World of Warcraft did NOT kill the MMO market

Early EA developers It’s probably too early to be calling Warhammer’s time of death, even though Electronic Arts has reportedly laid off 40% of the Mythic staff, including 90% of the development talent. Mythic is responsible for Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Warhammer, and has an advisory role with Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. The inset picture is of the rock star programmers of EA’s biggest early hits.

None of those early games were MMOs, btw, though Dani Bunten’s M.U.L.E. was a fun party game.

Anjin of Bullet Points writes that games keep trying to compete with WoW and failing, leading to their lingering demise. The problem is that they are trying to compete at all.

Simply put, World of Warcraft is not part of the MMORPG genre. To WoW, any other subscription game’s subscriber base is a rounding error, even though with the loss of their Chinese player base, you don’t hear that magic 11 million number much any more (and never will again, if the Blizzard Pet Store is any indication as to Blizzard’s financial state).

WoW is the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly and flew off on its own adventures. The caterpillars left behind shouldn’t ignore their leaf munching to leap into the air as if they had wings.

Back in the heyday of the MMORPG genre, the early part of the decade, 500,000 subscribers was seen as a wild, market-dominating success. 250,000 was still really successful. You could still run a profitable company and release expansions at 150,000 subs, and anything less than 100,000 was a niche title, but could be sustained if you kept up a regular update schedule with a small team.

Fact is, those numbers haven’t really changed. WoW didn’t end up growing the market for MMOs a bit, once you’ve taken that one title out of consideration. LotRO and EVE are reportedly sitting at about the 300K subscriber level as the genre’s two current stars. This is about what you’d expect from a genre that has been maturing slowly for a decade.

New AAA high production value MMOs should budget for a user base of 150K and hope for 300K. Budgeting for a user base of 1 million plus subscribers is just going to end badly. If Bioware (given its huge IP and history with Knights of the Old Republic) plans to be a market dominator at 300K subscribers, I can’t see how it can fail. If it plans to rock the world at a million or more subs, well, I expect we’ll be hearing sad stories about SW:TOR a year or two after its release.

Aside from us few MMO fanatics, remember, people have never even HEARD of most of the games we play. Except WoW. When I read news reports about a computer virus that steals MMO passwords, it means it steals password from WoW players. When I read about general issues with MMOs, they more often than not mean issues with WoW.

To the general public, the MMORPG market consists solely of WoW. To us the MMO players, the MMORPG market must consist of the genre games that are NOT WoW.

Daily Blogroll 9/23 – All Queued Up Edition

"I could tell he meant business...."

“It would like them much; but an ye wot how dragons are esteemed, ye would not hold them blamable. They fear to come.” — “Well, then, suppose I go to them instead, and—” — “Ah, wit ye well they would not abide your coming. I will go.” And she did. She was a handy person to have along on a raid. — Mark Twain, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”

I work not half a mile from the house where Samuel Clemens wrote that book, and the book is my “bus book” I read on the way to and from work, and when I saw the lines about dragons and raids, well….

Anyway, lots of people are still waiting in queues in Aion. I think enough has been said about that, and I don’t ding NCsoft for going easy on the servers to start off. (Rer has some ideas on what to tell friends who might be reluctant to try Aion because of queues and other things). Nothing worse than making a million servers and then closing half of them in a couple of months after people go back to WoW. Because you KNOW they will. In the MMO space, WoW is like this huge dark star in the middle of the system. You can travel to another planet for a visit, but unless you nail your feet to the ground, that dark WoW star’s gonna pull you back.

Seems only natural to want to work there. After all, if they already have your soul, might as well make them pay for the privilege. That’s what Ixobelle thought, fresh back from Japan, as he drove to Blizzard headquarters in Irvine, California, with $500 worth of full color, 27 page booklets outlining his painstakingly designed raid dungeon, the Castle of Baron von Lupus. If that doesn’t sound like a natural fit for the new Worgen PC race, what does? Not knowing any Blizzard employees well enough to get through the front gate, he set up a table and sign across the street, hoping for a response. Did it pay off? You’ll have to read the post to find out.

Brad McQuaid writes about Vanguard’s Size Problem. As in, the world is so big, vast, tremendous, huge, etc that unless you stick close to the cities, you will only rarely see another person. Though with all the methods of travel available, 90% of Telon is just there to keep the quest hubs separated. Brad says this vast expanse was a pushback against EverQuest’s omnipresent crowding that had people bumping into one another at every turn. But overcrowding is better than the alternative….

