Tobold's Blog
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Would more be better?

Today the head-start period for Rift begins, and I have no idea how well it will do. But I do know that Rift is not completely unlike World of Warcraft. It has the same basic "theme park" guidance by quests structure, it has classes, levels, talents, spells, and a combat that works very similar, and even the user interface is somewhat similar to that of World of Warcraft. I also know that Star Wars: The Old Republic will also fall into the same basic scheme.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, everybody can with a similar degree of accuracy predict how the gameplay and controls of Crysis 2 will look, without people blasting it as a "Half-Life Clone". But it opens up an interesting question: Imagine that Rift and SWTOR and a couple of other games manage to reproduce the same quality of World of Warcraft, and all have a similar gameplay, with minor variations (Rift has rifts and the soul system, SWTOR has light sabers and space ships, another game has another setting or added feature). Would we be better off in such a world with many MMORPGs with minor variations all being similarily successful?

The reason I'm asking is that I can easily imagine me playing my WoW priest for an hour, and then switching to a SWTOR Jedi and play another hour. But then I also have two servers full of alts, Horde and Alliance, and already frequently switch character during an evening. And I know that other players prefer having one "main", with alts just being there for bank storage or crafting. I have a hard time imagining somebody who doesn't like alts being all that willing to switch frequently from one game to another. Furthermore, given the monthly subscription business model, playing several games in parallel can become costly.

So how does a future look in which several MMORPGs have multi-million subscribers? I don't think the "WoW Killer" scenario, in which one new game rises to several million players while World of Warcraft crashes to under a million subscribers is even remotely possible. If we want other games to succeed on a massive scale, we need to be able to imagine several of them living side by side. It certainly works for most other types of games, but are MMORPGs somehow special due to their larger time requirements?
I don't think it's just the greater time requirements, I think it's also largely the greater time spent that causes the Clone Rejection Syndrome. I mean, the time requirement feeds into actually spending more time, but I think that excludes some of the bigger picture.

The time requirement puts the focus on building up resources again, whether thats gear or knowledge or friends, etc. But I think most people are largely okay with that. If anything, they *crave* that; it's why we switch games in the first place.

The problem is that MMO's that are too similar don't give us *enough* build up time, relative to time spent playing the game. Part of the draw of Civ, or a new RTS, or a new FPS, is figuring out how exactly the system works, and drawing more from it than when you started playing. When we log in to another MMO, and by level 10 haven't experienced anything "new" that we didn't already do in WoW, well... it doesn't set our expectations very high that we're going to get a whole lot of "new" in the next 500 hours we sink into the game either.
I look at it from this perspective.

How much do you think Blizzard puts into the development of WoW, aside from server maintenance and expansions? Based on the amount of content they produce in a typical patch, I would say less than $50 million a year (probably a lot less, but I admit I am guessing so we'll use that number).

Now, this is still a LOT of money, no question. Certainly, it is much more than any other MMORPG could afford, each having fewer than 500k subscribers. But compared to the revenue of well over $1 billion, you would certainly describe their current financial strategy as closer to "rake in the profits" than to "reinvest to improve the product."

Now in the universe you describe, WoW has several other competitors who can each put the same $50 million a year toward development, and more. Blizzard wants to beat those competitors, or at the very least keep up with them.

In this universe, do you think Blizzard is still putting only $50 million a year (or less) into development? Or do you think more?

I say more, much more. And at the very least, WoW would have a great deal more content, if not being a flat out better, more innovative game.
ANSWER: "At what point does progress become a grind?"

I can't believe I'm commenting on another post ._. but then I also can't believe that I still have a dozen tabs open from TV Tropes and the Death Note anime, as a result of a previous Tobold blog and/or linked sites. (Dee from Lost in Azeroth making me look up 'MOBA', grr)

Having 'content' to do is just a first-order metric. Some benefit from engaging with that content must be seen to exist, which is especially important when an "experienced MMO gamer" has learned to compress or encode the leveling experience in terms of its relevance to the level cap. While having Dee's recent posts as my only experience to the systems or combat of RIFT, the obvious question is whether low-level dynamic content will still feel relevant once many people have reached the level cap.
It'll be the multiple subscription fees that'll be the deciding factor for most. If money is not a problem then having three subs for games you play semi-regularly will seem fine. For the majority, after a few months I'd imagine the decision will come down to 'which game have I the most investment in in terms of time/friends etc?'. And that will be the one which will survice.

