Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 27, 2009
MMORPG Quality

I have a shocking theory about why Age of Conan and Warhammer Online had such a low retention rate, losing most of their subscribers after a short time: These games simply weren't very good. Shocking, I'm telling you! I'm arriving at that conclusion from economic theory, particularly the theory of the homo economicus, or basically the idea that people know what they are doing. Given the choice between similar games at similar cost, the majority of players will play the best game.

Of course that sends us down the slippery slope of what "best" is. Fans of smaller games often claim that World of Warcraft is the Big Mac to their games caviar. Unfortunately the comparison doesn't hold. People are not unable to tell the quality difference between a Big Mac and caviar, they are more influenced by the difference in price and convenience. A quick burger is often preferable to a nouvelle cuisine meal, in terms of price, quantity, and speed. MMORPGs aren't so different from each other, AoC, WAR, and WoW cost nearly the same, and have the same requirement of time. To assume that the larger number of players tends towards the *worse* game means you need to assume that the majority of players is too stupid to recognize quality. Which is a rather insulting and elitist assumption.

But how can we measure the quality of a MMORPG? Often the fans of one game point at features or game design the other game doesn't have. There is no denying that Age of Conan and Warhammer Online brought some good new ideas to the genre. But then they don't have all the features that World of Warcraft has, and comparing the length of feature lists doesn't work at all to compare quality. A better approach is to look at areas where the games are similar or even nearly identical. For example the auction house in WAR has a very similar functionality and game design as the WoW auction house. But if you look at the two side by side, it is obvious that the WoW auction house works much better than it's WAR equivalent. Or we could compare mob pathfinding, checking how likely a mob is to get stuck or be unable to find a path to the player. While we tend to focus on the differences, all these games belong to the same genre, and are by definition somewhat similar to each other, because otherwise they would fall out of the MMORPG genre. Thus if these games all have icons on hotbars to start spells and abilities in combat, we *can* compare the quality of execution of the different systems, check for example how reactive they are, or compare the visual quality of the icons.

Back in 2004 the fans of Everquest claimed that World of Warcraft won out against the nearly simultaneously released EQ2 due to better marketing. It is possible that there are undiscovered gems out there few people are playing. But that argument falls flat the moment a game gets a huge wave of initial subscribers, who *after* playing the new game for a while decide that it isn't for them. In that case either the gameplay is less appealing, or the quality of execution, the programming is inferior. Nobody would ever react with "Hey, this new game is more fun and runs better than WoW, lets go back to WoW". A customer who leaves and goes back to WoW means the new game failed to attract him. WoW might be the standard by which he measured that new game, but obviously he was willing to try something else, and would have staid if that something else had had sufficient quality.

This is important not because I like WoW better than WAR or AoC, that's a pure random event, albeit with high statistical probability. I could as well belong to the smaller groups of people who prefer the other games. But the important part comes when we move the discussion away from the Neanderthal-like "WoW bad, my game good, uga, uga!", and start to ask what exactly attracts some people to one game and other people to another game. Do these games have qualities that are diametrically opposed to each other? Or could we identify the strong points of several different games and create a game that is even better than WoW, by combining WoW's strengths with the strengths of other games. I recently mentioned that WoW for example is weak on social interaction, and some hardcore games are strong in that field, and proposed that a game could be both accessible *and* have strong social interaction if designed right. I would love to see some other games than WoW succeed better in the MMORPG market and get millions of subscribers. But for that to happen, people need to learn to analyze details. Nobody says WoW is perfect, but it must have rather good parts. The idea that WoW is universally bad, and millions of players have been too blind to see that after spending 4 years and thousands of hours, is downright ridiculous. That doesn't mean that only WoW clones can be a mass success, but it does mean that developers of future successful games do have to be willing to analyze what WoW did right, and which features of WoW aren't necessary for success. In the end a "WoW Killer" will come from a pool of ideas, many of which have been contributed by WoW itself, others from other games, and a few actually new ideas thrown into the mix. It would be foolish to dismiss ideas from any game out of stupid turf war considerations.
There are other factors to consider. Many people might try another game and quit, not because it's bad, but because it's not WoW. People are used to a certain sort of game, certain reward patterns and certain types of punishment; such as the pretty light death penalty in WoW compared to say, Darkfall. They may prefer the PvE focus of WoW, so inevitably if they try a more PvP-focused game, it won't be what they want. Social aspects are probably a big thing. WoW may be weak on social interaction, but still, people have friends they play with. If they're going to try another game they have to either play alone or move their friends. The first option makes the new game less fun and the second may not be an option due to the difficulty of moving several people to a new world, coordinating races with different starting areas...

