Clearly a Forbes writer is a big fan of this blog, what with this copy/paste job of an article. I’ll excuse the lack of a h/t this time, but clean it up will ya? Anyway, since everyone is jumping on my wagon about ESO, I’ll just have to argue with myself today for content.
The (incorrect) Lessons of The Old Republic
The biggest lesson from SW:TOR isn’t that you can’t have a big budget, or that you can’t launch with a subscription; it’s that if you are going to spend a giant pile of money and ask $15 a month, don’t launch a terrible game. SW:TOR is terrible. The 4th pillar was a sad joke when they announced that in 2010, it was a sad joke at launch, and how many of those ‘big content releases’ have built upon it?
Remember how SW:TOR launched without an end-game, and just expected millions of players to reroll and progress alts through the same lame content over and over to hear the unique bits of voiced dialog? Or how EAWare expected MMO players to spend months grinding to the level cap because they wouldn’t be smashing spacebar across the 4th pillar?
Yes, there are lessons to learn from SW:TOR. Plenty of them. Big budget/sub fee is not one of them.
Also, the notion that the ES IP is weaker than the SW IP? Across all brands globally sure, but in the realm of videogames, and especially RPGish ones? I’d say ES is the stronger IP here. How many copies did Skyrim sell vs whatever the last SW game was?
I’m also continually amazed at this “oh nooz $15 a month” stuff. What today doesn’t have a subscription? You pay monthly for Netflix, you pay monthly for console services, you pay monthly for cable/internet/phone. Services like Twitch.tv are rolling out subscription options. In 1997 when UO launched yes, asking for a monthly fee for a game was something new and a hurdle. In 2014? If the tiny cost of $15 a month is a deciding factor for you, spend less timing gaming and more time reevaluating your life, because you are seriously doing it wrong.
Also this quote ‘officially’ sums up nicely why F2P is a weaker model if you aim to produce something above mediocrity:
“And it’s important to state that our decision to go with subscriptions is not a referendum on online game revenue models. F2P, B2P, etc. are valid, proven business models – but subscription is the one that fits ESO the best, given our commitment to freedom of gameplay, quality and long-term content delivery. Plus, players will appreciate not having to worry about being “monetized” in the middle of playing the game, which is definitely a problem that is cropping up more and more in online gaming these days. The fact that the word “monetized” exists points to the heart of the issue for us: We don’t want the player to worry about which parts of the game to pay for – with our system, they get it all.” – Matt Firor
Know Your Audience (No one wants multiplayer Skyrim…)
I think just about anyone who has played Skyrim can imagine how that game could work as a multiplayer game. Not an MMO, but a co-op style game where you and a buddy or two head out into the world and clear dungeons/caves and complete quests. At one point a mod team was working on that, but the mod got shut down for obvious reasons. So on a basic level, I do think some of the tens of millions of Skyrim players are interested in that IP being multiplayer.
The big question and likely problem is just how “multiplayer Skyrim” is ESO going to be. Likely not enough from what I’ve seen. The game is stuck in a strange/bad middle ground, where it’s not quite just co-op Skyrim, but not really anything special as a pure themepark MMO either, beyond the IP. Maybe the pieces come together and that ends up working, but if there is one major question about ESO, I think it’s that.
The Gold Rush is Over (MMO genre is dying)
From an outside perspective this would certainly seem true. The last however many big MMOs have all failed to one degree or another (GW2 not bombing out of the gate is the most ‘success’ a new title has had in years), but to me that says more about current MMO devs than it does about the viability of the genre itself. For whatever reason, the general flaw in every new MMO is that you can finish it in under 3 months, and that’s a rather large problem when you are trying to build a game that only ‘works’ if people play for months and the all-important social hooks develop and keep people playing/paying.
The F2P fad has only distorted this further because if you can get a sucker to spend a ton in those 1-3 months, as a F2P dev you believe what you have done is working, and with so many MMOs recently downgrading to F2P, the ‘first month rush’ is still fresh in people’s minds (how many times has someone linked to that LotRO F2P first month article as ‘proof’ that F2P is a great thing?).
But building off a broken base (F2P) doesn’t work long-term. We talk often about a player’s MMO first love and how that effect can’t be recaptured. The same is true for F2P in the MMO genre. You might whale it up in one game, but once you realize you are throwing money into a hole for nothing once, most people aren’t going to fall for that trick again (exceptions exist of course, dumb and rich are not mutually exclusive). While $15 a month might be a ‘hurdle’, it doesn’t corrupt your basic game design like F2P does. The sub model forces you to make a better game, since you don’t have the whale lottery to bail you out short-term, but “make a better game” is a problem I want MMO devs to have.