Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 03, 2007
Where is the hype?

A reader who signs with the symbol "= # # =" left an interesting comment on the Chore Wars post: "On a side note, when a post about chore wars gets more replies than a post about Tabula Rasa, it can't be a good sign for Richard Garriott." Well spotted. There are a number of MMORPGs announced for the second half of 2007: Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Age of Conan, Gods & Heroes, you name it. But the amount of hype around them is curiously low. Nobody seems to be waiting for these. Why is that so?

One reason is certainly the expectation that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) will be BIG, and thus the hype is concentrated towards that game, even if it probably still is one year away. But more importantly it seems that World of Warcraft changed our perception what "big" is. Games that "only" get a couple of hundred thousand players are nowadays considered niche, although 5 years ago that was what the market leaders had. Thus the games I listed above don't excite much. Even the second World of Warcraft expansion, which is probably going to be announced this weekend, is producing more buzz than all the other games of 2007 together.

Or maybe we are suffering a collective MMORPG burnout, a general gaming slump, and can't be excited about anything any more. Which is curious, because I think some of the upcoming games have some merit in being innovative: Tabula Rasa combines MMO elements with FPS elements. Pirates of the Burning Sea has ship-to-ship combat and a trading part (which I am personally most interested in). Age of Conan is trying to revolutionize MMORPG combat with it's "Real Combat" system. And Gods & Heroes has you collect NPC minions working and fighting for you. None of these games are simple EQ/WoW clones.

I'm pretty sure that none of these games will reach subscription numbers in the millions like World of Warcraft. But some of them will be commercially successful enough to make a profit. And their various innovations will advance the MMORPG genre, even if some of those experiments might fail. Somebody has to try to change things like MMO combat, because otherwise in 5 years we will still be stuck with the same autoattack-plus-hotkey combat we already had 5 years ago. Thus I will closely watch the games still coming out this year, and play them. Even the ones I'm sceptical about I would at least want to test them if they offer an open beta. So I'll see whether I can incite some hype about one game or another by presenting them over the coming weeks.
What we witness here isn't about MMOs. It's a trend you can see with every single popular product or service in the last 4 years. WoW is like YouTube or MySpace. Catchy names wich represent a whole concept of services or products. Brands wich become the label for everything like it. Even if you see a better YouTube, the brand is so strong that it will keep the mass audience until a clear superior product comes around. Products do not get valued by their quality anymore but most of the time by the size of their community. Google bought YouTube not for their service, but for its audience.

The same happens in MMOs right now. A friend of a friend of a friend still plays WoW, so all his buddies stay. It's not about the content anymore. Breaking this method of valueing a product is extremely hard. I doubt WAR can achieve that. The only thing that can break WoW or weakens its dominance is WoW itself. Look at what happened in BC, even by decreasing the content quality, they could capture more players. It's nuts. WoW's audience consists of more than 80% of players who can not rate the product, cause they never played an alternative.

It's also a question of media attention. Look what happens with BlizzCon today. Every gaming outlet is focusing on this. Millions of blogs write about it, even more people read it. Other games do not have this press. There are casual MMOs who probably have more active players soon - look at that Disney aquisition of Club Penguin, this game has a profit margin, Blizzard can only dream of - but the mass media isn't writing about those examples yet. It's still WoW and with a BlizzCon once a year, Blizzard will keep this attention for a long time.

Oh and thanks for being back from your holiday. ;)

chrismue said...

WoW's audience consists of more than 80% of players who can not rate the product, cause they never played an alternative.

That's a devastating observation and right on target.
Gods & Heroes has you collect NPC minions working and fighting for you

First thought: wait, what? I wants

Second thought: wait, you mean grown-up-MMO-pokemon?

How have I not read about this game before?
Bob, a good place to start would be the Wikipedia entry on Gods & Heroes.

And in spite of being grown up, I actually liked the Pokemon RPGs on the Gameboy. Because behind the child-friendly exterior, there is a solid RPG with some very innovative ideas. I sure hope that Gods & Heroes will be that good.
Squad management sound tedious. Let's hope that Perpetual Entertainment can pull it off. This title might be the mmorpg that Smedley is promising to unveil tomorrow.
Ah wikipedia, is there nothing you can't teach us?

Also, I agree on the Pokemon front. I only skipped one generation of games, and am waiting for the price to come down on the new one a bit. I don't get the manic EV training, nature breeding, etc some people do, because IMO, hey, its a game, its just fun
[...This title might be the mmorpg that Smedley is promising to unveil tomorrow...]

Smedley is on the verge of proving he is a terrible business man. If he announces a new title on the same weekend as Blizzard unveils its second expansion, he will have shown the world once and for all, that he lacks the business acumen to run a major company.

These types of 'surprize announcements' need to actually create buzz instead of fizzle off into anonimity amidst the avalance of press that is the WoW universe.
I agree with you, but I also don't think SOE has gotten it right since Kunark.
Gods and Heroes could end up an amazingly addictive game, with Stieg Hedlund behind the creative direction (Diablo 2). If it has half of the replayability and tweaking characters addiction that D2 had, I'm sold. Especially if it plays well.

The key will be just how smart the minions are, compared to your average MMO minion.

Official site for WoW's next expansion.

I think it's a stumble, but only time will tell.
Stumble indeed. It's certainly "The Freezing Jihad". Good call, Tobold.

As if we could really expect Blizzard to try something outside of the WoW box.

I'm disappointed, to say the least. Warhammer it is then.
The problem with the news coming from the Tabula Rasa beta is that people are comparing it to Auto Assault: twitch based gaming with only moderate RPG elements. Apparently most MMO players are still addicted to the dungeon crawling archtype of D&D. If RG can flesh out the game with some exciting missions/dungeons it still might come on strong though.

If the game just randomly generates environments and fills them with generic bug monsters people are going to get bored with it quickly.
I think it's a reaction to the overhyping and flat out lying that came with the last generation of releases.

Some people probably ran some numbers and decided it was worse to overhype things and not deliver than it was to attract fewer customers in the first month.

Some of it is just a more mature market. People are less inclined to believe hype after the last three generations of MMOs, and therefore PR types are less inclined to spout hype.
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