For MMOs, launch is a milestone, not a finish line. They all, no matter how good or bad, continue to grow and evolve over the years. Generally, this is accepted among the community as a good thing, so long as they don’t drastically change course mid-stream (see case: Galaxies, Star Wars). Yet, at the same time, both fans and media might place too much emphasis on launch. So, I ask, why don’t we give MMOs more time to grow and find their stride?
I am not talking about incomplete piles of junk here. Those exist too, but they’re a whole other category. I’m talking about the idea of a small, focused MMO that launches and does a limited number of things very well, rather than a bunch of things poorly. There are a few games like that out there, but generally, they get tried and discarded as incomplete.
“Why doesn’t this game have an auction house?!” They scream on the forums immediately after launch. “No player housing?” Asks another player. You’ve all seen and maybe even made these posts.
There’s something to be said for not biting off more than you can chew. Most MMOs tend to do that and despite having budgets a fraction the size of World of Warcraft, companies are expected to match Blizzard feature for feature.
What’s worse is that fans, media – and let’s be honest here – developers forget another important fact. These games evolve. People have short memories and if they look at any MMO as it exists today, they in some strange way assume it’s always been that way. World of Warcraft has had four years of development since it launched. Think about that. The features and quality you see today in World of Warcraft is essentially the product of a decade of the most well funded development time in the history of gaming. How can someone be expected to compete with that?
So my question to you players today is this: would you play, pay for and support an MMO that does a very small number of things very well in the hope that it will one day be as big and expansive as larger competitors?
For those who bemoan the lack of creativity in the genre, the answer better be an emphatic “YES!” This week, Garrett Fuller ran down four American-made independent MMOs that either are or should find some success. Global Agenda is this kind of game. It’s a relatively small idea: really fun action combat in an MMO setting. Sure, there’s a lot more they can and will do with it, but at launch, it will sink or swim on the quality of that experience. Alganon is another example. Again, it’s working hard on a great PvE, traditional fantasy experience. It won’t have the bells and whistled of WoW, but if it does what it sets out to do well, will it find the support it needs?
Part of that is marketing, I believe. Fans cannot be expected to guess. Developers need to be clear about what they’re doing and too often, this sink or swim launch hype is a beast of their own creation.
This is where business models come to play. It’s silly for me to sit here and say we should be giving games a chance on smaller amounts of content when they charge the same as big boys. I did a column on Subscription Fee creativity that goes into greater detail, but the general theory is that I would love to see a company launch a focused, albeit narrower product and charge a narrower amount for it. If they did, I would hope that the fans would react accordingly and give it the support it needs to take that next step.
Consumers understand that they get what they pay for. So if they get charged $5 for a small, but solid MMO, then that game expands to a more well-rounded experience and ups the price, I hope they’d look at it like they would ordering more cable channels. They get what they pay for.
EVE is the one example of a game that was given the time and support necessary to overcome humble beginnings and make it big. They just did it a weird way.
Remember, back when EVE launched, I think most analysts would have predicted Earth & Beyond would be the dominant space MMO. Yet, EVE is a runaway success and E&B ceased to exist years ago. Why is that? EA didn’t give E&B a chance to breath, a chance to grow. They saw the initial numbers and packed it in. CCP stuck with it and let their work blossom. Along the way, they got at least enough support from fans not to go bankrupt and the rest is history.
The difference between EVE and the prototype I’ve outlined above is that EVE probably wasn’t doing a small number of things well when it launched. It had major problems, flaws and was, by CCP’s own admission, a shell of the game it would become. It got lucky and did it at a time when there were not nearly the number of competitors there are today. They survived, but let’s face it. EVE Online’s success is likely something difficult, if not impossible, for someone else to replicate, as hard as they might try.
So I challenge you, the readers, to look at the genre and identify some games that you think are doing some things well. Vote with your support, vote with your dollars and help them make it through the tough early years. At the same time, I challenge the developers out there to realize what your game is when it launches and monetize it accordingly.
Too many games fall victim to launch for no good reason. A little bit of honesty on both sides would change a lot.