Are MMORPGs Dying Out?

The MMORPG (or massively multiplayer online role playing game, for the uninitiated) was once the genre at the forefront of gaming. We all know the names of behemoth MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and RuneScape. Yet the genre seems to be failing to captivate modern gamers in the face of contemporary competition; instead battle royales and online shooters have come to define modern gaming. This leaves many with one question: are MMORPGs a dying genre? Let’s find out.

What are MMOs?

Like most genres, the MMORPG’s identity is explained perfectly within its name. It’s a massively multiplayer, online, role-playing game. In other words, it’s a game where you create a character—to role-play as—and take them through a huge, online world where you can adventure with (or often against) other players. These games typically use fantasy or sci-fi settings as their backdrops, while featuring complex class-based progression systems which require players to team up with others to create synergistic parties in order to take on the game’s toughest challenges.

These games also generally contain persistent worlds, economies, guilds and more which continue to develop when individuals are offline—due to the plethora of other players engaging with the game’s systems.

The Most Popular MMOs in History

If you’ve ever played an MMO, chances are that you either graced the lands of Azeroth, Gielinor, Tyria or Hydaelyn—found in World of Warcraft, RuneScape, Guild Wars and Final Fantasy XIV respectively—or explored the galaxies of EVE Online or Star Wars: The Old Republic. This is because, when it comes to MMOs, there simply aren’t that many to choose from.

That said, most of these incredibly popular MMOs have their origins in the 2000s. The MMO craze was arguably kickstarted by RuneScape and World of Warcraft, released in 2001 and 2004, but since the release of Guild Wars 2, Old School RuneScape and Final Fantasy XIV (A Realm Reborn) in 2012, notable releases have been comparatively few and far between. Speaking of WoW, you can buy WoW Gold here, alongside currency for all major MMORPGs!

Ultimately, the fact that a genre that has entertained so many players has so few recent games to shout about is a signal that something might be up.

Player Counts: Then and Now

Speaking of players, it’s worth taking a look at player counts of MMORPGs.

While it’s hard to obtain solid numbers regarding player counts, as many developers like to keep these numbers as private as possible, we do have some metrics to go by.

Looking at World of Warcraft, it is thought that at its peak in the 2010, the game was attracting over 12 million active players. However, while there are now over 126 million accounts on the game, the current daily player count averages around 1.2 million. While WoW is only one MMO, its fair to assume that other games have been following suit, given most of them are also very old games.

That said, there are some new MMOs like Amazon’s New World. But the player counts have shown the same trend appear—albeit in a much shorter period of time. At launch New World showed a daily average of 410,000 players. While by the end of 2023 it’s seeing only a little over 11,000.

In sum, it seems like MMO player counts are indeed falling. The key question is, why?

So… are MMORPGs dying out?

Looking at the games themselves, there appear to be two key factors as to why MMOs might be losing their appeal.

First is the fact that MMOs haven’t really changed so much since the release of World of Warcraft in 2004. Sure, graphics have upgraded, player counts increased and plenty of new features have been introduced. But if we strip all MMOs back to their core, they generally consist of the same handful of features which see you slowly level up a character by taking on a bunch of quests as you progress through the game’s various areas. What’s more, MMO combat systems haven’t come so far from their origins meaning that over the last 20 years players have become somewhat frustrated with the genre.

Second, is the huge amount of competition from other games and genres. While MMOs once were innovative, sprawling and full of novel gameplay for users, today everyone kind of knows what to expect. Because of this, many players prefer to dabble in other genres which foreground fast-paced fun. Genres like Battle Royales, MOBAs and other competitive online genres have come to overshadow MMOs as they simply give players more immediate fun.

But MMOs will live on!

While it’s clear that the genre of the MMORPG has slowly been pushed off its pedestal, the genre is likely to stick around for a long time to come—especially in the form of the genre’s behemoths like World of Warcraft and RuneScape. This is because these titles still have strongly dedicated communities. While overall player counts might be tiny compared to their peaks, the player counts today are generally made up of the most die-hard players—those who have made lots of social and emotional connections with the game. Meaning that those players will stick around for a while yet.

So, while MMOs have largely lost their general appeal to faster, more modern games, they are by no means dying out. At least, not just yet.

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