Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hey, Is That Horse Dead Yet? the End of the MMO

I went down a rabbit hole today, through Harbinger Zero and TAGNtwice—to Spinkville. This is the result:

I think current and future MMOs are caught in between a rock and a hard place. We all talk about the fact that success shouldn't be measured by anything other than profitability. Well, I do at least.

SWTOR isn't a complete success, therefore it is an abject failure in the eyes of many. Tons of people are still playing and enjoying the game. Count me among them. On the other hand, I haven't raced to the top, still working to reach 50 on my main, and enjoying the journey. I am definitely an outlier there, I suppose. I also don't see an issue with replayability. At least eight(8) stories can be played through, with other ways besides the planet quests to help level outside the storyline; like space combat, PvP, Flashpoints, random murder. But cool, it's a failure.

Are people tired of WoW and WoW-clones? I don't know, ask the millions of people still subscribed to WoW and its clones. I guarantee only a minuscule fraction of them is even aware of this debate.
Behemoth Roller Coaster
The problem new MMOs have is that they must compete with an almost 8 year old behemoth. Maybe the original game only expected 500k players and had only(!) a $63 million budget, but the three expansions since then have surely topped $200 million in investment, at the same time the game was enjoying unimaginable profits compared to everything else in the genre. What new game can possibly compete?

If you're using a shard system, some costs are scalable, but they're mostly related to hardware and customer service. The basic development of the game world and all the game content and features have to be fronted, and compete with WoW's 4+ current continents with all the different racial starting areas, and the dungeon finder, etc., that took Blizzard well over a decade (including initial development and the development of the expansions)  to develop.

[EDIT] Understand, while I am a fan of WoW, I do not consider it the end-all-be-all of the MMORPG genre. The game has serious flaws, and I haven't played in over six months, haven't played hardcore in well over a year. It is, however, the unbelievably huge blockbuster every other MMO—and several SP games— is compared to.

Until the market splinters more fully, I don't see any developer action replacing the attempt to capture WoW's lightning-in-a-bottle again.

12 comments:

  1. I think the issue when it comes to the problems new MMOs face is the saturated market. Because of the nature of the MMO, most people only have time and resources enough to fully devote to 1 to 2 titles, 3 at most. But people also like to try out new games, and yet pool of MMO gamers hasn't grown that much over the years, so you have the same population that's jumping from game to game but not really staying with it for the long term. Again, limited time and resources just don't allow for that, so like you said, you get a splintered market.

    Add to that (and this final part is just based on my personal observations), WoW seems to have the most devoted and loyal playerbase. I know a lot of people still playing WoW whose only game is WoW and has always and only ever been WoW. Of course, the game had the advantage of establishing itself as a powerhouse early. And those who've played it for years will probably continue doing so no matter how many other new games they try; because if it only comes down to having the time for one or two games, it will be WoW because they've already invested so much.

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    1. Very true, I'd imagine that if for some they stepped away from WoW for a month or two, they'd break that habit and feeling of investment. OTOH, it may be precisely because it not actually a huge investment, emotionally, that people stick with it. I played for like five years, I enjoyed it.

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  2. "Are people tired of WoW and WoW-clones? I don't know, ask the millions of people still subscribed to WoW and its clones. I guarantee only a minuscule fraction of them is even aware of this debate."

    Well said. Excluding WoW, what have been the most financially successful recent Western MMOs? Unless I am greatly mistaken, in order from first to last they would be SWTOR, Rift, and LoTRO. RoM might fit in there somewhere as well, but I have no way of comparing it to sub based MMOs (and I can't really well compare modern LoTRO with Rift and SWTOR for that matter...when it was sub based it did well by all accounts). EVE also slots in somewhere, but the plex system also makes it hard to rank.

    In any case, all but one of these games share a lot of design elements in common with WoW. I'm not saying solo friendly quest and class based MMOs are the end-all-be-all of MMO design (though I personally do dig them). However, I will say that if gamers want to see more diversity among mainstream titles they either need to vote with their wallets or stop bitching. There are, and always have been (at least since UO), MMOs available to play that bear almost zero resemblance to WoW. If lazy MMO commentators can't be bothered to at least try them out and publicize the ones they like (see many posts at a Ding World, see my posts on Myst Online, see some of Beu Turkey's posts even though I disagree with 99% of his opinions), they will continue to get what they deserve.

