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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 8:26PM
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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!