More Aion vs Fallen Earth observations

The trending examples provided by the recently released Aion and Fallen Earth continue, and some interesting if not entirely unexpected observations can be made. Today’s topic is player reaction, and how it differs when comparing a niche game (FE) versus a mass-market (Aion) game.

The quick take is this: An average mass-market game is a slow burn, while a niche game is a black/white type of deal.

Niche games are niche for a reason; there is a small group of people who really, really like what the product offers, and then everyone else looks at the same thing and goes “wtf is fun about THAT?” That’s the black/white aspect of it, as very few people will look at a niche product and just go “eh, that’s just ok”.

On the other hand, a mass-market game is DESIGNED to appeal to as many people as possible, and the best way to go about this is to play it safe and avoid any black/white reactions. Some people may dislike generic questing, but very few players will outright avoid a game because its leveling gameplay is focused around MMO-style questing, and many players will feel ‘comfortable’ progressing in that manner. Mix together a few ‘safe’ gameplay styles, hope it comes together, and bam, mass-market MMO.

And now, a few months later, we are seeing how the two styles progress. The ‘slow burn’ is starting to sink into some Aion players, as what was initially considered comfortable is now ‘more of the same’. Executed at a top-notch level, ‘more of the same’ might be good enough, but anything less than spectacular and the feeling of burnout is only accelerated. Since you drew from a mass market audience, the majority of your player base is not heavily invested in what you specifically offer, and so even the smallest excuse to leave might be taken. If you are bothered by something in Aion, you always have WoW, LotRO, WAR, EQ2, AoC etc to fall back on. Sure each game is a bit different, but all more or less achieve the same thing, just in different flavors.

On the other hand, for the niche that Fallen Earth caters to it’s basically the only game in town. Sure the jump animation might not be spot on, or you might run into a bug or three, but if you are part of the niche, you will take that bug and ten more before you leave FE and make the switch to a mass market game. FE would have to do something drastic (Trammel, NGE) to push away those it caters to. At the same time, those who are just now trying FE (for free) are having a tough time seeing what all the fuss is about, having read blog after blog gushing about it (it also does not help that the niche is likely highly represented among bloggers). That’s natural, because remember we are talking about a NICHE product, and its niche because only a small subset of the gaming population finds what it offers appealing. That the majority will find a product like Fallen Earth lacking is not a shot at the game (directly anyway), as they never were the intended audience anyway. When your niche starts taking shots, well then you better start listening.

33 Responses to More Aion vs Fallen Earth observations

  1. Thallian says:

    Well put I think. Good observation about the blogosphere also. I wonder if I’m niche, or mainstream casual, or somewhere in the middle.. or maybe I’m out in left field lol. I think my time constraints put me in the casual camp but my interests put me in the hardcore/niche camp… an odd place to be.

  2. sid67 says:

    By definition, a “niche market” is simply a subset of a another market. MMOs, by this definition, are a niche of the Gaming market.

    You’ll notice that what is not implied by that definition is market size. In fact, a “niche” could easily be 70-80% of a given market. The term “niche” is simply a method of more narrowly defining your target market (i.e. the market for WoW is also in a niche for the MMO segment).

    But I digress… the point here is not to harp on the common misuse of the words “niche” and “mass market” but to point out that market size has nothing to with a market niche.

    BUT — what it does do is describe common features that are specific to that niche. And a **new** niche is going to always have less users than an established one. This relates to what marketers call the Product Life Cycle.

    Games in established niches (like WoW and Aion) are much farther along in the life cycle than newer more innovative games like FE. It’s certainly not impossible for a game like FE to gain mass market appeal as it progresses through the PLC. Of course, a shoddy or poorly executed product won’t even win over that many early adopters and will enter the decline stage prematurely.

    And while it is certainly probable that certain niches will always be more popular than other niches, I don’t really think that’s the case in MMOs. As you wrote above, people are sick of the ‘same stuff’ and what some new stuff. They just don’t know where to find a good product in an alternate niche (or that the niche even exists).

