and characters also felt fresher than usual.

Reality: Alas, while WildStar had ultra-polished and bitingly witty trailers to entice players to put the game in their possible check-it-out-soon list, not enough players really signed up and gave it a go. Part of this came from a skewed perception that WildStar is a hardcore game, which kept casuals at bay. Of those who tried it out, there were complaints that it wasn’t wholly different from the World of Warcraft formula it espoused to be moving away from. Some critics point out that this is especially apparent if you remove the flashy space cowboy elements. The launch period was also marred by distributed denial of service or DDoS attacks where malicious individuals tried to make the WildStar servers terribly laggy or even unavailable for players.

Analysis: WildStar had the makings of a hit MMORPG. It had the support of a major studio with tens of millions in marketing and development budget, and it seemed to stand out from the overcrowded MMORPG space with its line-up of unique races and cool combat mechanics. But it ultimately suffered from the weight of high expectations. Players turned up wanting a mind-blowing title but was instead served with a moderately clunky (bugs and other hiccups plagued its launch period) game with a few neat ideas. Developers also failed to impress upon fans that casuals are welcome in WildStar despite the wealth of hardcore content. The developers are hoping that a string of content updates focusing on adding more “fun things” will improve perception towards the game as a more casual-friendly game, but others believe WildStar would be better off staying the hardcore path and owning its niche as what EVE Online has done. WildStar’s bet on casual accommodation will likely determine whether it continues to stay open in 2015 since developer NCsoft is known to pull the plug earlier than later on MMORPGs that fail to earn back their investment costs.

TERA

Publisher: En Mass Entertainment (NA)
Developer: Bluehole Studio
Release date: May 1, 2012 (NA)
Expectation: TERA launched in 2012 to lukewarm reception with many looking forward to its dynamic action system that gives huge importance on proper positioning and team play. But outside of its fun combat, not many were excited about it. there was not really much to get excited about. Because of this many realized that the game was not worth the subscription, so eventually TERA turned free to play in 2013, but many questioned whether it can keep on coasting by with a crop of similar fantasy MMORPGs slated to release in 2014. Many doubted about it and were quick to point out a lack of vibrant community and the hard climb to win back disillusioned fans, even with free play offered.

Reality: TERA is trudging on, but some argue that most of the fan interest remains mostly in Asia and not in Western markets. TERA’s fun and lively combat system remains a core draw and yet many argue that it needs to try harder in aspects like making the story more exciting. If not, it may continue to dwindle into a niche game that is fun for awhile but never really one you will support for years.

Analysis: TERA does not really strive to re-invent the MMORPG wheel but instead wants to be the flashiest, most explosive wheel there ever was with its very fun and involved combat system. This is how it planned to stand out from the very beginning and was great in bringing in a lot of fans. 2014 saw TERA cater to its casual fan base with the release of very cute costumes, mounts and other visually appealing virtual items. But more than the cash shop extravaganza, TERA continued to offer a basic promise: You can log in, roll a cool-looking hero and smash massive monsters that sometimes do not even fit into the screen. A planned expansion in late 2014 – the first for TERA — is meant to spice up the challenge and open a new area for adventurers to explore. This is expected to bring a solid boost to the TERA population well into the early 2015, with developers sustaining the momentum with smaller follow-up content releases. TERA’s free-to-play conversion was a smart move for the action fighting MMORPG with mouthwatering combat graphics and animation. Free play attracts casuals and since TERA is easy to get into, it was a great match.

RaiderZ

Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment
Developer: MAIET Entertainment
Release date: November 20, 2012
Expectation: The idea of monster hunting is a popular one for gamers as proven by the popularity of Pokemon and Monster Hunter, but it was largely confined to a single-player experience – until RaiderZ came along. Players were promised a huge world where you can explore with a bunch of teammates to take on gigantic monsters that tower over your squad. Battles were promised to be fast and furious, requiring full concentration or else you could consistently miss your target or get mauled by the rampaging behemoth you are trying to take down. RaiderZ was looking to take monster hunting on a grander scale than any game before it.

Reality: While players and reviewers appreciated the cool premise of monster hunting, the 2012 launch and overall execution of the game leaves much to be desired. Many found the combat system to be unpolished and the world uninspiring, which left a disappointing impression since exploration and battles were the two activities to do for the majority of your logged-in time. It has also failed to really come into its own as the definitive monster hunting MMORPG because it borrows heavily from past games and does not really introduce anything groundbreaking to the genre formula.

