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.