    And THAT is what really bugs me about these discussions. I’ve argued for years that the “mass market” that plays WoW would really enjoy a game in the MMO PvP niche. But it’s the product – not the potential players – that is missing from the equation.

    In fact, I would point out EvE as a great example of a success story in a market niche. The niche started out small, but as EvE continues through the Growth stage of the PLC, it’s niche is also getting bigger. And I, for one, don’t believe it’s reached Maturity yet and will continue to grow.

    The truth is that MMO devs that decided to compete against WoW in their niche are just foolish. That would be like trying to compete directly against Coca-Cola and Pepsi. It’s far more sensible to create a much different niche and it boggles my mind that no AAA devs understand that.

    • syncaine says:

      “Every single product that is on sale can be defined by its niche market. Products aimed at a wide demographics audience are said to belong to the Mainstream niche, in practice referred only as Mainstream or of high demand”

      If we want to get technical.

      But games like Tabula Rasa and SWG (pre-NGE) are the reason we don’t see many (any?) AAA titles that don’t in part follow the ‘safe’ MMO formula. The risk factor is huge, and the results unexpected. The next 100 million ‘different’ MMO might be TR, or it might be WoW. Problem is, we have seen TR-like failures, and we have yet to see anything outside of WoW succeed at that level.

      EVE is indeed the prime example of how catering to a niche is a viable way to not only make money, but make large amounts of it thanks to the long-term business model of the MMO genre. Now if EVE had 2-3 million subs rather than 300k, we would see more AAA studios creating MMOs with 5 year business plans. Instead we have WAR/AoC as examples, where you can sell a million boxes off hype, and then set up a skeleton crew to cater to whatever is left of that million after the first month. Perhaps with Aion dying a (hopefully) quicker death than WAR in terms of sub numbers, the trend will be reversed and we will stop getting a yearly WoW-too rehash.

      • Adam says:

        I’d hesitate to call Tabula Rasa anything except bad.

        I kind of liked the cloning thing to provide points to diverge alts that was cool.

        I liked the spawn “randomness” with the dropships and the bases being attacked in waves. It’s kind of basic in normal games but somehow “innovative” compared to WoW.

        How anyone could think that somehow an autotarget based game like Tabula Rasa was going to appeal to FPS players? Because it had lazer guns? The devs were out of it.

        That game was just bad at what it said it was and bad at being WoW in space.

      • sid67 says:

        I don’t disagree. My only point is that “niche != small market size” and it’s silly retarded to compete against an 800 lb Gorilla in it’s OWN niche.

        Far better to either consolidate the market in an existing niche or try to outright create a new one.

        But the AAA devs look at it ass-backward. They simply see the huge market size that WoW owns and think “Gee.. What can we do to get some of that pie?”

        The answer is… create your own pie.

    • Zensun says:

      *yawn* Sorry, but I lost interest by the third paragraph. Such extreme pedantry in a blog reply bores me.

    • While Sid67 may be technically correct (and a bit pedantic at Zensun says), I think it’s a question of what is useful for a discussion. MMOs as a whole may be a niche, but it’s about as useful as talking about the “console niche” or the “sports games niche” — that is to say, not useful at all for the discussion at hand.

      And, while the definition of “niche” does not deal with size, the common connotation is of a smaller, more select market. A game like Fallen Earth is focusing on a setting that is less popular that bright and cheerful high fantasy. A lot of the complaints I’ve read about the game are about the artwork being bland and unexciting. Given this, I don’t think the game could be as big as WoW even if someone poured a few million dollars into the game; the interest level just isn’t the same. What makes this strategy appealing is exactly what Syncaine wrote: that the lone game servicing this market segment has no competition. The big companies with the resources to crush this type of game see the smaller market segment as unappealing because even a small share of WoW’s market is potentially much bigger.

      • sid67 says:

        I’ll fess up to being pedantic. Marketing is what I do for a living, so my apologies…

        And that’s how I am viewing this whole discussion — as a marketer. By no means am I criticizing FE or any of the small devs that find a niche. Because that’s EXACTLY what they should be doing.

