Monday, 7 June 2010

A Look At The Competition

Ever since the game was first announced on October 21st 2008 I have been closely following any news regarding Star Wars: The Old Republic and posting any bits on this blog. But BioWare's MMO is far from the only MMO that I've been keeping an eye on (if none of them quite as closely). With a week to go before E3 2010 I thought it might be interesting to look at what other MMOs are in development. That we we can see how the landscape might change over the coming few weeks (if at all).


This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of MMOs in development, nor necessarily a list of all the most important ones to come out in the year before and after the release of The Old Republic. There are undoubtedly going to be MMOs that you might have added to your list, as are there likely to be MMOs listed in mine that you wouldn't have included. A number might not even be released until years after The Old Republic has been and a couple are even nothing more than rumors at this point. The complete list of all coming MMOs is quite long, and for many it is entirely uncertain when, or even if, they are going to be released. So see this instead as a list of MMOs in development that have caught my attention in one way or another to some greater or lesser degree. And of course each bit of information will be far from comprehensive, for some I could probably fill entire blogs in their own right, and be meant more as a brief overview. I'll also endeavor to post a couple of links to more information for each, but here too it's meant more as a taster than a comprehensive list of available information.

Looking at the list of upcoming MMOs one thing to take away is that story seems to play an increasingly important role in the MMOs of the future. Perhaps it is just because of my own preferences, but my two top picks (which I'll list first) both claim to have a strong story focus. Perhaps one could say that they are following in the footsteps of BioWare's MMO, but I think it's likely more accurate to say that a number of studios all saw the industry moving in the same direction and decided to develop their own brand of storytelling in MMOs. Great minds think alike, if you will. And of course there will also be plenty of more traditional MMO offerings, all trying to stand out in their own ways. Either way, and though I'm sure that you've heard this many times before that makes it no less true, it looks like there are exciting times ahead for MMO players.

View my picks of MMOs in development after the break.


Guild Wars 2 (homepage)

When the original Guild Wars launched the developers refrained from calling it an MMORPG. This because the game differed from traditional MMOs (particularly at the time) in that all of the adventuring was done in private instances. But Guild Wars 2 is set to change all that, being named a true MMORPG using public adventuring zones and separate servers, while keeping to the strengths of the original Guild Wars. Most importantly it keeps the same business model as the original Guild Wars in that players buy the game once and then never have to pay a subscription fee; different from traditional subscription-based MMOs in that it doesn't have a subscription and different from free-to-play MMOs in that you do have to pay for the game itself. Beyond that they make money by selling expansions later (Guild Wars has had three 'expansions') as well as a few extras (Guild Wars has extra character slots, extra ingame storage, some costumes, some skill unlocks, etc).

Guild Wars 2 was announced in the May 2007 issue of PC Gamer magazine. It seems that the development team was working on a fourth campaign (to be called Utopia), but soon found that they couldn't do everything that they wanted in it and thus decided to make a full-blown sequel. After the initial announcements and scant details they remained largely silent for over two years, only to start firing up the hype machine in August 2009. They did so with a teaser trailer and a few previews. And a few months later followed that with the Races of Tyria trailer, giving a look at the five playable races (Humans, Charr, Norn, Asura, and my personal favorite the Sylvari). Even so the hype machine had only just started and it wasn't until late April 2010 that it truly got going. Next to publishing their "Design Manifesto" for Guild Wars 2 they revealed further details on mechanics (part 1 and part 2) as well as the first of eight classes: the Elementalist. Since then they've revealed new information roughly every two weeks and keeping the steam going in between with Q&As and such. Thus anticipation for the game has massively grown to the point where on MMORPG.com's Game List it currently has the highest hype rating.

And there is a lot to be excited about. I've always found the original Guild Wars to be one of the most beautiful MMOs I've played and Guild Wars 2 looks like it will continue in that stride. But what got people truly excited is that it's set to change the way we might think about MMOs with its dynamic events system and its personal stories system. The dynamic events system will replace the traditional quest-based systems entirely; instead of going to an NPC with an exclamation mark over their head who tells you to go somewhere, do something there, and come back in some boring quest text window that nobody really read with no real effect in the world, the dynamic events system lets you discover things to do by seeing things happen around you that you can participate in with consequences for both success and failure. In some ways like Warhammer Online's Public Quests system, but without their static nature. As such the world tells its story through the things that go on around the players as they play, based on the effect that they have on the world. And within the personal stories the story telling becomes even stronger as locked within your own instances (to which you can invite friends) you make decisions and follow a story that centers around your character. This is probably much like the class stories have been described for The Old Republic. Besides that the game is set to offer dungeons, with their own stories, as group content, World versus World PvP and instanced, balanced PvP all of which we've yet to hear further details on. Then there are seven more classes to reveal and a lot of other details about the game besides.

