MMOs go through an awkward teenager phase too.

It dawned on me this weekend that MMO games suck for a while, and then find their spots and excel. Duh, I know, and it’s not exactly like this is the first time I’ve thought about this, but recent expansions and launched have made this more clear than ever for me. The exceptions to this are UO and WoW. Seriously though I have a point here, hopefully I can explain it adequately (ha, sad attempt to avoid the flame comments)

LoTRO had a great launch, in that the game actually worked. Yet while it worked, it really had no identity. I mean it was kind of like WoW, but not exactly, and the ‘not exactly’ parts were mostly negative. Unresponsive combat, massive hardware demands, gaps in content, etc. It was not until a few patches/months later that LoTRO really put itself together and became what it is today, a solid PvE game that’s not WoW for a lot of good reasons. It uses it’s IP as a strength, it has a very solid following, and it’s a very ‘relaxed’ MMO. It has found its place, it embraces that place, and it really delivers on its promises. It works for its ‘niche’, and I’m using niche as a compliment and not as a backhanded way of saying “you have a small subscriber base”.

Same goes for EQ2. EQ2 started without a real identity, other than the fact that it was EQ but not really. It was also devastated by the fact that WoW came out at the same time, and its level of quality back in 2004 was unheard of in MMO land, making EQ2 look like a relic in the first months of its release. But now EQ2 has a healthy player base, and continues to add content that is clearly appealing to that base. (at least according to Tipa, but Tipa really knows EQ2, so who am I to argue) It’s a PvE game that distinguishes itself from both WoW and LoTRO.

EVE was a disaster at launch. I mean it was an Anarchy Online-scale disaster. But CCP stuck with it, and today it’s the only older MMO that is still growing, and at a good clip at that. It has its market, caters to it, and rarely strays from its goals. It also continues to improve after all these years, with each patch and expansion really adding depth and options for players. It’s also the only really successful Sci-fi MMO, the only MMO were all players are on one giant server, the only MMO with an economy that is something more than pure grind vs inflation, and a host of other ‘unique’ traits to the MMO space.

I’m bias when I say UO got worse because of my utter hate for Trammel. It has been pointed out countless times, Trammies helped UO increase its player base bla bla bla. Tram changed UO, taking it away from a virtual world and into “it’s just a game” territory. We will never know if UO could have continued to grow like EVE had it stuck to its PvP roots, rather than trying to be an EQ-too game. EVE shows us that the theory that all MMO games peak and then decline is false, and it’s unfortunate that we will never know if UO could have followed a similar path. Much like EVE today, UO pre-tram had a lot going for it (crafting, economy, low item dependence, player determined territory control), and it was a lot more than just the sensationalized player-killing. (which similar to EVE, is often talked about, but rarely actually seen)

WoW in 2004 was a much different game than it is today, and not just from a technical standpoint. In 2004 the focus of the game was leveling and exploring Azeroth, with very strong connections to the lore established in previous Warcraft games. The pace was much slower, the races and factions were far more unique, and the world had a more ‘traditional’ fantasy MMO feel to it. It still had humor and all that, but it was not as ‘mainstream’ as WoW is today. It was not until Blizzard began to patch in only high-level content that it became rather clear what the true focus of the game was, and at around that time the feelings of “the real game starts at cap” started to creep up. Today this is painfully obvious with the completely forgotten 1-60 content, the speed leveling, and the overall focus of activity once a player hits the level cap. Clearly it works for many, but IMO it hurts WoW from what it was in 2004-5. WoW was not always an e-sport/purple chase.

All of this random rambling because of Warhammer Online, and it’s current state. I think Warhammer is going through the now traditional MMO cycle of trying to find itself, focusing on its strengths, and learning who the player base for it is. Like LoTRO, it had a solid launch, has its unique features, and still has a bit too much WoW-likeness to it. Even in the early months however, Mythic is moving WAR towards its (hopefully) inevitable place as DAoC 2.0, a mass market PvP game. Not quite EVE PvP, not quite WoW hand-holding, but some nice place in the middle. Too bad we can’t fast forward and skip the awkward growing pains. At least everyone playing now will be able to make a future “back in my WAR days, we walked uphill both ways to a Keep siege” blog post…

9 Responses to MMOs go through an awkward teenager phase too.

  1. Tesh says:

    I ruminated a bit on this with an article a while back on deciding what your target audience should be. A lot of these growing pains could be alleviated or completely dodged with proper planning way back in the business plan stage. Much like the game design itself, the business plans of most MMOs are half-baked at release. Lack of planning causes an expensive set of mistakes that sinks some games. (TR?)

    There’s definitely something to be said for Blizzard’s “don’t release until it’s ready” mantra. Of course some things can only be tested live, but I really do see a lot of problems that could have been solved before they went live.

