Reasonable expectations.

While recording episode 2 of “Witty Banter” last night, due out ‘soon’, I derailed a topic heavily (twice actually) into a WoW vs other games debate. Hopefully what was said is not complete nonsense, although that is entirely possible. You have been warned.

The point I want to make here is that we really need to stop using WoW as an indicator of success. Just like no movie studio sets out with the expectation of making another Titanic, and no recording artist expects to sell like Thriller, we should not expect ANY game to reach WoW numbers.

It would be financial suicide to base your profit model around the assumption that you can produce WoW-like numbers, and I’m sure all studios recognize this. Mythic, for example, is NOT betting on Warhammer reaching 10 million accounts, or even half that. If they hit 1 million plus sustained accounts, WAR will be considered a hit, and will be highly profitable.

The other thing to recognize is that WoW is NOT as good a game as 10 million accounts suggests. It’s a great game, yes, but it’s not multiple times better than the other ‘hit’ MMOs that are currently out. It seems few people remember that while WoW had a successful launch, it did not rocket up in numbers and hit 10 million instantly based on how amazing it was. It had solid steady growth at the beginning, and at some point hit that ‘critical mass’ level, transcending gaming and becoming a cultural phenomenon. It was that cultural status that propelled it far beyond traditional MMO numbers, attracting massive amounts of ‘ultra casual’ players, people who have only played WoW, and will likely move on from MMOs after WoW. To expect to attract that audience to another MMO would be foolish, as no matter the quality of your product, most WoW players will never even consider another MMO. The biggest hope for any game reproducing WoW numbers is when Blizzard releases WoW 2, and even then I’m not sure even Blizzard themselves would expect that much.

So while WoW is a great game and does a lot of things right, it’s not the be all end all in making a successful and enjoyable MMO. Making the assumption that since WoW is PvE focused, only PvE focused games can be successful, or that since WoW’s endgame is raiding, raiding is the only possible endgame, is a bit foolish. The MMO gamer market, the one that studios can expect to attract, will accept many forms of entertainment, it just needs to be quality. Whether that game is PvP or PvE, group based or solo focused, fantasy or scifi, it might not really matter if the game delivers a quality experience. Will it attract millions of ultra casuals? Who knows, pop culture has always been unpredictable, but smart business says to focus on your market, not chase a pipe dream.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in MMO design, PvP, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Reasonable expectations.

  1. I now have to assume your favorite movie is Titanic, of course.

  2. syncaine says:

    Haha, my favorite part of the whole Titanic phenomenon was those commercials for it, where they interviewed people and you would get that woman who has seen in 30+ times in the theater already, and plans to go more. I was, and continue to be amazed by that.

  3. sid67 says:

    I don’t know if I agree with your premise that WoW is simply a cultural phenomenon and that it is unlikely we will see similar subscription numbers from other games. While I do agree it’s a cultural phenomena, I would argue that those “ultra casual” players as you called them become “new players” to the genre. For example, at one time, EQ was considered a cultural phenomena and no one could believe they had that many subscriptions. Since then, the industry has done nothing but grow. I suspect that we will see a similar type of progression over time. The flaw with your theory is that your making an assumption that the number of total MMO players is constant. In truth, it is growing tremendously and WoW is clearly the largest contributor to that growth.

    Consider this as well, in the mid 1980s, video games in general were kids games and largely restricted to 12-25 age range. Since then, that age group grew up and that 12 year old is 37 and still gaming. In other words, the total population of gamers spanned 12-25 in 1990 and in 2008 it’s more like 12-48 (or larger). That trend continues and we are constantly getting a infusion of new blood simply because of population growth.

    WoW’s dominance is largely due to the fact that it’s a great game with broad appeal. If another “next-gen” game comes out that has similar qualities, there is no reason we shouldn’t expect that game to grow in popularity as well. In that respect, it is the measuring stick because it’s the known quantity of what makes a successful game.

    The movies Jaws and Star Wars forever changed the movie industry because they introduced the “Blockbuster” to the movie studios. Since then, the movie studios have all blown these big budgets attempting to create that year’s must see “Blockbuster.” Ironically, your example that movie studios don’t strive to achieve another Titanic is not really true. I agree that they don’t expect that to happen with every movie, but they most certainly are TRYING to do it and spending big budgets to do it.

  4. Talyn says:

    Based simply on my own personal experiences with those ‘ultra-hardcore’ players (ie. had never played a MMORPG before, had maybe played a few games here and there but would never consider themselves “gamers”) Syncaine has them pegged: WoW is pop culture, they got into WoW due to that and/or peer pressure. Most of them I knew even raided in the same raiding group I did! But when they were “finished” with WoW, they were also finished with MMO’s and they returned to Real Life without so much as batting an eye.

