Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 07, 2008
Age of Conan longevity

Several people requested an update on Age of Conan, but all I can offer is some links, anecdotal evidence and opinion. From what I hear I am under the impression that Age of Conan suffers from a lack of longevity: Lots of people played it with lots of enthusiasm, and got bored pretty fast afterwards. Classy Gamer collected data on server populations, but when he pointed out the results on the official forums, Funcom censored him. And exact data on AoC subscription numbers are hard to come by, Funcom only ever posts good news, and uses weasle words like "number of units shipped" (not sold).

Of course a certain amount of decrease is due to the summer slump. But bugs and lack of endgame content certainly play a role too. Age of Conan is fun, fast, and furious. But if your're playing a female avatar, you deal less damage than a male, and the bug will take weeks to correct. If you bought AoC for the siege warfare, you found out that it simply doesn't work yet. And while AoC's storytelling and quests are absolutely great level 1 to 20, they get thinner and thinner towards level 80. Not without reason was level 1 to 20 the only part open during the beta. So it is totally possible that people cancelled their account after the initial fun subsided, and they realized AoC didn't have much long-term substance.

And then there is the alternative that players suffer from Bartleitis: "I already played Age of Conan, it was called World of Warcraft". How many people started Age of Conan for the simple reason that they were bored with WoW? But if you have been questing, and leveling, and fighting monsters for loot for 4 years and are bored of it, Age of Conan is only offering you more questing, more leveling, and more fighting monsters for loot. Age of Conan is somewhat different from WoW, especially in graphics and combat system, but it isn't completely different. Gameplay is very similar, just a bit faster during combat. If an overdose of WoW made you burn out of MMORPGs, AoC won't cure you.

So what do you think? Will everybody be back to Age of Conan after the summer, or after a couple of patches? Or was AoC just a mayfly?
i vote for mayfly.
War is comming, WotLK will be released somday in the not so distant future, and there are also some other MMOs to come.
The only chance for AOC is, that they get the Endgame and PVP System patched asap.
But when you look how fast they are with bugfixing, then i doubt that they will succeed.
There are still gambreaking Bugs one month after the launch, so what can you expect?
I had 13 mates all buy a copy. We were all of the understanding that AoC was merely a stop-gap between wow and war.

10 of us have cancelled our accounts after the first month.

Three have remained, and they're getting progressively more jilted. One of the guys has never played an MMO to cap before, and is keen to see it out, the other two are playing with him. I expect they'll cancel their accounts next month.

So from my small sample pool of players, its been a 100% cancel rate.

Me? I'm back playing wow, my priest has broken 400 resilience, and seems quite tough now with a disc build. All 14 of us bought D2 keys again, and we've been playing D2 again in prep for D3 lol.

I expect AoC will be a single paragraph in wikipedia MMORPG history
Interesting article Tobold :). Personally, i've started a lot of games because i was bored with WoW.... from Eve, LotRO, Pirates of the Burning Sea, to even going back to my roots with a text-based MUD (didn't last long.. am a bit of a virtual tourist, i like taking screenshots ;) ).

Anyway, currently on AoC.
On the positive side - it is a lot more engaging than any of the other games i have played post-WoW... i am enjoying it quite a bit, however have paced myself content-wise based on what i've heard about lack of end-content.

On the negative side - some bugs, in particular the memory leaks leading to client crashes, are incredibly annoying. So are their constant patching. If they don't address that soon it wont matter how much you like the game, you wont stay.

Assuming the bugs get addressed, and the end content gets rolled out as expected, i don't think it will be a mayfly. Its not going to rival WoW (what will?) but it will have its own decent player base.. probably something around LotRO population size... probably slightly smaller during WAR while people work out which PvP game they prefer (no guarantee War is going to be all that good... still, i'll probably try it ;) ). Believe it or not but there are people who prefer low fantasy settings to high fantasy :)

For those bored with WoW like me, WotLK doesn't offer anything that would entice a lot back. Its the same grind all over again. I wont be revisiting it. Might revisit Warcraft III in a fit of nostalgia, but wont be heading back to WoW.

Finally, on the stats... they are pretty interesting, however i'd take them with a grain of salt. You got to keep in mind its only a sample of people using XFire and they are hardly representative of the gaming community. In my gaming experience i've never known anyone to use it outside of these blogs (preference is Ventrillo... maybe XFire is preferred in europe?).
It was never going to be more than a niche game, and I was surprised by it's initial success.

The fact that it's an EQ/WoW clone is completely irrelevant.

The lesson is to have your endgame done before you go live. Are you listening Mythic?
I think it to a large extent depends on the mindset of the people when they started playing it.

If people are just playing while they are waiting for another game release, then it will be easy to find things that a re bad enough to stop playing. And then people also may be playing with a mindset to rush through things a bit more, to "experience" all while there is time.

And of course if people only played WoW before,that will set a precedent on how they expect thigns to be and may rush to the "end game" for that reason.

