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.