MMO Expansions

It’s expansion day in EVE today, and Crucible sounds like it will get the game back to its winning ways. What’s interesting about Crucible is that it comes without a ‘killer app’ of a feature. Nothing that really jumps out at you and says “start playing NOW!” Which got me thinking, just how important is that, and furthermore, what exactly should an expansion do?

I commented recently that WoW’s WotLK failed because it stagnated the games growth, while Cata further failed because it’s costing WoW about a million subs every, oh, minute or so now? MoP very clearly has a ’killer app’, pandas/pokemon, and Bobby is praying at his stock-options alter that Kung Fu Panda is still a hot trend among pre-teens when MoP hits stores.

I bring WoW up because (bashing for my amusement aside) Blizzard’s strategy, reflected in their expansions, is very different from CCP’s. Blizzard, for some time now, has been trying to replace disgruntled WoW players with fresh blood, while Crucible is very much a bittervet-driven release. As TAGN highlights, there is nothing in Crucible itself that grabs him and demands he return, while Blizzard ‘restarting’ WoW with every expansion certainly provides that motivator, be it for totally new players or those on break.

Where CCP will likely see growth is not from a bullet-list of expansion features, but what those game changes will do for the players currently playing. If it’s successful, moral in-game will improve, and current players will be more likely to recommend the game to their buddies, or write blog posts about how much they are enjoying the game. This won’t result it first-week sales of a million copies, but it does result in 7+ years of year-over-year growth.

This is also why WoW’s decline is so shocking. 12 million people have a lot more buddies, and a lot more blog writers/readers, than a pool of 300k. What exactly does it say about your product when a pool of 12 million can’t bring in others, especially when one of the core values of an MMO is the social ties and motivators of playing in a massive, online world?

Whenever I brought players into Darkfall, League of Legends, or now EVE, I’ve always followed up with them and provided a resource for questions. This instantly gave them at least one social ‘hook’, and made the initial experience a bit easier. Many of those players have either joined Inq or DiS, giving them yet another social tie. If they enjoy the game itself, they might bring in a friend, who might know someone, etc. It’s not hard to see why WoW initially went from a beta size of a few hundred thousand, to well over 10 million “back in the day”. The social momentum not only brings in new players, but helps keep existing players around far longer than the actual game content should. MMO content is not months/years-worth ‘better’ than single-player content; playing it with others makes it what it is.

From a player’s perspective, it’s hard to argue against the game you are currently enjoying simply getting better, rather than resetting and changing directions. Crucible is very much an EXPANSION to EVE, rather than a replacement for existing content. This also, in part, explains why EVE players stick with the game for so long. If you loved the content in 2005, it’s still here in 2011, only now you also have X, Y, and Z to play with as well. Oh and the game looks like something from 2011, rather than 2005. And if your buddies play EVE, you play on the same ‘server’. And the conflict they were talking about that got you interested initially? That’s happening on your ‘server’ as well. All of these social benefits, and EVE’s long-running growth, are not independent items.

18 Responses to MMO Expansions

  1. The graphics updates do have me thinking about EVE. EVE has graphically always made me feel very much like I was flying in space. It is very immersive in a dark room in front of a big monitor.

    Along with the fact that Gaff is back in EVE and in a new null sec corp that has its act together. He wants me to head out and get killed in 0.0 at least once in my career.

    Oh, and they claim to have fixed the animations on my garde sentry drones yet again. I might have to subscribe just to verify that.

  2. brdweb says:

    Do you still have any of those extended trials? I’ve been meaning to try EVE and now might be the time!

  3. Jaggins says:

    For me, Time Dilation and ending the logoffski exploit are major features. Combine that with the Dreadnaught buff, and I am looking forward to nullsec sluggfests!

  4. Maineiac says:

    If Syn doesn’t have any spare keys, I do. I’d be happy to send one your way while he is out. Otherwise I don’t want to poach invites from his blog :)

  5. Grimmash says:

    I assume you are not considering new ships to be a ‘killer app’? I think that many of the changes in Crucible, when summed, are going to change the game in some fundamental ways. ‘Dictor bubbles, Supercap nerfs, new hulls, logoff mechanics, each of these individually is not much, but taken as a whole painting, this could be similar to WoW 2.0 to 3.0, for example.

    • SynCaine says:

      For current players, a lot of the changes are a big deal. For someone new to EVE, buffs/nerfs/rule changes mean nothing. New ships are somewhat ‘shiny’, but someone new to EVE is not going to grasp why a BC with BS guns is a big deal.

  6. Raelyf says:

    It seems to me that expansions in most (traditional? AAA? mainstream?) MMOs are much less like expansions and much more like a bait and switch to swap ‘old’ customers on to a new game before they get bored of the first one and leave. Sure, they keep the trappings of the original as much as necessary to make you feel like you’re still playing the same game and that the time you’ve invested hasn’t just been thrown out – but conceptually item/gold/stat inflation and level cap increases seem to be equivalent to starting an new MMO. Granted, it’s a new MMO where you get to keep your character name, social ties and emotional investment.

    I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not. And to be honest, it may be their only real option since mainstream MMOs just aren’t designed to be anything but linear – and you can only expand a linear model so far. Still, it feels a bit off to me. I don’t feel like playing WoW now gives me anything more than playing newly released WoW – pretty much just the same gameplay, about the same 1 to cap leveling time, and then gear raids. Eve, on the other hand, keeps offering me more to do.

    • saucelah says:

      You’re laying out the major downside to theme parks. The ride ends. “Expansions” are about moving the end of the ride to somewhere further away but generally are not about expanding the options and game play.

      It’s why I’m convinced, despite the popularity of theme parks, that eventually some major company will realize that a sandbox with theme park elements has the most chance to be successful, allowing players to be guided through the game when or if they need it with the help of story, while exposing them to the mechanics of a virtual world where there are many player driven goals. Such removes the “game over” feeling, would still be “accessible,” yet would do a better job at retaining players over time.

  7. Loire says:

    Crucible has failed already.

    Why?

    Because of the new bloody font.

    WHY CCP, WHY!?

    It looks like Comic Sans for god sakes.

  8. Loire says:

    I’m sure I’ll… get used to it.

    It just really clashes with the EVE aesthetic.

    Otherwise the expansion is stellar. The new space backgrounds alone are enough to warm a bittervet’s heart.

  9. evehermit says:

    Some of the visual changes actually have a wow factor which might grab the imagination of new players. The nebula look rather impressive, and I like the fact they are used to denote your position in the universe. To my mind, Crucible gives more sandbox. New modules to create, new structures in place that relate to farming planets, new ships to fit, old ships that have to be revisited due to balance changes, whole new fleet doctines to test. All this in a client which has lots of little tweaks and updates that make it work better. It is the sort of update that will hopefully work well for EVE.

  10. Gesh says:

    “Crucible is very much an EXPANSION to EVE”. Nope, Cruicible is very much an urgent, long needed giant patch to Eve, to fix issues carried around for years.

  11. Bernard says:

    “Where CCP will likely see growth is not from a bullet-list of expansion features, but what those game changes will do for the players currently playing.”

    Like Gesh says, sounds like a patch.

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