While it's far more likely that a bad game will fail, a quality game can still fail. Unfortunately I don't think developers realize this. After all, WoW had a lot of gigantic problems when it was released, and continued to have them (it still has some now). But as I think you've said, competition isn't with WoW at release, it's now, and WoW has gotten a lot better. Ixobelle had an interesting idea on this: licensing the base technology of WoW for the creation of other games. This would allow other games to more easily develop a level of polish needed to compete, which is partially why I doubt we'll see it for many years.
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I think you hit a really good point there. WoW has always been known for its polish, however it does go deeper than that. Try running WAR or EQ side by side and look at the character modeling, the look 'n feel of the UI and the character animations.

Listen to the sound as well. One of the first things that got me in WoW was the sound and I didn't even realize it. The crunch of snow under my dwarf's boots, the report of his rifle and the 'cling' when he parried an attack. Combat looked like it was dynamic, like there really were solid hits and close dodges happening.

This was one of the biggest issues I had with LotRO, WAR and EQ2. The actual gameplay, combat, which made up the vast majority of the game was just not engaging and lacked feeling.

I think this is more an issue with 'WoW Tourists'. I know the term has been thrown around too much, but I think it's a bigger issue than people give it credit for. I think in this case WoW has attracted a lot of completely new players who have never played an MMO before and WoW is all they know. They don't really want anything different, in fact, chances are they don't even want WoW or an MMO, but they're playing it because it's popular and/or they have friends that play it. Naturally they're not going to like other MMO, but it's not an issue of quality.
I think WoW's ability to keep the game's system requirements lower than their competition has given them a big edge. I tried to play AoC and LOTRO on my machine and I could not get them to work smoothly unless I really dumbed down game settings. I'm not willing to spend hundreds of dollars to upgrade my comp just to play a newer MMO that is only marginally better than WoW.
I like how you mention the small things like the AH. For me these are the real reason I have not moved on from WoW despite trying many MMOs.

Just as one example I can give you why I didn't like LotRO so much;
- Item Text was blurry and poorly coloured, and hard to tell which items were good
- The way the character moved was to jarring
- Instanced quest areas

I mean these are such trivial things, but all of them add up to a big reason why I didn't carry on with the game. It's hard for games to have this polish at launch, and I don't think any game can be expected to. However, people won't move on with WoW until they are totally ready for something new. And AOC and WAR are not that.
I think it's more of evolution. WoW was just lucky when they released it. When it was released you had a lot of bugs, lack of content and dungeons. However, their advantage was they had Diablo 2/Warcraft. Their playerbase was/is enormous and only has grown. At the moment, wow is still harvesting the fruits, but you can see the cracks in the foundation. Every release is "completed" faster by the mass.
While people can analyze WoW for its benefits and merits, I think they should start at the core, not at the sugar coating and immense polish.

WoW uses the EverCrack-formula. With its addictive strength, but also some weaknesses, some created by WoW themselves. Wolfshead pointed me to this GDC lecture by Jeff Kaplan aka Tigole, WoW designer who is supposedly now more working on the ominous "NextGen" MMO.
"The Cruise Director of AZEROTH: Directed Gameplay within WORLD OF WARCRAFT"

Perhaps some people wish more freedom of exploration, and less of a guided bus tour. Muckbeast was already hinting at that with quests becoming more like tasks.
People could like something else than the raiding scheme that quite degenerated IMO. The challenge is gone, now it is a 10 to 25 people sized organized square dance. I especially miss the "epic" feeling, it has become commonware.

