I’m a bit late on this one, but Eric from ElderGame has a long and detailed breakdown of why WoW is currently being run by the B-team, adding his own experience as a former dev on AC2. It’s a great read and is a nice look behind the curtain of MMO development.
It also got me thinking about what other MMO titles saw the ‘B-team’ effect. UO-R comes to mind, as many regard that expansion is the point where UO fundamentally changed from the game it launched as in 1997. Another somewhat obvious release would be ToA for DAoC, which Mythic has admitted as being a total disaster (glad you repeated it with LotD, but that’s another post). SWG of course had its NGE, which might be the biggest mistake in MMO history, at least in regards to how it was received by the fan base at that time. And I’m sure more examples exist, as the MMO genre is ripe with ‘epic fail’ moments.
What confuses me somewhat is WHY a company would place its B-team to take over a successful MMO. I understand from a personnel aspect people want to work on something new, but if I’m Blizzard, would it not make more financial sense to keep those 5 million people subbed to WoW (and bring back the countless millions who have quit over the years) than to risk that at the expense of getting the next MMO in top shape? I mean, best case scenario is Blizzard’s new MMO is as big as WoW right, and I doubt even Blizzard really thinks their next game is going to hit the level of success WoW has. Since those 5 million customers today are paying just as much as those in 2004 (or more given all the extra fluff you can now buy), why would you drop the level of service/quality and basically start the games decline?
One possible reason is that regardless of how great a game is, at some point people simply want something/anything different. As great as WoW is/was for PvE questing, even huge PvE fans eventually want something different just for a change of pace, so no amount of expansions or content increases is going to satisfy them, even if that content is developed by the original A-team that made the game great. But total burnout aside (and the genre has shown that people have a VERY high tolerance for ‘more of the same’ before true burnout sets in), what other reason would a company have to move on from something currently successful and on to something that is always going to be a gamble? (SOE and everyone else thought EQ2 was going to be a sure-fire hit, and we know how that initially turned out)
As with many design-related questions, one answer always lies within EVE. As the only MMO with significant continual growth over a five year period, EVE is a good model on how to keep people interested for a long time, and how best to design in order to stem burnout. All three of EVE’s aspects (PvP, PvE, Econ) are both separate and yet interrelated, which along with its one-world setup keeps everyone connected. Econ guy profits from PvP destroying ships, PvE guy has the money to spend on the market, and the PvP crowd controls the highest-value territory in the game. They might not clash head-to-head often, but each side affects the other at all times, and as each aspect is itself a game within the game, a player can go from being a PvP pirate to a market mogul and find a completely different game while still paying his $15 a month to CCP. For their part, CCP continues to develop EVE as fast today has they did back in 2003 (if not faster), and someone who was big into PvE in 2007 will find 2009 PvE in EVE a totally different experience, again slowing the overall burnout rate.
While WoW is a totally different beast than EVE, I’m sure the A-team that created vanilla Azeroth could create SOMETHING to keep people interested in 2010, without the need to launch a totally different game. How many people would return to WoW if Blizzard updated the graphics engine to DX10 standards like EVE did? How many would return if a 3rd faction was added with a brand new 1-80 experience? Both are more than doable even at Blizzard-dev speed, so why is Blizzard (and all the other companies that move the A-team off a successful MMO) sending in the B-team to initiate a slow death/decline of a game in a genre that is all about longevity?