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Jan092017

Ring in the New Year! Looking Ahead with Our 2017 MMO Preview

By Jeff Francis
2017 mmo preview

The champagne has been popped, the ball has dropped, and a new year is upon us. The world of online gaming was surprisingly eventful in 2016 even though there wasn't any huge AAA mmorpg games released. The new year also promises to be a busy one for gamers, and I'm sure that there'll be more than a few surprises along the way. So what will the new year hold for online gamers? Let's take a crack at foretelling the future in our 2017 mmo preview.

The first item in our 2017 mmo preview is that buy-to-play mmo games will continue to surge at the expense of free-to-play games. The massive success of Overwatch by Blizzard has opened the eyes of quite a few game companies. In the first week of the shooter's release, over a whopping seven million gamers were playing the game. Needless to say, that's a huge chunk of change when the game sells for $59.99 a pop (and another reason why the hallways of Blizzard's corporate headquarters are probably made of pure Italian marble!). Buy-to-play games offer instant revenue for game companies and help enhance the player experience by erecting a paywall to keep online trolls out. Gamers are quite willing today to shell out money for cosmetic items and lockboxes as long as they're not paying a monthly subscription. While f2p games will continue to be churned out, the bigger game companies will likely adjust their release strategy from f2p to b2p.

The next part of our 2017 mmo preview is that virtual reality will remain stagnant throughout the year. Last year was supposed to see every gamer jumping onto the VR bandwagon but that did not happen. I do believe that VR will pick up a little bit this year as some more games are developed with the technology in mind, but the overall demand for VR will remain low. The reality of VR (pun intended) is that it works great for sims like Elite: Dangerous, but gamers who are playing shooters and mobas don't really care about it. Plus, the cost of getting a really good VR set is still pretty pricey for most players.

Now we turn out 2017 mmo preview to mobile games. This facet of the online gaming industry will remain scorching hot. Technology is getting better all the time, with the result that the average mobile device will be able to feature deeper, more sophisticated games. Developers will also be working overtime to merge the real world with the virtual one due to the massive success of Pokemon Go. While that game did cool off quite a bit, it should make a comeback in 2017 if the features wanted by players (PvP, trading, etc.) are added to the game. Overall, the mobile game market will continue to be saturated with releases, but only a few will actually be huge hits. It'll be interesting to see if current champions, such as Game of War, will stay on top.

Let's turn our 2017 mmo preview to consoles. I think the new year will continue to see game companies work hard to port their PC games over to the various consoles. There has been a lot of success for games like Elder Scrolls Online, Neverwinter, and Star Trek Online porting over to consoles, and this trend should continue. A console release adds an entirely new revenue stream for developers, and the console providers have now shied away from their old aversion for free-to-play games. The continuing strength of mobas and shooters are a perfect match for console players, and the big game companies will continue to eye both consoles and PCs when releasing their buy-to-play games. I believe that the overall percentage of online game revenue for consoles will rise in 2017 but the PC will still remain the biggest shareholder.

The next topic of discussion in our 2017 mmo preview is eSports. The last year saw the continued growth in eSports, and this trend will continue unabated in 2017. While I don't think eSports will fully crash into the mainstream this year, it will flirt around the edges. Younger gamers are tuning into tournaments by the millions, and the number of tournaments held worldwide will continue to grow. More games are being released that cater to the professional gaming crowd. The biggest component for eSports in 2017 will be the launch of the League of Legends app made by Major League Baseball Advanced Media. This app could usher in a new era of eSports viewing and interaction much akin to the insane popularity of fantasy football. If the app is successful, look for other moba games to follow suit.

The last part of our 2017 mmo preview concerns the games that may be released this year. Just like in 2016, this year does not see a huge AAA title being hyped and released. However, there are a number of interesting mmo games that should either launch or enter beta testing this year, such as Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, and Shroud of the Avatar. These new games are catering to specific niches of gamers and look to offer something different and more challenging than the typical online game. If these games do well, then more indie titles may spring up to offer their own unique take on the mmo genre. An aside to these titles as part of our 2017 mmo preview is that crowdfunding is going to be more difficult. Quite a few projects have collapsed and others have not been released even after being funded, and it's obvious that gamers are becoming very wary of funding online games that promise the moon and the stars.

Overall, our 2017 mmo preview points to a busy and interesting year for online gaming. I believe that the buy-to-play model will become more popular but the demand for virtual reality will still remain subdued. Mobile games will continue to light it up, and we should see a new crop of games in the vein of Pokemon Go that layer the virtual world with the real one. Games will continue to be ported to consoles to open up new revenue streams, and eSports will continue to get hotter. Finally, there are some interesting titles that will become available to offer something different than the typical theme park online game. In the end, I think that 2017 will be a good year for mmo games.

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