Today’s post is somewhat of a continuation from yesterday, because what I’ve heard/read is fascinating in so many ways.

According to more than one commentator here, the themepark side of the MMO genre is doing just fine, and all but Blizzard would wish they had the problems SW:TOR has with its ‘1.4m subs’. Also the fact that WoW is declining was both expected and still OK.

On the other hand, you have certain analysts and bloggers calling the recent events surrounding SW:TOR and 38 studios as the death of the genre as a whole.

Jester believes the problem is that $15 a month per player is just not enough to make the business work, while also believing that the market for MMOs is indeed 10s of millions, rather than the hundreds of thousands that every game but one has managed to retain.

Unrelated but related, Jester also believes EVE’s growth problem (a growth ‘problem’ I’m pretty sure every MMO would like to have) is that the game is not attracting new players, but rather that vets just keep buying more alts. At the same time, we have Mittens talking about how there are too many soft noobs in EVE, who just now are potentially ruining the game with their carebear noobishness. Luckily we have the goons working on that problem!

And you would think that SW:TOR impaling itself on the 4th pillar would put an end to that nonsense, yet TESO devs are selling us a 100% solo-story for their upcoming game. Oh and it will have PvP. And be a themepark that looks like WoW. Yup.

So yes, opinions vary. Interesting stuff to be sure.

And I still contend that if you can’t make $18m in annual revenue work (100k subs), you are doing something wrong, but that’s a different post.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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48 Responses to Opinions

  1. thade says:

    Still boggles my mind that the pitch for TESO seems to be “all of the pomp and none of the circumstance of our previous titles”. That feels “investor driven” more than it feels “designer driven”.

    • saucelah says:

      I think you’ve nailed it. I’m a HUGE fan of Extra Credits over at Penny Arcade TV, and they often talk about publishers and investors that will see a successful game and decide to make one in the same genre, without actually asking themselves why that title was successful beyond saying “it was a third person action game, so let’s make a third person action game.” God of War -> Dante’s Inferno, GTA 3 -> True Crime LA, etc

      In the MMO genre, that means WoW clones, but I think Syncaine is on to something for saying that it wasn’t the mechanics other companies are aping that made WoW successful — clearly it’s not, or SW:TOR would be the only title EA wants to talk about. There were a lot of factors that led to WoW’s success, and the surface elements seemingly, from the failure of other games with those elements, were much less important than other factors.

      • thade says:

        I don’t know anybody involved in that racket…maybe investors who are all-in with WoW see it slowly running down and want something else; maybe investors who didn’t get in on WoW are looking for a contender to make them that kind of bank. Maybe they should all snap out of it and realize the theme park market is glutted beyond capacity and that all that choice – all those options – mean that there can’t ever really be a WoW again unless it really breaks a tremendous amount of new ground. (Hint: to break tremendous new ground, they need to not make another theme park.)

        Every single interview I’ve seen about TESO states pretty clearly that the intend to break zero new ground.

        Honestly I don’t see TESO fitting the MMO market and I wish they’d just drop it and put those funds elsewhere. Seeing yet another company try to crowbar their way into an already over-subcribed market is frustrating.

        • adam says:

          I disagree. I’m starting to think there’s a much simpler explanation for why WoW is still, 8 years on, the success that it is: WoW is a good game and its clones are not.

          If the problem were glut of choice, then you wouldn’t see so many people sticking with WoW–they’d eventually try something new and WoW wouldn’t still be the behemoth it is. If WoW’s success were simply because it “broke new ground,” then the new games that take WoW’s formula and add new stuff would, we can reasonably expect, be more successful than having to settle for orders of magnitude less subscribers than WoW.

          In terms of mechanics, presentation, aesthetics (not graphics, that’s different), WoW is better. SWTOR is not a good game. It’s just not. The engine is a technical mess, the design decisions are all over the map and apart from the voiceovers and the story, its features and gameplay are on part with WoW circa 2005.

          As for the rest of the clones. They’re worse than even SWTOR.

          P.S: I think WoW is a soulless monstrosity.

        • thade says:

          Slightly off-topic, I respectfully disagree insofar as SW:TOR; I stand by my assertions that 1. it’s the pinnacle of the theme park MMO genre and 2. WoW has dramatically shifted to cater to a demographic that is not the traditional gaming core.

          People go back to WoW because – for a great many – it was their first MMO and it’s familiar ground; they have literal years of their lives “invested” into their characters. They get tired of it and try others; sometimes they like what they see and stick it out. More often, they don’t appreciate or enjoy the differences (or there aren’t any) and they go back.