    WoW certainly brought in a new audience of gamers, and introduced gaming and MMO’s to a whole new sector of people, but not everyone is going to become MMO-aholics and jump from title to title like the rest of jaded and cynical freaks of nature do! :p~

  5. syncaine says:

    About movies, the difference between Titanic and the average blockbuster is similar to the difference between WoW and the next big MMO. Aiming for a blockbuster and aiming for Titanic are not the same thing.

    And while I agree WoW expanded the market, as Talyn correctly points out most of those brought in by WoW will not transition to another game. Some will, and the market is no doubt larger now than it was pre-WoW, but not anywhere close to 10 million larger.

  6. michael, St Erroneous says:

    Isn’t this a theme that Darren of Common Sense Gamer has been riffing on for a while now? That the WoW numbers don’t indicate the size of the MMO market, just the “People who love WoW” market.

  7. syncaine says:

    Yup, it comes up during the podcast. Not sure if I remember a post about it from him… and lets face it, I’m far too lazy to dig through his archives.

  8. Wilhelm2451 says:

    I have to disagree on the whole “solid, steady growth” part of your argument when it comes to WoW. WoW was at the 2 million subscriptions mark in 6 months. If anything, the growth at the beginning was amazing and it only settled down to more modest slope after the 6 million subscription mark. So it was a phenomenon before it had any cultural influence.

    (source )

    I have always felt that a large part of WoW’s success was that Blizzard has a reputation for making excellent games that are best sellers. They have a big history of wins and more importantly (since somebody will bring up EA) no huge lemons. All shine and no stink.

    Who else has that kind of reputation? BioWare maybe, when it comes to companies making MMOs. Anybody else? Success breeds success. Buying a Blizzard game is a safe bet for a lot of people it would seem.

    Now the big question we had and could not answer on WR #2 was, “Is WoW Good for the MMO Market?” If they have 4.5+ million players in the US and EU, will those players migrate to other MMOs? They certainly do not seem to be increasing anybody elses subscription totals (not that we get those from anybody but Blizz and CCP). But with even 1% of the WoW population leaving, there ought to be somebody adding servers or announcing big revenue increases for their games.

    So where do WoW players go when they leave WoW? Or do they go anywhere?

  9. trollonfire says:

    Actually it’s Witty Ranter… learn 2 know what podcast you’re on :)

    Glad to have you on, btw. Even if you don’t know what you’re on!

  10. syncaine says:

    Any idea how accurate that MMOData site is? All of the numbers I looked at seem a bit off, and overly simplified.

    I will say that a 6 month period is a long time in video game sales, even for an MMO, so for a game to still be moving units in the stores after 2-3 months is unusual, as is the case with WoW. Your point about Blizzard’s rep is a good one however, although perhaps that just adds to the ‘other’ factors than WoW’s gameplay?

    Oh and Ranter, Banter, shmanter… Thanks for having me on!

  11. Pingback: » Hardcore Casual on (un)reasonable expectations

  12. Wilhelm2451 says:

    Well, it is the only data we have.

    Six months is long for video games, but not MMOs. MMOs… successful ones… grow over time. That monthly fee commitment takes some work to get past. EQ, the previous champion, took a couple of years to top 500K. In that context, 2 million in six months looks positively brilliant.

    Blizzard hit on so many points that every time you think you know why they have done so well, you come up with something else. But we still don’t know if WoW has ruined MMOs or opened them up.

    And “Witty Ranter” is a pun, so changing it to “Banter” takes the wind out of Adam’s sails.

  13. syncaine says:

    Yea I was looking at the DAoC numbers, and I seem to recall DAoC announcing 300K+ users at one point, but they show it never got that high. Again it’s been a few years, so I could be wrong on that. Same with EVE, they show it below 300k, yet CCP announced 300k recently.

    Witty Ranter is a pun… wha…?

  14. Wilhelm2451 says:

    Yes, it is a pun, or at least a play on words if not strictly a pun by definition.

    The phrase one expects is “Witty Banter.” Instead, he has changed that to “Witty Ranter,” so rather than us chatting back and forth amicably (i.e. banter), guests rant back and forth, taking turns foaming at the mouth on the topic of the day.

    I suppose if Adam wanted word play humor, he could have just gone with “Notlob.”

  15. syncaine says:

    Well then, if we are aiming for ranter, I guess that 2nd show delivered, eh? You just need to jump in more Wilhelm, I love your opinions on your blog, but I felt we kind of overshadowed you on that podcast (that and I did not realize it was actually you until well into the show… slow like that sometimes).

Comments are closed.