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You Think Too Much

Ever meet those people who just talk and talk and talk about the most pointless things? The only conclusion you can come up with is "You think too much." Sometimes those people *are* just babbling. But sometimes they're actually on to something...

Author: jdram14

Caution! Maximum Capacity Reached!

Posted by jdram14 Sunday December 20 2009 at 7:26PM
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I am a silent troll.

I browse the forums just reading and learning about the various perspectives on the finer points of MMOs. From time to time I’ll put in my two gold pieces, (current post count of 3) but for the most part I just read.

I came across this ( topic and decided to write my next blog post about it.

Now I’m not sure what the OP is actually trying to say. In fact, I only get more confused the more I read it over. But I took something away from it, granted, it was out of context.

“You've out grown the physical reality of the external world.”

Now the phrase used was for some philosophical death-emo-I’m-not-even-sure message. Instead I’m going to use it as if directed to developers.

Almost without exception, MMO’s rely on loyalty. Without loyal customers, they make little money. Even subscription free games rely on loyalty and probably more so than subscription based ones.

Subscription based MMOs automatically pull each month for the subscription and it’s easy for players to forget about that monthly charge. Micropurchase-based MMOs need people to constantly make the conscious choice to pay for that new cool thing. Even unique pay methods like Guild War’s buy once and it’s yours requires people to keep buying more games and expansions.

Every other game, be it for the computer or console, don’t require loyalty. You can buy Dragon Age once, and that’s all the publishers care for. But when you buy WoW, the publisher needs you to care enough about the game to keep buying.

Loyalty, at this point, is in high demand. Ever since the big upswing of MMO titles back in the earlier years of this decade, demand for loyalty has quickly reached critical mass. What I’m talking about is how tough it is for new developers to release new games and gain a solid community following, because anybody who plays MMOs are already dedicated elsewhere.

Jeff Strain, co-founder of ArenaNet and now founder of UndeadLabs once illustrated the point wonderfully.

“Don't be fooled by the much-hyped success of the top MMOs on the market. The game industry is littered with the carnage of MMOs that have failed over the past few years. Due largely to the social nature of MMOs, gamers rarely commit to more than one or two MMOs at a time. This is in contrast to the traditional game market, in which there is room for many games to be successful, even within the same genre. You may play ten different action games this year, but you are very unlikely to play more than one or two MMOs. This means that it is not enough to make a great game – instead you must make a game that is so overwhelmingly superior that it can actively break apart an established community and bring that community to your game. In today's market, that is a tall order.”

For publishers and investors, this makes MMOs a very risky thing to put their money at. Perhaps developers and publishers didn’t see it at first, but by now they have to know what’s going on. Age of Conan saw a big boom of subscriptions at first, then leveled out to a pretty low number. WAR and Aion did the same thing. I personally played WAR and Aion, so I know and understand why so many people dropped them after so long.

So if you are one of the many studios that make MMOs specifically, you are either really good at what you do or you’re really screwed. Let’s suppose you’re really good at what you do. Here are the options you have to overcome the loyalty tug-of-war.

Option A is to fill Jeff Strain’s “Tall Order”. Make a game that blows people out of the water. Doing this is not only rare, but unlikely. In the MMO community we talk a lot about the WoW-Killer or at least we used to. I think developers have gone away from trying to kill WoW after so many failed attempts. And those attempts failed for a reason. WoW has been in development for over a decade, constantly improving and updating. I’ll use a game that I know for this example: Aion has been in development for (if memory serves) five years. Aion was an ambitious project anyway, and then to do so in five years required some corners to be cut. Anybody who’s played Aion knows the corners I’m talking about.

On the other hand, Aion took the cake as the best Korean MMO out there. Here in the west, that doesn’t mean much, but from a cashflow standpoint, I guess it does pretty well.

Option B is to bring in new loyalty altogether. In recent years, gaming has found many new players by creating games designed for women, for moms, for families, for kids, and strictly mature audiences. Gaming has really broadened out. MMOs have begun to do this as well. Again, I’ll go with MMOs I have played. Guild Wars is a gateway game for casual players. RuneScape is a gateway game for socializers. These two games targeted a market that had little or no contact from video games. Guild Wars even touched the hardcore market who didn’t want the carrot (a topic for another blog). And RuneScape is to this day, one of the only MMOs where you are free to develop your character without class restrictions (also, a topic for another blog).

While both options are risky, the first is more so. Supposed WoW-Killers are usually just WoW-clones and there is a history of failure. Supposed innovation (something players cry for) is often met with criticism (despite crying for innovation, it’s not familiar and rarely accepted) and has a history of mixed results. (Take for example, Vanguard’s failure and Guild Wars’ success)

Now this blog post hasn’t even covered certain other games or niche audiences like Darkfall or EVE Online. Partially because I haven’t played them and don’t feel I can speak on them with any authority at all. That being said, I’m interested in what others have to say concerning the loyalty tug of war.