          There are a lot of less-than-mediocre spin-offs on the genre; easily too many. It’s like this whole “We’re re-re-re-making Spiderman” scene, where the movie industry is just doing reboots as they either fear or plain don’t have new ideas.

          I’d like to see the bigger studios take, not bigger, but different risks; making a big ol’ theme park MMO is a huge risk. Honestly, it’s so huge, I find myself assuming they do it because they still don’t understand WoW’s success. I’d prefer to see them gun for smaller nice audiences and make some more creative games. TESO has a unique position to do this and they are utterly squandering it.

        • SynCaine says:

          While I obviously disagree about SW:TOR, isn’t it alarming to you that if SW:TOR is the best themepark, and it’s dying already, that the entire themepark ‘thing’ has no future?

        • thade says:

          I don’t think it’s dying, so…no.

          They hired a massive staff to get the game boot-strapped; launched with a metric ton of leveling content, solid co-op gameplay, and a lot of polish. When it comes down to it, do they have demand that requires that large of a staff to pump out content and fixes? No, they do not. Their staff was huuuuuge and now they have all sorts of assets, tools, and standards in place set as a development foundation. They can live without the people they dropped; that’s just business, harsh as it is.

          That doesn’t mean they’re dying; it means their budget got cut to increase profit margins; that’s the side effect of being backed by a large, publicly traded company.

          That said, I do agree that the theme park genre’s well past the limit. I’d like to see more creative choices in design and some more interesting risks. A new genre would be nice.

    • Chris K. says:

      TESO has a pitch?

  2. Yeah, TESO seems to be trying to scratch an itch nobody has. Nobody, that is, except some late blooming senior exec and/or board member somewhere who just found out about the whole $15 a month thing just recently. Either that, or they put a bunch of potential features in a hat and went with the first six they drew.

    At some point somebody… Bartle I think… said we need a Diku-like environment with some standard art and zones that is cheap to host and easy to edit so that a much wider group of people can explore the potential of MMOs, because the message right now seems to be that once millions of dollars are involved investors will demand safe choices.

    • SynCaine says:

      How can spending hundreds of millions to get WAR/AoC/SW:TOR-like results be considered a ‘safe choice’ these days…

      • I said millions, not hundreds of millions. And WoW continues to be insanely profitable, so will continue to lure people in with the idea that being WoW is a safe choice. There will always be somebody who feels they know the secret formula that everybody else has missed.

        But even if the safe choice these days is “don’t waste money on an MMO,” where does that leave us?

        • SynCaine says:

          A part of my post that I cut out was trying to blogger-math up how $50m should get you more than enough MMO to get 100k+ subs and go from there. It included that Minecraft was made by one guy, blablabla blogger-math.

          Granted, there must be a reason we are still waiting for more people to do it, but maybe in 2013.

  3. Ryan says:

    Sorry, but why are they trying to make TESO?

    Skyrim has a half-finished multiplayer mod that acts like guild wars, insofar as instancing about the world with other players you team up with in town.

    It’ll be finished quite soon, actually.

    Hell, Bethesda could have made a DLC for something like that and made buckets of cash.

  4. cailais says:

    Some great points and I guess it’s the eternal problem EVE has: dumb down to appeal to the main stream or create a better, niche, game.


    • SynCaine says:

      The multi-million fallacy is believing the first option is indeed an option that works. So far, brief Incarna disaster aside, CCP has been smarter than the average dev.

      • Matt says:

        Of course it works. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done badly. “Dumbing Down” is just a pejorative way to say “broadening appeal”. It also doesn’t mean that it works infinitely. There is a cap.

        Bloggers make this harder than it needs to be. WoW lost subscribers because Cataclysm was a bad expansion.

        • Rammstein says:

          “Of course it works. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done badly. ”

          Absent specific descriptions of causative mechanisms, your argument comes across as a variety of: “if a miracle did not occur, then you did not pray hard enough”.

          If you actually have a reasoned argument as to why some types of dumbing down, or attempts to broaden appeal work, and why some don’t, then by all means, make it.

        • Matt says:

          Causative mechanism? Is that a joke? When things appeal to more people, more people are interested. When this is done badly, the intended new audience is uninterested.

          There are innumerable examples of this in the world. WoW is one of them. It is not as though the game began with 12 million players.

        • Rammstein says:

          “When things appeal to more people, more people are interested. When this is done badly, the intended new audience is uninterested. ”

          Sorry, I’m done with your kindergarten level tautologies, however ironically self-referential they might be. Ciao.

        • Xyloxan says:

          Matt, could you please give an example or two of games that were “dumbed down” and gained in popularity? I’m really interested.

