Tobold and I have a friendly little challenge going (around comment 45 on that post), one that sadly won’t have a result for a few years. The challenge is simple: The next Blizzard MMO won’t reach the popularity of WoW. More specifically, my bet is the game won’t retain 1million+ subscriptions after 6 months in the US/EU. Tobold is betting on 1m+. Of course WoW is closer to around 5 million subs in the US/EU after all these years, so even if Blizzard gets 1m it will look like a failure, but one million is a nice round number so lets go with that.
The details behind the challenge are, imo, more interesting than the actual sub numbers of the next Bliz MMO. To quote Tobold:
I think the stupid and false belief that WoW’s success is due to a combination of luck, timing, and marketing is the direct reason why we are seeing so many bad, sub-million subscriber games out there. If other companies would study what WoW did right (and I’m not saying they did everything right), and produced games with the same excellence of execution and attention to detail, they would have over a million subscribers too.
So if I can put words in his mouth, “Better WoW-clones please”. My view is the exact opposite, the more you try to out-WoW WoW, the closer your game is to Warhammer Online’s current fate/flaws. The more you stick to what you do well (CCP with EVE, Turbine with LotRO, even Mythic themselves with DAoC), the more sustained success you will see. Remember success in the MMO space is a marathon, not a sprint, and designing for 11 million is a fast track to the unemployment line.
The biggest problem I see today is studios are looking at WoW, and more specifically its huge user base, and trying to mimic the gameplay/design of WoW to get similar financial results. The problem is that WoW’s financial success is not tied directly to it’s design, but to the fact that it launched in 2004, at a time when what it offered was exactly what people wanted, SOE helped by pushing their established user base from EQ2 to WoW thanks to a disaster at launch, and the snowball rolled downhill after that. Yes WoW was a great game, but sorry, its design compared to the rest of the genre is not 11m great vs 300k for everyone else.
As each new AAA MMO launches, we see the same pattern repeating over and over. Initial over-hype and ‘the next WoW’ praise, tourists flock the servers on the first month, they wake up and realize game X is not WoW (their first and only MMO love), and return home. One million sold, 300k-ish after 6 months. We saw it with LotRO, AoC, WAR. We will see it with Aion and SW:TOR, and yes, with Blizzard’s next MMO as well. Any MMO that launches will have its share of issues, and while so many were not around to witness, WoW was no different in this regard. It had queues, it had server crashes and rollbacks, it had (has) class balance issues, broken systems (pvp), an inadequate UI, botched lore, graphic and sound problems, dev controversy, etc. You name it; WoW had/has it, just like any other MMO. It was not the polished little gem many found in 2006 or beyond that they now compare to any freshly launched game.
It’s too bad we have to wait so long, but hopefully between now and then the genre sees a few more EVE-like titles with actual vision (small v) and purpose rather than soulless WoW-clone after WoW-clone (but with wings!).