Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Timing your entry

A reader sent me a mail with an interesting point for discussion: When is the best point to start playing a MMO, at launch or later? Hot subject insofar as I compared WAR to WoW and LotRO, and Serial Ganker sid67 and several commenters remarked that the validity of that comparison very much depends on whether I compare WAR at launch with WoW/LotRO at launch or WoW/LotRO years later.

World of Warcraft at launch had serious server problems and some quite annoying bugs, like being stuck in loot position. Blizzard fixed those bugs in the months after, and added a lot of content over time, in free content patches and one expansion. So for some time one can honestly say that WoW got better with time. On the other hand, WoW right now, pre-WotLK, is in some sort of a trough. If you started World of Warcraft right now as a brand new player, you'd have a rather lonely time leveling your character up. Leveling up in 2005, where you could easily find people to group with for every dungeon, was more fun than leveling up in 2008. Also how good a game is is very much a subjective thing. Many WoW veterans are kind of burned out, having been there, done that, and are getting bored, at least until the next expansion. Thus my on the surface conflicting statements that I will play WAR on release, but think that WoW is the better game. If you just finished reading the best book in the world, do you read it again, or do you read a new book which is not quite as good?

I always liked playing new games right from the start. For me MMORPGs are social games, and it is easier to play with other people when everyone is in the same level range. Leveling up in parallel with everybody else in your guild is more fun than joining later and playing catch up. But if you want to play from the start, you need to develop a thick skin regarding bug resistance. I already mentioned that I had some trouble recently with WAR, alt-tabbing out to see some website, or my virus scanner popping into the foreground for an update, and alt-tabbing back into WAR presented me with a black screen. So I had to shoot down WAR with the task manager, log back in, and promptly found myself in a waiting queue because the server was full. There are also bugs in the open beta (Mythic hopes to fix them still before release) with mobs that can't be attacked. Some jerks discovered how to exploit that in PvP when playing a pet class, attacking other player with a pet that can't be attacked. And I personally had a case where that bug prevented me from advancing a public quest. I also tried the tradeskill talisman making, and found that I couldn't place the magical essences into the recipe window, so even when I had all components I still couldn't make a talisman. Even with Mythic in full bug-fix mode, nobody in his right mind expects WAR to be completely bug-free on launch day. But hey, I played Anarchy Online on launch day, and Star Wars Galaxies, or more recently Age of Conan, which months after release still has more bugs than the WAR beta. I can survive bugs, as long as they don't prevent me from playing.

So whether you should join a new game on launch day or better some months later depends on what you are looking for. Many games had problems of lacking content on launch (can't really say that about WAR or WoW, but LotRO or AoC certainly fall in that category), and maybe you want to wait until they are more complete. But then you are missing all the release day fun, when every level 1 mob is camped by a dozen players. :) (Hint: If that happens to you in WAR, join a scenario queue, you earn xp there too, plus renown, and enemy players respawn faster than mobs.) Finding a guild, making new friends, playing together with others, all that is easier in the early days of a game. Plus some players consider MMOs as a race, where being the first to level to the cap or achieve something is considered a great achievement, and you can only do that if you start early.

For all those reasons most MMO players prefer starting a new game directly at launch. Which has serious consequences for the companies running those games. Industry rule of thumb is that later only 10% to 20% of your subscribers are online at the same time. On launch day you get 50% to 100%, because those who prefer to wait of course don't subscribe yet. So if your servers are totally well equipped to handle 20% of your subscribers at prime time, you can still run into trouble in the early days.
Another point is that it depends on the rate at which you chew through content. I played WoW at launch, and when I was still in my 20s there were players on the forums essentially saying "BOOM 60!....Now where the hell are the raids?"

In LoTRO players that hit the mid 30s within the first month discovered a pretty grindy endgame. There was a big gap in the quest content, and few classes earned any new abilities after 35 (save for legendaries). I never really had that problem because I'm such a casual player. Evindim went in almost exactly when I needed it (although I did go through a much clunkier version of Angmar than is in game now). I've been playing since the open beta I can't say I once ran out of solo content.

If you are going to hit the cap in two weeks, being in the launch of an MMO is a much riskier proposition than if you will take months to get there like I do.
for casual player like me, id like to get my hands on Warhammer at least 1 month from release. but since you already recommend Warhammer , i have the confidence to buy it at release.

'Tobold Approved' Seal indeed
I started playing WoW a year after it came out.
I had tried it previously on a friend's account, and at the time it didn't grab me that much (maybe it was the Gnome starting area).

I have no regrets about that at all. I don't think I 'missed the boat', as there were plenty of newbies like me when I started playing.
I'm also glad I levelled to 60 and got to go to all the old world instances (well ok, only a tiny slice of Naxx) pre-BC.
People who started playing after BC came out, missed a lot of fun.