        • adam says:

          WoW certainly “broadened appeal” by making it easier to raid starting with TBC. That was a good decision in my opinion and the numbers seem to have borne that out (if not in subscriber numbers, at least in how many people actually participated in that part of the game). Was that a “dumbing down”? Who knows. That term is meaningless because it means something different to everyone.

          A better question is if a game is interesting, fun and appropriately challenging to a desired number of consumers. If you make a game “more accessible” by lowering the barrier of entry to certain activities and hope by this to gain more previously locked-out players, you balance that against the lessened challenge or lessened elite-status potentially driving out already-privileged players. WoW’s recent history would seem to indicate that significantly raising a previously lowered barrier of entry is not a wise decision. A majority of WoW’s subscribers, it would seem, are not interested in a challenge much past simply showing up in order to get above-average rewards.

          If that makes it a dumbed down experience, so be it. I would, however, argue that any game which equates pure logistics and scripted, memorizable encounters with “challenge” is in desperate need of a new design department.

        • kalex716 says:

          WoW’s quest based solo progression would be viewed today as a dumbing down of EQ’s camp style grinding with complex group compositions.

          Also, Minecraft would be a great example of a dumbed down version of Wurm online… One is hugely hugely successfull today, the other no one has even heard of.

        • Rammstein says:

          “WoW’s quest based solo progression would be viewed today as a dumbing down of EQ’s camp style grinding with complex group compositions.”

          Why are you using the subjunctive? It “would be viewed today” if what additional condition were true? Or do you mean to say just that it “is viewed today”…in which case, I disagree with you, that isn’t the majority view. If we restrict ourself to the case of WoW itself, as WoW was dumbed down it lost subscribers. Cherry picking parts of one game to parts of another game, 8 years apart, is completely irrelevant to what we’re talking about here. We’re looking for examples of a single game, that was dumbed down, and then soon thereafter gained success. comparing games inspired by other games 2 decades ago is a completely different situation.

          “Also, Minecraft would be a great example of a dumbed down version of Wurm online… One is hugely hugely successfull today, the other no one has even heard of.”

          I’m sorry, but minecraft, a single player sandbox game focusing on mining and described by the creator himself as being proximately inspired by infiniminer, is a version of the MMO Wurm Online how? Because the creator of minecraft worked on Wurm online and they both allow terrain modification? What’s next, the Iphone is a dumbed down version of the Apple Lisa?

        • kalex716 says:


          I don’t really like the whole notion of calling anything a “dumbed down” version of another.

          And my WoW point isn’t particularly a strong one, I’ll give you that.

          However, I play a lot of Wurm and I have to honestly say, Minecraft is everything Wurm is if you were trying to make a much more accessible, instantly gratifying version of it right down to the java client they both launch from. Its all grid/cell based, teraforming, mining, resource gathering, create the things you need to interact from the environment, exploring, building sandboxy goodness. One is so much easier to get into than the other… Which server do you play on?

          And sure, you can say how Minecraft is a SP game, and Wurm is an MMO in a traditional sense, but i would bet Buxville on some nights has more people logged into it than some of the Wurm servers have…

          I don’t have a pony in this race to be honest, but someone asked for an example of a game thats been dumbed down and wildly successfull, and Minecraft from Wurm has a lot of merit that i think you’re ignoring.

        • SynCaine says:

          I don’t really know if I’d call Minecraft a dumbed down Wurm though. Sure, its much easier to do ‘something’ in Minecraft, and I think that’s why it sells so well. But to really do something of value in either game, you need to put in the time, and at that level Minecraft is no ‘dumber’ than Wurm IMO.

          In other words, I’d say Minecraft is a more accessible (not the WoW kind) version, but not dumbed down due to the fact that both games ultimately require a creative and ‘hard working’ player to reap the rewards.

        • kalex716 says:

          Great point Syn.

          The line can be thin though between quality design decisions that make things smarter in terms of accessibility, and with what we audience go on to say begrudgingly is “dumbed down”. Ultimately, the grind in Wurm is really the biggest differentiator between the two. It takes mere seconds to carve into a mtn in minecraft, which can take hours in Wurm but isn’t significantly more complex either….

          You won’t find a lot of Wurm players who wouldn’t laugh and call Minecraft “EZMode” in comparison though. But thats kinda why i don’t like the idiom, it seems way too loaded down with baggage these days for us to even intelligently discuss what it really means with respects to design choices games are making.

        • Aerynne says:

          I don’t know the numbers, so I am speculating, but EQ2 was arguably dumbed down from how it launched (death penalty removed, more insta-travel added, quest givers given little feathers, etc.) and I am pretty sure it gained players after that.

