Thursday, September 17, 2009
Aion: Up or Down?
Two years ago Raph Koster posted a classic article on How Open Big Virtual Worlds Grow, with a curve which slopes upward quickly, plateaus, and then slowly declines. He said: "This curve is so regular that you can predict the peak from just a handful of datapoints. Assuming that the title is equally available everywhere, you can predict the peak from literally three data points, which you can get literally in the first few hours of launch." It is undoubtedly with such a curve in mind that the makers of Aion said that they already sold 300,000 pre-orders of Aion. So will we quickly see a million or more Aion subscribers?
Not so fast! It turns out that this curve is not quite as universal as Raph thought. Both Age of Conan and Warhammer Online announced huge box sale numbers, but then lost up to three quarters of their subscribers in the first month! Warhammer Online for example sold over a million copies, but quickly ended up with under 300,000 subscribers. And as spinks so correctly remarks, it is very easy to pre-order Aion just to get into the beta, and then cancel the pre-order before actually having to pay anything. Ardwulf's World's Shortest Aion Review just says "Uninstalled", and that is well before the game is even out.
Whether you blame World of Warcraft for every game that isn't doing well, or whether you think there are simply too many MMORPGs out now, it appears that an alternative MMO subscriber number curve now exists: Lots of people who already played some MMO, but are currently bored, buy a new game, find it isn't to their liking, and unsubscribe after the free month that comes with the box, or shortly after.
So what is it going to be for Aion? Is 300,000 pre-orders the starting point to millions of long-term subscribers? Or is it the start of a straw fire, with over a million boxes sold this month, and less than 300,000 players by christmas? And is it just the quality of Aion which determines the success, or is it a reflection of the whole MMORPG market?