        My problem is that it’s what the “big companies” should be trying to do as well. The barrier to entry when competing against WoW is colossal. How many more titles have to fail before “big companies” realize that?

        It’s like they think, “well, if we build a better mousetrap…” that it will solve everything. But guess what? Blizzard is working on a better mousetrap too.

        So, as a marketer, when faced with that kind of barrier to entry, it’s not very wise to compete directly. At least — not to start.

        It’s about competitive advantage. Blizzard has a very strong one in their niche. So you need to find your own in a another niche.

        If you see a similar market that is fragmented by lots of little titles — consolidate it. Or alternately, innovate and come up with a compelling story.

        But for crying out loud, stop looking enviously at 10,000,000 WoW players and trying to figure out how to entice them to play your version of WoW.

      • Completely agreed, sid67. Even if you are a filthy marketer. ;)

  3. bhagpuss says:

    I’m playing the FE trial at the moment. I’m loving it and there’s every chance I will subscribe. If I do, though, it won’t stop me also playing WoW, Earth Eternal and a bunch of other MMOs. Nothing like a bit of variety.

    I also think FE is getting a bit of an odd rep for being less mainstream than it actually is. Once you strip out the understated look of the thing, it’s actually a fairly standard post-WoW set-up.

    The crafting is really very easy. Much, much easier than, say, Vanguard. It’s basically fire-and-forget, no-fail crafting. Combat is also pretty simple. Yes, there’s no auto-attack or auto-target-lock, but the targetting required is minimal and clicking to attack is very similar to clicking a hotkey for a special attack in any other MMO.

    FE also has a metric ton of quests. Levelling is clearly intended to be first and foremost by means of quests (missions), which give a lot more xp and money than grinding. FE uses the same quest hub system as other MMOs, with the same directive quests moving you from one hub to the next. And while FE uses a points-based skill/stat system, it has levels as well and the points come from levelling and questing, so it works out much the same.

    I think that if FE was fantasy not post-apocalypse it would stand a good chance of mainstream success. It’s mostly the setting that makes it a niche game. I think, like EVE, it stands a good chance of growing steadily over the medium term.

    Aion, on the other hand, has the feel of a seven-day wonder. I shouldn;t really comment though, not having played it, nor being likely to try.

    • syncaine says:

      Or, rather than FE being as mainstream as you suggest, it shows how little you have to do today in the MMO market to be considered different. While I agree FE does follow some standard MMO practices, just having to aim AT ALL in combat is going to drive some WoW players back to their neon pasture. And the crafting being just one tiny step up in complexity compared to the standard is going to be too much for some.

  4. Malakili says:

    The thing is, I think the “niche” games (as defined by Syncaine above, not getting into the semantics of it), might actually be a SAFER bet than the big budget clones. Everyone is trying to strike gold, but games that know their audience and don’t spend millions and millions of dollars can build a game within their design budget that people in that niche will like, and they don’t have to risk the huge losses associated with bigger MMOs.

    I don’t know how much it cost to build Fallen Earth, but I bet even with a small player base they will be ok economically.

    • syncaine says:

      Well that’s the point being made I think, you either go AAA WoW-clone, or small budget niche title. (Or god help you, small budget WoW clone.) It would be nice to see AAA ‘niche’ titles, but the risk is a little too high.

      • Malakili says:

        My point is that I don’t think a AAA WoW-clone is actually a very safe bet at all.

      • syncaine says:

        Whether it is or not, that’s all we have been seeing (and will be with TOR) for a while now. (Examples depend on your definition of clone, but how many AAA titles can you name in the last few years that you would be confident in not calling a WoW-clone?)

      • Malakili says:

        Oh I agree. I’m just saying I think the industry is wasting their money trying to clone WoW and hit the jackpot, it won’t happen. I think we agree on this point.

      • Well that’s the point being made I think, you either go AAA WoW-clone, or small budget niche title.