And the beauty is that with the game having no monthly subscription fee it is one that people can keep installed and play whenever they feel like next to another MMO with a subscription fee. With all that I can safely say that this is currently a strong number two (right after The Old Republic) on my most anticipated games list.

Though no official release date has been announced beyond "when it's done", it is generally expected to launch in 2011. Personally I wouldn't be surprised if it launches right around the time that the The Old Republic does. ArenaNet has confirmed that they won't attend E3 this year.
  • [link] to Guild Wars 2 official website.
  • [link] to PC Gamer May 2007 details at Guild Wars Guru.
  • [link] to "Evil is Rising" debut trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to Q&A roundup at Guild Wars 2.
  • [link] to "Races of Tyria" trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to GDC 2010 concept art videos at YouTube.
  • [link] to Guild Wars 2 Design manifesto at Arena.net.
  • [link] to Skills article at Guild Wars 2.
  • [link] to Weapons, Professions and Races article at Guild Wars 2.
  • [link] to Elementalist details at Guild Wars 2.
  • [link] to Dynamic Events Overview article at Guild Wars 2.
  • [link] to Personal Story overview article at Guild Wars 2.

The Secret World (homepage)

Funcom's Age of Conan is the MMO that I've played longer than any other (with second place going to Cryptic's City of Heroes/Villains), though that had more to do with the guild that I was in than with the game itself. I was never much interested in the Conan lore. But the game was absolutely beautiful, had a mature flair to it that attracted me (finally an MMO that didn't treat me like a child) and had what was the most enjoyable combat system in an MMO to date (due to being real-time and forgoing the need to target your enemies). And while I never really played Anarchy Online, I did very much enjoy Funcom's single-player adventure games The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. So despite having some question marks with Funcom's ability to run a stable MMO (AoC had quite a few problems the first few months) the promise of an MMO in the interesting setting of The Secret World, by the writer of two of my favorite adventure games, and with the visual splendor and hopefully all the good bits of Age of Conan is an exciting one.

One of the most interesting things about it so far though has little directly to do with the game itself and has more to do with the way they've announced it. The original announcements for the game were done through an Alternate Reality Game. On May 7th 2007 a mysterious email was sent to some gaming websites and forums, which quickly revealed to lead to a series of clues that people could try and solve, leading in turn to the official forums. You can follow the first series of clues and their solutions over on the Cry Gaia Network. Remaining silent for almost two years it wasn't until April 2009 that the second ARG started. The people who solved this series of puzzles (or used the solutions other provided) would get a card with a mysterious code (the purpose of which I think is undetermined as of yet, though speculation is that it's some kind of beta key). The puzzles and story continued on a bit after that, with a character named "Aveline Belmont" asking the community to help with a series of puzzles that eventually led to her opening a secret door, presumably to the fabled city of Agartha. Then for a while nothing until Funcom hinted at and eventually revealed the three player factions: The Dragon, The Illuminati and The Templars (the videos linked being revealed months later). There hasn't been much ARG after that, but instead Funcom changed to more traditional information releases (so far), including two cinematic trailers (one and two) and two ingame trailers (one and two). Still, the ARG made for a very mysterious and intriguing introduction into the game, and very fitting with the game's setting.

And the setting is probably one of the main attraction points of this MMO, very different from pretty much every other MMO so far. There simply aren't that many MMOs with a contemporary setting (most of them are either fantasy or sci-fi), let alone with such a rich background of mysteries and intrigue. Take all the myths and legends and conspiracy theories, throw them into a melting pot, and out comes The Secret World. Of the game itself it's known that it'll have a class-less and level-less system where skills are improved through actions (though what that means exactly it anyone's guess at this point; speculation is that it'll be somewhat similar to Guild Wars' skill system). The combat is said to be "real-time" and "action-packed", though there too further details are lacking. And the game is said to have PvP where the three factions fight each other. For the rest the game is said to be very story-driven (as mentioned, for example, in this preview from last March's GDC), which is no real surprise considering Ragnar Tørnquist's (who wrote the two adventure games I mentioned earlier) involvement.

Though there's a number of things that give me pause (my experiences with Funcom's previews MMO, splitting the players into three factions, etc) and there's a lot of questions left to answer (it might sounds silly, but I'm particularly wondering if it'll have a similar mature flair as AoC did) I can't help but be interested in this MMO and will likely want to give it a try once it's been released. Call it cautiously optimistic as I'm curious to see what they can do with it.

As far as I'm aware no release date has been announced so all we've got is speculation. Personally I'd expect this MMO to launch somewhere in 2011. It looks like The Secret World will not be represented at E3.
  • [link] to The Secret World official website.
  • [link] to The Secret World official forums.
  • [link] to official announcement at Funcom.
  • [link] to first ARG puzzles at Cry Gaia.
  • [link] to second ARG puzzles at Cry Gaia.
  • [link] to factions preview at GameSpot.
  • [link] to Kingsmouth Q&A at GameSpot.
  • [link] to The Dragon trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to The Illuminati trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to The Templars trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to first cinematic trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to second cinematic trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to gameplay impressions article at IGN.
  • [link] to preview article at Eurogamer.
  • [link] to Dark Days trailer at GameTrailers.
  • [link] to community questions part 1 at the official forums.
  • [link] to community questions part 2 at the official forums.
  • [link] to community questions part 3 at the official forums.