        • Aerynne says:

          Oh, and before Rammstein unleashes on me, I offer no “causative mechanism” but am merely responding to Xyloxan’s request for an “example or two of games that were “dumbed down” and gained in popularity.” Certainly, other factors were at play.

        • Rammstein says:

          “death penalty removed, more insta-travel added, quest givers given little feathers, etc.”

          Those changes are exactly the kind of plausibly causative factors that I was noting that the prior poster omitted , actually.

          @kalex : “I don’t really like the whole notion of calling anything a “dumbed down” version of another.”

          It’s not a wonderful concept, and not the phrase I would have used, but no one has so far advanced an alternative.

          Single player games let you have a lot more impact, in a shorter amount of time, than MMO’s do. I hesitate to lump that genre difference into the ‘dumbing down’ category, but that seems to be exactly what you are focusing on. “Ultimately, the grind in Wurm is really the biggest differentiator between the two. ” But to a prospective player, that grind isn’t even mentioned, 98% of the information presented is about the various MMO complexities of classes and spell systems. This introduces a huge confound into the comparison, it’s hard for us to know which is the relevant factor.

        • Xyloxan says:

          @Aerynne: I’ve never played EQ2 but I take your word for it. The reason I asked is that of the games I’ve played over the last 2 decades or so I couldn’t recall any games that became more successful after being “dumbed down”.

  5. brainclutter says:

    Honestly, I just started playing my old MUD again for a few hours per week. We need more players. Check out (#connect mume.org 4242). It’s based on Lord of the Rings They now have a visual mapper for it so you don’t even need to have area knowledge to play! :P

  6. theJexster says:

    Poor TESO, I just saw a vid where they proudly talked about the combat system they innovated, sadly it’s the same one GW2 happens to have so they just sounded out of touch…like most MMO producers these days.

  7. carson63000 says:

    Hang on, is your take on the fact that WoW is declining that it was not expected? Or not OK? Or both?

    Expected.. look, I know you think they have made some poor decisions that have hurt their base. But I would argue that you can’t EXPECT a game to not be in decline 7.5 years after release. I think that’s backed up by the fact that EVE appears to be the one game that hasn’t been. If only one person can do it, it’s pretty unexpected, surely?

    And as for OK.. as I understand it, WoW has been hovering around the $1 billion per year revenue mark for much of its lifespan. Seems that that would make it not just the biggest earning game of all time but up there with the biggest earning entertainment properties of all time? To be declining (from, what, $1b to $900m per annum?), after 7.5 years, with new hotness like the fastest selling PC game in history here to bolster Blizzard’s fortunes.. I think that IS probably OK.

    • SynCaine says:

      Expected: Why can’t WoW today be the best looking/performing MMO out with content way ahead of everyone else? Blizzard has the cash, and supposedly they have the resources/talent. Just saying “well it’s been 7 years, time to let it die” is weak IMO.

      OK: So instead of making 1.1b+, 900m is ok because hey, 900m! Again, weak IMO.

      WoW was huge pre-WotLK right? Why did Blizzard bother back then? Game was already out 3 years, made a lot of money, time to let it die. Point being, 7 years is no better an excuse than 3 or 10 years.

      If Titan was right around the corner, and Blizzard expected Titan to replace WoW, ok, I get it. But that’s not what we are seeing from Titan (what little we are).

      • thade says:

        WoW can’t be the best ever because they squandered resources on redesigning the combat system from the ground up over half a dozen times; resources that could’ve been spent on content. :\ They did change their demographic dramatically over the years (incase the giant playable panda bears weren’t a sign) so the road from Burning Crusade to WotLK was a reactive one…not really plannin ahead there.

        Given the way D3 works as a social game, I kind of expect Titan – whatever the setting is – to function much like that. Designed so you can see most of the content solo, but can very easily play with friends, and – of course – a real-cash auction house they can scrape off the top of.

        They keep saying it will be able to “coexist with WoW”, which tells me it’s “not a theme park MMO”. So, that’s good.

        Calling it now: in four to six years we’ll see dozens of companies trying to copy Titan’s design.

        One big reason CCP can stick to its guns and make “non-standard” (sad that term makes sense here) choices is because they’re privately owned. No uninformed power-wielding investors = people who are informed are calling the shots in all cases.

        Makes me want to browse Kickstarter.

      • Azuriel says:

        “Why can’t WoW today be the best looking/performing MMO out with content way ahead of everyone else?”

