Tobold's Blog
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Open Sunday Thread

Here it is again, the traditional open Sunday thread, in which you can discuss, propose subjects for future blog posts, or ask questions.
Some games like EVE seem pretty good for allowing people with different amounts of time ot still play together. Do you think more WoW style games would benefit somewhat from designing the level system to allow different leveled players to play together?

Also, are MMO's becoming too focused on incentives? It seems that a lot of games try to encourage certain behavior by adding extra rewards, and rebalancing rewards, but often times the reward system gets gamed, or people find some optimal pathway and optimize the fun out, though some people seem like they would never play without some sort of in game reward for playing. Are there any MO's out there that seem to balance the two concerns well?
When the Knights of the Old Republic Star Wars MMO launches, chances are it will sell a million plus copies in the first couple of weeks. What will it take for BioWare and EA to hang onto 75% of those customers beyond the free month? This is another way of saying, can anyone compete with Blizzard, or does competing with Blizzard mean your realistic goal is sub 500,000 subscription numbers?
It's simple to answer that question Mark. When Star Wars: The Old Republic launches all they need to do to hold onto the majority of their early consumers is make an entertaining game. It's really nothing more difficult to understand than that. At the end of the day we are all consumers. if we like what we buy we stick with it. If we don't, we don't. Games like WAR essentially failed (in regards to hanging onto a majority of early consumers) because the majority of those consumers determined they didn't like what they say and experienced. Figuring out what will be entertaining is the hard part.

I've been poking around TOR lately trying to figure out what kind of game model it's going to follow; whether it will be a progression/pve game, or whether it will be a player created content game. The only information that has been released thus far is in regard to it's "storylines", which Bioware is marketing as a fourth leg of MMO model. Don't be fooled by the marketing, thats code for questing. And quests are a finite resource. Even with semi-regular content updates, will that really be all there is to do in TOR? Will that be enough to lure a mass of players from other games and hang onto them? Personally I'm hoping TOR has a vibrant PVE aspect (epic storylines) but also has a vibrant player created content aspect to it (PVP, crafting/manufactoring/trade).

People, I think, want a game that they can solo play (questing, gathering, manufacturing/trade, etc) but also want to be able to dip into and out of group activities whenever they feel like it. Bioware has to figure out how to do that in a Star Wars setting.
I view the whole "taking a break from WoW" thing like this. Let's say I have my favorite sandwich shop. They didn't start out nearly as good as they are now, but they've had a lot of business in the last 4 years that they've been open, which has allowed them the time and resources to develop a lot of great sandwiches. But as is the nature of things, I grow tired of them. It's not that I stop thinking they're the best sandwich shop in town, there's just only so long you can eat the same sandwiches before you want to try something else.

So I decide to try one of the new sandwich shops in town. The first thing I notice is that the fries that come with the sandwich are terrible. When I say something, the other customers throw food at me and scream about how you come here for sandwiches not fries because it's a sandwich shop can't you read the sign what kind of illiterate retard are you...and so on and so forth. Fair enough, but I also notice that the bread is stale, whereas my old sandwich shop baked their own bread fresh. That suggestion nearly starts a riot, because if I wanted fresh bread, I should go to my old sandwich shop. Apparently, the owner knows my old sandwich shop bakes their own bread, so he is deliberately buying day old bread because he wants to be different.

So I try another sandwich shop. This sandwich shop is clearly trying to copy my old sandwich shop. Every sandwich is just a clone of one from my old shop...only not as good. Nothing about this new sandwich shop is any different or better than my old shop, except they haven't spent 4 years perfecting their sandwiches.

Perhaps the more important thing is the menu size. My old shop had lots of sandwiches, but all of these new sandwich shops have only 2-3 sandwiches. It doesn't matter how good those sandwiches are, I'm going to grow tired of them pretty fast.

