The bored WoW player wave comes and goes, leaving empty servers behind

With WAR’s recent server transfers, the natural first reaction would be that since so many players are jumping ship, WAR is dying and needs to consolidate. It’s generally the statement we make whenever we hear an MMO is merging servers, and generally this has been true, yet I’m not entirely sure it applies in the post-WoW MMO world.

The fact is, for a large majority of current MMO gamers, WoW is their first MMO, and hence every game after will be compared to it. We all do this with whatever MMO we played first (UO for me), thinking back to the first character we created and the fun we had. We always hope that whatever MMO we pick next, we will get that same experience, and it’s an impossible hope. You will never be a total MMO noob after your first game, and since part of the initial MMO magic is that once-and-gone noob feeling itself, you will continually slip down the path towards jaded MMO gamer. Welcome to the impossible and unreasonable expectations club.

The major problem in the post-WoW MMO world is that any new MMO that comes along grabs the attention of bored WoW players. This rather large group jumps into a new MMO on day one with the hope that they will get something new, yet at the same time expecting it to play EXACTLY like WoW. They take issue if the bind keys are different, if the mini-map is in the wrong spot, if the combat/leveling is slower/faster, etc. For far too many of these people, they don’t actually want anything but WoW, they just want more of it.

And so any new MMO is flooded with these players, who soon realize the new MMO is in fact not WoW, and rather than adapt to the new environment, try to force WoW-like gameplay into it. Once that’s no longer an option, it’s time to quit and return to familiar grounds. Now this process has always happened in MMO land, but the difference today is rather than a few thousand UO players leaving EQ1, you have a few hundred thousand jumping back to WoW. This means any new MMO has to launch with a far greater number of servers than it can really support, if only to host the first-month players until the its-not-WoW feeling sets in. It happened to PotBS, TR, AoC, and now WAR. (It should have been done in LoTRO, but Turbine has instead left a few near-dead servers online, as overall population is less of an issue in a totally PvE game) It will also happen to future releases as well, leaving players with the hit-or-miss game of picking the right server.

The good news for fans of non-WoW MMOs is that despite the initial player exodus, a core develops and life goes on. The developers fix and patch, the games improve, and fans that actually came to the new MMO for what it offers, rather than in the vain hopes of finding WoW2, get to play the game they want with like-minded players.

*Of course, marketing at times will interfere, and actually assume it can recreate WoW, setting unreasonable expectations. In turn this might cost the company too much when magically all 11 million players don’t show up, and the servers are forced to close. An MMO can be a success with 100k players, it just has to be planned for that 100k, and not 11 million.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to The bored WoW player wave comes and goes, leaving empty servers behind

  1. Mordiceius says:

    What about all the players that are still done with WoW but we just hyped of for Warhammer based on its own merits and just feel like the game did not deliver what it promised?

  2. Tipa says:

    You’re absolutely correct; bored WoW players are hammering the new MMOs. But then, marketing feels the only way they can compete is by more or less begging WoW players to play, doing a lot of saturation marketing to build artificial excitement which is inevitably lapped up by fans, and just as inevitably doesn’t live up to its promise (nothing can).

    That said, there are lots of MMOs out there that owe nothing to WoW, chart their own course, and most importantly, don’t saturate the gaming sites with thinly disguised press releases. WoW players are less likely to even have heard of these games, or have already been written off because the game devs know their game is insufficiently like WoW enough to attract them.

    WAR promised PvE as engaging and fully featured as World of Warcraft, combined with all-the-time PvP. Did it deliver on its promise to WoW players? Should they even have made that kind of promise to begin with? Should they even have bothered with battlegrounds when WoW players have been grinding battlegrounds now for three years?

  3. Igniferroque says:

    The alternative to not opening up enough servers would have been the backlash of a tumultuous opening where no one could log in, everyone up in arms and claiming that Mythic wasn’t prepared. At least the way EA Mythic did it, the bad press is pushed back a few months.

  4. syncaine says:

    Mordiceius, those players exist (for any MMO, not just WAR), but their numbers are far below the WoW tide. No game will ever deliver on every fans expectations, right?

