What happened to all those WoW-babies?

August 4, 2014

TAGN, in a post about the closing of Vanguard, brings back a theory that was pretty popular around the 2006(ish) timeframe; mainly that those who played WoW would ‘grow up’ to eventually play a ‘real MMO’. Let’s revisit that theory today.

As I mentioned in the comments section over there, I think a good number of WoW players did ‘grow up’ and went looking for something better/deeper. How many is the impossible question, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if WoW never happened, the MMO genre wouldn’t be the size it is today, supporting all of the different MMOs we have out. To that extend, WoW did bring in a lot of new players, and those players did ‘grow up’ to look for something else.

The problem today is ‘something else’ is either EVE, meh at best, or minor-league garbage. Now let’s be very clear here; no MMO was ever or will ever be a ‘WoW-killer’, but that is mostly due to the fact that WoW was a pop-culture phenomenon. Yes, prior to WotLK it was also a very good MMO, but it wasn’t 12m+ players good.

The same can be said today about League of Legends, the ‘real’ WoW killer; it’s a very good game, yes, but it’s not 40-60m or however many active accounts Riot has. LoL right now is benefitting from similar pop-culture status that WoW did, though arguable to a lesser extent because ‘vidyagames’ are more common and accepted today than even in 2006, so playing something popular isn’t front-page news-worthy.

I think a similar story can be written about the current massive success of Clash of Clans (the #1 grossing app still). Farmville laid the groundwork, and without doubt some of those players ‘graduated’ to a ‘real game’ in CoC. Because much like WoW and LoL, CoC is a great game, but is its design really “highest-grossing app out for over a year” great? Or did the pop-culture snowball effect kick in at some point and millions upon millions of people started playing because everyone else was, or because TV told them to?

Let’s get back to MMOs, or more accurately, the lack of either a great one or few with proper aspirations. I think the market size for a great MMO ala EVE is around the 500k-2m range. EVE is the king for virtual world design, but even by its own admission is somewhat niche. It might be the perfect version of Excel in Space, but at the end of the day it’s still Excel in Space. But I think a more mass-market, well-done MMO can get and retain around 2m players. Problem is every title that has tried has been horribly flawed and failed. LotRO, WAR, Rift, SW:TOR, ESO (I miss anyone?); all aimed at millions and fell well short, as each just isn’t great (or even good).

Then we had the problem of niche titles not defining their niche correctly. I think (hope) we are somewhat past this as indicated by titles like Pathfinder Online, Shroud of the Avatar, and Camelot Unchained. None of those titles have promised to be a WoW killer, or to be the next big thing. All, from what I have seen, are embracing their niche, and I hope that embracing extends to the business plan and surviving on 50k players or so. The only big whale I see crashing is Star Citizen, and even that has already kinda made its money (which is insane, but a totally different topic).

So yes, the WoW babies grew up. Not all 12m however, which confused not just readers but also the industry as a whole for a number of years. Seems like people are finally figuring it out, and now we just have to wait for the results when the next wave is released.


The three flavors of F2P

March 5, 2014

Another post about the F2P business model, yay! (I blame TAGN for this one)

One development that has happened somewhat recently is the split definitions of what ‘F2P’ really is. It’s a different take on the “what is an MMO” question, only I don’t think the lines are as blurred here. Below is an attempt to identify the different models, and pass some thoughts on each.

The most basic IMO is the demo model. The MMO in question is free until a certain point, and in order to pass that point (be it a level cap, content cap, or power cap) you have to pay. If paying means buying a box or subbing and getting basically everything, the demo aspect is even more clear. If paying means getting pushed into a cash shop, that’s a bit murky and likely falls into the third model described below.

The next category is one that so far has only workout OUTSIDE of the MMO genre, and I think is the best F2P model; the fluff and extra convenience model. The base game is free, and spending money gets you fluff like champion skins or extra convenience like character slots. The base game, that is free, isn’t affected negatively by the shop, nor are game systems designed around reminding you of the shop or pointing out what you don’t have access to because you haven’t bought it yet.

The third is the ‘classic’ F2P model, where the free part is basically an infomercial to get you into the shop, and only through spending money in the shop do you get the ‘real’ game, be that full access to content or the removal of barriers put up by the devs.

The first model I don’t have issue with if the after-demo part is a box or a sub. In those cases using the term “F2P” is more about using the current buzz word (instead of saying demo) for PR than really using that model.

The second model is the hardest to pull off, because you’re game has to be so good that people WANT to give you money for it. Riot is able to do this with LoL because the base, free game is amazing, so spending money on skins, which are also usually of amazing quality, feels more like supporting something you like rather than being pushed to hand out some cash. Path of Exile also uses this model successfully, again because PoE the base game is pretty great at what it is (a better version of Diablo than current Diablo), and the stuff in the shop is fun/cute for the price.

