I miss leaving extremely witty one-liners, get me out of your spam bin.
Slow days in blogging land of late, unless you are really into ‘debating’ definitions or pounding away at the corpse of a long-dead horse, so just a quick couple of notes for today.
First, if you own a blog that I occasionally comment on, check your spam filter. Seems I pop into spam filters now. Not entirely sure that’s in error…
Second, I’ve noticed that if a company outright sends me a copy/code for a game, I’m far more likely to at least give it a shot than if someone sends me one of those “would you be interested in…” emails. Just something about getting right to it and not pre-filtering it with a wink wink nudge about a positive review works for me. Still doesn’t guarantee you anything, but if you have a solid product, it removes one barrier I have to giving you a shot.
Finally, I like how Final Fantasy XIV handles subscription longevity rewards, in that you can see what you will get the longer you stay subscribed, and (I think) all of the rewards fall into the fluff category. It’s not THE reason to stay subscribed, but at the same time it is a nice bonus and does its part to justify the monthly cost. FFXIV maybe not have the one killer feature to make it amazing, but so far it seems that everything it does, it at least does well, and the sum of all those solid parts makes for a great MMO.
Just a friendly reminder that if you aren’t playing Clash of Clans with us, you’re missing out big-time. Great group of blog readers just helping each other out in a great game and having a great time all around. Great.
Oh and since I took over leadership of “Supreme Cream!” and did a little house cleaning, we haven’t lost a clan war. Coincidence? I think not.
We accept anyone willing to learn and who will be active during wars, don’t worry about being low-level, we’ll train you up quick. Clan space maxes out at 50, we are at 34 right now. Don’t wait and then live with unbearable regret forever.
So this happened over the weekend. Head on over and enjoy, especially the comments section. If you skim, don’t worry, I’ve got a lot of the choice quotes here.
On the surface this just sounds like a bitter ex-MMO blogger venting because others are talking about a PvP MMO, and to them those types of games are scary monsters to be shunned. More of the same, right?
Except it’s not just that, especially if you go into the comments section. There, it’s an interesting look into the MMO genre and how it’s currently in a state of correction.
To put it bluntly, SW:TOR was the last of a dying breed. We will never see another mega-expensive themepark focused on refining what made WoW work, primarily because it’s now been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the model does not work; not in WoW now, not in titles trying to be it.
In part, it’s because this is who you are targeting:
MMOs are DESIGNED to be a quick and replaceable pastime, they are easy to pick up and require minimal investment (like all games compared to any real-life activity). Nobody ever designed them to be the Mozart-equivalent of anything. Just because you’re not able to retain perspective, and treat them as the *games* they are, does not turn them into anything different.
You expect the player above to play/pay for months and months in order to make your money back. As EA themselves stated so well: “if SW:TOR can’t do it, no one can”. Oh how right they were.
I find all of this comical in a way. These are the players always telling us that in PvP games, the wolves eat the sheep, and then the sheep leave, and the wolves are left with nothing; yet here we have the sheep leaving their pastures after a month or so, dooming one title after another. Not that I blame them of course; when you are only given a month-worth of content, why stay indeed.
What really seems silly here is the perception of expectations. Let’s start with this:
If today a game released and got 250,000 players, it would be considered a failure
That’s a funny metric isn’t it? Because by that standard, only a few MMOs qualify as a success, and only two of them can be solidly confirmed (WoW and EVE). Everything else? Either hovering near that, or they are far below.
(WoW) remains the yard stick with which other games have to be measured:
If this was 2007, then the above statement would only appear foolish to a few :cough: But its 2013. It’s been almost 9 years since WoW has been released, and in those 9 years, how many titles and how much money has been spent without a single title even coming close to retaining a tenth of what WoW peaked at? No, today no one is using WoW as a yard stick, just like no new music record is using Thriller as the make-or-break point.
But the angst is understandable, because the slow confirmation is sinking in; those who enjoyed what WoW offered will be left out in the cold soon. That ‘mass market’ is, shockingly, just not profitable. The content is too expensive to produce, the players don’t stick around long enough, and even when you seem to get most things right, you still fall about ten million subs short of expectations. Again, in 2007 maybe this was a debate, in 2013, it’s not.
In the whole subset of humanity, people who like MMOs are a small subset, and guys who will always like MMOs are a tiny subset in that subset. Basically not worth even considering when talking about MMO gamers as a whole.
Ah yes, our little niche. The problem with the above is rather simple. If you aim to retain 500k subs, and only get 250k, you have failed. And if all you can plan for is that 500k, the MMO genre seems like a really difficult place to do business. And for years now, all most have heard about is the go-big-or-go-home mantra of WoW-cloning. Why aim at 50k when you can target that juicy 12m?
Because the 12m is a lie, isn’t it? For a multitude of factors already well-covered, the 12m that played WoW back in vanilla/TBC just don’t have a real interest in MMOs as a whole. They never did, and while they were briefly attracted to a bright light every now and again, the tourists always came back, or just left and went home altogether (though ‘9m’ still remain, right?). Yet for years studio after studio tried to chase them, dressing their offering up as a robot, or a superhero, or countless variations of Gandalf. And all failed. All of them.
What has always worked in this genre is accurate targeting and delivery. To most Darkfall 1 was not a success, because it never got above 100k subs and Aventurine’s track record was and is, well, let’s call it special. And yet DF1 was a sub-based MMO for three years, had three expansions and launched a second server six months after release, and now has a sequel of impeccable quality (snicker) in beta. From a players perspective, it’s exactly what you could hope for. More importantly, for those at AV, from the original crew to the new hires, they get to continue doing what they love and getting paid for it. And DF is just one example among many, with by far the most prominent being EVE; a title still growing after ten years that is more true to its vision than just about anything else. A title that started in a niche of niches and carved itself into the second-biggest MMO out. Not bad for Excel Online.