    As for WAR specifically, Mythic made some initial mistakes in terms of scenarios/ORvR, but I’m confident they will fix them shortly and WAR will actually be all about ORvR. If not, I think a LOT of players are going to leave, because we did not sign up for a game focused on scenarios. Some players are staying around and enjoying WAR as is, while others are leaving and hoping to return once the issue is fixed.

    Tipa, I think even games who don’t try to focus on improving WoW, like PotBS, get hit by the WoW tide. We will see what happens with Chronicles of Spellborn, which is really the next interesting and ‘under the radar’ MMO coming out. For it’s sake, lets hope the WoW base never picks up on it.

  5. syncaine says:

    Igniferroque, people still complained. Even my guild, CoW, jumped off Volkmar because of the first few days and queues. That’s really the issue, it’s a no-win for the company. Too few servers, people bitch at launch. Satisfy the one-month crowd, and you eventually deal with empty servers. They will deal with some bad press, but at least Mythic is acting quickly to address the population issues now.

  6. Tipa says:

    The thing that bugs me most, specifically, about Warhammer’s future, is Star Wars: The Old Republic, which EA has explicitly positioned against WoW. Have they already decided WAR will never be a true competitor to WoW?

  7. syncaine says:

    Naw, just because EA says something about a game FAR from release does not mean much. Mythic is responsible for WAR, just like Bioware is responsible for SWtOR. It’s EA’s job to promote and hype whatever is coming next. They don’t make the games, they just publish them.

    And all along, Mythic has been aiming for MMO #2 in the market, as I think they knew very well that while PvP can be done well, it won’t draw in the amount of ultra-casuals you need to get WoW numbers. I think the major focus on getting more ORvR into WAR, rather than making it more WoW-like to retain that crowd, shows they are at least sticking to their original plan, which if they deliver, should draw a decent amount of people back. Whether that counts as competition for WoW, who knows.

  8. Hudson says:

    Near the end of one month it became a ghost town and that just really killed it for me (again in Tiers 1-2). Where is the influx of new people? If the game is popular, it should have new people constantly adventuring like WoW does. To this day, there are people in WoW that ask: where is Westfall? That is a new player. Not someone’s runepriest or witch hunter alt, a new player. Night after night I will be honest I got tired of Q’ing up and doing scenarios. I would try to quest and get bored. The quests didn’t have the flavor or the spunk that WoW quests did. You cannot make an MMO and go “look we have shiny quests!” add a icon over the NPC’s head, then say you have PVE content. When other players in WAR started to notice this, they simply turned to scenarios and the game started to suck for people like me that like to quest AND PVP when they FELT like it. When I got a guild group or something, it was always: LETS Q UP! It was never: Hey I need to finish this quest chain to get this blue item I need help.
    No one cared about the WORLD outside of scenarios. That is what killed Warhammer for me.

    I will post more on my site.

  9. p@tsh@t says:

    Like Tipa, I ask myself these questions about Mythic’s marketing:

    1. Who were they aiming for?
    2. Did they reach them?
    3. Did they capture (convert) them?
    4. Did they keep them?

    And the follow ups to 2-4 “If not, why not?”

    If the answer to #1 is “a significant portion of WoW’s player base” and assume that the answers to 2 and 3 are “yes,” then they need to look long and hard at why the answer to #4 is no (at least for a significant number of people).

    Its part strategy and part execution. If they were not able to capture and keep their target market, then either their target market was mismatched to the product they delivered (good product, wrong market) or it was targeted correctly, but they failed to execute (right market, poor product).

    And yes, a portion of that analysis is dependent on your perspective for those of us on the outside. We might perceive that the product “is what it is” and is fine, but that its aimed at the wrong market or vice versa. Mythic, however, makes those strategic calls and then has to execute on them or deal with the inevitable consequences that flow therefrom.

    If they decided to market to a WoW crowd and wanted WoW numbers then they needed many servers.

    They successfully sold a bunch of boxes, so why the retention problem?

    Why wouldn’t they want to retain them as paying subscribers?

    It sounds like these so-called bored WoW players are tantamount to a DoS attack that poor helpless Devs have to try to design and market around.

    I thought these were exactly the folks they wanted and intended to keep? If not, why market to them?