Final Fantasy XIV (homepage)

One of the big surprises during Sony's press conference at E3 2009 was the announcement of a new Final Fantasy game. In and of itself not that much of a surprise since they seem to be pumping them out like Viera, but the big shocker came at the very end of the announcement trailer when a little word "online" popped up under the title. And indeed this turned out to be a sequel to Final Fantasy XI (their previous MMO; honestly I've no idea what ever made them think that including the MMO in their number for the loosely-related single player sequels was a good idea... had they called it "Final Fantasy Online" then "Final Fantasy Online II" would've made a lot more sense and be overall less confusing... but I digress). Though they did announce a planned release date of 2010, they've been fairly silent on the game since then; just a few previews here and there, and this Japanese "Life in Eorzea" video.

But perhaps we can look at their previous offering for clues of what to expect. Final Fantasy XI obviously built on the popularity of the Final Fantasy franchise and we can expect much the same from this new MMO. Though just like the single player games the MMO has no direct relation to the previous one (or any of the single player games), it definitely has a familiar set of player races (humans, catgirls, midgets, elves and bear men). All with different (though familiar sounding) names and backgrounds. But the most unique feature of Final Fantasy XI, in my mind, was the way that quests were presented. Instead of giving you static quest text popups explaining the story, it gave you a short ingame cutscene. And while it's understandable that not a lot of studios have the budget to create that many miniature cutscenes, it's still surprising that it's taken this long for other MMOs (like The Old Republic) to catch on. And I can't help but wonder if FFXIV will adopt the same system and whether it'll improve on it. If it does then it could definitely be counted among the more story-focused MMOs and hence my (faint) interest in the game.

Beyond that there isn't a lot of information. FFXI was fun for the first twenty levels, but then it started requiring grouping and with half the server not speaking the same language (as FFXI had all regions play on the same servers) and the other half being asleep (I played before it was released in Europe and most of America was either asleep or at work during my play times), and with me tending to prefer to play solo, the enjoyment very quickly stopped. But FFXIV has promised to be more solo friendly as I understand it. Even so I have to wonder if it can successfully bridge the gap between East and West. With some of the ridiculous raid boss designs in FFXI and the rumor that combat in FFXIV is really boring (which isn't entirely fair to say of a game that's still in alpha) I'm having my doubts. But we'll see when they release more information and I wouldn't mind giving it a try.

As I said they announced that they'll release the game in 2010. FFXIV was announced at E3 (2009) and Square Enix has been confirmed to be at E3 2010, so it seems likely that their MMO will be too.
  • [link] to Final Fantasy XIV official website.
  • [link] to E3 2009 debut trailer at GameTrailers.
  • [link] to preview article at 1UP.
  • [link] to preview article at EuroGamer.
  • [link] to Gamescom interview at PlayStation Blog.
  • [link] to "Life in Eorzea" video at YouTube.
  • [link] to boring battles rumor at Sankaku Complex.
  • [link] to beta comparison article at IGN.

TERA: The Exiled Realm of Arborea (homepage)

The next big MMO coming out of Korea (i.e. much like Lineage 2 and Aion) is said to be Tera. The Korean version was officially announced in January 2009 (see the promotion video on YouTube). In early 2010 the formation of En Masse Entertainment was announced, who would take care of the 'westernization' of Tera. En Masse seems to be formed of some industry veterans and only seems to attract more. And on top of that it looks like Tera will become the most expensive MMO in the world (which makes me wonder how The Old Republic compares).

The game itself has what looks to me to be a quite typical Korean visual style. That is to say that the game looks quite beautiful and sexy (somewhat over-sexualized with a distinct anime flavor) if you like that kind of style. This is indeed one of the points on which it claims to differentiate itself from other MMOs (which is arguable, since most MMOs look quite beautiful these days). Offering six player races and eight classes its other differentiating claim lies in its combat system. Using an action-based combat system it does away with targeting and is much more based on movement (as this video aptly demonstrates).

I must say that the I like the graphics and the combat system certainly looks like a lot of fun (as I indicated in the The Secret World section above it seems right up my alley as I dislike the targeting-based combat systems). However beyond that I'm having a really hard time figuring out what sets this game apart from all the other MMOs. There's nothing really in it that seems interesting. As such I might give it a try (or not), but I'm not really expecting too much of this one. Next to the combat system it just looks like incredibly standard stuff (compared to the likes of Lineage 2 and Aion) and I didn't really get into those either.