Besides that, I do not know how to copy success. Jeff Strain from ArenaNet said: Don't copy, find your strength and focus on what you are good at. - People will still copy good ideas, but IMO many devs are riding the holy trinity concept of EverQuest, levelling and raiding as endgame content to death, not to new, exciting gameplay ideas.
Much more people spend their free time smoking weed than playing Darkfall or EvE (or doing volunteer work for the red cross). So Darkfall and EvE (and Red Cross) are much less worthy than smoking weed. Any other idea is "a rather insulting and elitist assumption".
Both Mythic and Funcom knew exactly what they were doing, they saw a chance to release their games before WoWs latest expansions and take advantage of bored WoW players looking for something a bit different. I played WAR beta and it was great however when it went live it was terrible and full of glitches and bugs.

Also this lack of polish and give an MMO a year crap just doesn’t hold any water, if someone wants to make a successful game and compete with WoW they NEED to release a finished game, they know what they are up against. People can argue that WoW has had a 4 year head start on games but again that doesn’t matter, its not as if WoW has drastically changed over that period, if anything its gotten bigger, easier and if im honest a bit tired.

Look at WAR they released with massive content and class cuts just to get out before WoTLK, the fact of the matter was their game wasn’t ready for release and they paid the price due to people leaving after the free month ended. Can you blame people for paying for a box , being let down by the company and subsequently choosing to leave? Of course not. They aren’t going to stick around and spend money on something they don’t enjoy while Mythic gets its finger out and adds things which where supposed to be included in release.

In conclusion if WAR had held off and released now I think it would be doing a hell of a lot better. For one they would have the added content and two it would be after WoTLK which everyone knew WoW players would return to.

The MMO world is a fickle one so if you want to compete you have to bring a finished product to the table
I'm one of those players who tried Age of Conan & War and went back to WoW eventually.

For war, it was a detail:
-> Not being able to rebind my keys to the numpad /* buttons made me very annoyed. I've been playing WoW with the numpad for 4 years and any other shooter with the numpad since 10 years or so. I'm not gonna use something different for one game. Besides, it's my nr 1 fail for any game: am I able to rebind my keys in any way I like? Fail that test and it's not looking good.

And for conan, it was a bigger fail:
-> At lvl 17, I was getting my ass handed over to me when trying to fight 2 mobs of the same level. And had to pass those to continue the quests. Was just frustratingly difficult. When complaining to a WoW friend, he asked me "did you play a bear shaman?". Yeah, I did...

Did they fix these issues by now?
There is another point of food-based comparison.
From an European point of view eating bugs and worms is disgusting, but a really big number of people from other parts of the world like that kind of food as really delicious.
We recognize certain food as good or bad since childhood. So what if due to some cultural or whatever reasons, your first food was a fried cockroach?
Quality is not the only factor IMHO.
I think WoW is successful because most people don’t look for something else if they like what they have. WoW attracted a lot of new players to the mmo genre and they really have no reason to leave because WoW does most everything it does well (maybe not the best but well) and with such a high level of polish (even new content) that other games just don’t stack up.
Both WAR and AoC are a lot better now than at release but they had to compete with a polished four year old game, anybody that wants to get a few million players and keep them will have to release a game that is as polished as WoW .
From an European point of view eating bugs and worms is disgusting, but a really big number of people from other parts of the world like that kind of food as really delicious.
We recognize certain food as good or bad since childhood. So what if due to some cultural or whatever reasons, your first food was a fried cockroach?

QFT. A theme park-style (read: EverCrack) game is not by definition any better or worse than sandbox-style games. However, in this case WoW, AoC, WAR and LotRO are all theme park-style, the only major difference is the focus (or lack of it) on PvP. But all of those "minor" issues do also add up, especially those that keep interfering with the fun again and again.

WoW does deliver layers and layers of polish over the DikuMUD formula, but it also aimed at non-traditional-MMO-player demographics from the start as well. Too many designers thought that following the DikuMUD formula and adding some polish would have been enough to rise to a contender status. Looking just at the core or just the layer of polish is not enough if one wants to deconstruct WoW's success. As shocking it may seem, Blizzard might just have made some insightful (as well as some idiotic) design decisions of their own as well.
'but they had to compete with a polished four year old game' again why throw this in?
Are competitors not expected to release a 2009 Game? or do people expect them to come out with a 2004 game that is missing things but will improve in a few months?