So for me, to start a game once the initial dust has settled is the way to go, but don't leave it too long.
I really felt this when trying out LOTRO year after launch. With all the story chapter quests. Seeing where the rest of the guild and most players were I felt really far behind.
Assuming a game is not in an alpha state, the first few months of a new MMO are always good times. Tons of stuff changes, everyone is having 'oh cool' moments, and most people still have that 'be nice to your new roommate' mentality.

But Yeebo has a good point, if people power game and hit the cap way too early, it can be frustrating.
Talisman making isn't broken Tobold it just isn't very intuitive.

You have to have 5 components.

1. Container: You buy this from a merchant. Called a relic box or something like that.

2. You need a fragment. You get this from using salvaging on magical items (Disenchanting).

3. Curio- You can get these either from scavanging or you can get them from the merchant.

4. Essences- You get these from salvaging various items including magical items.

5. Gold Core- Merchant as well. Possibly salvaging also.

It is fairly complicated given that the low level stuff is a +2 to a stat for about 8 hours of game play. Also I don't like how you need 2 gathering skills to keep it self suffecient.
I have all these components, but when I try to place them all in the talisman making window, it will accept everything except your point 4, the essence. And I have stacks of two types of essences, which say that by salvaging you can combine 5 of them into one of a better type, and that doesn't work either. I wonder if the US has already a more advanced patch version than Europe, where I tried that.
The optimal entry time depends also on the time horizon you want to play that game.

If you are quickly bored, have enough money to buy a new box every few months or even more often (and need news to write about in a gaming blog ;) ) those starting months are the best.

If you are looking for a game to spend your time in the next year or more, you are much better off with an established game. There is a lot of content, well organized guilds and probably like-minded people within the game, i.e. the danger of everyone leaving in a few months when the next blockbuster starts is lowered.

A nice side effect of this is a lowered monthly cost and less pressure to upgrade your hardware.
@Tobold. Yes there are multiple types of essences that all combine upwards until you reach one type that is not able to be combined. These final ones are the essences that you get to use to make talismans.

I believe the base component is 10 of one type makes a large type. Then you need 5 of those to combine in order to get the one that you actually need. I am at work so I can't boot up the beta and give you all the names.

I think it goes something like Whisper (10) -> Echo (5) -> Essence (Blue and useable in the crafting)

Are you opening up your window and using the salvage skill on the stacks of components?

I know some of them I could just click on in my bags and they would combine but others I had to use the salvaging icon on.

It certainly feels like it needs a bit of polishing to say the least. It is possible that we have a more advanced patch in the US. I know for the first preview weekend talisman making wasn't even in yet.

Sorry to steer your thread so off topic.
The trouble with established games is that they keep raising the level cap. That forces a single player game style. What is the point running through instances for good gear when it becomes useless so quickly?

What they should do it keep a fixed level cap. When an expansion comes out they should reduce the level of all players mobs and items. This way the game can keep expanding horizontally. Levelling stays fun because there's more and more content for each level. Items become useful for a longer period of time so you can feel free to take the extra effort to acquire them. The people at the top still get new content to play through - but there's no longer a massive gap between levels.
For me, I find entry time, particularly with expansions, to also be dependent on environment, as in the game mechanics and game setup.

For example, creating a Blood Elf within the first 1-2 weeks of TBC for WoW was insane. There were at least 100+ Blood Elves in the starting area during the first week and the zone simply wasn't designed to accommodate that many players, i.e., not enough mobs for everyone meaning lots of competition and relatively slow leveling. I didn't really pursue a Blood Elf until at least 1 month after TBC launch.

Another example is Ironforge at WoW's launch. The lag in Ironforge was insane, rendering the city nigh unusable. I remember avoiding IF because I simply could not operate or function in it. This lasted for months, not being fixed or addressed until way down the line.

In comparison, Blizzard is doing Death Knights a bit differently for WotLK. All Death Knights will start off in their own personally instance, with a bunch of quests to finish before they can exit. While I suspect the instance servers may have issues with the load early on, at least there won't be the same Blood Elf mob-scarcity and players will be able to make, and play, Death Knights from launch.

These are very specific examples, but they illustrate how game mechanics and content accessibility based thereon can affect the players at launch.

Also, your comment on being thick-skinned with respect to bugs is pretty important. SWG wasn't complete until about a month after launch. Literally, there were skills (Master Tailor) that were not implemented and/or did not function. So many bugs that it was crazy.
I can't say WoW's launch bugs were anything big. The loot bug is the only one that I remember being perturbed about and that was really a split-second inconvenience more than anything. WoW was just so good all around even at launch.
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