Defining Success in the MMO Genre

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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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20 Responses to Defining Success in the MMO Genre

  1. Syl says:

    Out of interest – what would you say is your ‘tolerance’ span or time of lenience for fixing issues that are vital to you, in a completely new MMO? I think quite some people are disappointed in WvW right now (I am too but for me it weighs less atm), but if ANet was addressing all ‘major flaws’ over let’s say the next 2-3 months, what would be your verdict? would you go right back?

    given it’s not a sub game, this scenario is somewhat supported.

    • SynCaine says:

      WvW is deeply flawed, it’s not just a few quick fixes away from being entertaining.

      Lack of progression, broken scoring (Aussie or bust!), small maps, lack of ‘realm’ identification (you fight a clone army), average combat system.

      Sure, if somehow Anet pulled a miracle and actually fixed WvW, I’d give it another shot, but I don’t see that happening.

      • bhagpuss says:

        Mrs Bhagpuss and I have been arguing about this some over the last couple of days. She certainly thinks the free server transfers should have stopped a long time ago for one thing. She’s a lot more interested in WvW than I am, though. For me it was only ever going to be a drop-in activity when I was in the mood. I always thought it would be “pointless” and it is indeed even more pointless than I expected. I imagine for people expecting something that would have significance it is disappointing.

        On the “clone army” thing, that’s how DAOC was when I played it as I recall. It may have changed later. You can see the guild tags which is fun. We currently have the pleasure of sharing our frontiers with Maguuma and it’s been very interesting to watch the Goons in action, not to mention Starfleet Dental who were there in force the other night. I wouldn’t say it felt anonymous at all.

        In general though I agree with you (boringly as usual). I’m not that struck on using MMOs as a quasi-social life and never have been so I’m fine with players around me acting as mercs or henchmen (there are enough actual bots for me not to think of the players as “bots”). Your final paragraph about sums up what I’d want for an MMO that I was playing regularly, although for me regularly no longer means exclusively.

        • SynCaine says:

          Did DAoC make an update at some point to allow the three sides to all fight together against other groupings?

          Back when I played, the game was Mid vs Hib vs Alb, and you learned to hate the other two sides and what their race style represented.

        • Keen says:

          If they did, it wasn’t when I played.

        • bhagpuss says:

          Ah I get you – I wasn’t relating it to PvE. But as it happens, yes DAOC did add that, yes. There was (probably still is) a co-operative server where all realms play together. I forget how the Frontier works – I think the enemy is an NPC force. I played there briefly but not for long enough to get into the Frontier.

  2. rulez says:

    Two of your 3 points are highly subjective: 1. is it fun for you, 2. are the updates by the devs fun for you.

    I think your definition is about whether the MMO is fun for an individual player and their friends and guild mates, not the success of the game in general.

    What good is this definition, if it does not at least try to be as objective as possible? Is the conclusion maybe that it is not possible to define it on a non personal level?

    • spinks says:

      I’d add point 4: do enough of your friends/guild also find the game fun to sustain a long term community. (Or are you willing to recruit in game.)

    • SynCaine says:

      I explained in the post that 1 and 3 are subjective. That’s the point, to mix personal and company metrics together.

      Success in general is defined by the dev metric. 20k people really love CoH, but CoH ultimately failed as the devs are gone. (Or perhaps more fair, had a successful run, since CoH was around for a good number of years).

      The reason the dev metric itself is subjective is due to the “catering to who you have vs catering to who you don’t” aspect. I don’t consider a game pulling a 180 after 6 months a success if I enjoyed what was there pre-180. Someone coming in after the 180 might. If the devs still have a job, we can at least say the update was not a failure. If the game grew significantly, we can call it a success in the company metric.

      • bhagpuss says:

        That’s a very good point, not made often enough. Changes can be made to an MMO that render it unplayable for some people who previously loved it, creating not unreasonable anger among that group, but the game itself may benefit and prosper from the same changes. The people who left because of them may never even know how things turned out.

  3. Youngblood says:

    For those devs/publishers who find a greater profit after going FTP from subscription, do you still consider changing payment model as a failure? That seems like antiquated thinking.

    • SynCaine says:

      Generally changing the payment model changes the design model as well (adding a shop, selling power, in-game ads to upgrade/buy, etc). If I enjoyed the pre-F2P game, and the post-F2P detracts from that, I’d say it fails on at least that level.