A question I've been pondering lately: Is a monthly subscription MMO even viable in a world where WoW exists?
I imagine the players would then "game hop", playing a few months a wow expansion, then hopping to the "new" rift expansion, etc...

Overall it would lead to content competition, so i guess the more the better :)
To me, successful wow clones in the market are irrelevant since the wow-success issue is the main problem with the mmo-genre stagnation. That's like saying you can only ever buy apples -- red apples -- and that's it.

I think a lot of us have been waiting forever in the hopes of entering a true virtual world, with that new feeling that captures the imagination. Clones do not give us that since they all follow the same formula.
As you and Sonny both point out, the biggest problem to the success of a similar MMO is multiple monthly subscription fees. To restate the problem, why would one want to pay two monthly fees when the time available monthly for playing hasn't doubled.

One solution would be for Rift/SWTOR to charge per minute played rather than per month available for play (of course that would still mean that the WoW subscription would be going to waste while one is playing Rift, but Blizzard aren't going to change their model, which is working well for them).
Would we be better off in such a world with many MMORPGs with minor variations all being similarily successful?

I think having more quality choices is the key question here, and secondary to that would be in considering the fact that just because WoW has "X" million subscribers doesnt negate the ability of games A, B or C to be successful.

The blogosphere seems to be stuck in a rut, due mainly to the meme that most blogs think that there are only so many gamers in the world, and that WoW somehow has cornered the market where gamer-share is concerned. If anything, the facebook phenomena should prove beyond a doubt that there are millions more potential gamers out there looking for something to do with their time, and now that game developers realize this, they are drooling all over themselves in attempts to understand these players, develope content suitable for them and capitalize on them at the same time.

I will be trying Rift, but I will also be putting my WoW account on hold during that time, and if Rift manages to build a strong sense of community and maintain a "valid presentation" model in terms of leveling and progression, then I'll probably stick with it for a longer period. However, if it turns out to be a WoW clone without bringing much more to the table, I'll be hard pressed to stay.

In short, having more game choices is always better as long as they are quality games and bring something new to the table. But I dont think that we should be considering games as being "WoW killers" and such, as I think that most games are developed to appeal and draw in already existing and untapped segments of the potential player-pool.
If you are the Explorer type, who loves MMOs for their worlds and the stories contained there in, then the minor mechanical differences between WoW/EQ and their derivatives are not important.

I'd even say that for some people, the mechanical similarities layered over a different world is an advantage. You just get down to exploring with out having to learn a new set of gaming skills.

As Tobold rightly points out, most First Person Shooters are essentially clones. They all use similar mechanics, with similar controls, but you play for the differences beyond the controls and UI.
The blogosphere seems to be stuck in a rut

However, if it turns out to be a WoW clone without bringing much more to the table, I'll be hard pressed to stay.

I think the rut is directly linked to the very common statement you made below: There is a strong belief that to be successful, a new MMORPG would have to be radically different from World of Warcraft. But at the same time we observe most of the games that *are* radically different ending up being niche games for a very small select audience. There is a factor of 1,000 between the subscription numbers of a game like A Tale in the Desert and the subscription numbers of World of Warcraft.

Thus you end up with the impression that both "being like WoW" and "not being like WoW" are recipes for failure. Nobody knows how to make a new multi-million subscriber MMORPG, and that is not for a lack of trying.
I'm not sure why they'd all need to have millions of players. I'd love to see a model where 50k regular subscribers would be enough.
There is a strong belief that to be successful, a new MMORPG would have to be radically different from World of Warcraft.

I dont think this is true in the context that a game like Rift was designed in an attempt to pull me away from WoW. Am I a potential customer for the developers of Rift? You bet ya. Am I their targetted demographic? I think not.

The rut I speak of deals with the mindset among bloggers that the player-pool is "finite" and that features or "radically" differing offerings is needed to be a "WoW killer".

Instead, the mindset should be that all games have a chance to establish themselves based on their own merits, and that what they bring to the table is just as promising as what the next expansion for game "X" brings.

Ask yourself this, Tobold: Was Cataclysm developed to bring in new players, or was it developed to keep the majority of the existing playerbase happy?

The developers of Rift undoubtedly developed their game to stand on its own merits and offer a different lore and gaming experience to the new customers it hopes to attract. Will it attract the non-WoW player? You bet ya. Will it attract the current WoW player? You bet ya. Is it competing with WoW from design standpoint? I think not.