        The problem with “small budget” title is that it’s potentially not any less risky. As Scott Jennings shows, a lot of games don’t make it even to the point of being announced. For every Fallen Earth there are dozens if not scores of games that have faltered along the way. Personally, I’ve been involved in two projects in the last four years that had a promising start but that fizzled out after about a year.

        Unfortunately, convincing an investor that you can take on WoW is generally easier than convincing them that you’re unproven game concept could fly. I’m still committed to indie works, but it’s definitely not an easy path to take.

  5. Diametrix says:

    Syncaine wrote about EVE being a prime example of a successful business model in the niche MMO market.

    You suggested that if EVE had 2-3million vice 300K subs the industry might recognize the value of its model.

    I agree…and would further surmise that WHEN EVE reaches that critical mass the industry will look more favorably on it. But what the industry is missing is that the CCP business model is empire building, not ‘flash in the pan’ developing.

    When CCP reaches full maturity its stable will span not only the most indepth and intriguing sandbox MMO ever developed but integration with the console market, the social networking market and (if they play their cards right) the IP that can grab the biggest percentage of the Harry Potter generation: White Wolf’s World of Darkness.
    That IP, combined with CCP’s quality development house, is poised to exploit the current Vampire craze like nobody’s business.

    I was at FanFest this year. You should have seen the recruiting and hiring drive that CCP was promoting. They’ve grown their staff from 35 back in 1998 to over 400 today and they’ve never been hiring and growing faster than right now.

    All this leads me to believe that CCP’s business model (do things with the Long Term Quality as the focus) is the only answer to the stagnation and redundancy we see in today’s MMO industry.

    • syncaine says:

      At its core, it kinda helps that CCP might be the best dev studio in the game, at least in terms of MMO gaming (hard to argue with Blizzards overall game record, even if you toss out the pop hit of WoW). I’m not sure how big World of Darkness is as an IP (unless we are just talking about the fact that it’s about Vampires, because yea, those are big now), but I think a game like EVE, set in a more fantasy setting, would indeed be huge. Plus CCP could launch the game in the state EVE is in now, or at least close, rather than the state EVE was in at launch. First impressions and all that.

      • sid67 says:

        but I think a game like EVE, set in a more fantasy setting, would indeed be huge.

        Which raises the question of what exactly defines the “EvE niche”?

        And I mean that a bit rhetorically. As I was writing above, if I’m a marketer for a AAA MMO — I don’t want to be in the same niche with the 800 lb Gorilla. I would either want to consolidate a fragmented market or create a new one.

        Which begs the question — how do you define the existing niches? What attributes should we use to define it?

        Fantasy or SciFi?
        PvE vs PvP?
        Persistent or Sharded?
        Skill based or Level based?

        I think that’s part of the problem with this whole discussion. We end up talking apples and oranges. And sometimes we slap the apple label on even when it’s a pear.

      • painghoul says:

        There is also one strategy Blizzard uses heavily which CCP and other MMO makers do not, TV ads.
        Blizzard advertise every single expansion, infact I’ve never seen another MMO being advertised in the UK on TV other than WoW and its’ exps.

        It’s good to hear CCP are recruiting, they would also be well served to use some of their profits to a yearly tv advertising drive in the major and emerging economies, preferrably after the recession ;p

        It would help speed up the empire building and bring in players who would otherwise never consider the game.

      • I’ve seen TV ads for EVE before actually. For the expansion prior to the last one there was a rather aggressive campaign on Sci-Fi about the upcoming release. I don’t know if they did one for the last expansion as well because I wasn’t in the US by that point, but CCP definitely has turned to television advertising.

  6. coppertopper says:

    and now for something completely different…I’d like to point that Aion, although your typical fantasy MMO in a lot of ways, has answered Scott Jennings standards of ‘A game with PvP done right’, whereas FE has just put a Fallout face on a PvE MMO foundation.

    http://brokentoys.org/2007/12/10/how-to-make-a-game-with-pvp-done-right/

    • painghoul says:

      FE has a pve mmo foundation?
      Classes?…No
      Theme park?…No
      Forced limit on number of craftable professions?…No
      Forced into a faction at the character select?…No

      You could have made your point about Aion without making up a flaw about FE.