While WoW had added to things over the years, a new game is given the opportunity to have these things in place at launch.
"Both Mythic and Funcom knew exactly what they were doing, they saw a chance to release their games before WoWs latest expansions and take advantage of bored WoW players looking for something a bit different."

I wonder how WAR would fare if it was released now in a much more polished form? They'd still get the same bump in bored WoW player subscribers, however with players now seeing how the WoW endgame has changed from challenging to mindless WAR may have actually been able to retain more users....

I played the WAR 10 day trial pass recently and mostly enjoyed it, but the cost of entry was too high given that I couldn't experience real RvR in the trial game. If I didn't have to buy the box, I would have paid 'em for at least one month to get a better feel for the game.
As others have said, I believe that for me the polish of WoW was enough to keep me on it. When I tried out WAR, I found it to be a very interesting game, but I felt somewhat detached from the combat, the character felt somewhat less responsive when I pressed something on my action bars. I had exactly the same issue when I tried out LotRO.

A very subtle issue, but I think this alone might have been the clincher when deciding which game to keep a subscription to. That, and the social bonds I had in WoW, of course.
I doubt I will ever be attracted to another MMORPG as much as I am to WoW.
It was the first online game that I ever tried (and the first proper RPG) and although it hasn't ruined all other online games for me, I will never get that same sense of "Whoa!" as I realised how big and rich the world was and the first time I spoke to someone in game, then partied with them etc.

I still play WoW off and on, but I believe what is keeping me there despite being jaded are the hopes (or memories of) repeating the feelings of those first few weeks of playing it.

I have tried other RPG's in the intervening years but I always end up comparing them to WoW. The closest thing I can compare it to is "thinking" in your native spoken language. You can learn other languages but you will always think in the one you are most comfortable with.

In terms of why old-hand RPG'ers still like WoW, I would guess it at some of these reasons:
- The ability to log on for short amounts of time and still accomplish something.
- That you are not forced to group to accomplish something (ties into the point above).
- The level of visible polish - graphics, quick start-up times, sounds etc.
- The "timeless" graphical style. WoW is not visually dating as quickly as other games.
- A well placed horizon. There is almost always something to aim for doing (a bit more reputation with a faction, a few more heroics for that badge epic, a run around for an achievement). The horizon never seems too far away (or too close).
- The best raiding end-game of any MMORPG.
Tobold, "quality" isn't an objective characteristic.
"Working much better" is not an objective characteristic.
Even "polish" isn't an objective characteristic.
You can argue that those games are failing due to problematic launches, bugs, high system requirements, you name it.
But if you speak about "quality" do so after defining what do you understand by "quality." Is it functional AH, even in a game where the Auction House is just a minor feature that nobody really uses for they don't need to. Is it font text (lol)? Is it mob path finding in a PvP focused game (lol)?

And for your second paragraph, well, Gevlon here said it all. And I can ask which of the following has more quality: Usher or Tom Waits, Dan Brown or Saramago, etc... But let me reassure you: there is nothing wrong in catering for the lowest common denominator and there's nothing wrong in liking it.
A quality of a MMORPG might be measured in how good it can achieve its goals. Considering this, all kinds of games could have quality, from the most simple MUD and web site mmos, to most complex worlds like World of Warcraft.

Blizzard really put effort on every aspect of their game, making quality of everything they wanna put in their products. Thats why, in WoW, you can have fun raiding, pvping, doing quests, leveling alts, messing with the auction house. Putting like this, I dont think WoW is a Big Mac, but rather that restaurant you can eat every day, because everything you order is good food.
I played EQ PvP heavily for quite a few years before trying WoW.

Character models/ scenery/ sounds/ quest lines were the last thing I was looking at coming from a hardcore PvP guild. I wanted PvP versatility, jousting was pointless in WoW. Hitting someone until they moved from their spot interrupted casting doesn't work in WoW. All I ever knew about game mechanics is what I learned in EQ.

So WoW deffinetly was too carebear of a game for me and quickly quit to go back to EQ.

Eventually EQ just became a game of hacking and hiding in instaces, so PvP went on a huge decline.