My statement about whether or not it brings enough of "something new" to keep me playing deals directly to the comparison that I will make as an existing WoW player who has a LOT of time and energy invested in my WoW characters after 6 years. So if the sense of community is stronger, and the game does things that WoW already does, but better, then I -could- be convinced to stay.

I only have time for -one- MMO in my busy life, and a new MMO doesnt have to be "radically" different in order to attract and keep my loyalty, it just has to be more satifying than WoW.
I second the notion concerning subscription fees. It is not worth it to me to continue playing a game past the free month if I don't have a solid guarantee for enjoyment at this point, especially with the hefty initial price. Given that I enjoy WoW well enough and have but 1-2 hours of playtime available per weekday (much more on the weekends of course), it's not appealing to branch out when subscription fees are present.
Rift is a game for those who dont play wow now. I liked vanilla wow before BGs hit. Didnt play any mmo for any significant length after that

Rift is a polished game which might bring some good 1-2 month of world pvp (fun clusterfck ), leveling is very fast, there is no gearing grinds (yet), souls are fun. Perfect game to play for 1-3 month.

I wouldnt start playing wow today cause it would require me to sink inordinate amount of time into it to get fun ( grind to 85 ,then gear grind ,then rep grind) .Rift doesnt have any of this crap .Yet. by the time it gets to that point I will quit and hopefully GW2 will be out and hopefully it wont be a wow clone.

How much do you think Blizzard puts into the development of WoW, aside from server maintenance and expansions? Based on the amount of content they produce in a typical patch, I would say less than $50 million a year

I doubt they spend $50 mill -INCLUDING server maintenance and expansion. Look running server cost nothing now days ( you can run your own for $50 month - and that without benefits of scale blizzard gets and with inferior emu code). WoW is pure profit and been like that since launch (they recouped development costs just with box sales)
Competition is good for business; and especially good for consumers.
There is a definite possibility for multiple polished big-budget MMOs to exist despite their similarities. Everyone knows how Wow cycles through players based on their content patches. I can imagine a scenario where a handful of games run on slightly different timetables, such that as the allure of the new patch in Game 1 begins to wear away, Game 2 launches a new patch.
Yes, because choice is good, and as other posters have pointed out, competition is good. Blizzard has no reason to do anything but trickle out "more of the same" content to their subscribers, because they have no real competition.

If we had 3 or 4 BIG high quality MMOs all competing for our subscription dollars, that could only be a win for us as consumers.

I played Cataclsym for a whole week before getting bored and leaving the game. I'll be back eventually to at least get my money's worth out of the xpac, but there is NOTHING in WoW right now that makes me want to play.

If Blizzard had real competition, they might actually try to develop a decent amount of new and interesting content in order to be competitive. Right now WoW has a virtual monopoly and can be as lazy as they like and still rake in absurd amounts of money.

So please, bring on the contenders.
I believe in the Highlander credo -- there can be only one. I will never play more than one MMO at a time. They take up too much time.

So I'll play WoW and get bored and leave and play something else for a few months and then play nothing and then come back to WoW.

This will repeat until something is better than WoW, and becomes my fallback game.
An interesting question, and with stronger games coming this could soon be tested.

I have a 1 sub only rule at present which I have stuck to more or less for 4 years. I did briefly have a DDO sub alongside my long-standing WoW account but didn't consider DDOs very meagre content to be worth it.

That said I do have a lifetime account on LOTRO, which I bought on sale before the F2P launch. This allows me to do just as you suggest - to game hop, often within the same evening or weekend. I find it much more enjoyable to do an hour or two of WoW and an hour or two of LOTRO than to spend 4 hours grinding random heroics in WoW.

I'll certainly add Guild Wars 2 to my 'stable' if that has the same non-sub model as the first game. SWTOR will be a dilemma though as that will surely be a sub game...
I started with EQ as an exclusive game, then moved to EQ2 exclusive for a couple of years. Since then I have turned into a multi-MMO gamer.

My gamestyle tends to be EASK and I definitely enjoy alts and variety in things to do in-game (solo PvE, crafting, housing, guild social activities) and avoid others (combat grouping, raiding, PvP). New games do provide a new shiny. Some are passing, some stick and I return from time to time. I only have time to play (and pay) for a couple at time.

Generally, I am not a more is better at any one time, but over time I do like opportunities to try a new game every 6 months or so. Even if some games seem superficially similar, there are frequently be significant style differences not apparent of the "features" list - in art, game mechanics, social structure - that can connect or repell me.
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