I don't think an official release date has been announced, but I got the impression that the goal is to release early 2011. En Masse has been confirmed to attend E3 with Tera this year.
  • [link] to Tera: The Exiled Realm of Arborea official website.
  • [link] to announcement (of Korean version) at Codamon.
  • [link] to promotion video at YouTube.
  • [link] to official trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to En Masse Entertainment announcement at Rock, paper, Shotgun.
  • [link] to GDC 2010 Hands-on article at Massively.
  • [link] to preview article at 1UP.
  • [link] to GDC 2010 walkthrough video at GameTrailers.
  • [link] to most expensive MMO news at MMOSite.
  • [link] to Lead Writer Q&A at Examiner.
  • [link] to character creation trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to character creation trailer at MMORPG.
  • [link] to classes trailer at MMORPG.
  • [link] to westernization post at Tera Online.
  • [link] to The Land of Tera article at IGN.

Rift: Planes of Telara (homepage)

Originally named "Heroes of Telara" when it was announced on the 6th of May 2009, Trion Worlds renamed its fantasy MMO to "Rift: Planes of Telara" almost a year later (together with the announcement of two more MMOs it had in development). According to the developers this name change was both because "heroes" didn't adequately reflect that players were free to play less noble roles and, more importantly perhaps, because they realized that the game's 'Rifts' were its most important element and thus wanted to put it front and center. Since the initial information and trailer shown during E3 2009 a few details had changed, such at the originally planned class-less system had been removed for a more traditional system (though details remain scarce, the developers are promising to keep to the spirit of the original system by allowing a lot of flexibility). The name change isn't without its problems though as Palladium Books, owners of the "Rifts" table-top roleplaying game, decided to sue them over the new name. Which is understandable; considering how close the two names are it's surprising that nobody in Trion Worlds' legal department raised any red flags over it.

Beyond some legal troubles over its name Planes of Telara seems to have two main points by which it tries to set itself apart from other MMOs so far. The first of these is its graphics, which are quite beautiful as can been seen from the debut gameplay trailer and unlike the Asian MMOs is lacking the anime influence. Though it could be argued that most forthcoming MMOs look beautiful (honestly, I feel that every MMO I've mentioned so far looks stunning, but perhaps I'm easy to please in that regard) it is definitely a point in its favor. The other feature is its titular Rifts. Pretty much anywhere in the world a Tear can appear and when players find one and activate it the Tear turns into a Rift, changing the landscape and spawning monsters. From this point on it functions much like the Public Quests in Warhammer Online with players having several stages of increasingly difficult objectives to accomplish to close the Rift and gain loot without having to be grouped together to participate. For the rest the game has pretty much all of the hallmarks of today's MMOs (quests, instances, auction houses, etc) and players join one of two factions that are both trying to end the threat of the Rifts and fight each other in the progress (leading to PvP content).

Overall the game could be interesting depending on how well the Rift mechanic works (Warhammer's Public Quests sounded good on paper, but I never much enjoyed them in practice), though overall it does give me the feeling of being a little too standard fantasy MMO. At the moment it's one of those MMOs that I wouldn't mind giving a try, but wouldn't mind passing up on either without feeling that I'm missing out on something. Still I'm sure that it'll find its audience. Though considering the other MMOs that are likely to launch within six months of this one it wouldn't surprise me if it will pass most people by.

Rift: Planes of Telara has a target release date of 2011. Trion Worlds has confirmed that they'll be at E3 2010 with the game.
  • [link] to Rift: Planes of Telara official website.
  • [link] to Heroes of Telara announcement at Game Blend.
  • [link] to Heroes of Telara E3 2009 trailer at YouTube.
  • [link] to renaming to Rift: Planes of Telara announcement at Gamasutra.
  • [link] to preview article at The Escapist.
  • [link] to hands-on look article at Massively.
  • [link] to debut gameplay trailer at GameTrailers.
  • [link] to developer diary video at GameTrailers.
  • [link] to spotlight article at GameSpot.
  • [link] to Q&A with Scott Hartsman at TenTonHammer.
  • [link] to Palladium suing Trion news at Massively.

So far the 'big' titles, the ones currently most talked about and with the most information available. The following titles are all MMOs that we know very little about, which are a long ways off, or which are even nothing more than rumors at this point.


Otherland (homepage)

I have never read any of Tad Williams' Otherland books. I've (since) bought all of them, but I haven't had a chance to read them yet. And still when it was revealed over a year-and-a-half ago that an MMO in the Otherland multiverse was being made it sounded very interesting. This, to be honest, because it sounded like one of the weirdest MMOs I've heard of: a virtual world about virtual worlds that you interact with by 'hacking' it. The visuals, based on the screenshots, and the description of the game are almost psychedelic. And with its setup it could have a far greater variety of locales than pretty much any other MMO before.