People who like the Conan setting and were interested in the game for itself will likely stick around.

With enough of the former group the population may certainly thin out a bit.

I cancelled myself, but I were not particularly interested in Conan from start, merely a bit curious. I am not waiting for any new releases from EA Mythic or Blizzard either.
Great followup on AoC.

Like people said before, they need to fix and add so much to get players hooked, it's way over their heads.

I wrote my experience as to why AoC is was not for me.

Hope you don't mind me posting the link
For me it is a diversion to fill the gap while waiting for WAR. However my patience with the game is wearing thin after 66 levels.

Inconsistant design, bugs and gaps in content are one factor thats turning me off. Another is the plethora of kill quests that even with a full spawn of mobs cannot be satisfied (add a few other players unwilling to join forces in the same location and kill quests become a tedious nightmare of racing to tag targets before others). Then theres the constant kill a named quests, where the named can take up to 15 minutes to spawn (and inevitably then gets tagged by a passer by). Yes you can change instance - but I'm noticing more and more there is only one instance availble (signs of a lower population perhaps?).

My trust in the developers was shattered when in order to "fix farming in a public instance", they made all elites effectively scale, so even one 10 or 20 levels below you can't be easily solo'd. This solution feels like they took a sledgehammer to crack a nut - and now to do any elite group quest, no matter of level, you need a reasonably balanced group. You can't simply outlevel that content and do it in an easy mode anymore.

IMHO, unless Funcom can pull off some major polishing in the next month or so, we could see AOC go the way of AC2 and Auto Assault. It would be a shame though, as they do have an excellent MMO in AoC, it just needs to be finished and polished up!
Considering that Funcom still runs Anarchy Online with probably less than 15,000 users, I doubt Age of Conan is in danger of being shut down soon. People who had WoW as their first game keep saying AoC was a stop gap for WAR, but the truth is probably closer to AoC being a step along the way to them becoming the jaded gamers from EQ or UO where nothing is as good as their first MMO but they keep trying new ones hoping something can recapture the magic... and nothing ever will.
AoC was a lot of fun in the beginning but it just seems as if Funcom is too busy trying to please everyone with their bug fixes instead of rather focusing on these problems from a questing, balancing and social perspective.

Every game has it's bugs in the beginning, sure - but if you're going to expect to compete with the rivals that have already fixed these problems then you're going to have to make sure your product is ready before you take it to the masses.
I found the comments of the link rather interesting. If the original author (and the posters) is to be believed, the AoC forum moderators quickly censored any talk of server populations, to the point of handing out infractions. But AoC did not provide any population data either. Hmmm...

IMO, AoC might be a bad harbinger for WAR. It might be signaling that AoC pulled in a lot of discontented WoW players who played a WoW-clone and got quickly bored, again. If indeed WAR is too much a WoW-clone, then WAR might also be a flash-in-the-pan, with great initial sales followed by many former WoW players suffering rapid burnout. And really, I suppose that shouldn't be a great surprise.

Three lessons spring to mind:
1) Giving burned-out players a variation on the same theme will not work in the long term (like it or not, right now in the hey-day of WoW: fantasy MMO = WoW (or WoW-clone))
2) Giving players a variation on the same theme means that they enter a ‘new’ game like experienced players, and will consume the content quickly and efficiently (AoC may ‘feel’ like leveling an alt in WoW)
3) Similar games will inevitably be compared: Any new fantasy MMO just about begs to be compared to WoW (most likely for the worse)
I can't cite any large volume data other than the three data points that are myself and two friends.

We leveled up to the mid-20's and lost interest. Part of that was the lack of fun factor, but we also noticed a big part was the general clunkiness and difficulty. Zoning into buildings, enduring lengthy load-screens (solid-spec'd PC's here), and the generally ugly user interface turned out to be enough of a minor drag to bring us down.

We realized that we're spoiled by WoW's incredible polish. Other games are going to have to fight that either directly with polish of their own or a super addictive gameplay that can overcome the drag created by non-Blizzard levels of polish.
I like the game a lot and some of the new content they have patched in like the updated Black Castle is brilliant. Unfortunately, the game has massive bugs that rear their head up every once and awhile and ruin your day. It's also obvious that Funcom isn't familiar with things like streamlined UI design or anti-spam prevention.

Also they really aren't hiding anything by giving "units shipped" since its a valid measurement of retail demand. They've released another number recently, which was 700k accounts made. This gives a more accurate picture of the initial popularity of the game, though they have probably lost a decent portion after the first month.
If I'm going to play another WoW, it's going to be Warhammer. I've heard nothing about AoC that would make me want to play it. It had its month or two of fame. Time to move along.
I am sure that a very large percentage of the people playing AoC played WoW at one time or another, and equally sure that WoW fatigue pushed a large percentage of those into AoC.

