How we measure success in the MMO genre varies from person to person. Or at least, what we call a success varies. Personal success, industry success, believing in success based on PR or ‘solid’ data; all of this gets mixed into a giant blender and tossed out on blogs and forums. My goal today is to define success both to the player and to the company, hopefully setting the groundwork for a post tomorrow.
There are two critical aspects of success when talking about an MMO: Did you like it, and did the company profit off the title.
The first point, did you like it, is of course extremely subjective. I like Darkfall, most do not. Is Darkfall a success by this standard? For me it is, for you it might not be.
While this point seems simplistic, keep in mind that your enjoyment of a title may (should?) depends on others as well. We are talking MMOs here, right? So for instance, while I really liked Darkfall in its first year, towards the end of my second year with it I was losing interest not due to gameplay, but due to a lack of social motivators (not enough players shaking things up in PvP). Why there was a lack of players is another issue, but the fact remains that due to player inactivity, I stopped liking Darkfall as much as I originally had, despite the gameplay not changing nor my feeling about it.
Another example here is GW2. Pre-release INQ was very excited for the game because we enjoy PvP, and especially enjoyed RvR. GW2 lost me because not only was much of the game better-by-design solo (random might-as-well-be-bots don’t count as social for me) and extremely short, but design flaws such as queues and WvW scoring soured most of INQ on that aspect as well. This in turn impacted my enjoyment of GW2, because while the actual WvW gameplay was decent, not being able to quickly form guild groups or even have the guild stick around became a major factor.
The second aspect of success is company profitability, but let’s look at this from a different angle then just the pure amount of profit (few MMO companies are public or offer this number straight up): is your MMO being updated, and is it being updated in a way you enjoy.
The first factor is pretty simple. When was the last time your MMO got a good update? If the game is doing well, it still has talented devs working on it, and those devs are improving the game. This is a core principle of the genre, and should be a major strength if done right.
The second is subjective, but just as important. Ultima Online got updated, but the update was Trammel, which ruined the game for many. SWG got the NGE. WoW got WotLK. I’m sure most have their own examples. Whether the update was done from need (sub game failing and going F2P), from greed (Trammel to chase EQ1 players), or from misguided metrics (WotLK being focused-grouped out to cater to casuals at the expense of the core), the end result is an update that instead of making the game better for you, made it worse.
So let’s recap: A successful MMO is one you enjoy playing, one that has an active dev team, and that active dev team is producing content that is enjoyed by the current player base (you). This in turn creates a game you not only enjoy playing, but can continue to enjoy playing long-term.