WoW also somewhat falls into this category because of stuff like the sparkle pony, though of course the sub fee muddles the waters. I do think WoW would still be profitable if it was fully free and Blizzard emulated LoL and sold lots of different skins for mounts, weapons, armor, etc, but I suspect they make more money double-dipping, at least for now.

The third, ‘classic’ F2P model has been discussed to death. It’s the minor leagues, the math-tax scam show from developers who can’t make a good-enough product to stand on its own merits. As I’ve said many times before, this is the model that is the ticking time bomb, and eventually (already?) most people will smarten up and the money will stop trickling in.


ESO: Prediction forming is at 85%

February 14, 2014

This article over at Massively by Larry Everett mirrors a lot of my most recent experience with the ESO beta, in that the first area is 100% linear, the second feels like a typical themepark zone, and the third feels like a comfortable cross between a full open world and an MMO themepark. I would love if someone could confirm that going forward, the rest of the game’s PvE is like the third area, if not even more ‘open’. Anyone?

Now to nitpick, I think it’s a bit silly to complain about the first, very short, 100% linear area as not being very Elder Scrolls. Load up Skyrim with a new character and no mods, and tell me what you experience for the first half hour or so? Oh right, a 100% linear experience that is mostly to setup the story. Load up Oblivion and it’s the same thing. If anything, the linear part in ESO is shorter than the single player game bits.

The traditional themepark zone is also a bit of an extended tutorial, in that it introduces you to some of the new stuff ESO does (skyshards, finding runes, stuff like that). I could do without it, but I also see why it will be helpful for new-to-MMO players, which I think will be a significant portion of ESO’s playerbase.

I feel like I need one more weekend with ESO to put down a solid “ESO is themepark 4.0” prediction post. I’m getting there, and I don’t think Zenimax is going to bork ESO just before launch like Trion did with Rift, and hopefully they don’t do a Rift 1.2 ‘accessibility’ patch to kill it, but who knows.

I will say this however, the comparisons to SW:TOR with ESO are ridiculous. SW:TOR wasn’t predicted to be the Tortanic because it was ‘boring’, or ‘more of the same’. It was easy to spot the Tortanic because on day one the devs told us the 4th pillar was the path to greatness, and some of us (or just me) called the game DOA on that day back in 2010. There is no 4th pillar for ESO, at least not that I’ve found yet.

Pre-ordered the digital collectors edition, in part because I think the game will be a good time, and also in part because the genre blows outside of spaceships.

 


EVE: CCP you are the worst, besides everyone else

February 7, 2014

Jester has, as always, a great post up about the reaction to the real life EVE monument CCP recently unveiled, which as his post shows, has largely been negative. EVE is famous for having lots of bitter vets, and as the only MMO to still be growing after more than a decade, many of those players truly are vets, and truly are bitter.

His post however reminded me how good EVE players have it compared to everyone else. For example take this complaint:

I think this boring and featureless statue symbolize EVE expansions.

EVE receives two free expansions every year, plus point releases between those expansions that do more for the game than what some MMOs call expansions they charge you for. Oh how I wish DF:UW got such ‘boring and featureless’ expansions. Hell, I’d take just one, or even half.

Doom and gloom fills every MMO forum. It’s what players do. The happy ones are playing, the unhappy are posting, regardless if your game is a dumpster like SW:TOR or the blueprint like EVE. That said, EVE players should take a step back once in a while and look around the genre. You really wouldn’t trade CCP for anyone else. Not the interns who gave us space goats and pandas. Not the wing factory of monthly embarrassments and flip-flopping. Not someone who burns $300m on a pillar of trash and sells you hotbars. Not the authors of the manifesto of lies. Not the ad-spam One-Ring sellers. Not the fools in white shades, or the ones to put a bullet in the head of an MMO shortly after release.

Be glad CCP runs EVE. It could be a lot, lot worse.


Pathfinder Online: What 1.9m gets you

February 6, 2014

The latest dev blog from Goblinworks, makers of the upcoming Pathfinder Online (currently holder of the very distinguished “Next sandbox MMO least likely to suck” award) talks money, specifically that they spent 1.9m in 2013.

Numbers are fun, especially once this game is released and we see just what 1.9m in a year really gets you. We know what 300m+ from EA gets us (Tortanic), we know 38 Studios wasn’t able to create much of anything with a giant pile of (Rhode Island’s) money, we know the relative cost of WAR, and now we will see what happens here and with the slew of other Kickstarter MMOs.

Side note: The screenshots in the dev blog look refreshing, in that the world won’t be a neon crapland of ‘magic’. The closer someone comes to making a game that looks and feels like a Mount and Blade Online game, the better.

