Mass-market MMOs are falling out of favor, and soon I will explain just how and why. While the one-game-fits-everyone approach worked like a charm back in 2005 when a bulk of the gaming market had yet to play an MMO, the general gaming public has now become acclimated with and bored of MMOs.
In other words, the scathing (though generous) WoW review I contributed to Gamespot back in 2006 is likely to find many more people in agreement today than it did back then.
The problem is the oversimplification of MMOs has resulted in a complete detachment of veteran players from their virtual avatars and the worlds they inhabit. Respecs undermine character choices. Name changes and server transfers subvert accountability while fragmenting communities. The list goes on: death without penalty, mirrored classes, homogenized play-styles between classes all lead to any MMO veteran feeling their time is nothing but wasted in an MMO.
The irony is, of course. many players requested and loved such features. Less-seasoned MMO players may be reading this and thinking these are great features. However, with each day another MMO veteran awakes to see the inherent flaws in modern, mass appeal MMOs like Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft,
While WoW and GW2 attempt to accommodate initiate and veteran MMO players alike, it turns out that in the long-term, they will satisfy neither. So-called veteran players will graduate from these games and look for something with more depth, while casual or initiate players would be overwhelmed by the different rule systems and stick to comfortable parts of the game while ignoring the rest.
This brings us to Blizzard's "Titan." Blizzard knows they can never have another WoW, because never again will so many MMO players be satisfied with the same game at once. Some players think fast travel is the only travel, while others assert it breaks immersion. Some players like playing in a cruel world, while others would simply find another game to play if they died. Reasons like these and the others mentioned in previous paragraphs are why Titan has recently gone back to the drawing board.
What will Titan be? While I have no crystal ball, I know what it won't be: it's won't be an MMO for MMO veterans. If you're hoping for a deep, immersive, genre-expanding experience, you should already know not to expect that from Titan. Instead, you should expect some sort of cash hook hiding inside a free-to-play model. Expect to flaunt your shinies after extensive grinds and/or pay walls. Expect fast travel along with every modern convenience imaginable in an MMO. In other words, expect a game that isn't for me.
However, this is a great thing, as it means Blizzard won't be trying to make a game that attempts to attract every would-be MMO player on the planet. They've already done so and succeeded, and they should know it will not happen again.
The solution, then, to designing future successful MMOs is to satisfy various niches in the MMO market, of which there are many. EVE Online is a perfect example: it had a vision, it was executed properly, and for that the game remains successful with a largely stable (and still expanding) subscription base. I've also never played it, because CCP dared to design a game that woudln't appeal to everyone.
We can expect Titan to carve out the biggest niche it can without trying to be everything to all people.... at least I would hope Blizzard knows better. One thing is certain: Blizzard is not a company known for innovating, so don't expect anything you haven't seen before in an MMO aside from some superficial touches here and there. As history shows, it could still end up being great for those it attracts.