Still, there are a lot of unknowns. I'm not familiar at all with the companies involved in making this game; they've yet to prove themselves that they can actually make a game like this. Don't get me wrong, it has certainly happened before, but it goes wrong more often than not. The other point for concern is that while they originally announced a release date of "2010" I've since heard nothing from them, which at the very least seems to indicate some massive delays. Of course there's still time to release in 2010 and maybe they're the kind of developers to play things close to the chest, but still. Either way it definitely sounds like something I'd want to try, even if just for how "out there" it sounds.
  • [link] to Otherland official website.
  • [link] to official reveal article at EuroGamer.
  • [link] to preview article at EuroGamer.
  • [link] to First Look article at TenTonHammer.
  • [link] to First Look article at IGN.
  • [link] to game description post at Tad Williams' blog.
  • [link] to video interview with Tad Williams at MMORPG.

Torchlight MMO (forums)

Ever since the original Diablo released the so-called "Diablo clones" have been a dime a dozen. But every so often one emerges which seems to nail the formula and get things right, even outdoing the original in many ways. Torchlight, a single player Diablo 'clone' released in October 2009, was one such game. With its vibrant graphics and fresh art style, its straight-forward, simple to pick up gameplay, its compelling music, its depth and interesting features it's probably one of the most enjoyable 'clones' out there. In fact, calling it a clone feels wrong as it stands on its own.

The only thing really missing from the game, compared to games such as Diablo, was multiplayer as Torchlight is single-player only. Luckily developer Runic Games announced that they were already working on an MMO set in the Torchlight universe, taking its simplistic yet addictive gameplay and adding MMO features such as customization. They've said that the MMO will be stand-alone, that it will be free-to-play (no cost to buy or play, but with a microtransactions shop) and that they plan to release it roughly two years after Torchlight (which would make it late 2011). Beyond that very little is known (and all of it collected by fans in this FAQ), not even the real name. But it should be a fun game to play (if Diablo 3 doesn't steal their thunder); I still play a bit of Torchlight every now and again.
  • [link] to Torchlight MMO official forums.
  • [link] to release date announcement at EuroGamer.
  • [link] to Perfect World gets majority share news at Joystiq.
  • [link] to Torchlight MMO FAQ at Unofficial Runic Games Wiki.

Project Copernicus (homepage)

As you might or might not know I also run the website Eilistraee.com, devoted to roleplayers of good-aligned drow and followers of the good drow goddess Eilistraee (formerly of the Forgotten Realms). As such one could say that I owe a lot to writer R.A. Salvatore for developing the drow civilization and giving live to the most famous dark elf (good or otherwise) of all: Drizzt Do'Urden. So when news broke that he partnered up with (apparently) famous baseball player Curt Schilling and famous fantasy artist Todd McFarlane to make computer games, I couldn't help but sit up and take notice. With their company 38 Studios they're working on two products that I know of; a single-player RPG codenamed Project Mercury and an MMO codenamed Project Copernicus, both set in the same universe (created by Salvatore).

And that is about all we know. We've seen a few pieces of concept art for it, we know that it doesn't have an official release date, we know that EA will publish Project Mercury and we've seen some interviews with Salvatore. But very little has been revealed about the game itself. So all that we can do is remain curious at what they've got cooking and wonder whether it'll be worth playing. 38 Studios is an unproven entity, though at least they seem smart enough to test the waters first by starting with a single-player game. And though they've got some famous names, none have all that much experience with game development (Salvatore's previous outing proves that it takes more than a skillful writer to make a compelling computer game). Until we know more we really can't say either way.
  • [link] to Project Copernicus official website.
  • [link] to Project Copernicus reveal article at Massively.
  • [link] to interview with R.A. Salvatore at Gamasutra.
  • [link] to video interview with R.A. Salvatore at YouTube.
  • [link] to interview with R.A. Salvatore at Gamasutra.

World of Darkness (developer homepage)

After Dungeons & Dragons one could say that White Wolf's World of Darkness is probably the biggest, most popular (pen-and-paper) roleplaying game system. Set in a dark version of our contemporary world it features vampires and werewolves and all kinds of supernatural beings. So no surprise when it was announced in November 2006 that an MMO set in the universe was being made. But perhaps more surprising was exactly who were making it: Crowd Control Productions (or CCP, makers of space MMO Eve Online). At the announcement it was expected to launch within four to five years (making it 2010/2011) and the game is now said to be in full production and rumored to launch in 2010 (which I personally find very unlikely at this point).

