So this happened over the weekend. Head on over and enjoy, especially the comments section. If you skim, don’t worry, I’ve got a lot of the choice quotes here.
On the surface this just sounds like a bitter ex-MMO blogger venting because others are talking about a PvP MMO, and to them those types of games are scary monsters to be shunned. More of the same, right?
Except it’s not just that, especially if you go into the comments section. There, it’s an interesting look into the MMO genre and how it’s currently in a state of correction.
To put it bluntly, SW:TOR was the last of a dying breed. We will never see another mega-expensive themepark focused on refining what made WoW work, primarily because it’s now been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the model does not work; not in WoW now, not in titles trying to be it.
In part, it’s because this is who you are targeting:
MMOs are DESIGNED to be a quick and replaceable pastime, they are easy to pick up and require minimal investment (like all games compared to any real-life activity). Nobody ever designed them to be the Mozart-equivalent of anything. Just because you’re not able to retain perspective, and treat them as the *games* they are, does not turn them into anything different.
You expect the player above to play/pay for months and months in order to make your money back. As EA themselves stated so well: “if SW:TOR can’t do it, no one can”. Oh how right they were.
I find all of this comical in a way. These are the players always telling us that in PvP games, the wolves eat the sheep, and then the sheep leave, and the wolves are left with nothing; yet here we have the sheep leaving their pastures after a month or so, dooming one title after another. Not that I blame them of course; when you are only given a month-worth of content, why stay indeed.
What really seems silly here is the perception of expectations. Let’s start with this:
If today a game released and got 250,000 players, it would be considered a failure
That’s a funny metric isn’t it? Because by that standard, only a few MMOs qualify as a success, and only two of them can be solidly confirmed (WoW and EVE). Everything else? Either hovering near that, or they are far below.
(WoW) remains the yard stick with which other games have to be measured:
If this was 2007, then the above statement would only appear foolish to a few :cough: But its 2013. It’s been almost 9 years since WoW has been released, and in those 9 years, how many titles and how much money has been spent without a single title even coming close to retaining a tenth of what WoW peaked at? No, today no one is using WoW as a yard stick, just like no new music record is using Thriller as the make-or-break point.
But the angst is understandable, because the slow confirmation is sinking in; those who enjoyed what WoW offered will be left out in the cold soon. That ‘mass market’ is, shockingly, just not profitable. The content is too expensive to produce, the players don’t stick around long enough, and even when you seem to get most things right, you still fall about ten million subs short of expectations. Again, in 2007 maybe this was a debate, in 2013, it’s not.
In the whole subset of humanity, people who like MMOs are a small subset, and guys who will always like MMOs are a tiny subset in that subset. Basically not worth even considering when talking about MMO gamers as a whole.
Ah yes, our little niche. The problem with the above is rather simple. If you aim to retain 500k subs, and only get 250k, you have failed. And if all you can plan for is that 500k, the MMO genre seems like a really difficult place to do business. And for years now, all most have heard about is the go-big-or-go-home mantra of WoW-cloning. Why aim at 50k when you can target that juicy 12m?
Because the 12m is a lie, isn’t it? For a multitude of factors already well-covered, the 12m that played WoW back in vanilla/TBC just don’t have a real interest in MMOs as a whole. They never did, and while they were briefly attracted to a bright light every now and again, the tourists always came back, or just left and went home altogether (though ‘9m’ still remain, right?). Yet for years studio after studio tried to chase them, dressing their offering up as a robot, or a superhero, or countless variations of Gandalf. And all failed. All of them.
What has always worked in this genre is accurate targeting and delivery. To most Darkfall 1 was not a success, because it never got above 100k subs and Aventurine’s track record was and is, well, let’s call it special. And yet DF1 was a sub-based MMO for three years, had three expansions and launched a second server six months after release, and now has a sequel of impeccable quality (snicker) in beta. From a players perspective, it’s exactly what you could hope for. More importantly, for those at AV, from the original crew to the new hires, they get to continue doing what they love and getting paid for it. And DF is just one example among many, with by far the most prominent being EVE; a title still growing after ten years that is more true to its vision than just about anything else. A title that started in a niche of niches and carved itself into the second-biggest MMO out. Not bad for Excel Online.
More importantly, Camelot Unchained and others show that the future of the genre is, finally, not in chasing the mythical WoW unicorn, but in reproducing what actually worked; delivering a measured product aimed at the crowd that actually wants it. And if that crowd is only 30k strong, as Mark Jacob’s estimates will be the case for CU, so be it. 30k people paying you each month is more than doable from a business standpoint; you just can’t spend 300m to get there.
And that’s where the fear comes in from the WoW-clone crowd. Titles like CU offer nothing for them. Nothing. They are too focused, too targeted, and demand too much from them. Worst of all, these titles don’t NEED the WoW-cloners, and that scares them to death. After all these years of being catered to, of having one massively over-produced monthly snack after another, the next wave will ignore them and move right past them.
It’s what niche products do. And MMOs are most certainly niche, one unique and unreproducible outlier aside.