More importantly, Camelot Unchained and others show that the future of the genre is, finally, not in chasing the mythical WoW unicorn, but in reproducing what actually worked; delivering a measured product aimed at the crowd that actually wants it. And if that crowd is only 30k strong, as Mark Jacob’s estimates will be the case for CU, so be it. 30k people paying you each month is more than doable from a business standpoint; you just can’t spend 300m to get there.
And that’s where the fear comes in from the WoW-clone crowd. Titles like CU offer nothing for them. Nothing. They are too focused, too targeted, and demand too much from them. Worst of all, these titles don’t NEED the WoW-cloners, and that scares them to death. After all these years of being catered to, of having one massively over-produced monthly snack after another, the next wave will ignore them and move right past them.
It’s what niche products do. And MMOs are most certainly niche, one unique and unreproducible outlier aside.
I want to combine some topics and thoughts into what will hopefully be a larger point; it’s crazy that today, games like GW2 and EVE are considered part of the same genre. Allow me to explain.
Shiolle asked the following:
“How much time (in terms of hours/week) would you consider a mandatory investment to properly play EVE or Darkfall (the way you play them)?”
To which I responded:
“20hrs+, with solid 2-3+ regular hour blocks and being able to play during the prime nights (Tues, Thurs, Sunday), while also being able to schedule to play 3-4+ hours for something major like a siege?
Some of it will depend on the player though. If you are self-motivated, you can get away with fewer hours or more random times. If you can’t in a sandbox, you will need to be online when the majority of the clan is, and for INQ that’s EST 8pm-1am.”
With that in mind, consider this post from Syp, where he talks about going back to SW:TOR, but in his considerations never once mentions the multiplayer aspect of the game, or anything outside his own time and planning. I’m not saying he is wrong here, as SW:TOR is an sRPG in all of its key aspects, but just consider that these games are, technically, in the same genre, supposedly drawing from the same pool of players (I don’t buy the whole pool thing, but many do, so let’s pretend for the sake of this post).
Now what if Syp was talking about Darkfall instead of SW:TOR, but had the same approach? First, he would ‘fail’ in terms of getting anything out of DF, as it’s really not a fun game to solo around in casually. But beyond that, imagine if Syp was a guild member, and you were the leader or officer trying to coordinate things. Members like Syp are a nightmare.
They don’t show up enough to be reliable for in-game planning. They aren’t active enough to generally follow the flow and social structure of a guild. And at the same time, they will show up sometimes and can’t be completely written off when considering numbers (less a factor in DF since there are no caps, but even here it matters for PR reasons), but often can’t stick around to fully see something through like a siege. Manning the wall for an hour and then logging during a 3 hour siege is not much help to anyone, player or clan. Plus when they move on after a month, whatever training or setup you have done with them goes poof as well.
And yet, currently, MMO gaming (supposedly) caters to both players; Those with enough time to play MMOs as virtual worlds to be lived in, and those with enough time to just experience a bite of content before logging off. It’s no surprise that games who try to attract both have spectacularly failed overall, while games who aim more towards one or the other can do well. EVE makes no illusion to offering bite sized 30min chunks of content as the main course, while GW2 (post-release) has been clearly designed just for that, with little to no consideration for pre-formed groups or long-term retention.
I think what confuses things further, beyond how companies sometimes attempt to market to everyone, is that many (most?) players also don’t fully consider this divide. We are, quite simply, looking for two completely different experiences, and in order to have those, we require two very different design approaches with very different time requirements, both for that day (30min vs 3hrs) and long term (1 month and done vs 1yr+ stays). As has often been stated, perhaps it’s time for a whole new set of terms when talking about the giant mess that we consider the MMO genre.
Catching up on blogs, and I just came across this line from Lum:
Everything is free to play, because the financial barrier entry for MMOs is fiercely competitive and in the end it’s very difficult to compete with zero.
I think we have all seen similar thoughts from lots of different places, and it seems pretty obvious right? It would be hard to argue that FEWER people will be willing to try SW:TOR for free than to pay $60 to try it. 0>anything here, duh.
On the other hand, if GW2 had a $70 box cost instead of $60, how many people who pre-ordered would cancel? Some, sure. But many?
EAWare could offer to pay me $15 a month and I’d still not bother downloading SW:TOR, and CCP could start charging $30 a month for EVE and I’d still pay/PLEX for 3 accounts.
~$15 a month is not the great wall of China in terms of a ‘barrier of entry’. Your game being good/garbage is. Or in other words, SW:TOR is a failure not because it costs $15 a month, it’s a failure because the game sucks as an MMO. Focusing on the business model behind the pile of fail is missing the point. Remember all those amazing numbers Turbine brought up the first week of DDO/LoTRO going F2P? Why is it we only hear from them once? Oh right, because F2P or sub, DDO/LotRO are still DDO/LotRO (mostly, but that’s a different topic).
Dropping down to F2P will get you some freeloaders, those who that $15 a month or so really is an issue, and they might even toss you a buck or two occasionally, but F2P is not a magic cure that turns a bad game into a good one. It might help people justify spending time on something average-at-best, but the better ‘business model’ is to make a game good enough that people actually, you know, want to play/pay for. That has been in very short supply the last few years.
The good news? This.
The bad news? Two jumps later my Caracal got popped at another gate camp.