Eventually real life catches up with you and says... you can't hide in the basement every day after work for the rest of your life. So I couldn't be hardcore anymore and needed to have a real life too.

WoW then became the game for me. I could die and not lose xp. I could camp at an inn and build on the xp bar. PvP was simplistic, I didnt have to manage 16 buffs while fighitng always having insta clickies on hand. I didn't need a full group to move my xp bar at a noticible level. I could just turn it off practically whenever I wanted and wasn't stuck in a 8+ hour raid.

Everything was just as I needed it at the time, laid back.

I think people go out and try games already have in mind what they are looking for.

The first time I was looking for the next version of EQ without the hacking at the time and didn't find it in WoW.

The second time I was looking for something more laid back than EQ that I could have a just turn off whenever I want. That for me is WoW.

If I moved back into the hardcore PvP mode I would probably go check out Darkfall. But that's just not what I'm looking for now.

Read up on any game before you buy it. Question what kind of time the game needs from you and what kind of time your willing to put into the game.

Games don't always need quality graphics to be the game for you. As long as it fits your niche.
I think that UI is a big factor, (and ease of use of auction house is kinda a UI issue). The advantage WoW has is that almost all of its problems and gaps in the UI have either been corrected in response to player and in-house feedback or they have been correctly identified and cured by other games or by addon makers. Soon the join a battleground from anywhere feature from WAR will be cannibalised, there are a great many examples of good ideas from other games co-opted by WoW. Soon Outfitter will be cannibalised, there are a great many examples of good ideas from addons that are co-opted by WoW. In both cases the public do a QA process on these ideas before it ever gets tagged as a Blizzard feature.

The disadvantage other games have is that they're simply too proud to borrow these rather mundane features and tack good gameplay onto it. Instead gameplay that might be fun: the city building and city conflict of AoC and the RvR of War gets impeded by a small mountain of annoying UI issues. Although small issues in themselves once you have a large number of "how do I answer a whisper?" issues a game becomes a chore and it's easy to get demoralised.

Some very foreseeable gameplay problems beset AoC LotR and War. War couldn't handle low pop since most of its elements (rvr, pqs) require dense population. AoC was just terrible at math. Rangers killing mobs twenty times faster than Dark Templars? Gem inserts tripling melee dps? Honestly it's as if they couldn't figure out that 20 gem slots and +10% damage gems might alter the power of a character, this is eight year old mathematics.

But these problems are deal-breakers only when players are already frustrated by the UI. For heavens sake when will someone have the sense to borrow heavily from WoW's UI then do a radically different gameplay. No one wants revolving hotkey bars or whatever other nonsense the developers put so much effort into making.

Take cars. People are used to driving cars that have steering wheels, accelerator and brake pedals and a gear shift system of some type. If someone made a car with innovative controls that were completely different it wouldn't sell. So why do games designers insist that it should?
Afterthought: I'm pretty sure that when WoW launched there was an option for an Everquest style UI if you didn't like the standard one. Interesting that the only game to have broken the **** tourists syndrome (it was EQ tourists back then) didn't feel justified in forcing players to re-learn all their UI controls.
Heh I've been trying to get this exact same point across to some people over on Ixobelle's blog.

"Or could we identify the strong points of several different games and create a game that is even better than WoW, by combining WoW's strengths with the strengths of other games"

This is essentially what Blizzard did with WoW in the first place. It didn't really do much new at the time it just did it better than everyone else.
I don't recognize myself in any of your reasons, really.

- I was really, really keen on Warhammer
- I was a bit annoyed at the delayed preorder launch, but when it came, I played
- I really liked the game and I saw hardly any flaws that made it inferior to WoW
- It wasn't better than wow either
- What did drive me back to WoW were 2 things: a) people I played with and b) my highlevel characters

So it was just the vicious circle that I stayed at WoW because I had played WoW.
If I didn't have an active WoW subscription at that time because I had been on a break or had quit, I would have stayed with WAR - 100%
"These games simply weren't very good."

I played WOW for two years. I have played WAR since launch. WOW is, by far, the best video game I have ever played. Nothing really comes close.