Analysis: RaiderZ suffers from the mediocrity syndrome, which is really a shame since it had the opportunity to push the boundaries of monster hunting in a massive scale. Whether it was a result of playing it too safe or developer inexperience, the resulting title felt like a mishmash of elements from past MMORPGs and console titles. It is by no means a horrible game that is unplayable, but it has a hard time making gamers fall in love with it because many feel like they have seen this all before with only screen-filling monsters thrown into the mix. The North American version is still chugging along – kept afloat by microtransaction support for its costumes and power consumables — even after the Korean version has shut down already, but 2015 should see more of the same-old content for RaiderZ.

ArcheAge

Publisher: Trion Worlds
Developer: XL Games
Release date: September 16, 2014 (for Europe and NA)
Expectation: ArcheAge had a compelling premise for MMORPG players: a lush sandbox world brimming with opportunities to live out your ultimate fantasy dream. It had plenty of intriguing features, from building your own guild castles and cities and defending them against enemy forces, claiming a vast land estate to fighting naval battles to secure trade routes. It also offered breathtaking graphics and animations for those that do love combat.

Reality: ArcheAge developers had the ambition to dream up innovative features and players thought they were pretty cool when the game launched, but there has been a struggle to balance certain systems like land ownership. Widespread hacks have also plagued the game, where players try to cheat the game and make everyone else suffer the consequences, which has led to dwindling interest for ArcheAge.

Analysis: XL Games made the fundamental mistake of trusting players too much – or maybe underestimating them? – by designing systems that were easy to exploit. This has dragged the economy, land ownership and other fundamental game systems into a quagmire of imbalance. Mass bans are being issued to bring order back, but this has opened yet another can of worms with plenty of innocent players receiving the ban hammer. Nothing is more infuriating for a player than to get locked out of a game you really want to play for crimes you did not commit but other players are getting away with. Turnaround times for resolving game issues are also longer than usual because of the unique setup where XL Games is a Korean developer while Trion Worlds is a Western publisher – the language and time barriers add hours and days to the feedback loop process. The silver lining about ArcheAge is that, at its core, the MMORPG has flashes of brilliance. A much more thorough clean-up of the exploit loopholes plus the release of the third continent may give ArcheAge a second wind in 2015 through a strong marketing and excellent customer support to retain new players.

Elder Scrolls Online

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: ZeniMax Online Studios
Release date: April 4, 2014
Expectation: The Elder Scrolls Online creators rightfully banked on the idea of turning one of the most cherished action role-playing videogame franchises into an exhilarating open world MMORPG. The franchise was coming off the high of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and it was reasonable to expect that its cult following would push it into stratospheric success. A lot of hype was built around the kingmaker-type PvP wherein players from the three factions enter into an enormous PvP area known as Cyrodiil, capturing and defending keeps with up to 2000 other players at any given time. Its PvE experience, meanwhile, was headlined by adventure zones and the freeform progression even after hitting the level cap through the veteran rank system.

Reality: Many liked Elder Scroll Online’s take on the single-player role-playing experience in a massively multiplayer world setting, and longtime Elder Scrolls fans will appreciate the lengths taken to pay homage to the series. Elder Scrolls Online came out and was able to deliver on the open world promise but it was plagued with problems like phasing issues, duping exploits and PvP imbalance. Many systems felt clunky and even downright frustrating. The endgame and PvP portions felt underdeveloped, which all combined, led droves of fans to stop paying for the monthly fee even less than a year into playing.

Analysis: Elder Scrolls Online simply failed to live up to its potential as an MMORPG. Maybe it was unfair for it to be constantly compared to the awesomeness of Skyrim or the polish and depth of content of World of Warcraft – which has been benefit from a whole decade of constant improvement – but Elder Scrolls Online delivered a fairly decent role-playing experience notwithstanding the occasional bugs. These were mirrored by the decent but ultimately middling reviews, which in the greater scheme of things was disappointing given that Elder Scrolls Online was supposed to be one of the best new MMORPGs of 2014. Developers have been hard at work fixing all the problems that hobbled the game at launch. This is significant because Elder Scrolls Online is planning to release on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 systems in 2015, and may offer another shot at redemption and subscriber resurgence.