And that's it, that's all that we know. In fact, beyond them stating "we're making it" it's pretty much all rumor and speculation at this point. And yet, though perhaps this is because of dreams of what it could be, it's also one of the most exciting MMOs that we don't know anything about yet. Eve Online is one of the very few MMOs that seem to have actually managed to create a virtual world, one in which people live and scheme and work together. A place where people seem to play a role without really realizing it, seeing the virtual world almost as something real. But I've never really been attracted to it myself due to the space theme, the lack of a character and its heavy PvP-focus. World of Darkness is an entirely different ball of wax though (one with fangs). And then when I see a video of the cloth simulation that they're going to use (both in Eve and WoD) I can't help but one the one hand imagine what kind of true virtual world World of Darkness might be and on the other fear for much the same. That's the blessing and the danger, I guess, of not knowing anything.
  • [link] to World of Darkness at CCP Games.
  • [link] to World of Darkness Pen-and-Paper official website.
  • [link] to World of Darkness announcement at Wikipedia.
  • [link] to confirmation news at Razorwire.
  • [link] to a few more details at VG247.
  • [link] to one universe rumor at Eurogamer forums.
  • [link] to 2010 launch rumor at Massively.
  • [link] to cloth simulation video at Massively.

Wheel of Time MMO (developer homepage)

I already reported on this blog that Red Eagle Games was planning to make a number of Wheel of Time based games, including single-player roleplaying games (with the help of Obsidian Entertainment) and an MMO. But beyond Chris Morgan's involvement and that EA looks like they'll publish the games, nothing at all is known about them. So chalk this one up as another "the dream is likely bigger than the reality".

And there are a lot of question marks to put here. The developer is a complete unknown (and I'm not convinced that they can handle a product of this scope; not sure if they truly understand what they're in for) and they seem to be taking a lot on their plate at once. It also feels a bit like they're trying to cash in on a popular franchise. And with no details of the game itself I can only fear that it'll be some cheap knock-off of Lord of the Rings Online. Unless they tell me differently I expect a very standard type MMO with some Wheel of Time names thrown in, running around killing Trollocs. But perhaps they'll surprise me and, if handled correctly, the Wheel of Time setting could definitely be fertile grounds to a deeply engaging experience. And I can't help but recall my years spent with the Wheel of Time game by Legend Entertainment, which didn't really feel like the Wheel of Time, but had some very interesting online gameplay. Either way though it'll likely be many years before it is released and we can always hope that it'll do justice to Robert Jordan's setting.
  • [link] to Red Eagle Games.
  • [link] to official announcement at VentureBeat.
  • [link] to announcement article at TenTonHammer.
  • [link] to EA Partners announcement at GameStop.
  • [link] to Chris Morgan announcement at MMOSite.

Fallout MMO (developer homepage)

The history of the Fallout franchise is a turbulent one. Fallout and Fallout 2 were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively and these single-player turn-based roleplaying games by Black Isle Studios were received to great critical acclaim. But not enough to safe its developing studio and their owners Interplay who were forced to sell the license to the franchise to Bethesda (who in turn used it to make Fallout 3). Interplay retained the rights to make a Fallout MMO, but under some strict conditions. And in April 2008 Interplay confirmed development on a Fallout MMO. However, things did not go well as a year later Bethesda decided to sue Interplay over breach of contract, claiming it didn't go into full scale production in time. This seemed only the start of a prolonged legal battle between the two companies, remaining regularly in the news until as late as April 2010.

And with all that back-and-forth between these two we don't really know anything about the actual game (codenamed Project V13). There is some concept art as well as some rumored screenshots and even a target date (Interplay's site lists a release date of "2012"). But until the legal matters are resolved everything remains up in the air. It wouldn't surprise me if it ends up being released as a non-Fallout MMO (if Bethesda wins). But the thought of an MMO set in the Fallout universe is an interesting one. If done well this could truly be a fight for survival in a post apocalyptic world with all the humor and quirkiness of the Fallout franchise. Then again, there's already Fallen Earth. But we'll have to wait and see what comes of all this.
  • [link] to Interplay (games in development).
  • [link] to Fallout IP sold news at Gamasutra.
  • [link] to Fallout MMO confirmation news at IGN.
  • [link] to Bethesda sues Interplay news at IGN.
  • [link] to Legal Fallout article at IGN.
  • [link] to first concept art at IGN.
  • [link] to rumored screenshots at IGN.
  • [link] to target 2012 Beta news at IGN.
  • [link] to more legal battle news at IGN.

Elder Scrolls Online (developer homepage)

We're sticking to the legal battle between Bethesda and Interplay for a bit as another MMO is (somewhat) involved. It seems (as I've reported on before), according to papers from the court case, that Bethesda is developing its own MMO. And it seems VG247 was reliably informed that this MMO is in fact an Elder Scrolls MMO.  Add to that registration of elderscrollsonline.com and a slip-up about the timeframe of the next Elder Scrolls game and all this is starting to sound very plausible. Though it's probably not Bethesda, but sister company ZeniMax Online (both part of the ZeniMax media group of companies) developing the MMO. It is still very much a rumor though, just one that seems quite likely to be true.

