MMO growth after release in the post-WoW market

Whenever you debate a topic concerning MMOs, it’s a safe bet someone is going to bring up EVE and show you a counter-example to whatever you are trying to say. Impact PvP does not work: EVE. Complex economies are impossible in an MMO: EVE. Sci-Fi is not a profitable setting for an MMO: EVE. You must have a class-based game: EVE. And finally, and today’s topic, an MMO peaks and then slowly declines over time: EVE.

The problem with that last example is, up until recently, EVE was the ONLY example of a bad launch followed by noticeable and continued growth. I know Anarchy Online did it, but to such a lesser extent it’s hard to use it as another example. UO, EQ1, AC, DAoC, SWG, etc, all hit a peak and then declined. Expansions would renew interest, but never back to the original peak, and those past MMOs went into ‘cash cow’ mode with more limited support and updates.

LotRO had a very good launch, and at the time was considered a solid title. The problem was it was solid at doing what WoW was doing VERY well, PvE. The game never delivered on the hype of the LotR setting being a license to print money, and even LotRO’s own pre-release advertising of “join millions of players”, and shortly after launch was not considered a success. Yet with its recent expansion, LotRO by all accounts has grown and established its own spot in the MMO space, separating itself from WoW in both community and features. It’s not exactly EVE’s 5 years of growth, but it’s still a major MMO gaining players after its initial peak.

Titles like EQ2 and Vanguard have also seen renewed interest after disappointing launches, if not exactly LotRO or EVE growth.

As with the WoW tourist that now hit any new MMO, I believe WoW also contributes a second type of player; ones brought into MMO gaming by WoW, but who also go out and look into other titles. The difference between this group and the tourists is they ARE looking for something other than WoW, either having burned through WoW’s content or simply wanting something complex/different/not neon. The problem for the industry as a whole is that the tourists heavily outnumber the ‘potential MMOer’, yet those players are out there thanks to WoW. The other challenge is those recent WoW players go into other games expecting 5 years of MMO patching in a new game, and don’t tolerate crashing or bugs (despite coming from an MMO which had similar issues during its own launch). These unrealistic expectations no doubt help create more tourists than future fans.

The long and short of it is that in the current market, we can expect a few things to happen with any new MMO. Pre-launch hype (both company and fan created) that ultimately won’t live up to expectations. A launch with both core fans and tourists, likely rougher thanks to the over-abundance of players. The ‘bitch and whine’ phase as tourists leave because magically MMO X was in fact, not WoW, stopping by the forums to post look-at-me “I quit” posts. They also take their guild/friends/cat with them, because they are ‘kind of a big deal’ and really influential. At this point two things can happen. Either your MMO goes the way of NCSoft and gets canned regardless of its inevitable potential, or goes the EVE/LotRO/EQ2 path and maintains its core player base, improves its game, and reaches its potential, which was never to be a WoW-killer but a profitable venture.

WAR is currently in the post-tourist phase. The attention-whores have made their ‘I quit’ posts, the forum trolls have moved on from the forums (mostly), and WAR is making its way towards its final potential. It’s not there yet, and even the most optimistic people know it’s a good 2-3 MAJOR patches away. Unless you just outright HATE PvP (and that’s cool), people can see that WAR has a solid base to build from. The engine works well for PvP, the classes are interesting, the setting/theme fits, etc. Lets hope EA sees it that way as well, and gives Mythic the time it needs to make the necessary changes and tweaks, rather than shut it down and waste a ton of potential.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Dark Age of Camelot, DDO, EQ2, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to MMO growth after release in the post-WoW market

  1. Werit says:

    Time and the Internet do not get along. Sure Eve is good, but it is also 5 years old as you mentioned. It was not always this way.

  2. Thallian says:

    I totally hope it doesn’t get canned. The western world needs more pvp oriented fantasy MMO’s to be sure. At the same time, I wont play it since I’m tired of bugs/grinding/lack of plot/and stuff. I imagine though if the players stick with it enough it will pull through just fine.

  3. Jason says:

    Did you see the news about BoB alliance vanishing? Insider action destroyed the alliance framework, now their entire space is up for grabs. EvE may be old, but it’s not boring. Not that I’m going back for a while… I keep watching your posts on WAR and it temps me…

  4. syncaine says:

    Yea I saw the BoB news, crazy stuff. Another epic storyline in am MMO, far above anything else happening in the market. WoW might be expanding the market in terms of users, but EVE is certainly pushing the genre in terms of ideas and concepts.

  5. Einherjer says:

    That’s it… I’m definitely going WAR.
    Please ask EA for your commission, Syncaine, for this is mostly due to your posting.
    Hope i can find a box tomorrow.

  6. syncaine says:

    Go Destro on Monolith and join Casualties of WAR. Fun casual environment, and we might blog about you, haha.

  7. Nat says:

    How large to you actually think this WOW tourist population is?

    WAR sold 1.2 million copies (per EA Q3 quarterly report).

    WOW has what 5 million in NA and Europe. LotRO has around 350k subs by most estimations. EVE has 300k, EQ2 has 250k, AoC has 50k (maybe), EQ still has maybe 200k and there are many that I didn’t even list, DAoC, AC, SWG, Vanguard, PotBS, FFX1, Wizard 101 and so on.

    Now I think it is safe to say that not all of the 1.2 million people came to WAR from WOW. I’m sure all these games had players who checked it out, I bet there were a good number of people not playing a MMORPG at WAR’s launch that came to check it out (I was one of those).