But to say that Warhammer is not a good game is absolutely, flat out, wrong. Warhammer happens to be a very good game. It's not WOW. But that doesn't mean it's not a good game. Warhammer's graphics are terrific. The combat is rock solid. The enviornment is beautiful. The classes are varied and a lot of fun to play. Of course, the game has a lot of problems - awful economy, poor AH, lag issues, etc.

I truly think that the problem with MMOs is that WOW raised the bar so high that no game can compete with it. More accurately, no MMO can compete with the player's memory of what they think WOW was. I have this problem in that I constantly compare games (not only MMOs) to WOW. In my opinion, the only MMO that will be able to compete with what our fond memories of WOW were will be Blizzard's next MMO.

But this, by no means, means that Warhammer is "not very good."
I think theres a point to be made of the social aspect. I had a few guild members start playing WAR when it came out and wanted everyone to come try it out. They couldn't get very many to come though because of alot of different factors (still really into WOW, not wanting to pay another monthly fee, not wanting another timesink game). They eventually dropped WAR to come back to WOW not because it was superior game for them they just wanted to keep playing with their friends and that meant playing WOW.
Fun is subjective, quality is not.

The bottom line of why WAR and AoC failed so badly was the games were not ready. Alot of WoW fans weren't going to be accepting of anything that wasn't created by Blizzard no matter what but far more people simply felt these games were unplayable.

I'm what you would consider an old school MMO player. EQ, DAoC, EQ2, WoW, AoC, WAR, and countless other flops. Leaving your first MMO to "latch" onto another is the hardest thing you can do in the gaming world. It's like you first love or girl friend. No matter what everything will be compared to it and even after you've left it for good reasons nostalga will shine a fair light on it.

WoW WILL eventually be killed. My money is on Blizzard though being the one to do it. The only other company I would have faith in at this point is maybe SOE coming out with something new.
Are you really arguing that popularity is proof of quality?

the star wars prequels
Britney spears
Paris Hilton

Yeah right.
Reading the above and everything else,

Blizzard makes the simple things perfect, then the rest.
Warhammer, AOC and a lot of other mmorpgs forget about the basic things.
It's simply GUI-design and usability what works or what doesn't.
Diablo II, easy to play, you can have a monkey to use it and he understands how to play it.
Warcraft/Starcraft, the GUI is easy, understandable.
World of warcraft: your first levels, you have *NO PROBLEM* how to walk, fight, chat, etc.

It has to be intuitive and logical, the rest, raiding, pvp, group-play is for later stages.
I'm sorry, but your comparison simply doesn't hold up when it comes to entertainment products. 'Quality' has nothing to do with how successful an entertainment product is. In many cases it can be how much the product plays up to its audience. A better comparison would be American Idol and Firefly. American Idol is WILDLY popular, whereas Firefly was canceled after 13 episodes. They both cost the same amount of money to watch. By your definition then, American Idol is a 'quality' product, while Firefly was garbage. Really? Seriously?

So please Tobold, try again.
"Fun is subjective, quality is not."

"The bottom line of why WAR and AoC failed so badly was the games were not ready."

I could try, yet again, to elaborate on this. A simple "keep smoking whatever you do" will suffice. Cheers.
This is a bit like saying Windows is the best operating system because of its enormous user base.

First off that would be two genre's of the same media. Comparing American Idol to Star Search is probably a better analogy and in this case yes American Idol is a more entertaining show TO ME. Both had quality in their production though. American Idol is MORE popular because of quality of marketing.

@ Sergio

Huh? Please do explain how WAR and AoC were not ready? I played both in Beta and at launch.


Decent analogy. However Windows is basically WoW by the fact that it's the easiest to access and most supported software program of its type.


Why does everything have to be black and white? Why can't you use enough common sense to derive the possibility of exceptions in Tobold’s post? For anyone to make a hard fast sweeping statement about quality vs. success is moronic and to assume they are doing so makes you look ignorant.
I posted a very long response to your post here:

"The Mathew Effect: How WoW is like Bill Gates"

Summary: As with the "Outliers" in Malcom's Glaswells book of the same name, WoW's exceptional success depended as much on external influences than it did on its own intrinsic qualities.
I don’t think Tobold was arguing that popularity equals quality. I think he was arguing that WoW is simply a better MMO, and that is why the subscriber numbers are as they are.