It is perhaps not all that surprising. The previous Elder Scrolls games (Morrowind and Oblivion most recently) are sometimes described as feeling like MMOs without the other players; you've got a large world with lots of quests and monsters and dungeons, and it all feeling a little pointless with a fairly flimsy story. But the games have been quite popular (and I must admit that I enjoyed a lot of my time in Oblivion) and perhaps adding in the other players will give back that one thing that might've felt missing in the single-player games. Maybe we'll know more soon as the latest rumor is that Bethesda has an Elder Scrolls announcement for E3 2010. Is this the next single-player installment in the franchise or is it the rumored MMO? We should know in about a week.
  • [link] to ZeniMax Online Studios.
  • [link] to Bethesda's secret MMO reveal at VG247.
  • [link] to Elder Scrolls MMO rumor at VG247.
  • [link] to URL registration news at Destructoid.
  • [link] to timeframe slip-up at VG247.
  • [link] to Bethesda's MMO plans at MCV UK.
  • [link] to E3 reveal rumor at VG247.

Neverwinter Nights MMO (developer homepage)

Another one to file squarely in the rumor column is this one; a Neverwinter Nights MMO. The first Neverwinter Nights was an online game on AOL. But the name got well known when BioWare created its 'spiritual successor' "Neverwinter Nights". Though its single-player campaign was felt by many to be lacking (particularly compared to BioWare's other work), the online component combined with the ability of players to easily create their own adventures was a huge success. Many players created their own "Persistent World" mini-MMOs; I myself hosted one for many years. And yet the Obsidian Entertainment developed Neverwinter Nights 2, while having a much better single-player campaign and a much improved graphics engine, didn't quite capture the same online success. This is probably due to its tools being much more complex and a requiring a lot more work to make a good adventure/world (though a number of successful Persistent Worlds do exist).

Then Variety started a rumor that the Neverwinter Nights licensee, Atari, had its recently acquired MMO developer Cryptic Studios working on a Neverwinter Nights MMO set to release in 2011. This rumor was given further credence when Turbine, developers of the MMO Dungeons & Dragons Online, dragged Atari to court pretty much over favoring its own D&D MMO (the rumored NWN Online) over Turbine's D&D MMO. To some degree it makes sense for Atari to develop a NWN MMO, but on the other hand I can't help but question whether they truly understand the strength and popularity of BioWare's game. The one thing that NWN offered over other games was that people could build their own adventures and host their own worlds and I have trouble seeing what an MMO could offer that dozens of other fantasy MMOs don't already do. And on top of that I'm still refusing to give a dime to Wizards of the Coast over what they did to the Forgotten Realms franchise, so even if the rumor is true I'll likely not play it. I guess we'll see this summer as that's when Cryptic has said to announce its next MMO. Interestingly enough though if you look at their 'in development' page you'll see concept art that definitely does not look like Neverwinter Nights.
  • [link] to Cryptic Studios (in development).
  • [link] to NWN MMO rumor at Variety.
  • [link] to Turbine legal issues at Courthouse News.
  • [link] to summer announcement news at Massively.

Other MMOs

As I noted in the beginning the above list is far from comprehensive. There are many, many more MMOs in development (a number of which I'm sure we don't even know about yet). I thought I'd give the next few a mention without going into any real detail.
  • End of Nations (homepage) - Another MMO in development by Trion Worlds (see "Rift: Planes of Telara" above). Interesting in that it's supposedly the first Real Time Strategy MMO, but since I've no interest in RTS games I'm giving this one a pass.
  • Syfy Action MMO (homepage) - And the third MMO by Trion Worlds, this one in cooperation with syfy channel. Apparently there'll be a TV show as well and the MMO and show might influence each other (so what players do might be reflected in the show). Not sure if it'll work and only of real interest if you happen to live where they broadcast the show (which I'm sure I don't).
  • The Agency (homepage) - A relatively light-hearted spy-based MMO by SOE. Interesting theme, but not sure I trust SOE in their MMOs (despite how many they've got). What I've seen of it so far doesn't look that interesting to me either.
  • Blade & Soul (homepage) - Another pretty looking Korean MMO, this one with a martial arts theme and what looks like Beat 'em up gameplay. Might be interesting, but haven't really looked into it much.
  • DC Universe Online (homepage) - Despite having played City of Heroes/Villains for a long time the superhero genre isn't really my thing. And I think this MMO misses the point; the DC Universe is interesting because of its established superheroes. But that doesn't jive well with letting the player be the hero as it seems to me you'll always just be a wannabe compared to their real heroes.
  • Hero's Journey (homepage) - By the developers of the engine that BioWare is using; the Hero Engine. Seems like it's been in development for a really long time, to the point of feeling like vaporware. If it ever comes out not sure what it will have to offer that other MMOs don't.
  • Battlestar Galactica Online (announcement) - The term "browser based" doesn't inspire confidence and the company's website and list of other games does so even less. And while Battlestar was an enjoyable series to watch, it doesn't feel like it would be an enjoyable universe to play in (it doesn't feel like an adventurous setting).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer MMO (announcement) - Not sure what to think of this one, but I find it hard to be hopeful. Feels like it'll be aimed at a fairly casual audience and am not convinced of the quality (the other games on the same platform don't inspire confidence). Still, might be fun to play a witch; will have to see.
  • Firefly MMO (announcement) - Beyond some of the same concerns as with the Buffy MMO this could be fun, based on how they do it (in my mind I imagine something like Space Rogue with a Firefly theme). Unfortunately, as you can see in the Buffy announcement, it has been 'delayed'.
  • Babylon 5 MMO (rumor) - This was rumored at one point five years ago and not heard from since, so not likely to happen anytime soon. Okay, so this is totally out of left field.
  • Project E:st (announcement) - Another pretty Korean MMO with an Asian martial arts theme. I love the style and atmosphere (particularly the music) in the trailer, but don't know much of anything else about it.
  • Warhammer 40K MMO (announcement) - I always liked Warhammer Fantasy more than 40K (excepting Necromunda), but this could still be interesting. And apparently it's debuting at E3 2010, so we should find out more soon.
  • Clone Wars Adventures (homepage) - Announced as I was writing this post, SOE's Star Wars version of Free Realms seems geared towards a younger audience. But that doesn't mean that us older players aren't allowed to enjoy it too.