 


Closing out 2013. 2014 predictions

December 30, 2013

2013 ends much like it began for the MMO genre, with a collective ‘meh’, and this blog overall has reflected that both in post volume and the number of posts about MMOs vs other games.

My most played MMO this year was Darkfall: Unholy Wars, and while I had a lot of fun with the title for a good number of months, right now it feels far too much like an oversized arena PvP game than a sandbox MMO. Character progression is short, top gear is trivial to horde, and if you don’t PvP for the sake of PvP, you don’t have much else to really do. I’ll see what AV does with the title in 2014, but right now I have little reason to log in.

I played some EVE online, but wormhole life is not something you can’t do without serious dedication, and I just couldn’t find the will to do that consistently. I’m currently out in low-sec with the alliance, and looking forward to jumping into some fleets there. Ultimately however I need to figure out a big-picture goal, either for myself or the corp. We’ll see if that happens in 2014.

I started 2013 playing UO:Forever with Keen and crew, and while that only lasted a few months, it was fun going back to early-days UO. Some aspects aged very well (PvE, housing, the worldly feel), others not so much (combat, PvP), and ultimately I drifted away because I had accomplished what I wanted, in large part thanks to the server setting character progression to Panda-WoW speed. A lesson that sadly the genre is still learning and trying to come to terms with.

So yea, 3 MMOs in 2013, one a sequel to a title announced in 2003, one a title launched in 2003, and one a title launched in 1997. Sums up the genre pretty accurately IMO.

Let’s look back at my 2013 predictions, shall we?

“I do believe 2013 will be the year the MMO genre figures itself out, and a clear distinction is made between games that are ‘real’ MMOs, and titles with MMO-lite qualities that we consume.”

Nope.

Might as well make the same prediction for 2014. It’s going to happen eventually… right?

“EVE will reach and retain 500k subs in 2013.”

Didn’t hit 500k, but did increase to just under 400k. Edit: Yes it did. Got this one correct without even knowing it…

“SW:TOR will shut down or go skeleton crew by 2014.”

Didn’t shut down. Does sell you hotbars. Recently released a Starfox mode as the big update. 50/50?

“LotRO will directly sell you The One Ring and a chance to play Sauron.”

Skeleton crew didn’t get around to Sauron, but you can pay Turbine to skip half the game, so… 50/50?

“DF:UW will actually release and exceed the first year of DF1.”

Yes and no. Yes because it launched, the launch was solid, and the game fixed a lot of the core issues DF1 had. No because the fixed issues from DF1 exposed more core issues with the game, and those remain as 2013 draws to a close.

“GW2 will have 9 tiers of gear by the end of 2013.”

I honestly care so little about GW2 and even reading about it is terribly boring so I can’t comment on this. Has it happened? I know you can pay for high tiers of harvesting tools, but what else?

“A bunch of MMOs will have kickstarter campaigns. Few will actually make it, almost all will be meh.”

No kickstarter MMOs launched, did they? I know some got funded, others failed to reach their goal, and nothing that I saw made me go “yes, that is brilliant, take my money and do that”, so I’ll call this one a win.

On to the 2014 predictions:

EQNL will have everyone loving it the first month of release. Shortly after just about everyone will be asking “now what?” and drift away.

EQN will continue to attempt to copy/paste from my design docs, and will continue to SOE them into failure.

ESO will have a big launch, followed by a quick death (F2P). I’d like to pretend that THIS massive themepark failure will teach the industry to stop, but if SW:TOR didn’t, nothing will.

WildStar won’t suck. Just throwing a dart here, as WildStar doesn’t interest me personally, but what little I know about the dev team, I like. If they stick to their ideas/goals post-release, I can see WildStar being a solid ‘niche’ MMO. We might even be calling it “themepark done right”.

The GW2 train will continue to roll, although with less steam and more heavy-handedness towards the cash shop. Such is F2P life.

LotRO will continue to provide us with amusing stories, perhaps selling you a character 3/4th of the way into the game, or something equally dumb. 50/50 on being able to play Sauron. 75% chance you will be able to buy the One Ring in the shop.

CCP will go bankru… haha just kidding. Best MMO out will continue to play chess while the genre learns checkers. 450k subs in 2014. Edit: Since we are at 500K already and this isn’t WoW, raising this to 600k.

WoW will bounce back with the next expansion and have a strong 2014. Now that the interns are back to being interns, and the real devs are back from failing to make anything with Titan, WoW will prosper. It will also help that 2014 won’t offer it much real competition (Unless WildStar draws away a significant portion of the raiding crowd, which is a possibility). WoW will end with more subs in 2014.

Did I miss anything?


MMO Future: Suits and timebombs

October 24, 2013

A lot of good back and forth dialog happened yesterday, which you should go read if you haven’t. Thanks go out to Brian (Psychochild) Green for putting up more of a fight than the hotbar salesmen from SW:TOR. I’d like to follow up on a few items today and hopefully keep the conversation going.