  10. syncaine says:

    1: PvP fans, and players possibly interested in PvP once they experience it
    2: Yes, plus the WoW tide
    3: The PvP crowd, mostly. The WoW tide, no
    4: Yes and no, depending on whether you stick with it and wait for ORvR to really pick up, or if you left and are going to wait until it actually does pick up. The WoW tide was never going to stay, short of launching WoW2 itself (and even then, it’s possible that won’t do it for people either)

    And IMO, Mythic marketed towards the PvP crowd. They themselves stated they intentionally did some not-WoW-like things. Outside of Mythic, the hype grew and all of a sudden, WAR was going to be everything to everyone and perfect on day one. That delusion has faded, and the delusional with it.

  11. Tesh says:

    I tend to point at the subscription model for part of it. I think that one subscription is onerous enough, but two or more? That’s not the casual market. I tend to think that if WAR were marketed like Guild Wars (another game with solid PvP), it would have more active players. If you’re going to play on Blizzard’s turf with the same business model, you’ve got to be prepared with a better product. Not just a different focus and IP, a better product all around. That’s basic marketing.

    Well, that, and as noted, the PvE casual crowd is bigger than the PvP audience. There’s not really a way around that.

  12. Werit says:

    EA seems to be going the SOE route, a stable of games.

    Many Games + 1 fee for them all = better than 1 MMO

    Depends on the games, but I think Station Pass is a good deal, and I think EA (when they add the new Star Wars game) would be a good deal too.

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  14. mbp says:

    Hi Syncaine as you know I have been musing that it is not the decline of any one game we are witnessing but rather the end of the growth phase of mmorpgs. In such a business environment it is inevitable that any new game will find it very hard to grab and hold on to market share. It can only do so by stealing customers from established games which is very hard to do. The folks who suggest you can beat WOW by “making a better game” overlook the hard business fact that anything a new game can do Blizzard can copy and with more money, more experience and bigger market share they can probably do it better. Competitors can try to make a niche for themselves by doing something that Wow chooses not to do like pvp focus, or Tolkien lore or space ships but this only works as long as you stay small. As soon as a competitor gets big enough to start hurting Wow expect to see that games brightest ideas replicated in Wow.

  15. Rog says:

    I’d say I’m more of a PvP player than a PvE one, but good PvP is easy to find while good PvE coop action is rare.

    For an MMORPG I’d say WAR has the best PvP yet, but that’s just not saying much.

    I cannot see it holding the PvP crowd for too long. We have so many other games to choose from that are honestly much better.

    RvR is disappointing. It needs more than minor improvements.

    I think Mythic made a mistake with their barely passable PvE. I think they made an even bigger mistake with the PvP.

    Ultimately WAR’s biggest troubles won’t be rebounding WoW players. Mythic once again bet on a game segment that has far more choices than that.

  16. rwmiller says:

    There is likely to be a fairly constant ebb and flow of bored WoW players in the market. The release of WAR hit the market at a time where a lot of people had become very bored in WoW and were simply marking time until the release of WotLK. There is likely to be a further decline in server population once the expansion is released as many WoWers go back to race to the new level cap and restart the grind.

    However, those that were bored because of the game mechanics are likely to find that once they hit level 80 that it will be same thing all over again and are probably going to start looking for the next big thing.

    One advantage that age gives a mmo is the ability to add more content. If you look at EQ and EQ2 for example they have years of game play content in them. But, who really wants to start a level 1 character and try to level through the content pretty much alone? This is going to be and is starting to be a problem for WoW. Even with the major nerfs to required experience and the increases to amount gained at lower levels you are still looking at a considerable amount of time playing alone until you catch up to everyone.

    In fact this is a bit of an issue even in WAR already. When it first came out playing in T1 and T2 was a blast with lots of RvR, PQs and people running about. Now, in just a month or so those zones are virtually deserted as everyone has raced on to the T4. It is a shame really that all that space is so empty. But, never the less for a new player to the mmo market do they want to look at having to grind through 40 levels of a fairly new game to catch up or to grind through 80 levels?

    The WoWers will come and go as the mood strikes them and it is going to impact other games but I suspect that WoW is pretty much reaching the peak of its subscription base in existing markets though obviously opening up new servers in new markets is one way for them to continue their growth.

    WAR has a lot of potential and is enjoyable it’s ultimate success will depend upon not getting WoW players to join but to attract its own core of loyal followers and that will totally depend upon content and its fun factor. They are working on it and I hope they succeed.

