Nothing lasts forever – that includes MMORPGs. The simple fact is that even World of Warcraft is eventually going to die (even though it’ll likely take an incredibly long time to do so). It’s an inevitable and – given the current oversaturated MMO market – enduring truth. Although sometimes it’s obvious when a game is coming to a close, occasionally such a thing might take you by surprise.
Rather than constantly concern yourself with the thought that a game might shut down, try instead to keep an eye out for some of the most telling warning signs that a game is struggling – and hence might soon be gone for good.
There’s nothing wrong with free to play – done right, it’s one of the most rewarding, profitable, and easily-implemented business models on the MMO market. Unfortunately, far too many MMORPGs end up taking a ‘pay to win’ approach when they go freemium, This is one of the most damaging things a developer can possibly do to one of their titles; if a game suddenly starts including features which introduce a wide power gulf between free and paying members, it may soon be time to seek greener pastures.
The game was bustling when you first started playing – you couldn’t even take two steps without running into someone else. Now, though? Entire cities sit empty save for their NPCs, which carry out a sad, silent vigil as though waiting for the day when humans will grace them with their presence once more. Of all the items on the list, this is the surest sign that an MMO might be about to suffer its death throes – a game cannot keep going without the player base to support it, after all.
Of course, even if there are plenty of players, that doesn’t mean they’re legitimate. An MMO developer which fails to deal with gold farmers, hackers, and spambots is pretty much guaranteed to bring about the death of their title – eventually, these bots will drive paying members away as they opt to go somewhere they won’t be constantly bothered by spam.
Another piece of advice I’ll give you is to keep an eye on what a developer’s saying about their game. Be very wary if they start talking about it in the past-tense; particularly if they make reference to their ‘past mistakes’ and how they won’t make them in future titles. This could be a sign that the studio is shifting its focus – and that they’re thinking of shutting things down soon.
It’s sort of an unspoken understanding between developers and subscribers that the former will regularly release new content for the latter, in the form of new instances, patches, bugfixes, new zones, and full expansion packs. If there hasn’t been anything of the like for months – and there’s no indication that there will be anytime soon – then there’s a good chance you’re about to witness the death of an MMO.