MMO success has been the topic of a few blogs, mostly inspired by Rift’s successful launch and predictions of what will happen next. Will it WAR or will it WoW? Readers here will know I’m leaning more toward WoW than WAR, but really that question will answer itself in the coming months, so we might as well just wait and see.
What I do want to talk about is the more general topic of MMO success, what it means for different parties, and why you should care. I’ve seen many state that success to them is as simple as “am I having fun?”, which works on an individual level but also fails when talking about MMOs. No matter how much fun I might have had with Tabula Rasa, that game did fail for everyone since you can no longer play it. This is very different from any other genre. If I think “random single player game X” is the worlds greatest game, and I’m the only one who bought it, the game is still a success for me, while it’s a total failure for everyone else. At worst, I won’t see patches or a sequel, but I can still play what I originally bought as often as I please.
And while an MMO shutting down is the worst case scenario, even a game not being ‘popular enough’ can hurt your enjoyment of it if server populations are low or the general in-game opinion is overly negative. What if WoW topped out at 200k subs? That would still be enough to keep the servers up and the Bliz devs recycling content, but would the current UI look anything like it does today? Without that massive audience, would all of those top-tier modders have flocked to WoW to create the game’s UI? Would raid encounters play out like they do today had decursive or other raiding mods never been created? Perhaps most importantly, would the ‘mass market’ model for an MMO be what we today refer to as WoW-clone? Or, assuming everything else stays the same, would we be seeing EVE-clones from devs trying to match the 300k+ subs that CCP has as the leading sub-based MMO?
The definition of success for a gaming company is also very different. If they turn a nice profit on a title, it’s a footnote that 99% of the players hate the game and it shuts down three months later. Sure, everyone would love to have an MMO with the sub base of WoW, the longevity of UO, or the continued growth of EVE, but if you turn a $100m investment into a $150m profit, you have succeeded on the corporate level. It might suck for the dev team that just got laid off, but as a corporate entity the title was still judged a success, and considered a “would do again” experience.
What about success for a company like Aventurine (Darkfall) or eGenesis (A Tale in the Desert)? From day one they both knew they would not reach the mass market and attain 12m+ subs. They knew most players, even MMO gamers, would not be attracted to what they offer. Yet they still produce what they produce, stick to their core ideas rather than make massive changes to become more ‘accessible’, and if the devs get paid and the servers stay up, they consider what they do a success, especially because they genuinely love what they do.
In other words, it’s perfectly rational that fans of an MMO hope for the games success, and evaluate more than just “am I having fun?” when considering whether to stick with a title or not. There are extremes of course, with people who simply hate a game to hate it (hi haters), or people who will claim MMO X is gods gift up to and beyond the day the servers shut down, but overall players SHOULD care about the health of an MMO or how the devs/company are doing. When things go well for the game/company, things generally get better for the player as well. And when a game struggles, it either gets Auto Assaulted, trammel’ed, or NGE’ed. Hard to just have fun when that happens to your MMO of choice.