Brad says people will group if there’s enough people in the area with which to do the thing. Thallian insists the reason people don’t group (in WoW) is because it’s not FUN enough. He goes on to give a lot of suggestions about how to make dungeons and other encounters more fun, most of which were done eons ago in EverQuest.

SOE’s working on a new EverQuest, EverQuest Next. They could do far worse than to go back to basics and try to capture what made EQ special for its time. EQ has changed so much now that it’s a different game, but back then…. and as someone who last year started over from scratch, I can avow that EQ still has that same magic, if you’re doing it with a group of friends. EQ nostalgia must be going around, because Rao has got it as bad as I do. I don’t see either of us jumping back into the game, though.

Werit reports that you’ll be able to level up entirely via PvP in Cryptic’s upcoming Star Trek Online, which, I hope, will have a longer shelf life than Champions Online apparently had (I kid, I’m sure it’s doing amazingly). Well, according to XFire, Champions looks like it has already peaked. But I don’t trust those numbers. For one thing, we KNOW the Aion numbers are inflated because so many people are never logging off.

Melmoth and Zoso of Killed in a Smiling Accident have just gotten word that many other MMO companies are planning their own versions of WoW’s Cataclysm. My favorite: Darkfall’s UBACLASYM! It’s IMPACTED!

Openedge1 takes the pulse of a as-yet un-Cataclysmed Age of Conan to see if it will merely last the winter or if it has a long future ahead of it.

And lastly, F2P impresario Warhammermer writes about Ran Online, a “beat em up MMORPG set in a high school/secondary school“.

I don’t know why that reminds me of Pirate Baby’s Cabana, but it does.

Daily Blogroll 9/3 – Sushi day edition!

The Accountant

I’ve been thinking of swapping my sidekick in Legends of Zork from the Gent (who made me essentially immune to traps) to the Accountant (who earns interest on your stash) for awhile. It kinda disappointed me that they nerfed her — it used to be that having her in your base would soon make you rich as Croesus. Not so much anymore, but as each upgrade now costs well over a million zorkmids, I need all the help I can get. And I can switch back to the Gent later on, once I’ve reached my goals and seeded the clan bank with some good upgrades for others.

Hudson writes that WoW’s faction change service is now live — you can go from Alliance to Horde and back again, as long as you stay within your class, you get a race change as part of the transfer. This is fantastic for Forsaken and Humans, who actually can get a LOT of RP mileage out of shrugging off their curse — or being struck by the necrotic power of the Burning Legion. Night Elves can become swayed by arcane forces to become Blood Elves, or swear off their evil ways to veer closer to the Emerald Dream. But — Taurens and Night Elves? Dwarves and Trolls? I’d like to see how the lore explains that….

Lore, that wild, wonderful backstory to which games slavishly adhere* in order to give players a sense that they are part of a vast story that stretched endlessly behind and ahead — until the devs decide to change it when it’s convenient. Melmoth at KiaSA has a bit of fun with that legendary silent killer, the ninja-esque Hobbit Warden. Tolkein was probably going to write about the elite corps of Hobbit assassins in his NEXT book.

* this would have sounded more natural if I’d left the dangling preposition. IN.

Pushing back a little on the fannish fervor Champions Online’s launch, Spinks, a lover of comic-book superheroes, wonders why superhero MMOs only bring the dullest parts of comics to life. Well, Champions DOES have the Nemesis system, so that’s something new, right?

Anjin of Bullet Points takes a look at Champions Online’s odd way of balancing the game, and wonders why they did it THAT way.

Okay, I don’t understand. Why not try to hit your intended target instead of swerving back and forth in the hopes you find it accidentally?

Green Armadillo sees a trend in modern MMOs — a sharp veering from the onerous grind of doing an instance a hundred times to get a chance at a rare drop. WoW, EQ2, Warhammer and LotRO have all added ways to slowly earn items you can’t get to drop. And THAT’S a good thing. When I think of all the stupid guild drama a token-oriented loot system could have saved back in EverQuest. Who needs DKP when you can earn upgrades just by showing up? We used to have people drop from raids left and right once they’d gotten all they wanted. Only to show up with their vast DKP when we entered a new dungeon.

Abracadoodle

Malistaire has been defeated, but the grandmasters of Wizard City keep honing their wizardly skills, certain of the arrival of some new threat that will stretch their skills. But who? KingsIsle hints that someone is on their way. The Friendly Necromancer hears mention of a mysterious Roberto… could this be the new Wizard101 villain?