      • Coppertopper says:

        Faction grind? Yep
        quest grind? Yep
        crafting? Yep
        shoot stuff in face for loot? Yep

        hey I never said it’s a bad game. Like Syncaine and Aion, I’ve haven’t played past the free trial. But it’s a PvE mmo though, no denying.

    • syncaine says:

      Aion is a forced two sided RvR game with an exploitable PvE aspect that leads to imbalanced PvP rewards, ones that can’t be reached through pure PvP. Again, come back in 3-6 months (When the top guilds have farmed the Abyss PvE enough to abuse max abilities) and tell me it’s PvP done right.

      • Coppertopper says:

        There are 3 factions. NCsoft smartly didn’t add a playable 3rd faction to avoid the inevitable underdog low pop problems that would follow.

        And you once again are deriding a game you have no clue about. Abyss points aren’t like RR in WAR – it’s currency. So no guild is going to stay on top as there is no top – the gear may cost all the abyss points you have, which means you have rank zero – so no abilities until you once again pvp to get abyss points. The miniscule amount of points you get from PvE means there is no way to just PvE to awesomeness.

        But either way – the niche ‘box’ you are trying to put MMO’s in doesn’t work. It’s to shallow and ignores the real factors that make an MMO successful.

      • syncaine says:

        I can’t wait for you to hit 50 and then come back and tell me there are three factions in Aion PvP, or that Abyss points work how you think they will work and it won’t be uber-guilds running around dominating before they get bored and quit.

        But even to your first point, seeing as we have both DAoC and WAR (not to mention every PvP game without pre-set factions) to go off of, how in the world can you suggest that a 3rd player faction would create MORE population problems in PvP compared to two?

    • painghoul says:

      @Coppertopper
      You missed the point:) – FE’s foundation has nothing to do with your claim that Aion is the answer to Lums’ pvp critique.

      In answer to your follow ups:
      Faction grind – in a big way it’s at the core of FE’s rebuilding society story arc.

      Quest grinding – nope, you can level through doing practically anything especially crafting, the quests let you reach the (un-defined) end quicker.

      Crafting – huge, everything is craftable.

      Shoot things in face for loot – not as such, mobs rarely drop gear, it’s normally craftable ingredients, you’ll have to craft your next upgrade.

      Aion is a yes on all of those items as well as the points I made earlier ergo Aion is the stronger pve orientated game of the two ;p
      Aion is also the stronger pvp orientated game of the two, since FE is a free-form sandbox, no hand-holding and no pushing you into anything.
      If you want to call it a pve game based on the early levels, then go ahead, enjoy your 15 day trial.

      • Coppertopper says:

        Honestly I wasn’t trying to knock FE for what it is, but was trying to make a more important distinction then ‘mainstream’ vs ‘niche’.

  7. Crito says:

    Just a note on FE’s theme (post-apoch): If mmo’s follow traditional rpg’s at all, I don’t think theme will be that much of a limitation. White Wolf became very popular selling modern gothic rpg’s in the 90′s and ever since then it has been a very solid niche in the p&p rpg world. The dev’s just have to strike a chord with pop culture (like harry potter, or white wolf and World of Darkness) and you could have a very popular new niche. That being said, it would take a lot to overthrow traditional fantasy from it’s throne.

  8. [...] don’t get me wrong — even though I find Syncaine’s speaking for everyone trying Fallen Earth these days to be a bit presumptuous (and according to some of the comments readers have left here, [...]

  9. [...] validity of the mainstream vs. niche argument when it comes to MMOs. For Syncaine, there’s a clear-cut difference between a game that is mass-marketed and one that is niche, while Syp counters with the idea the niche is too subjective, and that we have little evidence to [...]

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