So the question is, why do we assume players will play an online game for longer than a few months? How long do you play most games? You play through the game, maybe do some PvP for a while, and then you're done with it. Why would WAR or AoC assume players should keep playing after they have finished the available content?
What will BioWare and EA need to do to hang onto 75% of their customers after the first free month? They will need to do what Blizzard did with World of Warcraft and attract people who don't play MMORPG's to their game. Why? The WoW tourist factor. Think about it. If you've spent 2 or 3 years in a game, no matter what the game, are you really going to leave the game where all your friends play and in which you have invested so much time and effort? I think a game would have to be extremely good in order to just keep 50% of the WoW tourists that come into the game subscribed for over 3 months.

No one is going to be able to compete with the subscriber numbers of WoW. It is a statistical outlier and needs to be thrown out when calculating the success of MMOs. I really think that if TOR can have 500K subscribers after the first year they will be a huge success. Now if we can just get the WoW tourist effect known and accepted throughout games journalism, then if TOR's long-term subscriber base turns out to 50% of its box sales people won't be screaming that TOR is another epic failure of an attempt at launching a Star Wars game.
I don't think you can hold 75% of the customers.

They can deal with the bugs, balance issues, miss their friends and grind their way back to the top, or they can return to their welcoming home, where they have established guilds, friendships, and characters.

Massive lost customer loss is inevitable.
What other rpg gems are people playing, either single or multi player, other than WoW, EQ(2), WAR, EVE, AoC or LoTRO.
"I really think that if TOR can have 500K subscribers after the first year they will be a huge success."

BioWare themselves were quoted as saying that if they didn't get a million subs, they'd be disappointed.
I don't know about other WoW players but I would love to find a great MMO that isn't WoW. I drudged through Lotr delivering pies through gritted teeth, I spent a thousand sterling upgrading my pc to handle AOC. None of them have provided as much sustained fun as 5 man instancing in WoW, especially a couple of years ago when it was all about Scarlet Monastery and Strat. Just about all of them occasionally matched the level of fun.

For me the high point of MMO fun is blasting through a dungeon with about 5 people killing stuff while making intelligent and crucial decisions at speed. I need instances to not take an hour to find a group for then be over in ten minutes (LOTR). I need instances to not be really exciting then bug so you can't finish (AoC pyramind). I also need to be able to get good loot from an instance without having to pay $5 per magic item as a RMT transaction.

I don't think any of this requires rocket scientists. I really am astonished how consistently developers push out an experience that leaves you scratching your head wondering "didn't any of these guys just play this and see it's like pulling teeth at times?"

I think most "wow tourists" are in the same boat. People who would love to spend 6 months out of WoW or even leave permanently but who simply can't find anything adequate. I spent a lot of money upgrading my pc for AoC, have loved the IP since I was 14, was very bored of WoW but I kept hitting ridiculous brick walls like my dps character being the wrong gender, then my jeweller character not being able to progress because the quest bugged, instances and quests bugging leaving to me and other friends logging off in disgust.

This is why I really object to the term "wow tourist". People who leave WoW to try a new game do not leave with the intention of trying the game for a month then going back to WoW. We are looking for either something better or something comparable just with different content.
I hate to be pessimistic, but Star Wars TOR will be required to overcome the missteps of its predecessor- SWG. When a whole genre of MMO players get burned once, it will be very difficult IMHO to get them to come back, regardless of who is making it. But, if they -can- manage to get those hard core SW enthusiasts to come back, and as someone said above, 'if the game is good enough', then it stands a shot of having decent subscription retention.

Blizzard had brand recognition right out of the gate with a loyal "core" fanbase where WoW is concerned, and I suspect that had a lot to do with its success initially and over the long term. There's the whole "nexus" mechanic at work here, whereby if you have a core subscriber base of 'influential' gamers; the ones who other gamers listen to, then word of mouth will do wonders for your game.

TOR has a few hurdles to overcome in that regard, as I mentioned above, if it is to stand a chance of having long term success.
I think TOR will sell at least a million copies in the first few weeks. They won't have any problem getting people to try the game. But as others have said, the experience has to be equal to or better than the the current WoW experience to have a chance to retain the players. And that's not easy, given the level of polish that WoW has.

It seems like a long time ago, but WoW itself didn't launch and get millions of subscribers. They built over time, though they did expand rapidly.
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