A day after unsuccessfully going with “Without WoW WAR would not have sold 300,000 copies” and claiming that WoW tourists are actually good for the industry, Tobold today decides to go the “WoW is just that much better” route to justify WoW tourists. What form of denial will day three bring?
The very idea that WoW is so many times better than a game like LotRO or WAR, and hence the reason it has 11 million subs is of course laughable. All three games are good at what they do, and all three have glaring weaknesses when compared to each other. How does WoW’s use of lore to aid the story stack up to LotRO? How does LotROs PvP stack up to WAR? How does WARs questing stack up to WoW? If great DX10 graphics are important to you, clearly you have one choice out of the three. If you only want to solo and have a toaster for a computer, you have a clear choice, as you do if you value PvP over PvE, or are just someone who is particularly attracted to one of the three IPs above.
The point is, WoW is not in a class of it’s own in the MMO genre in terms of design, execution, or features, just like the Big Mac is not in a class of its own when compared to the Whooper or Wendy’s Classic. The only thing separating WoW from the rest of the MMO genre is that the game has 11 million subs, and everyone else has 500k or less. WoW has a lot going for it, and at its base is a very fun game, but so are LotRO and WAR. The major AAA titles all offer something unique in the space, and they all have their issues along with their strengths. Their also rather similar in many regards; they are all themepark games, are all relatively ‘easy’, they are all fantasy, etc etc. Unless you truly believe Blizzard found the magic formula of design, and their strengths are above and beyond important, with their weaknesses being all non-factors (despite some of those weaknesses being used as factors for other games as well, ie class balance), something just does not add up if we try to compare the games on gameplay alone and try to justify sales/subscription numbers that way.
So when you read about 700k people leaving WAR after the first month, it’s a bit foolish to think they all left because WAR was that bad, and WoW was that good. If WAR was flawless at launch, someone who wants to only PvE would still have found WoW to be a better game. Even flawless, someone looking for better graphics would still not be impressed with WAR. And even flawless, someone with a toaster would still not find WAR acceptable. If you are allergic to other players affecting your online experience, WAR could have launched without a single flaw and still turned you off.
In a normal market, all of the above is par for the course, people don’t always know exactly what they are buying (unless you are someone who believes the masses are overall intelligent, which I would then suggest you look at how many people still believe Obama is a Muslim, or that Sarah Palin is just misquoted by the media). The WoW tourist problem comes into effect because of said 11 million players. When 5% of the WoW population decides to try WAR because they think it’s going to be like WoW but better, you get problems. WAR is not like WoW but better, it’s like WAR. It’s RvR focused, has the engine to support that, and makes PvE sacrifices to keep the RvR solid, all acceptable trade-offs for the audience the game is aiming for. If you want a more refined history of that kind of development, look at how EVE Online is balanced and designed.
The WoW tourist population also brings other problems. For most of them, WoW was their first (and likely only serious) MMO. We all know the first love syndrome with an MMO and how it affects our judgment of other games, but for those who have played enough MMOs to understand the genre, we have had time to get over that and for the most part can look at each game on its own merits, rather than how it compares to our first. Related to that, most WoW tourists did not even play WoW at launch, but jumped on at a later (and more refined) time. Now you add in the first love aspect to the expectation that all MMOs look like WoW did to them for the first time in 2005-2008. No matter what new MMO game launches, it’s not going to meet those expectations, and hence will suffer the WoW tourist effect. The year being 2009 and not 2004 does not change the fact that MMOs are complicated pieces of software, relying in large part to the great unknown of how players will interact with them. Until the day a flawless MMO launches and perfectly predicts player behavior and trends day 1, using the tired line of “they launched too early” for every new MMO makes you look foolish (which is not to say some MMOs DID launch too early, but that’s an entirely different topic). Perhaps when Blizzard launches their next MMO and has all the similar launch issues all other MMOs (including their own) had, we can finally stop beating that dead horse.
And don’t be surprised when that next MMO from Blizzard fails to attract 11 million players, even though it will likely be a ‘better’ game. Perhaps then we can finally stop using 11 million as the size of the MMO genre, and realize WoW (along with being a good game) was a product of market timing and luck. Until then though, we can continue the debate while dealing with the tourists.