Hey there. Thank you for coming to today's meeting. Some of you may be wondering exactly why we've asked you to take time out of your busy schedules to attend this meeting of MMO Masterminds Local 182. Actually, it's to discuss an on-going issue that continues to plague your industry, and we think it's time somebody set you straight.
Blizzard is still kicking your ass.
Really people. It's 2009. Five years since the launch of World of Warcraft and you still can't get it right. I mean, what's your excuse? How about you, Cutesy Asian Anime MMO? A few million in revenue got your tongue? And you, Ancient Chinese MMO? Don't look at Social MMO and Sports MMO help either; I'm talking to you. What's your problem anyway? And don't think I don't see you cowering in the corner there, Mister Futuristic Space MMO. I've got plenty of this for you too.
Look guys, there's only so many excuses you can come up with as to why your company is failing at the MMO, especially when your subscription base barely tops the population of Hawaii. I mean, there's no excuse for that. None. I know you have your fanboys, but Hawaii. They export coconuts, for God's sakes. Do you really want your mmo's chief export to be coconuts? No, I didn't think so, but fail is still fail and frankly, the players are getting fed up with your failure. Ten million active subscribers can't be wrong and some of you can't even clear 100k. Pathetic. But we're not here to focus on your glaring inadequacies... Well, actually, we are, but we're here to hopefully turn that trend around and focus on the win. Frankly I don't care about your excuses. You have the subscription base of a small island. World of Warcraft has an eight digit population. Ergo, you are doing something wrong.
Now I do have to note that raw population numbers aren't nessisarily the sole indicator of success, but I'm a simple man. Ten million players like Blizzard's product. Only a million and change like yours, if that. It's not light speed theory, guys. Blizzard is doing something right and you're not, no matter how much you want to justify it with complex mathamatics, player to dollar ratios and the like. Simply put, you suck; regardless of how vocal your little minority fanbase is. No matter how you define your success, that's nine million less players who prefer your MMO to theirs. Let that sink in for a minute... Nine million. Times $15.00. Per Month. And that's a downright conservative number since most of you in this room right now can't even get the basics right. Don't look at me like that, Asian Dating MMO. You know damn well who I'm talking about.
But seriously, I'm here to help. The first step in recovery is to admit that you have a problem and before the end of the day, you will walk out of this room with the tools to win at MMOs without being a Warcraft clone. The work has literally already been done for you, so all you do is have to copy an already established model of success. Some people call that lazy. I call that "opportunistic". No, Ancient Chinese MMO, put your hand down. You can hate Blizzard all day long. You can claim Blizzard fanboys in your pants. You can weave complex scenarios as to where Blizzard has up front cash and you don't. Maybe two xpacs are in play. None of it matters. You're failing for a reason, so sit down, shut up and listen to some win for once. On that note, let's start with the number one reason as to why Blizzard has ten million subscribers and you don't.
1) Warcraft Makes it Easy.
Not all the time. Not 100% across the board. But Warcraft imposes as few artifical barriers as possible to player enjoyment. They make quests easy to find. They make them easy to understand. They tell you exactly what you are supposed to do and where to do it. Leveling up spells and techniques is easy. Forming parties is easy. Interaction with other players is easy. The game mechanics are simple to understand. PvE and PvP are easy. About the only complex thing about World of Warcraft is how to distribute talent points and even that isn't too difficult, yet adds considerable depth to the game. Case in point, virtually no MMO prior to Warcraft utilized such an obvious indicator as to when an NPC had a quest for you. These days players trip over exclamation points and question marks in nearly every MMO they play. Now some of you may think you're doing it right, but you aren't. If your MMO requires an auto pilot and waypoints to find an NPC or mob, you've already failed. Most of the time these are used to cover for vague quest descriptions, objectives and little in the way of textual direction.
Some of you make your spell/technique system unnecessarily complex. I'm here to say that while depth is a good thing, players aren't looking for that depth to be a pool of mud. Along those lines, Warcraft makes it easy to PvP. Going on a quest to get a "PvP certificate" fails. Imposing artificial level barriers to PvP also fails. I've seen those set as high as forty. How does warcraft handle it? They impose natural environmental barriers. If your level five character should make it past the level fifteen to twenty wolves and boars without dying, then congrats, you're ready for PvP. Chances are, you and your milewide aggro radius will never get the chance, however, thereby introducing the player to PvP naturally and without any complex system aside from factional boundries that protect the noobs. Even crafting is easy; easy enough to not cause undo stress, yet complex enough to reward the dedicated among us. There is no chance of failure. Few part-creation levels actually exist to produce an end product. Players aren't endlessly melting Aluminum to Aluminum bars to make Titanium which is used to make Freemium, then to Unobtanium and finally Pwnium, which is ultimately used as a widget part with chances to fail at every step of the process, resulting in partial or total loss of materials.
But this is fun, complex and rewarding to the player! Shut the hell up, Space MMO. It's so fun, complex and rewarding that nearly ten million- that's 10,000,000 -skipped your game for World of Warcraft. Let's move on.
2) Warcraft Makes it Creative.
The World of Warcraft designers do in ten polygons what it takes you to do in twenty to thirty. Not only can they do that, they do so creatively and with a five year old graphics engine, no less. It's called imagination and they went down to the local 7-11 on the corner and picked up a six pack before coding even started. Blizzard's creativity shows in nearly every square inch of their world. Click on an NPC and he just doesn't dump a wall of text in your face like your MMO. Most of the time it's an entertaining wall of text accompanied by a soundbite. And speaking of soundbites, have you ever clicked on the same NPC repeatedly? They gets downright snarky. Your NPCs don't do that, do they? In fact, we're lucky if we get anything beyond uninspired quest text that wouldn't know word wrap if it bit them on the ass.
