The cult of MMO; Why it’s good to be a fanboi.

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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Darkfall Online, EVE Online, MMO design, Rant, Rift, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The cult of MMO; Why it’s good to be a fanboi.

  1. Gankalicious says:

    I’m not the first to say this but MMO games are designed on interaction- even if it is limited or you prefer to solo. As part of my Sandbox Challenge I am trying some games which are quite dated. I am currently playing Ryzom and though I am indeed, having fun, the world is very empty.

    I love to solo, but the world feels empty, which, to me, feels wrong. In most cases I’ll group up when I have to, or when the opportunity arises (PQ’s, Rifts, whatever) but when that option is not there you really do notice it.

    Should we care about the health of a game? Yes. A good number of happy players allows for the game to be realized to its full potential and encourages developers to continue to grow and maintain the game. Will they sacrifice profits in the process- of course not, but that is the nature of the beast, as it were, and without them and their drive for profit we would not see any new games :)

  2. Zapod says:

    I still think Tabula Rasa was shut down prematurely. Obviously I wasn’t privy to final subscription figures but surely there must have been at least 50K+ still playing it.

  3. Bhagpuss says:

    Taking your WoW example, that’s very much a two-edged sword. You often mention how preferable WOW gameplay was when it started to what it later became. Had it only kept a playerbase of 200,000, which would have made it an established, moderate success by the standards of its day, perhaps development would have continued to follow much more closely to that original gameplay.

    Taking the issue of low population and what happens for those who don’t leave when almost everyone else does, there’s also some light and shade to be considered. I think you have to assume that those who are staying *are* satisfied with the game they’re playing (even if they do nothing but complain about it, as they usually do). They are paying and staying, when all’s said and done.

    They might well be better off with the game they have, struggling and underdeveloped as it may be, than they would be in a game made more attractive to those who have left. There are limits, of course. The game does have to turn sufficient profit to stay in business or you no-one can play it. But if that means just a server or two rather than dozens, for those who elect to stay that might be a good deal.

    My selfish view is that when I find a new MMO that I like I want it to be a bit successful but not very. The perfect situation for my needs would be that the game retains pretty much exactly the number of servers it started with, the population has little churn and the playerbase that starts with the game sticks with it, but no great numbers come in to join them.

    Above all, however, I want developers who know what game they want to make and would rather make that game at a moderate level of success than change their game just to attract more people.

    • SynCaine says:

      WoW is an odd exception for me because the bigger it got, the worst it got (for me). Obviously Bliz got more subs, so going all out on ‘accessible’ was better for the bottom line, but it turned myself and my guildmates away.

      It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had WoW stopped growing at 500k or so. Crazy stuff like working world PvP and actual hero classes might be in the game, rather than the DF, sparkle ponies, and cross-server everything.

Comments are closed.