I agree with Tobold. I don’t think that means Warhammer and Conan are bad games, though. I think it’s a function of these kinds of games – we play one, not several, so the perceived best game gets ALL of the market rather than splitting it.

I like apples, and I like fuji apples best. Other kinds are almost as good, but I always buy fujis. “Almost as good” unfortunately for games like Warhammer and Conan isn’t going to get them “almost as many subscribers” as WoW.

(And to take my analogy further, when I get tired of fuji apples, I don’t buy ANY apples for awhile. I don’t even think being tired of WoW necessarily drives a lot of players to other MMOs. Often, they are probably tired of MMOs too.)

I’m about convinced now that you can’t compete with WoW. You need to do something different. You need to make “free to play” work or do a different kind of MMO, or you go for a niche audience, which now can be several hundred thousand players, I’m guessing.

I can't speak for AoC, but WAR was finished all right. The lack of some classes in launch day are probably more the fault of EA, who rushed the game at a stupid time just to made the quarter, than Mythic. And that is not the kind of "unfinished" that some people imply. The game was more than playable and nobody who went there for the PvP complained, just those who wanted to PvE. If you say that it was a error for Mythic to keep the Scenarios more rewarding than questing, you are right. But if you played the game during Beta you know that this wasn't an issue then.

As for the other sentence, ISO Quality assurance guidelines, for example, are so broad in scope that any company, any, can easily have that certification. And in a more informal way, what represents quality to you might not be the same to me.
WAR not being ready is different than WAR not being playable. WAR was still in Beta when it was released and Mythics bad decisions just exaggerated the problem.

Do I really need to list the numerous broken features that slipped through WAR to release? I will agree closed beta was different but the game was being tested by fan boy's primarily. Mythic skewed their own beta results by their focused testing. It tested if scenario's worked, to a degree, not if people wanted to play open RvR over scenario's.

Morales not working isn't subjective. The Black Orcs dropping their "plan" is not subjective. The mail server not working properly is not subjective. The numerous CTD's people encountered were not subjective. I could go on but I don't think we have enough time to list all the issues Mythic didn't fix prior to release.
Quality is relative to your objectives. Darkfall will work out because it is geared towards players who *want* that particular playstyle and doesn't try to be anything different. WAR fails because it posed itself as a "WoW killer" but failed in execution and preparation; the game would've served much better as a "come here for real PVP" quasi-niche MMO. Honestly, unless your game is meant to appeal to a smaller market, they shouldn't even bother making medieval fantasy MMOs anymore, the mainstream audience already has WoW. If any MMO unseats WoW (and it's quite possible WoW still has 5 million+ subscribers even 5-10 years from now) it won't be set in a medieval fantasy environment.

You also give consumers far too much credit -- if everyone only used "reason" in making purchases there wouldn't be any use for advertising. Last time I checked, Mr. T was pimping WoW. I started playing WoW because my friends were playing WoW and it seemed cool, it is a gaming virus, that I happen to enjoy being infected with.
I agree 100% with Tobold. I prefer Big Macs to caviar. I'd rather listen to "Toxic" by Britney Spears rather than vice-versa. I run Windows.

But WoW is not the thrill it once was. I'm looking forward to Blizzard's next MMO.
I've tried Everquest 2 recently, for a month or so. I found it in almost every respect superior to WoW, except quest clustering (quests destination too far usually from quest giver) and addon support (WoW seems to be heading that way, as well I'm afraid).

The reason why I came back to WoW and am now playing much less than I used to due to boredom is that WoW *has all my friends and guildies* in it already and they aren't going to move to EQ2. Each of those guildies could say the same. Also, I have a huge time investment in WoW, and taking it all over from scratch in Norrath isn't that appealing. Perhaps 'followers' in the MMORPG industry could implement a system to give veteran WoW players similar gear or at extra xp to help them reach similar gameplay to what they are used to in WoW.
"I agree 100% with Tobold. I prefer Big Macs to caviar. I'd rather listen to "Toxic" by Britney Spears rather than vice-versa. I run Windows."

