A Growing Space for MMOs?

Over the past six months it has become painfully obvious the videogame industry is not, in fact, recession-proof. Recent revenue reports and layoffs coming from EA and THQ have only driven home the fact. But according to a recent Reuters article, the economic crisis may be an opportunity for MMO publishers.

"Analysts say online games are not only recession-proof but can even get a boost from an economic slump, because people stay longer at home and have more time on their hands to play.

The so-called "massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG)" typically takes months of extensive time investment, as a user-say, a warrior or sorcerer in the fantasy world-builds skills and takes on adversaries in a series of missions.

Online gamers’ profiles are different from buyers of Nintendo’s Wii consoles or DS handheld players, which have proved a roaring success with easy-to-play games for a broader population.

‘I don’t think (online multiplayer games) get impacted at all, because people who play them are addicts,’ said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan. ‘Losing their jobs makes them more likely to play because they have more time to play.’"

There are a few reasons online multiplayer games may be more resistant to downtrodden market pressures, however I don’t think Michael Pachter is right in thinking MMO players are addicts. Though I’ll admit, if I were fired tomorrow it would definitely free up some time for me to finally hit level 80. A much more compelling reason for potential growth is that a persistent world, with a multitude of open-ended goals and feedback mechanisms, just makes economic sense to gamers with empty wallets. A sixty dollar game on any of the major consoles can vary in length dramatically, some providing as little as six hours of gameplay.

Even if the game contains multiplayer elements, these segments can become dull through repetition. The length of an MMO is only limited by how long you are willing to put into it. At only fifteen dollars a month, World of Warcraft can be a very cost effective experience. If you include multiple class options and continuous updates, a money-strapped gamer could find an MMO world very appealing.

Now toss in free-to-play MMOs into the mix and you can see how a terrible economy can be a unique growth opportunity for foreign and domestic developers of free online games, such as Runewaker Entertainment Ltd. who will be launching their free-to-play MMORPG Runes of Magic next month. 2009 could be a very good year for publishers targeting the many gamers on a budget.pal

The problem I foresee is the ever persistent PC compatibility problem. With varying degress of tech requirements for even the free-to-play MMOs, many gamers may be shut off from the experience. Of course there are developers who intentionally downplay system requirements like Blizzard has done with World of Warcraft. There are also consumers who just don’t want to hassle with system or installment requirements from downloadable MMOs, even the free-to-play varieties.

Though these concerns may be minimal, it relates to another opportunity that presents itself. 2009 might be the year a successful MMO finally comes to the console market, which aside from Final Fantasy XI, has largely been an MMO wasteland. With the vast number of console owners, many of whom purchased their systems before they and the economy became clinically depressed, aspiring MMO console developers may just find consumers eager for a game with overwhelming replay value. To our surprise, we may see more innovative titles flowering from a poor economy than we thought possible.


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Author: Jorge Albor View all posts by

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