Subscription based MMOs have been dealing with issues inherent to their creation because they are prohibitively expensive to make. However, some believe the problem may be in not just the business model but the product itself.
“We do not believe the current method of making these games is sustainable,” said John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, noting that player bases go down over time. “If you look at the game releases of the last three years — look at Star Wars: The Old Republic, look at Rift, look at The Secret World, every one of them does this. Every one.”
“The biggest problem is the fact that you’ve got a monthly model, but it’s so expensive to make content for the traditional MMO now that if you spend $250 million like EA did on Star Wars, you’ve only got 30 days’ worth of content,” said Mark Kern of Red 5 Studios. “So you’ve made 15 bucks from the consumers, basically, before they churn out of your game.”
Production values for what amounts to a AAA MMO have gotten so high that the World of Warcraft model, which may have made sense when the game released in 2004, no longer works. It's hard to create content at a pace ahead of players' boredom.
“You end up in a race to keep enough content out there before the bulk of your players become bored,” said Jon Lander, executive producer of EVE Online. “With [EVE], the more people who come into the game, the less chance you have of getting bored. That overall idea is what has kept us steadily growing now for 10 years.”
Another thing sweeping through gaming in general is emergent gameplay like in DayZ and Minecraft. Those games encourage creativity in scrounging for resources and building creations while attempting to survive, and SOE plans to take cues from that in the future.
“We need to add emergent gameplay to our games if they’re going to last,” said Smedley. “So we are. SOE has committed itself to a focus on emergent and sandbox-style play.”