Conclusion

As you might have noticed, if most of these target and guesses release dates are correct then 2011 is looking to be a rather crowded year MMO-wise. Which, for us players, can only be a good thing. More choice means a greater chance of finding the MMO that's just perfect for you and the increased competition should mean that they've all have to try that much harder to be excellent.

And that's just looking at the MMOs that are still in development. Those that have already released are likely to have a few surprises as well. World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion might release late 2010 or somewhere in 2011 (it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Blizzard keeps 'perfecting' it until just before the release of The Old Republic. Lord of the Rings Online has just announced that it's going free to play this fall which will likely draw increased interest. And it wouldn't surprise me in the least if a number of other already released MMOs have a surprise or two up their sleeves as well.

As I said at the start it looks like an exciting time ahead for MMO players. I personally can't wait to find out more about all of them (and with E3 next week, for many of them we shouldn't have that long to wait).

I hope that you enjoyed this writeup and let me hear your thoughts on the future of MMOs and what competition The Old Republic will have to deal with.

7 comments:

Guido said...

Excellent summary of MMOs in development, Ayane. Whilst I'm not considering to play any MMOs until TOR, it still provided a very good overview what is in development and what the gaming studios try to implement in the genre.

For all Guild Wars 2 fans: The first playable hands-on will be at the GDC Europe in Cologne, Germany in August.

BakaMatt said...

This was an enjoyable read!

There are far more MMOs on the horizon than I knew (I've really only kept tabs on WoW, FFXIV, and TOR). Your writeups have piqued my interest in a few titles, but like yourself, none are at the level of anticipation TOR has.

I predict WoW will continue to garner a high share of players - and they will continue to be the go-to MMO for fantasy. The game has been around this long because of the many things it has gotten right, and the developers have shown they are willing to make sweeping changes to keep their share of subscribers. There may be an initial dent in subscriptions as the wave of MMOs release, but I predict a large portion of WoW's playerbase will return after brief love affairs elsewhere.

TOR seems posed to be a big contender, and it will take a massive blunder for it to fail now. I think BioWare's mammoth beast will slide into a close second. I'm not seeing it catapulting to the top if only for the fact that it is a science fiction setting, something that traditionally has had a smaller following than fantasy in the way of the RPG.

I don't count Guild Wars as a true MMO, and I haven't read anything to convince me that the sequel will be one, either. Public hubs are not enough. Still, if we consider it in contention, Guild Wars 2 will definitely succeed at catering to those individuals who refuse a subscription model and be at the top of that market's heap. Of course, that's whatever remains of the market that isn't invested in Diablo 3 at that point, should it see release in the same time period.

After the big two, I see Final Fantasy XIV sliding into a comfortable third. The license still has a surprisingly strong following (well, maybe only surprising to myself, who feels they've been on the decline for about 10 years in quality). While Square's existing MMO is marred by many shortcomings, they've had eight years since its launch to observe and develop solutions. They have potential to produce something great, but I can't see them bringing anything to the table to truly challenge the two frontrunners. WoW is far more casual friendly, and TOR fills a different niche.

There is no telling until the titles release, but that's how I personally see things in the near future.

highlatencylife said...

What a great post, you really did your homework...Thank you.

Ayane said...

Thank you all. I'm glad that people enjoyed reading the article. :)

Snafzg said...

Great job! I found this through Tobold's site and retweeted it to all my followers! :)

Will said...

Any chance you could do an update to this list? I really enjoyed having all the info in one place and your short takes on each of the games.

Ayane said...

I can do another one, though it'll take some time to collect all the data and do the write-up again. I was actually planning on doing one about a year ago as sort of a "the MMOs of 2011" (most of which seem to have slipped into 2012) and got a fair bit into writing it, but didn't couldn't finish it in time for New Years.

I can't make any promises, but I'll see what I can do.