Did ya think that onerous death penalties were a thing of the past? Not so fast. Werit finds that in Aion’s open PvP “Abyss” zone, dying in PvP can strip you of vast amounts of the PvP currency, Abyss Points, while killing someone in PvP brings far fewer. This apparently leads to people only doing the PvE quests in the zone and avoiding PvP entirely.

Ever come across a hardcore raider in an MMO and wonder what happened to them to make them that way? Suzina of Kill Ten Rats has the scoop on how she and her husband were just casual players playing SWG for laughs and getting bored when, one day, Something Happened… and after that, everything was different.

And lastly, this has nothing to do with MMOs, but I like it because having just watched Starblazers and its parody, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, seafaring battleships fighting space battles just makes me smile. This is the trailer for the new Space Cruiser Yamato movie — Starblazers but done with modern animation techniques. This looks as if the Yamato crew meet up with the Comet Empire again…. I don’t know if I like the departure from the unmistakable Matsumoto drawing style, but everything else looks so cool.

Täglich Blogroll 26.8 – Auflage: Sturm und Drang

SG-1 in Stargate Worlds

I never watched Stargate: SG-1 while it was on (is it still on?), so when everyone was getting all excited about the prospect of Cheyenne Mountain’s Stargate Worlds MMO, it meant nothing to me. Now, thanks to Hulu, I’m catching up. A couple of episodes in to the second season and it’s clear the show is already chafing against its episodic “planet of the week” formula. Could Stargate Worlds make it work for them? Will it work for Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, or will people yearn for a less story-based, more personal play experience?

IGN has some SWTOR gameplay videos hosted by Bioware peeps and I have to admit, it looks really great, a lot better than I thought it would. So much like Knights of the Old Republic that I mostly am just hoping Bioware decides to release SWTOR as a single player game. I do like how party members swap out who gets to choose the canned responses. I just hope party members agree beforehand on how things are going to play out.

Player 1: The Emperor has commanded your death!
Hapless NPC: Then he can have my death! AND YOURS! *draws blaster*
Player 2: Hi, would you be my friend?
Hapless NPC: *puts blaster away* Yes, I think we can come to an understanding.
Player 1: Then DIE!
Hapless NPC: Huh? *confusedly draws blaster again*

Yesterday, Cryptic announced that it had reached the limit on the number of lifetime and six-month subscriptions it offered. This shocked a lot of people who weren’t aware that there wasn’t a limitless supply, especially after all the angst concerning the offer just a couple weeks back.

Syp sums up the controversy nicely. Cryptic had announced the offers would end September 1st, so people expected to hold off on the go/no go decision until August 31st, 11:59:59PM, California time. Now that the decision has been made for them, some potential players who were very much looking forward to the game have decided not to play. Did the game become less fun because of the ending of their pre-launch offer? Beau argues that you should have known ahead of time if it mattered that much. Warhammermer was just disappointed that the end of beta event was so geared toward North American players.

I love Tobold’s theory posts, and maybe I’m just too sensitive to perceived slights against my favorite MMO, but when a respected blogger, talking about Blizzard’s announcement of guild levels in the forthcoming Cataclysm expansion, says about guild level implementation in other games, “the suboptimal guild advancement systems that other games already have” and “Blizzard is famous for is stealing the badly executed ideas of others and unleashing their potential, thereby making their version much better than the original.”

So which are those other MMOs with badly executed, suboptimal guild advancement systems? EverQuest 2, which more or less defined and refined the system in modern MMOs? Warhammer Online’s, whose guild levels are widely touted as one of its best features? Lord of the Rings Online? And both EQ2 and LotRO even have guild halls, based on guild advancement. Will WoW take these badly executed ideas and make them good? Or were they bad ideas simply because WoW hadn’t done them yet?

Speaking of WoW, Dusty Monk at “Of Course I’ll Play It” has embarked on a new exploration of World of Warcraft’s mysterious world of Azeroth. Let Delsenora guide you through the numberless mysteries of Elwynn and Goldshire. Before Blizzard destroys them forever, next year.

Lars of MMOment of Zen reports that the EQ2 devs are trying to bring down the size of EQ2’s initial download and have it stream the rest, a la Guild Wars and Free Realms. Fantastic idea — get people playing the game within minutes. Why doesn’t EVERY game offer this?

Well, off to work, but you might be asking, why is the title in German? Well, I know a little German…