There's little question, I think, that the major challenge facing Funcom is retaining customers from their strong launch, by both fixing problems and addressing design weaknesses in the game. From where I'm sitting, they appear to be muffing that effort so far. But I don't think the situation is at all unsalvageable yet. But the clock is ticking. That said, a lot of the problems have been overtalked, and anyone saying that AoC is in any kind of danger of shutdown is obviously speaking from their ass.
Expectations of AoC being a "WoW killer" are unfounded, but the game should be able to survive in its own niche for a while. The combat system alone will keep many die hard fans around, and Funcom moved enough boxes initially to recoup a good chunk of the dev costs.

I think AoC's niche will be smaller than it could have been, largely because they stuck too closely to WoW paradigms. Nobody - least of all a small shop like Funcom - is going to make a better Diku style treadmill than WoW, and trying to compete there is simply insane. AoC will survive because its combat system is "different enough," but the sameness in the rest of the game really holds it back.

There's a limited number of "WoW clone" games that can actually survive in the market at any one time. I imagine that, in the future, truly unique games (like EVE) will be more abundant and more popular. AoC may have its niche for now, but what happens when a game comes along that does combat better and *doesn't* clone WoW otherwise? I can't help but think that originality will pay off in the long run.
If they pump AoC full of content within the next few months, Ill think about it. I knew I likely would only play it until WotLK came out and I had a craving for WoW again, but it didnt even last that long. I cancelled my account.
Problem with AoC is lacking content.
Lacking features.

Most bugs don't break a game, but Bugs that actually remove a feature are a problem. AoC has several.

AoC will stabilizse at ~100k players is my guess.
But considering the marketing lies I hope it ends up with zero players.
I had some serious frustrations once the rose-colored glasses gained some clarity.

Loading screens were rediculous, even during the time that I loved the game. You have a loading screen when you die(short), a loading screen when you respec ( very long and generally causes issues), a loading screen between every zone, etc.

Loading between zones isnt a problem except when they are excessive and frequent.

Crafting wasnt even close to being complete. It still doesnt work well. Dumb move.

Raiding as an end-game is fine. Its not fine when gear is mostly meaningless.

Sieges are not working.

65+, there isnt enough content to support the players. AoE grinding becomes the norm, but there is so much competition for so few spots. All content from this point forward is bottlenecked.

Leveling is WAY too fast and easy in the game for someone to accuse others of rushing through content. I played a good amount, but not hardcore, and got to 65(assassin) in less than a month, as well as having several mid 40s characters ( HoX and Necro).

WoW didnt release with a full end-game complete, but there was plenty to do. AoC doesnt have a single compelling thing to do at the level cap which is a HUGE problem for a game that pushes you to the end ( or a bottleneck just before it) so quickly.

I wont even complain about the bugs. Ill just say my char is female and that it took them a LONG time to just acknowlege the attack speed bug. I can deal with bugs when there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I dont see AoC dying anytime soon. Maybe one day it will be worth playing again.

I had a blast 1-20, and 20-50 was alot of fun too. Some zones had some rediculous performance problems (I would be in the 60 fps range most of the time, down to single digits in places like noble district, and the public dungeons like the cistern are unplayable.)
probably will not go back, and not because the login screen puts my cpu to 100% use when the gameplay does not.

nor because the combat system just replaces single button attacks with multiple button attacks instead (which accomplishes the same thing but slower and boring) I wish the combo system was actually a combo system rather than slowly timed sequence of button pressing(bashing implies i have to press fast - this does not happen in age of conan)

but because the game is just crap - graphics should be the last thing a game should try and sell to the customer as a "feature", not the first.

OK so I never really was looking forward to AoC, I've been burnt in the past. I avoided all hype and replied 'meh' with a shrug of my shoulders when it came up in conversation. I knew my regular playing group were champing at the bit for it, so I bought it on release day along with them.

Personally I didn't get past 22 level with my main. My final decision to cancel my account was 4 days too late (I suck at remembering dates) so Funcom should be pleased with the extra months subscription they got out of me. In return they introduced game crashing bugs with each new patch. I had less trouble running Vanguard at release than AoC, and that's with a completely new system.

Speaking of which, SOE were clever in having their 'win back' strategies during the AoC launch. I started playing again with the free month on offer and what was interesting was I found myself playing Vanguard more often than AoC and for much longer (even during the heady early days of less crashes per hour). I'll probably resub to Vanguard when my free time runs out.

But I don't hate AoC, if it manages to stay alive and improve over the next year or two and add a hell of a lot more things to do, that work, I'll consider going back to it. It all depends though. In all likelyhood I'll forget all about it with all the new and wonderful WoW clones that are coming out ;)
I'm still enjoying AoC, but I'll say this: If you're looking for an escape from WoW on combat, or gear-progression, then AoC is your tonic.

But otherwise, it still follows the same basic EQ mechanics. Same meal, different spices.

I'll keep playing, because for me it's the best of the choices right now, but I'd rather have more choices.
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