Success Zone

 

The Secret World

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Funcom
Release date: July 3, 2012
Expectation: The Secret World was poised to become a critical darling. Many in the media were proclaiming it as an MMORPG prodigy that boasted a captivating world, empowering freeform class progression and memorably distinct visual style. It was quirky, mysterious and had a fresh voice to add to the din of copycat echoes filling the genre.

Reality: The Secret World launched to mostly positive reviews in 2012 and made quick fans due to its gameplay panache. Since then, the game has solidified a relatively smaller but highly loyal fan base. It has admirably kept afloat even after many critics predicted its doom back when it turned free to play in late 2012.
The MMORPG continues to serve constant updates that focus on driving forward its single-player story, which fans admit is its core strength. It is seen as a haven for story-loving fans that want an MMORPG but do not want the extensive socializing that other titles shove down a player’s throat. The Secret World may lack the mainstream appeal to attract many users, and the often mystery-centric themes of its content updates might be too quirky for player tastes, but it plays well and is quite the undiscovered gem.

Analysis: The Secret World dropped its subscriptions and opted for an optional membership model, and it seems to have been the right move for the game. Instead of its flashier brethren, The Secret World takes time to grow on you. The first few days are spent wandering around – and wondering why there are so few people you come across in a supposed MMORPG – but then its single-player story starts to intrigue you, wrap its spindly arms around you and before you know it you’re ready to plunk down a membership to beat those nightmare dungeons. Those who have remained in The Secret World from the initial rush appreciate its eccentricity, vast customization options and less structured progression. 2015 promises to be more of the same bread-and-butter story content releases but don’t be surprised to see a Collector’s Edition box or a major DLC pop up once or twice during the year to spike up interest during the summer and/or Christmas holiday gaming rush.

Defiance

Publisher: Trion Worlds
Developer: Trion Worlds
Release date: April 2, 2013
Expectation: Leading up to its launch in 2012, Defiance cranked up the hype with its rapid-fire shooter sensibilities and slick TV show tie-up. Players were intrigued by the interactive, cross-media possibilities: You can tune into the cable series airing in SyFY and unlock rewards in-game, or see your favorite characters in the MMORPG make guest appearances in the TV show. It had a modern-age coolness to it, and with the right execution, could prove to be irresistible to play.

Reality: The crossover content between the MMORPG and the TV show has not been a mind-blowing experience for many fans, especially when it was bandied about to be a key attraction when the game launched, but the solid third-person shooter action and explosive alien-blasting challenges more than made up for this slight disappointment. With both the TV and game storylines branching out into wildly different directions, there might be a time sooner than later where the two can no longer contribute to each other in meaningful way – and that could be more of a good thing than a bad.

Analysis: Defiance went free-to-play in June, first on the PC, then eventually on the consoles. The MMORPG received a sprinkling of updates, but it felt as though the main focus of the development team this year was to transition everyone into the free-to-play format. That’s not to say that the updates had been bad – in fact, many were of decent size and quality. But there are no sweeping additions of zones and areas to make players feel as though they are exploring new horizons. But there is hope that this could change in 2015, especially with the next major update slated for early first quarter. Crossover content should also continue to shower players with cool MMORPG-TV show synergies with the renewal of the Defiance show on SyFy, such as game factions appearing in the show and content tie-ins.

Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release date: August 27, 2013 (Windows and PlayStation 3)
Expectation: Square Enix was determined to correct the failure that was Final Fantasy 14 with a re-launched version named “A Realm Reborn” packed with fan-driven improvements, including an overhaul on the graphics engine and a faster combat system. Game performance was also upgraded to minimize lag between player input and character action. Content was also bulked up with the addition of an dungeons, raids and housing as well as support systems like a dungeon finder to make sure the content is easily accessible. Naoki Yoshida’s vision for the re-launched game was to deliver the true Final Fantasy 14 that fans of Final Fantasy 11 and genre enthusiasts expected.

Reality: The critically acclaimed re-launch – it mostly earned the equivalent of A’s and B’s on most reviewer scorecards — has been rewarded with renewed fan interest, probably enough to keep it running for years to come. In a year of largely disappointing new MMORPG releases, it would be hard to nitpick Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn, but it did have a few minor missteps. Some whined at the thinness of higher-level content and the difference in play experience between the consoles and PC. In particular, game pad control is still a bit wonky but the trade-off is it feels more intuitive and action-oriented than via mouse and keyboard.

