Today Tobold is asking why Warhammer Online failed to live up to it’s mega-title expectations (expectations that I was grossly wrong about as well), give readers either the choice that WotLK killed it (tourists) or that WAR was just a bad game. While the obvious answer is “both”, it’s still interesting to break down exactly what happened here.
Lets assume WAR sold 1m boxes total (it’s a little higher than that, but 1m is a nice round number). (Oh and before someone mentions Paul Barnet, his job was to hype WAR, and WAR sold over 1m boxes. He did his job, and did it well, no matter how much you might hate him) Of that 1m, I’d say 600k (60%) were WoW tourists, who no matter how good WAR was were going back for WotLK. Because unless you are a believer in the Eurogamer method of MMO evaluation, for most players a month or less is not enough time to fully evaluate a game, especially an MMO, and especially in it’s first month of release. But whatever the reason, that 60% does not count, because no matter what your game is or how good it is, they are going to leave in the first month. Accept their one-time payment of $50 and forget about them.
The problem for WAR is that, even after we forget the tourists, you still have 400k or so customers who are interested in what you offer, and 400k is more than enough subs to keep even a AAA title profitable and happy. But WAR does not have 400k, or 300k, or probably even 200k subs today, and the WotLK/tourist effect has long since passed. WAR lost a significant portion of it’s remaining 400k because, quite simply, it’s a flawed game. It’s not an outright ‘bad’ game, because many of it’s systems and overall engine are very good, but none of that matters when at the end of the game you have the utter disaster that is T4 sitting and waiting for you. That end-game RvR is a disaster is told to us by Mythic loud and clear, as every major patch is another attempt to fix it, and as every patch passes, T4 remains worthless. And sadly, at this point, with all the budget/workforce cuts, it’s unlikely WAR will get the resources to get it right. It really is sad too, because I fully believe if Mythic had fixed T4 (and it was possible), WAR would have rebounded and would have established itself as a solid choice for MMO casuals looking for some friendly RvR.
Back to the original question, as applied to any upcoming releases (or most recently Aion), you can easily write off 60% of whatever your initial sales are for any MMO due to the pop sensation that is the Mr. T grenade of WoW. The worst thing any developer can do is try and retain that 60% by modifying their game, because most likely whatever change you make to please the tourists is going to piss of your core base, and the tourist will leave regardless.
Once the first month is over and the tourists have moved on, whether you retain the remaining 40% is indeed up to your game. We are seeing with Aion that, like WAR, it’s issues are driving players away in bulk (which is even more comical given that most of whose who leave never experienced the real flaw that is the end-game RvR), while titles like Fallen Earth and DarkFall are stabilizing and slowly growing after experiencing their own (but much smaller) cases of tourism.
The tourist population makes evaluating success in the current MMO space more difficult initially, because at first glance 60% of your customers leaving in the first month does seem drastic. But if you ignore and forget them, and instead focus on the group that is ultimately going to matter, the picture gets a little clearer (plus you get a nice one-time funding bonus). Regardless of market conditions or trends, good MMOs will prosper and bad ones will struggle, you just might not be able to identify who is who in the first month.