    What percentage of that 1.2 do you think came from WOW?

    I’m not sure you theory that it was all the WOW tourists that came, tried it out and left holds water. I think to be honest they came from all over, found a game that was no very fun and left. I also think you are buying into this idea of a WOW tourist too much. This mythical player who has only played WOW and came to WOW after all the bugs and server issues were hammered out long ago (Oh wait, WOW still has ques, servers that melt, patches that blow the game up (had a recent one of those), bugs that can’t be found and balance issues).

    Of the percentage that came from WOW how many were the WOW tourists?

    It seems like you are desperately wanting to blame things on a group of players that I don’t think even came to WAR in great numbers. WAR attracted a lot of veteran MMORPG players who found it lacking and left in droves, going back to all the MMORPG’s they had been playing (and not just WOW).

    Just my 2 cents.

  8. Einherjer says:

    That would be great Syncain if i didn’t lived in the Netherlands. Thanks for the invite, though. ;)

  9. Swift Voyager says:

    While I agree that people leave WoW and try other games, I’m not sure I agree that they go back to WoW because they discover that MMO x isn’t WoW.

    I think it probably has more to do with the investment they already have in WoW compared to the investment they have in the new MMO, and the fact that most people won’t maintain two MMO subscriptions for very long. Why would I want to spend 4 years building up my WoW characters and making friends there, then change to another game and leave my friends and characters behind?

  10. Swift Voyager says:

    Oh, and to Nat: You’re absolutely right. I play Eve, but I stopped for a few months to play Wizard 101, and now I’m back into Eve. However, syncain is also right because you can safely assume that a certain percentage of any MMO’s players will be tourists in other games. Since WoW has more players, that percentage means that more of the tourists in a given MMO will be from WoW. The thing that makes the WoW tourists special is that quite a few of them really haven’t tried anything else. My brother tried Eve but complained quite a bit, then went back to WoW.

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  12. Coubo says:

    I have read a lot of comment recently (including the one in this article) that “WoW was not stable at launch” or “WoW had issues at launch”. Well I played WoW’s open beta then at launch (and quite intensively – was 2nd level 60 on the server) and I can hardly remember crashing at any point. There was a (very) little number of quests (something like 1%) which were bugged and the mechanics were very far from the degree of polishness they are today but it was very stable.

  13. Nat says:


    I don’t think the idea that WOW tourists have not really tried anything else hold water either. Take your brother for example, he tried EVE so it’s not like he has zero experience with anything but WOW. If (by definition) these WOW tourists only have experience with WOW then they are not tourists. If we are going to believe they try out all these new games then they do have a lot of experience with MMORPG’s (due to trying all the new ones).

    If what you are saying is that WOW is the only serious game they have ever played then I could agree with that. But does this really matter? As I recall Brent (VW) has said many times the last game he played seriously was EQ. He often talks about how he never gets a max level character in MMORPG’s – does this make him an EQ tourist? Or is part of the definition that these players go back to WOW instead of quitting the genre or playing less seriously?

    Sorry, I just don’t buy this idea that WOW tourists are some kind of locust that make these games fail. That they are so conditioned that if something is not 100% WOW they hate it.

    This idea seems to go hand in hand with the idea that WOW is the fast food of MMORPG’s and that it is somehow easy compared to other games and people want that more than anything.

    WAR is way easier than WOW and much more accessible. People tend to forget that WOW still has many ‘old school’ MMORPG trappings that new games don’t. WOW has corpse runs, item durability, slow travel and many such things.

  14. Nat says:


    What server were you on?

    I was on Skullcrusher (US) and that thing went down almost daily. Tuesdays had 12 hour downtimes a lot. Crazy loot lag, Zeppelins that would disappear about 25% of the time dropping you in the ocean, falling through the world, a lot of stuff like that. We used to run to get into instances when the other continent would go down before the continent we were on would crash. The instance servers seem independent of the actual server.

    I got weeks of free game time from the reimbursements Blizzard would give do to downtime.

    It was a mess for months.

  15. Swift Voyager says:

    Sorry Nat, I was in a hurry when I posted so it was kinda a fragment rather than a complete post.

    My brother tried Eve because he heard about the expansion they had done at that time. When he started playing Eve, that was the first time he had tried an MMO besides WoW. He brought 4 of his RL friends with him. His friends had also never tried another MMO besides WoW. They had been playing WoW for 2 or 3 years. They still play WoW and none of them have tried another MMO since their Eve expirement. They only played eve for about 3 months, so I hardly think they got to experience it fully.

    You can see other examples of WoW tourists in the blogging community. There’s lots of blogs that talk about WoW regularly, and will temporarily change to each new MMO when it’s released. Then they change back to WoW after two or three months.

  16. Swift Voyager says:

    It’s really annoying that we can’t edit posts.

    Nat, about tourists (wow or others) leading to the collapse of new MMO’s: I don’t think it’s the tourists themselves. I believe it’s a lack of planning and a failure of the game financiers to understand the tourist phenomenon. They don’t have realistic expectations of what it takes to open a new MMO and then grow it into a viable and sustainable service business over the lengthy time periods that it takes. Game investment has been accustomed to getting 90% of ROI shortly after release. They just aren’t conditioned for the 5 year plan needed for an MMO or any other service business with high start-up costs.

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  18. Dink says:

    I think there is a large group NOT tied to their avatar in WoW. There is a large group tired of WoW and are willing to move to the new MMO, is just needs to do it better than WoW.

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