      That said, if the game has more devs producing more content you want post-F2P, that individual can call the change a success. I’m not sure I can think of an example where that is true though (maybe DDO, since it got its first expansion post-F2P?)

      • Corwynn Maelstrom says:

        DDO is, by its very design, very well suited to the kind of hybrid model Turbine adopted. It is an outlier, however, as most games need to be squished into a little box and they are lessened by the transition in my experience.

        DDO is one of a very few microtransaction-based games I have ever spent money on. (I subbed, but I bought extra stuff as well.)

  4. Bristal says:

    So, your definition of a successful MMO is one that makes adequate money to reinvest in itself, but also that you (or I) personally like, and reinvests only in directions that we approve of.

    I’m also having trouble with the objectivity/subjectivity mix.

    Seems like the term “successful” should be objective and shouldn’t have anything to do with whether you or I like it. But then again, my Mom thinks I’m amazingly successful, my wife notsomuch. Does that affect my actual success? Actually, yeah. Quite a bit.

    OK, I’m with you so far. Success does have an element of subjectivity, as well as a social variable.

    • Subjectivity also comes along in the form of success that makes for further success.

      WoW’s initial success and popularity helped fuel its ongoing success. People felt the game was good and told their friends who came along to play as well.

      Meanwhile, objective success, which can be boiled down to the lowest common denominator of “Is the game still running?” leads to some odd partners in the success column. WoW, Vanguard, EverQuest and WAR would all count as successful by that measure, but I would clearly seek to qualify levels of success in that list.

  5. Corwynn Maelstrom says:

    As an aside, it seems to me that entire guilds coming into a new game and trying to stick together and play (they are a guild after all) is somewhat problematic when games are, in your own words, not supposed to be clones of each other.

    You have consistently asked for different games, not the exact same stuff, envelopes to be pushed . . . and GW2 does that VERY well in a number of different ways. (As an example: it’s the first MMO I have ever played that actually really rewarded selflessness and cooperation. That’s since UO with 90% of the major titles in between.)

    Now, does GW2 need fixing? Sure. It’s an MMO. It’s never done. Is the queuing and the general scoring and such in WvW a problem? Yes. It absolutely is. Is it possible to fix it? Yes, it certainly is, and I tend to suspect that as time goes on there will end up being tweaks made.

    Will this fix all your issues? No. You’ve got problems with some of the basic choices being made. That’s fine. But the things you have problems with represent innovations over the norm in the MMO marketplace. So please don;t forget that when you continue to ask for originality. Sometimes originality means you get something that does not work as well (for some people at least) as the tried-and-true. (In this instance, going with three identical factions a.k.a. clone army is not to your liking, but it IS different from WoW, WAR, DAoC, etc. and there are advantages to doing so.)

    I read very few people on MMOs anymore. You’re one I keep on my reader not because I always agree with you, but because at the very least you try to make your arguments well.

    Best of luck in the new Darkfall iteration. I’m too casual and distracted (read as old with a wife and kids) now to deal with anything where I’m forced to watch my ass 24/7, but I probably would have played it eight or ten years ago. :) (Hell, when DF came out if it had actually been available i would have bought it, but the gated purchase times made me decide against.)

    P.S. This week vs HoD and SBI has us in second place . . . so yeah, HoD has the 24/7 advantage still, but JQ is doing better, and is more organized than we have been. Calling it quits within a month is your absolute right, but to condemn a game as too broken before it has even had the new box smell wear off is perhaps a *little* harsh. I know it hurts to not be the best when you planned to be the best, and to feel like the only reason you’re not the best is because of the off hours, but the truth of the matter is that during prime time JQ cannot beat HoD in any appreciable way. Maybe that’s an indicator of the possibility that they are legitimately better . . . only way to counter THAT aspect of the battle is to work to become better. Complaining that the game is rigged against you is easier than working harder though. ;)

  6. Asmiroth says:

    I guess you could just split it down the middle. Player success = 100% subjective. Company success = 100% objective.

    UO is still running after 15 years, objectively, that’s company success even if it might not be player success. APB barely made it out the gate, company failure.

    Certainly, company success is influenced directly from player success, as you need to reach a certain player number to make money. The higher that number needs to be, the lower the risk amount you can take (as you have to be more and more generic). SWG kept on chugging even after the NGE fiasco, they found other people who had player success to keep it afloat (6 years of it). Darkfall obviously has enough player success to get company success.

    It’s certainly an interesting topic, just to see how both lines intersect.

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