Even at their most sparse, World of Warcraft's environments always offer the player something. They aren't a flat sheet of plexiglass, they are alive, filled with trees, animals and artifacts; usually set to a classic visual theme. Their NPCs and Mobs are stylized and artistic, as is the architecture of the surrounding structures... Not to mention the fact that you can walk into most of those structures as well. Last time I tried that with Cutesy Anime MMO over there, I ran smack into a wall with a .jpg texture for the doorway.
Most of you in this room fail at this very basic concept. Your NPCs are little more than cardboard cutouts, fit for little more than introducing the next conduit of XP accumulation. Your environments are bare and uninspiring. Your structures are polygon boxes with as little detail as you can get away. Half of you don't even have a light source in the sky, for Christ's sakes. Apparently your universe doesn't have little things, like THE SUN. Most of this is simple attention to detail... Embellishing that detail. And is it really so hard to invest in character animation with movement better than that of a plastic manikin? For those of you who missed our last class, this also means more than swinging a sword... It means parrying blade strikes, dodging opposing thrusts, jumping, etc. Nothing says "sloth" like combat that does nothing but pop numbers over your head until you or the mob are dead. Blizzard didn't have to make complex combat sequences, but they did and that is why they're still kicking your ass after four years.
3) Warcraft Makes it Immersive
Now look. I know it's hard listening to this. In fact, some of you still think you're full of win and awesome. Sure you are... it's just Blizzard is filled with ten million more subscribers of win and awesome than you are. No, you're not getting 'Easy' right. You're not getting 'Creativity' right and you're sure as hell not getting 'Immersion' right, either. Right along with Blizzard's attention to detail is their ability to immerse players in the world they have created. NPCs have rich, compelling dialogue. They quite literally laugh and cry for your entertainment, more often than not poking self depreciating humor at themselves and popular culture in the process. Villages and cities have populations that do more than just stand in front of blank storefronts. They roam the streets and even acknowledge your presence with enough renowned. Children wander. Vendors travel the darkened roads. In short, Blizzard knows their world isn't just about player vs player. It's about a living, breathing world that gamers want to explore, whereas they have no desire to explore yours whatsoever because it's a flat, uninspired polygon of fail.
Blizzard also has something none of you have... Lore. What? You have Lore? No you don't. You have a dry, pathetic history posted on your website right beside the 'top up cash' link. A company really trying to create Lore doesn't need that. Their world tells the story. The architecture speaks it. The NPCs tell it through their quests and interaction with you, sometimes just through their appearance alone. Your Lore? Please. I can write better fan fiction for your world than you actually invested in its creation. It's not hard to approach your universe as if you were writing a book, then allow that universe to explain itself. If you did your job, your MMO wouldn't need a history page that NOBODY WILL READ ANYWAY.
ZOMG! Warcraft had the Warcraft RTS Lore to build on! Sure, Cutsey Asian MMO. Keep telling yourself that. You're seriously delutional if you actually think even half of that 10 million ever touched a Blizzard product in their life before World of Warcraft, let alone was able to able to recite lore factoids from memory. One thing I can guarantee, however... Each and every goddamn one of them could recite the basic story by heart by level 60, and not because they had a webpage to reference or did hours of research. They knew it because they lived it. They lived Deadmines. They cursed through Molten Core. they bled through Onixya. Forgive the theatrics, but they did and have great stories coming away from it.
Not only did they live the world, but they got to do it with through reasonably customizable character. My character was three feet high and had a pink beehive for hairstyling. Hey Cutsey Asian MMO, how many styles can I choose with yours? Four? Ouch. Not only can I choose from a diverse range of visual attributes, but I can modify my character's skill set to emphasis strengths and weaknesses. Very few times have I actually stumbled across my own evil twin... In your MMO I stumble across a doppleganger, what? Every sixty seconds? The items I can equip are likewise wide and varied. Players are their own person and identity in Warcraft, not another faceless clone with narrow upgrade options. I mean seriously... What the hell were you thinking when you decided to restrict everybody to the same weapon and the same gear within the same level bracket? Lazy bastards looking to make a buck, that's what I'm betting you were thinking of... Or you're sadly incompetent, your choice. Hey, i can even control my character in warcraft, not point and click him to his destination and theirby removing the player from their immersion further. Seriously. You don't think point, click, park and spank is lame, but then, don't take my word for it. Your MMOs primary export is coconuts, remember?
Nor am I going to take lack of funds for an excuse, especially for you rat ass little free2play titles. You expect real dollars from players, you had better be prepared to invest them too. FROM DAY ONE. Sitting on your two servers and an absolute minimum of creative development while expecting to rake in cash off ignorant players will never succeed no matter how sneaky you think you are. In the end, the same applies to both commerce models, though. World of Warcraft chose to invest. They chose to hire talent. They chose to take the time to get it right. You? All you jokers chose to do is cut corners. You thought you knew what gamers wanted, mostly through your own lens of work vs profit or give vs take. I especially have no sympathy for f2p in that regard, but that's beside the point.
For those of you assembled in this room- the MMO masterminds -it doesn't matter if you believe the speaker or the simple truths he has laid out before you. You can refute his claims with arguements and counter arguments, yet the facts will remain. Until you people get serious... Until you stop rushing to be the next big thing... Until you stop cutting the corners... Until you stop treating your consumer base as merely a means to your profit end... Until you actually invest quality into your creation... Until then, you will always be the bitch of Blizzard and you deserve every ass kicking they'll hand out. It's not that you can't have ten million subscribers for yourself... There's definitely room in the market for another big thing. You're all just choosing to ignore the basic principles of supply and demand: What you are suppling is not in demand. It's that simple, and even if you choose to ignore this meandering diatribe, you're still failing. For a reason.
Figure it out.