One of the masses. His opinion are based on what the majority says, and if everybody spits in something he will spit too. Gratz on being a tool a proud of it.
Stabs hit what I feel is the issue on the head: The main thing is simple UI issues, which I guess do contribute to polish. If you want to do something in WoW, you can more or less do it. You can make the UI yours and own it. Even beyond that, it is just easy, natural, and fluid to really do ANYTHING in WoW. It is, by far, the very small things that make WoW enjoyable, that make it "Better" than other MMOs. The big concepts and features in WoW are give or take, but just playing the game is enjoyable.

I agree that if someone wants to make a game better than WoW, they NEED to drop their pride, forget being a unique little snowflake, and copy the very very basic stuff. Feel free to change the big stuff, but they need the small stuff.

I also think that is why people can get so angry over WoW, and hate it so much is that deep down, they really enjoy those small things. And so, in a way, they are still attached to the game. Liking deep down something you hate at the macro level is a HUGE internal conflict that generates some of the most intense hate possible.
Hey wyrm, I got a helluva voice.

But seriously, I don't even disagree with the general thesis; you'd have to be crazy to argue that WAR and AOC were technically up to WoW's standards @ release. But I do dispute that popularity=quality or else your an arrogant elitist. Popularity doesn't equal crap necessarily, but it hardly means something is great. I can give you a list a mile long of popular things--- the Mararena comes to mind, that didn't have any lasting quality.
Quality - ability to reach demand. Question is, what some people wants?
When you have not just popularity, but LASTING popularity, that may be an indication of a good quality.
Like Beatles - they have a lasting popularity, still are listened to today. They did not invent popular music,
there were bands before that, but they made a lot people listen to them.
And during Beatles time there were a lot of other bands who tried to copy them, but did not reach their success.

So, to me WOW is more like The Beatles than to Macarena, Britney Spears and other modern short-lived hits.
Don't forget social intertia - it's hard to let go of your old friends and make new friends in an online game. It's also hard to let go of your avatars- these are personable items. A game needs to be not just as good as the competition, but significantly better, to overcome these sorts of human emotion hurdles.
"I have a shocking theory about why Age of Conan and Warhammer Online had such a low retention rate, losing most of their subscribers after a short time: These games simply weren't very good. Shocking, I'm telling you!"

Played either of them lately? Or just basing your opinions on the short time you spent there during launch?

AoC is getting some very good reports on a turnaround for the better.. and WaR has had a LOT of improvements since you spent 5 minutes with it.

If you insist on dragging this debate up again and again then at least resub and play each game for a month and form a new opinion on the current state of play.

In WaR's case, I subbed at launch when all T1/T2 was dead and virtually nobody around to do PQ's with and I agree, it was not looking good. There was no region chat, the best way to level was scenarios, there wasnt enough RvR incentive and various other problems. I played for two months then unsubbed to try a new MMO out for a bit and focus on some singleplayer games.

I'm now resubbed to War and T1/T2 have been absolutly PACKED, I've found people playing PQ's in every chapter, there is a region chat and a RvR-Region chat now, open RvR rewards have been added aswell as boosting xp/inf/renown for participating.

For two full weeks EVERY_SINGLE_NIGHT I have been able to get into 24 man warbands in open RvR - often with another warband alongside. Seen more people in one PQ then I remembered seeing in all the PQ's I saw during a month of gameplay at launch.

There have been massive improvements made, but you wouldnt know that as you are still basing your opinions on the little time you spent at launch in the game.

How about basing something in fact instead of "shocking theories"?
I am with Knottop, as these games have improved. For me, Age of Conan has ruined current MMO's, that I feel no need to ever go back to WoW, etc..
But, Tobolds point still stands about these games and their launches ruined them.
It is hard to recover from bad service, and bad code..

Look at Restaurants, if you go there for the first time and you get some bad food and throw up or something is just plain wrong with your much are you going to think about going back?

Everyone has this whole "You get one shot" mentality, and then lose out on some great stuff. I follow the "3 strikes your out rule"...thus the reason that AoC is my game of choice now. First time sucked, but they then served me the best meal I have had in a long time the next time, that I will be going back on a regular basis.

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