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.