Analysis: Leave it to the Japanese to create one of the few fairytale comebacks in MMORPG industry. Of course it helps that Square Enix has deep pockets to afford a re-launch, but it would be a disservice to the developer team helmed by Yoshida to attribute the new version’s success to merely throwing tons of money at the problem. The developers went through the arduous task of accepting their hubris, overhauling many of the wonky systems that made the original a bore and grind, and listened intently on player suggestions to create a far richer and rewarding game experience that is “A Realm Reborn.” Final Fantasy 14 is easing into a position similar to that of its predecessor, Final Fantasy 11, which is to have a relatively small but valiantly dedicated fan base. That’s not a bad thing at all. Now that developers have fixed the stability of its game systems it can then focus on pushing out its new expansion called Heavensward in spring 2015, the first-ever for the game, to usher in new blood and court back those that swore it off before.

Guild Wars 2

Publisher: NCsoft
Developer: ArenaNet
Release date: August 28, 2012
Expectation: Guild Wars 2 was one of the biggest hits of 2012, charming millions of players with its lush graphics, intuitive combat system, deep exploration and crafting systems and exciting tri-server, all-hours-open PvP. Two years after its launch, ArenaNet has done a valiant effort to keep as many players as possible from its breakout launch. Developers released a free trial program as a way to replenish the player base and keep keep Guild Wars 2 competitive amid the new wave of MMORPGs coming online in 2014. Guild Wars 2 rarely had a misstep this year, rolling out a constant stream of improvements and storyline-heavy content updates that kept its most loyal fans engaged. They played to their strengths and did so admirably, and were rewarded with strong retention and the rise of a vocal and fiercely loyal community.

Reality: The Guild Wars 2 launch back in 2012, barring some bugs and flaws in the PvP balance, was relatively smooth. If ArenaNet gets one thing right, it is in rolling out features that function as advertised and seem to have been well-tested before release. In short, content quality was high during launch day and has remained so until now. But one perennially sore spot is the gem exchange. Many say it lacks key items and that there are fewer people converting their gems to gold. Some players also do not like the overly strong focus on the Living Story, although the fact that the game is free to play forever is keeping them from exploring other subscriber options.

Analysis: Guild Wars 2 spent the first half of 2014 showing its fans that it can craft a compelling storyline and see it through to the end, and for many it was enough to earn their continued support. In the summer, the second season of the main storyline launched and coupled with the offering of free trial, it was clear that new players are very much welcome to join. Guild Wars 2 is the kind of game that quickly grows on you because of its beautiful visuals and deep lore – there’s always something interest to see around the corner or learn when talking to the local NPCs. The strategy was to get players into the world, convince them that the box prices were worth it, and then ease them into a grand adventure. Guild Wars 2 will likely launch a new expansion in 2015 and the third season of its storyline, a combination that should be potent enough to keep Guild Wars 2 as one of the more successful MMORPGs in the market today.

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Release date: November 13, 2014
Expectation: Warlords of Draenor was met with a large dose of skepticism despite a long list of features and improvements, including 10 new levels, fresh raids and a compelling storyline that lets you battle alongside Thrall and Durotan. Sure, the past four World of Warcraft expansions had the ability to sell in the millions and push subscriber numbers through the roof, but the game has been declining for the most part of 2014, so there was doubt that the expansion would do well.
Reality: The expansion defied doomsayers and managed to breathe new life into Blizzard’s flagship MMORPG. It sold 3.3 million copies in its first 24 hours – mirroring the feat of the well-received Cataclysm expansion – and resuscitated the subscriber base back to a commanding 10 million population. Many loved the level 90 character boost and the Garrison features, in particular. But the expansion launch was far from perfect. There were notable complaints about quest bottlenecks, broken terrain and areas, and several other major issues concerning mounts and in-game items.