  2. Swift Voyager says:

    I’m not sure I agree with that characterization or your conclusions Tesh. I’m pretty sure that Mythic knows who the audience is, and I doubt there is a lack of planning. The current state of the game could be part of the plan. If I was making an MMO today, I would release a basic framework of a game with a limited scope of initial features and a limited initial world. I would then add features and areas in the gameworld incrementally. I would expect an initial surge of players at release and then a falloff. I would prepare my financial backers for that, and they would not be expecting landfall profits in the first year of business. The tricky part is to run on a budget that allows you to repay the investors while also adding new content and fixes to keep your subscribers loyal. As long as Mythic had realistic expectations from the start, there’s no reason to think that things aren’t going according to plan or on schedule. The WoW business model of releasing a major expansion every few years with an expensive box price for the expansion is not the only viable business model, and even the best plans must start to change from the moment the first paying subscriber logs into any MMO. Few intelligent business investors will expect a blockbuster success like WoW. It’s more likely that the business model was planned with the current state of the game and current subscription numbers in mind. In fact, due to the huge initial surge of players when WAR released, I’d guess that they exceeded thier financial plan goals in thier first quarter after release, but that’s only a guess.

  3. Swift Voyager says:

    I had to look for financial statements to back my opinion and found this news in stead: EA/Mythic just announced a partnership with a Korean game subscription service to publish WAR in Korea. That company has 30 million subscribers, according to the article. That kinda changes things a bit, and makes the whole awkward teenager thing moot.

    https://www.sharebuilder.com/sharebuilder/Research/MarketUpdate/StockNews.aspx?GUID=%7BC1051C26-CE6F-4559-B48A-7E5D74E11CDD%7D&Symbol=ERTS

  4. syncaine says:

    Naw, publishing in Asia has nothing to do with the fact that WAR has some core issues right now. Going to Asia is more about the fact that they love PvP, and WAR is at the very least ahead of WoW in PvP. Plus I’m sure by the time WAR is actually out in Asia, the major bugs will be worked out and the game will have more of an overall direction with RvR and the campaign.

  5. Tesh says:

    My point is that some of the problems, like the scenario rush, could and should have been foreseen and adjusted accordingly. MMOs are still relatively new, but when each team feels a need to reinvent the wheel or compete on even ground with an 800 pound gorilla, there are some obvious problems that will come up.

    I agree, there’s going to be a natural “new shiny” bump in population, then a honeymoon period, then a leveling off into a (hopefully) stable population. You’re right, that’s normal, but not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about simple design issues, like balance, scheduling issues that mean released games that aren’t finished, and the bizarre notion that a sub model is the only way to go.

  6. Solidstate says:

    Massive flame comment incoming…
    “It uses it’s IP” – should be “its IP”. There, consider yourself flamed :D

    More seriously, I have to say I don’t agree with your comment about WoW that “Clearly it works for many”. That implies that regardless of whatever it is that WoW is doing right, it’s not much different than the other MMOs you mentioned.

    I think this fails to take into account the sheer magnitude of the success of WoW compared to all other MMOs before or since. Don’t forget, WoW is 4 years old and in the 4 years since it has been launched it *still* hasn’t been eclipsed by any other MMO in terms of number of active subscribers.

    WoW doesn’t just “work for many”. It works for practically anyone who tries it. Even previously hardcore die-hard WAR fan and blogger Keen is giving WotLK a try. Perhaps you should too ;)
    Why it works for so many people and for such a long time is a different subject and off-topic for your original post. But I felt your post, while it has merit in that it compares WAR to LotRO, UO and EVE, doesn’t do justice to either WoW or WAR.

  7. syncaine says:

    Keen is a carebear, he just does not know it :)

    I’ve played plenty of WoW to know what it offers, and I had a great time. But I’m all set with stunlock and chain fear combat at this point, and the thought of seeing people bunny hop around a BG is enough to keep me away.

    The fact that the PvE questing is good does nothing for me really, as the questing is all solo, and if I wanted good solo questing, I’ll play a single player RPG that blows the questing away.

    WoW having 4 million players in the US/EU has less to do about it’s design and more to do about pop culture. It’s not 10x better than other MMOs, it just hit a popularity spike.

  8. Totalitaridan says:

    The pop culture point is very true, mixed with a healthy dose of accessibility. WoW is everywhere, with great media exposure and low technical requirements. The learning curve doesn’t exactly equate to a Phd. in quantum physics either. I’d bet that there are a lot of MMO player’s out there that would love to find a game more in sync with their gaming needs, but who are unwilling to leave the WoW fold. Many of them have put a substantial time and financial stake into WoW, a stake which could generate reluctance to shift to another MMO. I think WoW will rule the roost for the forseeable future, other games will have to decide whether to challenge the giant or solidify their appeal to the small niche group they attract. Ultimately, I’m hoping WAR goes the intense PvP route. A masochistic part of me misses being mugged for my gold in the Diablo starting area.

  9. Gardavil says:

    Very good summary of the games and their historys, thanks and a good read :)

    If what you are saying is true (or is becoming true) that WAR is evolving into DAoC 2.0, then I am onboard with that. I am a PvE diehard, but the one and only MMOG that enjoyed PvP in was DAoC and it’s RvR. My daughter and I had a blast in DAoC and miss the old days there. I hope that Mythic remembers that it did get alot right with DAoC…they just have to remember to not make the ToA mistake again. ToA so unbalanced the RvR game that it almost killed the game right then and there…..and some may say it did kill DAoC….it was just a slow and painful death.

    When WAR was getting ready for release I decided against trying it because I was hoping for more a “DAoC v2.0″ then what Mythic was trying to sell us. Now I will take another look at WAR. Maybe I can finally get that old RvR feeling back and learn to love PvP for good this time.

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