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.