On suits only funding F2P MMOs right now: I don’t doubt that is the environment Brian has to deal with today (ignoring the next big MMO coming out, TESO, being a sub game). But since when do the suits know best? Remember, suits thought SW:TOR’s 4th pillar sales pitch was so hot they threw $300m+ at it. Suits also didn’t think Ultima Online would work. Suit after suit thought if you just copy/paste WoW, you too will easily reach millions of subs. Suits, by definition, are CHASING the latest trend, not setting it, and when that trend is a timebomb like F2P (more on that later), jumping on that train isn’t going to end well for anyone other than the suits (who usually include an out clause).

You know what the suits have missed? Things like Star Citizen, which right now has raised $25m+. That’s not 25m in sales of a completed game, that’s 25m in “I like your vision, hopefully it works out, take my money” wallet-voting. I wonder how much money suits would have thrown at Chris Roberts, and what their demands would have included? Hard to imagine which title is ultimately going to turn out to be more entertaining…

Or to look at it from a different angle, if what SOE showed at the EQN reveal (a tired cartoon look, parkour, and move out of the boss’s red box ‘gameplay’, yo) was put out as a crowdfunding initiative, would it even sniff 1m? “Oh the one-hit wonder factory SOE is making another F2P themepark with crap I don’t need/want, please take my money” – said by no one, ever. I’m sure they will have a wonderful selection of wings in the cash shop though, just don’t forget to pay your epic items upkeep license fee.

Brian took offense at comparing the stereotypical Walmart shopper to the stereotypical F2P MMO player, yet who really is the ideal F2P MMO player the suits are hoping to attract?

Is it the educated MMO player who has put time into titles like UO, DAoC, EVE, early WoW? Is that the kind of player who is going to become a whale in your cash shop? Is that the player who benefits from the zero-entry barrier of your amazing F2P MMO? Is that the type of player who NEEDS that zero-entry barrier when they find something worthwhile? Are they going to keep you in business through repeat fluff purchases? Are they the audience who is going to look at a P2W setup and jump in?

Or is the target someone less educated? Is the target someone who would be lured in by a shiny exterior with a clearly hollow center? (h/t Supplantor for the link) Someone who is into buying power without realizing what that ultimately means (a cheapened gaming experience for everyone)? Is it someone who can get hooked on the cash shop, buying just one more set of wings, a hat, or a pretty dress? Is it someone who hasn’t caught on to the fact that buying an XP booster is nothing more than just paying to play something you (should be) enjoying less?

If everyone in the MMO genre was an educated MMO player well-versed in both sub MMOs and F2P offerings, would F2P still be around? Are whales anything but simple, weak-willed individuals? The same people you shake your head at as you pass them in the casino, hopelessly addicted to a slot machine? Or the last few still standing off in a corner during their cigarette break, killing themselves slowly but unable to stop?

Now granted, stupid has existed since the beginning of time and will continue to exist in one form or another, and finding a way to cater to stupid can be a successful business strategy. As the saying goes, a sucker is born every day. But the key to catering to stupid is you have to keep evolving the tricks as the populace catches on to the last batch.

The F2P MMO model was a nice trick when Zynga first pulled it off, and they made a killing. It’s a timebomb because at some point (and that point is basically now or very soon), too many former dummies/whales will have caught on to your trick, and they won’t be shelling out the hundreds and thousands you depend on for just another gem pack, or one more set of wings.

Solid design and content is worth paying for, and will continue to be worthwhile. The tricks of a hotbar salesmen are temporary, and that clock is about to hit midnight.

And now a little challenge to the F2P supporters; imagine you just launched the most successful MMO ever (2005/6 WoW level success). Millions of people not only showed up day one, but millions are still around years later, and for them your game is the absolute main focus and they can’t get enough.

Is that game better served by being a F2P MMO, or as a subscription title, for both your players and the developers?

I would love, love for some pro-F2P person to take the above and break down why a successful MMO is better under F2P. What benefits do I get as a player, and under those benefits, how are the developers better off? How have you maintained year-after-year success and prosperity under the F2P model?

We know, because we have seen it (WoW before the talent drain) and continue to see it (EVE after the correction of theF2P-error that was Incarna), that when an MMO is great, the sub model works for both players and devs. So unless the ultimate goal is mediocrity and a quick cash grab, I need someone to blog/comment on the above. What is the best-case scenario for a great F2P MMO?

(And it has to be an MMO, you can’t mention something like LoL, GTA, or CoD. LoL is not an MMO, nor is its F2P model ANYTHING like a cash shop-driven F2P MMO. Same for GTA/CoD, or any other title that is not an MMO.)


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