The death of the traditional MMORPG has been on the cusp for a while now. Blog Nation goes through repeated spasms of fear, self-loathing and schadenfreude over the topic. Recent reports that the MMO craze is beginning to wilt in its last remaining stronghold, South Korea, stirred a flurry of concerned chin-stroking and a spat of smug I Told You Sos.
The original article is tucked safely behind The Financial Times' Pay Wall but Google has a ladder that will let you peek over the top. If you take the time to read the actual article you'll find that the FT weren't bemoaning the decline and fall of the diku-mud model per se but pointing out that South Korea needs to pull its socks up if it's going to compete with China and, to a lesser extent, Western competitors in the freemium field.
Part of the problem - a big part - appears to be the ongoing and accelerating switch by consumers (we used to call them gamers, I believe) away from large screens connected to big boxes that sit on special desks in front of revolving chairs to tiny screens they can carry around in their pockets and tap away at anywhere. Convenience, accessibility and, naturally, a vast saving in upfront costs makes mobile the smart choice for the future.
Only the story isn't quite so simple. Blizzard just rang up 3.3 million sales in the first week for the latest expansion to their unfashionable, aging, very definitely not zeitgeisty diku-mud World of Warcraft. That matches "the all-time record achieved by previous expansions...making it one of the fastest-selling PC games ever".
Blizzard, never the fastest to react to changing trends, has recognized the lure of the small screen for its customers. Smartly they've acted to tether those dangerous phones and tablets to the subscriptions already being paid. The Legion Companion app has been well-received and who can say what it presages for an integrated WoW experience further down the line?
If that comes, though, Blizzard will, as usual, be playing catch-up. There before them, with a fully-integrated MMORPG that you can play on your Windows PC, your Android tablet and your iPhone, comes Artix Entertainment, creators of the AdventureQuest IP.
What's more, if you're on the PC, your friend is on his tablet and your wife is on her phone (this is beginning to sound like a sitcom) you can all play together, in the exact same virtual space. All you need is a Magic Word. Ok, now it's definitely a sitcom. Probably I Dream Of Genie.
AQ began as a single-player online RPG a long time ago. A really long time ago - 2002 in fact. It was successful enough to spawn a fully-blown, if still resolutely two-dimensional MMORPG version, AdventureQuest Worlds, in 2008. It's one of a surprisingly large number of long-established, successful MMOs that no-one in Blog Nation ever mentions. Or plays.
I've never played it. It kind of slipped under the radar, plus I had it confused in my mind with the Cartoon Network's Adventure Time. Not a good thing.
Unsurprisingly I wasn't paying attention when Artix announced a Kickstarter for the third iteration, a real 3D version this time. Had I noticed I very much doubt I'd have kicked in and probably wouldn't have taken a second chance to get on-board early when they were selling alpha access packs either, even if I'd spotted what was happening.
By the time they got around to flagging up the open beta, though, something had caught my eye. I read Syp's cautiously positive preview at MassivelyOP, and goggled at a later news item which seemed implicitly to question the sanity of taking such a totally unfinished project from Closed to Open Beta in a single week, something that, fortunately, Artix eventually decided against.
Open Beta got pushed back and I waited, not particularly patiently. I even considered buying in to the Closed Beta but it seems I was too late for that. And now the wait is over. Almost.
AdventureQuest goes into Open Beta in October. I will be playing. Whether I'll still be playing in November we shall see but the possibility of playing on my tablet and, possibly, my iPod Touch is very intriguing. I already play some MMOs that way but being able to integrate across all three systems is really taking the next step.
Of course, what matters more is whether it's any good. Going back to where we started, given the uncertain future for full-fat diku-mud MMORPGs, I hope it takes off like a rocket. I'm pretty sure it's going to be more appealing to me than Smed's upcoming offering at any rate.
If anyone can't wait until October there will be some giveaways of Closed Beta keys as Artix do "interviews with popular gaming news websites starting Thursday". I think I can hold off until the end of the month but if I happen to see a key then I won't say no.
Here's hoping there's life in the old diku dog yet.