Analysis: What Blizzard did right with Warlords of Draenor is that it went back to the roots of the franchise while still pushing the envelope in gameplay. This meant the story was compelling to many veteran fans who wanted to rub elbows with – and even fight alongside –some of the most iconic characters in the MMORPG lore. But it felt fresh with plenty of new mechanics, including the very popular Garrison feature. Another clever strategy by Blizzard was to offer a one-time level 90 character boost that cuts down the entry barrier for new players; they no longer who had to slog through more than a hundred hours of content just to get a glimpse of the endgame area of Draenor. Blizzard’s strategy for 2015 is to build on its buzz, which means further improving on the Garrison feature, by far its most positively received feature in the new expansion, and then refreshing flagging interest every couple of months or so with additional dungeons or raids.

Summary

If there is any lesson to be learned from the past three years from 2012 to 2014, it is that MMORPG success rests mainly on two important components: Innovation and playability. Games that have faltered in recent times either lacked fresh twists to their MMORPG approach or were peppered with bugs, crashes, lags and hacks that made you want to tear your hair out. Managing expectations also proved a key determinant for success, with those who had wildly hyped potential falling flat on their faces when the actual product was not as fun, polished or balanced as they were advertised to be.

Failure Zone

  • WildStar lost its supernova momentum when it launched and was found out to be a World of Warcraft 2.0 wannabe compounded by DDoS attacks on launch day.
  • TERA delivered fast action combat but an MMORPG cannot subsist on one standout feature alone, and once the sheen of battles wore off players found themselves twiddling their thumbs for anything else to do.
  • RaiderZ set out to make the ultimate epic monster hunting MMORPG but fell way short of its target, cutting corners with game quality and lacking fresh features to set it apart from every other title out there.
  • ArcheAge bit off more than it could chew with its long list of innovations, failing to ensure that these are rolled out with enough balance and anti-abuse measures in place, resulting in a promising but broken gaming environment.
  • Elder Scrolls Online was very expensively produced and depended on a massive fan turnout to help it recoup its cost, but even its esteemed franchise lineage and PvP innovations were not enough to turn it into a blockbuster hit.

 

Success Zone

  • The Secret World tunneled its way into the hearts of gamers with its offbeat storylines, freeform character progression and world design that lets you get lost for hours on end.
  • Defiance bet on a modern concept of making an MMORPG that had dynamic synergy with a TV show, and managed to pull it off quite well without seeming too gimmicky because of its solid third-person shooter action.
  • Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn bounced back from its flop initial release with a triumphant vengeance with highly improved combat and gameplay systems that impress more than they infuriate.
  • Guild Wars 2 created a visually stimulating and rewarding game experience and set it in an immersive world doomed with impossibly powerful dragons as your hero character fights regardless of the terrible odds.
  • World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor gave second wind to the flailing franchise with its mix of realm-jumping conflict and casual-friendly features, proving that it still has what it takes to lead the MMORPG pack.

Scanning the lists, it might seem like newer games are being set up for huge disappointment. This begs the question: Have we come to a saturation point with no room for big blockbuster releases? Not exactly. It only means that the competition is getting tougher overall and the industry is becoming less forgiving to shoddy releases, hackneyed rehashes and overblown proclamations. Not even investing tens of millions of dollars can guarantee a successful launch with solid returns unless it is backed by fantastic gameplay and graphics, an alluring story and world environment, and stable, bug-free servers.



4 Responses to “MMOs 2012-2014 Analysis: Which Succeeded and Failed?”

  1. Elder Scrolls Online – why I don’t pay:
    It’s simple – 4 classes ? you got to be kidding.
    Arena and Daggerfall had 18 classes.
    Morrowind and Oblivion had 21 classes.
    And we’re supposed to get excited, or even mildly interested, about 4 classes ?
    And those four classes are all too similar to each other.
    If I recall correctly, there wasn’t even a dedicated mage or priest class.
    No, I’ll not shell out for that.
    You were very right when you wrote ‘failed to live up to its potential’.

  2. Stuart King says:

    Wildstar was the biggest dud. I really regret buying that.

  3. morrisseyowesmemoney . says:

    It’s funny because right now Warlords Of Draenor is the worst expansion to date with the bare minimum of content. Though it is still on top, 3 million subs lost is nothing to take lightly.

  4. BH nullvalue says:

    sorry to necropost but I’m not really sure how defiance made the success list. Tera was far more successful then defiance ..in subscribers, and in content, IMO.

    All defiance even had going for it was that it was a show first(and not a good one at that, IMO of course)