        1) They are already #1. How much farther ahead can you get?
        2) It wasn’t necessary up to this point, so why start now?
        3) There are diminishing returns on investing money into a project. More money didn’t make SWTOR better, why would WoW be different?

        Seriously, just ask the same questions of CCP. Why are they spending all this money and development time on Dust and World of Darkness when all of that could have been funneled into EVE instead?

        • Chris K. says:

          RE: They are already #1. How much farther ahead can you get?

          1. WoW is far from being the “best looking MMO”. Saying that they couldn’t spend a few of those millions to update the engine to 2009 – 2010 standards, is weak. And no, updating “shadows” and “water effects” only, after 5 years does not count.

          2. When the Rift expansion hits (around September, they say), a 2-year old game will have more content than current WoW+Panda Land combined, including all the rehashed crap that Blizzard has been putting out.

          The only superiority WoW has over the competition is the fanatical loyalty from the playerbase and the # of subs.

      • Carson says:

        I just think there is a fundamental tiredness that cannot be overcome, not with Blizzard’s cash, not with Blizzard’s talent.

        I mean, they have added content to the game. Content which, imho, has been better in every expansion than the one before. And yet every expansion has held my interest for less time than the one before.

        Thade said that they’ve “redesigned the combat system from the ground up over half a dozen times” but come on, that’s not a redesign. If I hadn’t played WoW since December 2004 and I booted it up now, I would find it fundamentally the same and easy to slip back into. Given the reactions they’ve gotten to the various tweaking they’ve done to character talent customization over the years, I’m pretty sure that they would never dare to make any genuine fundamental changes to any game mechanic.

        It gets harder and harder to lure back former players that have already had a few rides on the merry-go-round. And it gets harder and harder to find new players after you’ve been the biggest game in town by such a large degree for so many years.

        EVE dodges both of these problems, I think. The game design which isn’t based around the production and consumption of “content” is much more resilient. And finding new players to replace those who leave is a lot easier when you’ve only held maybe 1% of the MMO total playerbase at any time.

        • SynCaine says:

          “The game design which isn’t based around the production and consumption of “content” is much more resilient.”

          A long time ago in a land far, far away, the above was how an MMO differentiated itself from other genres.

  8. mbp says:

    I still think Bartle was right when he said that the most sustainable multiplayer game has a balance between killers, achievers, explorers and socialisers. EVE online is the only mmorpg I have played that comes even close to achieving this balance. That is why I have to laugh when I see PVPers whinging about carebears or carebears whinging about PVPers. They both need each other to keep the game interesting.

    That said I think Mittani is smart enough to know this. I suspect an ulterior motive to his complaining.

    • Mittens has already given his “balance of nature in space” talk a few times, which allows for all types. And, in truth, while people only notice the killer aspect of the goons, they are actually pretty much a microcosm of the EVE population, with carebears well represented.

      He goes on the “EVE is dangerous by necessity, get used to it” kick when people start clamoring for the end of non-consensual PvP in high security space.

    • kalex716 says:

      Right, but theirs something to be said about “playing your part”.

      The way I figure it, when Dust comes online it is just gonna add another layer of it, and EVE players are going to be calling Dust players “bro gamer” shooter knuckleheads, and Dusties will probably complain about high brow smarty pant, spreadsheet pandering Pod pilots…

      Its gonna be that whole Fleet flies and M.I. dies thing all over again, and I for one can’t wait for the drama.

  9. Slow Dave says:

    My first MMO’s were UO and EQ (I only stopped loving+playing them because the games changed) and since then most MMO’s I’ve played (other than Eve) I’ve generally quit after a few months. This is not because they weren’t enjoyable to me but just because I couldn’t recapture that feeling I had playing them in the games I tried.

    Certainly the games/gameplay had an effect on that but I’m assuming quite a few others others have experienced the same kind of thing. With the explosion of players with WoW this pattern probably didn’t shown up on sales figures but now WoW players may well be reaching that same point also and due to the numbers of them it’s being seen in the relatively short game cycles (at least with a decent pop.) of a lot of these games. Players play and don’t get caught up in it because they’ve seen it all before or whatever.

    I think the market is crying out for the true next generation of MMO that’s actually innovative, well executed and engaging enough for bitter vets.

    Maybe companies should think about hiring more intelligent MMO players who have been on the other side, even though I wasn’t a big fan of WoW Blizzard was clever to do that.

  10. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    I don’t know the business side of MMO’s but to me it seems that $15 a month is more than enough and the market is geared more towards the hundreds of thousands at most.

  11. Derrick says:


    And there we have it.

    I’m eagerly anticipating your thoughts on this deeply surprising announcement.

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