This past Friday, we got some news that rocked many the genre–DayBreak Games cancelled what was supposed to be their flagship game, EverQuest Next.  This move, coupled with several other high profile cancellations shows the genre is moving away from the box-office buster style of MMO development.   As the behemoths of the genre lumber on, smaller independent developers who have more tolerance for risk will fill the gaps left behind.

EverQuest Next’s Short History

Originally revealed in 2013, EverQuest Next was to be the next instalment in the EverQuest franchise, reputed to use next generation technology and AI to create a dynamic, reactive world.  They hoped to accomplish this through the acquisition of StoryBricks, reactive AI system which has since been closed and the technology sunsetted.  EverQuest Next’s cancellation marks the second high-profile MMO cancellation in recent years, the first coming from Blizzard-Activision’s cancellation of project Titan, whose assets were used to make the game Overwatch.

If we look at EQN as a bubble, isolated from the MMO industry at large, there wouldn’t be much impact– it’s just another game that got cancelled. While we might be disappointed, it doesn’t really change much for us as gamers. I think a lot of the comments on the site echo this — there’s no real change to their outlook or their plans. But EQN doesn’t exist in a bubble. It’s part of a genre that is going through some rapid, unpredictable changes. From monetization  evolution to how games are developed, the MMO genre of today is not the same as it was even a few years ago.

It’s somewhat ironic that EverQuest Next’s cancellation will have more impact than the game ever did.

The Shift

While an MMO is profitable, it takes a lot to keep an MMO profitable than a traditional game. Daybreak’s (or Columbus Nova’s) decision to not release in another flagship MMO is driven by one simple and inescapable conclusion–there wasn’t enough money in it. MMOs are expensive to create and maintain. Players are confrontational and combative with developers. To keep your players, you have to keep investing in more and more content, which players consume at ever increasing rates. You have to create incredibly complex systems with even more complex interactions where the slightest change can have a cascading butterfly impact across the rest of the game. Consider the amount of effort that goes into running an MMO, and compare that to the amount of effort required to run a game like League of Legends with comparatively less complexity?  If you are just looking at numbers, the LoL-style game is more the intelligent option.

Blizzard did the exact same thing with Titan. They cancelled Titan and liquidated the assets and funding to other games while doubling down on existing investments in WoW, DayBreak just copied what Blizzard had already done – paved the way to make an exit from the MMO genre.

Going Forward

So, I think that’s the end game here. I think this was a move to get DayBreak Games out of the MMO market, the same way that Blizzard’s cancellation of Titan was a move to get out of the MMO genre.  They both have legacy titles which are still making money for the companies, but their attention is elsewhere.  For DayBreak, it’s H1Z1 and Landmark.  For Blizzard, it’s Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, and Hearthstone.  The behemoths that made our genre mainstream are still there, but resigned to the backseat as the big developers chase easier dollars.

I think this marks the end of the big budget triple-A MMOs. Triple-A developers are looking elsewhere for easier profits. I think the Project Gorgons, Crowfalls & the Camelot Unchaineds are the future of the MMO genre. Smaller developers developing for smaller crowds will likely be what defines our genre going forward. Not that there won’t be huge hits, a la World of Warcraft, but it won’t come from someone setting out to create a Triple AAA MMO.  There’s too much risk and not enough reward for big companies.  It will be the small, passionate groups of people who create experiences for specific groups of people who will lead us out of the WoW Epoch of MMO gaming and into the future.