So let’s recap:

  • MMOs rely on loyalty above everything else. Subscriptions are a convenient way of getting around loyalty by taking the cost out of the players mind.
  • This loyalty pool is reaching critical mass and developers are now competing against the top dogs for their own slice of the loyalty pie.
  • Developers have two options for overcoming this problem. The first is to blow other games out of the water and the second is to find untapped loyalty.
  • Both options are risky: the first option has a history of failure and the second has seen mild success.

My next posts will explore the two options. Why do WoW-Killers and up as WoW-Clones and fail? Why does innovation fail half the time then succeed the other half?


P.S. The recap is kind of like a TL:DR. I think I’ll be adding a TL:DR section to all of my blog posts from this point on. That’s right, you don’t have to drudge through my painful literature to get my point!

Marketing and Marketability

Posted by jdram14 Saturday December 5 2009 at 5:43AM
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Note: In advance, I apologize for any writing errors found here. It's 3:30am and I don't have a word processor on this computer and I'm too lazy to revise and redraft.


I am a bit behind the times when it comes to a lot of games, even MMOs. In fact, the only one I really keep up with is GW2. I practically orgasm every time I see a new video from them, usually within hours of it being released.

But enough about me.

What I'm really here to talk about is Blade and Soul, a new MMO by NCSoft. Just moments ago, I saw the teaser trailer at the official English website. Like I said. . . Just a tad behind the times when it comes to new game information.

The trailer was amazing to say the least, and the fact that it all appears to be in-game footage and not pre-rendered impresses me. ArenaNet has done the same thing with GW2 videos, and recieved as much or more praise from my lips.

Now animation is a big thing for me, and this is why I don't stick to a single MMO for very long. MMOs typically don't have good animation, or at least it's just a face to cover up the real mechanics at work. When I use Super-Gonna-Screw-You-Over Slash, two things happen. The mechanics and the show. The mechanics are what are really important, determining how much damage was dealt, aftercast time, recast time, etc. Show is just what makes it more relatable to us humans. An easy example -- while not an MMO -- is a pokemon battle on any of the gameboy games. You can even turn off battle animations if you don't want to waste time watching your Blastoise flood the screen and blast water at the enemy every time it uses Surf or Hydro Pump. Basically, MMOs would be playable without the animation. Ultimately, the animation means very little.

This is why when I see these "in-game" videos, knowing that they are not pre-rendered, cannot help but imagine how staged they are. I mean, it makes sense from a marketing standpoint. And on top of being staged, the videos are also edited to all hell. Then when I look closely at it, I see the same pugilism (Kung Fu Master class in Blade and Soul) animation nearly a dozen times in the entire movie. An is my character really going to fall when a massive chicken who looks like the final summon in Advent Children falls out of the sky? Will my character react like that? Will he show that much emotion when running for his life against a giant turkey? In a staged movie, sure. When I'm actually playing the game. . . That one I find harder to believe.

So I guess my biggest question is, "Why all the deception."

What do developers gain from these videos that don't really show us much of anything beside graphic capability and what the game could look like in a theoretical scenario? NCSoft especially should understand this after releasing Aion. You log in and it looks pretty, but what really matters in the game wasn't all there.

My only conclusion is that it all comes down to marketability. In film, when thinking in terms of marketing, movies have two properties. Marketability and playability. Marketability is when a film lends itself to being marketed well, such as Transformers 2, Toy Story 3, or the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. Typically, summer blockbusters. Playability is when a film is very playable and actually sells itself by the simple good merits of the film. Examples would be cult classics such as Boondock Saints or Fight Club.

A movie can also have high values of both properties. 300 had a low production and marketing budget, but was very marketable even without the million dollar deals with Burger King and Wal-Mart. Also, the movie was very playable because it ran in the box office for a long time, and the numbers show that many people went to see it twice or more in theaters. It was simply that good. Another example would be Titanic, which ran for some obnoxious number of weeks. Batman: Dark Knight can be counted among films both marketable and playable.

How does this relate to MMOGs? Aion is like Transformers 2. It was extremely marketable at the get go and lots of people attended the initial month of play. Within that month, however, players dropped substantially. I remember WAR facing the same issues.

On the other hand, EVE Online is a very playable game. It tried to be marketable when it first released half a decade ago, but saw few subscribers at first. As time went on, CCP perfected their game and stuck with it. From what I read, subscriptions for EVE Online are at their highest. It's no WoW, for sure, but it has enjoyed a greater success than Vanguard, which was one of the most marketable MMOGs we've seen in awhile.

This concept of marketability versus playability is important especially for MMOG developers who rely on continued interest in their game as a means to support their company. I think all too often developers forget that the MMOG is not about the initial box sales, as it is with other games. The MMOG is about longevity and subscriber loyalty.

So this is all I ask of developers from my little rant. Do not, by the graces of whatever deity may be at large in your game, do not make crappy games then market them to us as something they aren't. Just show us the game with nothing veiled or beguiled. Believe in your own game so faithfully that you know it will market itself without any extra fluff. Level with us. Be honest with us. We're not stupid and we don't fall for tricks. Assuming so can only hurt both our wallets and yours.