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    1. If you are talking about financial success, you will need to discount SWTOR. With something north of 200m invested, its likely that they have yet to break even, and the layoffs indicate that they expect further difficulties with the six month subs going out in a few weeks. From a purely financial standpoint, Runescape probably has the #2 spot behind wow locked up. Everyone else is a distant third.

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    2. I was really thinking more in terms of subs. SWTOR undoubtedly has the most subs of anything outside of WoW currently, even if we assume the population has crashed to 800K players (the most recent number given was 1.3 million). They also still have a dev team of 400+ working on the game (since the 200 they just laid off were only 30% of the total). That would be a pretty big team to keep around for a game that's going under.

      Runescape might very well be more profitable than any sub based MMO outside of WoW, it certainly has a monstrous number of players. The game comes across as kind of low budget, so I tend to discount it (likely unfairly) when I think of competition among major western MMOs.

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    3. Yes, SWTOR may not yet have broken even, but the fact that it is not gone yet, indicates they are willing to throw some wage expenses at it until the revenues exceed the initial investment. The layoffs at BioWare, while individually tragic for those laid off, may make that break-even point occur much sooner, because of increased efficiency. While it occurred the same week, the layoffs at BioWare are very different from the collapse of 38 Studios, for which there will be no return on investment.

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  3. Only one will compete..

    Guild Wars 2.

    I knew SWToR did not have staying power. Too generic. Neither did Rift...yet, Rift took a great approach of quick and simple updates to gameplay, and the game itself (plus at least TRYING to add something new to the genre)...thus keeping their playerbase happy.

    SWToR messed up by calling itself "awesome"...even when it could not break 2 million players and started to regress. And now it is slowly falling apart as the game continues to sit stagnant (guess what...people really didn't want story in their MMO). I expect Warhammer Online Part Deux eventually out of SWToR. I mean...EA even said it is not a priority.

    Ah well...can't win 'em all...Bioware needs to get back to single player goodness.
    Cheers

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    1. Hey there. A huge chunk of my traffic still comes from Simple Complexities. :) While SWToR and Rift may settle into something comfortable, with sub levels far fewer than WoW currently has, I believe they will both have staying power. I may not have all the info, but it seems to me this the pattern with a lot of non-WoW MMOs, if they don't completely flame out, they surge then fade a bit, until they have only the most loyal players, and adjust accordingly. I don't see a whole lot of complaining about SWTOR in-game. The people who are still playing are having a lot of fun.

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  4. My hope is the the twin debacle of SWTOR and the collapse of 38 studios, along with the fragmented F2P market, will give us a wealth of newer niche options. MMO's made with pre-made/licensed engines and developed for 50m or less, with an expectation of capturing 100-200k players. Such games could probably recoup their development cost in box sales, leaving any money spent in game as pure profit. This makes them more attractive to a wider number (and style) of investors, and also provides us with a richer gaming experience.

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    1. It will be ineveitable. But the rise of a ton of miche games will only occur as WoW continues to fade. I don't know if we'll really see a million-player-plus MMO beyond launch periods in the near future. The keys to developing new IPs and games relatively cheaply—premade engines, etc.—are also the things that many will complain are causing the genre to stagnate, with "more of the same."

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  5. Great couple of posts. With so much negativity floating around its hard to get caught up with the "MMO's are dying" fervor.

    I'm still having fun with SWTOR, and think about revisiting other MMO's daily. Even WAR gets me thinking sometimes.

    What is failure, what is success thats the question. To me, a success is one where I get my entertainment dollars worth. 15 bucks a month is almost a movie and a half where I live. so 3-4 hours of my time, I play that in SWTOR in a couple days, let alone a month. Well worth my money I say.

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  6. You guys can see from my replies that I am actually a horrible typist, luckily, my editing/proofreading skills are better. I agree that, while there may be even cheaper forms of entertainment, 15 bucks a month for many hours of gameplay is a pretty good bargain. Forget the tickets, after getting popcorn and drinks or something a little more substantial, a trip to the movies can set me back an easy 50 smackers.

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