  17. WightBoy says:

    One of the key things here that no one has mentioned is that WAR is a license-based game. It is based on the Warhammer world, a miniature- and roleplaying game world that has existed some 30 odd years. Like Star Wars, Tolkien, etc., it had a potential core audience that was completely unrelated to WoW, but who were interested in seeing the Warhammer world depicted online. While picking up any online gamer was a goal, a large part of Mythic’s goal was to faithfully recreate a world rich in history and character.

    In that sense, one of the problems was having a U.S. and European edition. Games Workshop is a British company, with a large following in the U.K. and in the U.S. These players should have been allowed to finally play together, rather than being separated. Of course, serious players found ways to get the U.S. version and ARE playing together, but this unification of players with similar interests should have been the default. Same with Oceania. Speaking as someone who plays starting midnight, EST, having people from the opposite side of the world might help keep the servers full 24/7.

    WoW reached the mainstream not necessarily because of its content or gameplay, but because the timing was right. It became the pop-culture industry standard for online RPGs. However, as with all pop-culture trends, a subculture develops, filled with those who are bored and disappointed with the mainstream. Just because 51% of online gamers like some aspects of a game, doesn’t mean the other 49% should be written off. There have been games with 3000 players that have been successful AND fun. In fact, I have played games that had maybe 40 players that were fun.

    I have been playing multi-player “online” games for 20+ years now. There have only been graphics involved for just over half of that time. You used to have to “find your way” onto an Internet account to play some of these. A game can be successful by tapping into a very small percentage of the market, as long as the players you DO have are devoted, and the company constantly works to keep them devoted. Both Mythic and Games Workshop have a history (this could be a whole new topic, I know,) of keeping loyal fans. Many of us have waited a long time to shout, “Waaagh!” as we unleashed a giant foot to stomp our enemies.

    I have played ’em all, and, it only being a month into the game, can say that Mythic and WAR are doing a good job of keeping my attention. WAR is not WoW. WoW was not EQ, nor UO, but both EQ, EQ2, UO, and (add list of games here) are still generating profit and fun. Nothing will ever beat “The Good Old Days,” so all you new gamers are pretty much screwed that WoW was your cherry-popper, if you’re going to hold everything up to it. You’re missing out on a lot of other games that led up to WoW in the first place. To be honest, there is a lot of content in WoW that is based on Warhammer cliches, from a time when the two weren’t competing at all, and were instead fans of each other.

    Ah, the rantings of the old, how I used to hate them. Find a game you have fun playing, and play it. Fun. Game.

  18. Cecilia says:

    Thank you for the wonderfully thought-out post. Glad to see you “back”, so to speak. :)

  19. Zubon says:

    I like Werit’s stable notion. I’m not thrilled with EA, but I might be interested in a multi-pass option.

  20. syncaine says:

    Cecilia, we can’t always be stable and happy right? Nerd rage hits us all at times.

    As for an EA/MMO deal, it could work, given a few key titles (SW and WAR are a good start), and a few ‘I would play if it was free’ type of titles.

  21. brindle says:

    If the game was better, maybe more of the WoW crowd would stay; and so would many of the old-guard DaoC guys. Personally, I find the game mediocre at best. I can play counter-strike etc for free if meanigless 10×10 deathmatch is what i wanted (scenarios), and do so without the cesspool of CC that Warhammer has at T4.

    I played DaoC for over a year before the thought of the long level grind for a new character drove me away. I played WoW for 6 months before the end-game 24 man raid for gear mechanic drove me away. I’ll play Warhammer for 3 months until my pre-sub expires. Sorry, it is just not a good PvP game.

  22. Tony H. says:

    Having a huge inital spike of numbers and the big drop off can kill a project. Investors might argue that Mythic failed to properly deliver, if they lose so many players on the first month. When the reality is that it has very little to do with the game and more so with players habits which are not controllable.

    I’m not saying that War was perfect in it’s execution though, obviously the game has lots of little problems. But I don’t think it’s just the design of the game that has people leaving. I suspect it’s got some to do with players trends of late.

    Well, I hope things go well for War in the near future, I know I’ll be playing till at least the end of December.

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