Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
 
Highly derivative games

Doug Creutz, financial analyst with Cowen and Company, made headlines this week by calling SWTOR "highly derivative of World of Warcraft", and suggesting it probably wouldn't ship this year because it wasn't ready. The latter part tells you how little he knows: MMORPG's release date is independent of their state of readiness. My criticism of the former part is more subtle: I do think that SWTOR is highly derivative of WoW, but I don't think that it is that which might cause this game to flop. Rather I think that SWTOR will flop if it turns out to be not a well enough done highly derivate game.

For all it's failures, Cataclysm upped the ante on the new player experience of quest-based gameplay. My wife, who is still playing WoW, and is leveling a new paladin, called me over several times this weekend to show me yet another cool thing she discovered: From boats to being accompanied by a dozen mini-manticores, World of Warcraft now has a lot of quests which go way beyond the simple kill ten foozles quests of yore. If SWTOR would be highly derivative of the latest level of execution and polish of World of Warcraft, I think they would do quite well. If SWTOR is highly derivative of the WoW of 2004, just with voice-overs, it is far more likely to fail.

The main problem for SWTOR however is that its bar for success is so high. I would say that RIFT is doing quite well (in spite of being much more highly derivative of WoW than SWTOR will be, due to playing in the same genre), but if SWTOR only arrives at the same level of success as Rift, people will consider SWTOR a failure.

I don't know how many subscribers Rift has now. Trion is making misleading statements about being close to selling 1 million copies of the game. For comparison: WAR sold 1.5 million copies on pre-order. A million copies sold is not the same as a million subscribers. Given the number of subscribers, churn, and over 6 years of placing high in PC sales charts, I would estimate that World of Warcraft by now has sold over 50 million copies. And that is just the base game, not the expansions.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Rift is doing well, but not quite as spectacularly as the initial hype suggested. Bloggers like syncaine pulled a Keen and now post mostly critical things about Rift, or have just silently dropped the game. My best guess is that Rift has between 300k and 500k subscribers, which is most probably a financial success, given the estimated 50 million development cost. But as SWTOR's development costs are rumored to have been 300 million, this level of success won't cut it for EA Bioware.
Comments:
Rift won't continue the success story. Trion is stuck between raiding, the open world content, leveling and PvP.

Raiding doesn't work. For at least 50% of the 'callings' raiding means pressing 2-3 macros. Overall attacking WoW on the classical raiding game is suicide, imho.

The open world would be fine, but there are too many limitations they copied from WoW. Also, the engine, doesn't seem to hold its promises.

Leveling is fun, as long as you have not burnt out of the classic questing. But there are only two start regions. The replay value is limited. It takes about 5 days /played for a normal player to reach max level.

PvP is joke; especially at endgame.

Overall copy/pasting WoW is financially successful. But it is not the next big thing (surprise).

---

On SW:TOR. Many of my old WoW guild collegues intent to buy it. It will probably sell a lot of boxes. Maybe more than WAR!
It does innovate more than Rift does. The story telling and voice over are ok. What worries me are the gameplay videos. Even trying to interpret leaves me a bit bored.

I think it will be financally successful. If it doesn't turn out to be the next big thing, the genre will continue it's recession and decline even faster.
A damn pity and I'd blame the industry and especially Blizzard ;(
 
If you wanted to be fair, you would say that Syncaine started to be more negative once Trion went Blizzard and started nerfing content.

As for SWOTOR, IMHO, it can be hit or miss depending on how immersive is to the millions of star war fans out there. By immersion I mean "living the action scenes from the movies." If they manage to do that, the game will be a smash hit. If it turns out to be "just" a MMORPG, then it will just be a solid meh.
 
I agree with Nils. I think Trion with Rift did something deeply cunning but not actually in players' best interests.

They aimed at all of WoW's weak points. The dead and discarded zones like Desolace are really shown up by the rift system - there's always a trickle of something happening in the deadest of out-leveled content. They blew WoW's lethargic content release cycle out of the water with very frequent content patches - the third is almost out and the game only launched at the start of March, comparing very well with WoW's 6 month cycle.

But those content patches aren't sustainable. Hardly anyone raids in Rift because it's just not worth the slog to get gear that will be obsolete in a couple of weeks. Fast content patch cycle is great for drawing players but terrible for retaining players but the aim of Rift has been to draw players, say look at us we took on Blizzard and beat them then move on to other projects.

Even though it was unsustainable content cycle was such a clever thing to attack WoW on because content is super-easy (ask any modding community) and Blizzard has always pretended it's an issue of resources because they feel they can't be honest and tell the players they drag the content out.

As for the analyst's report on WoW highly derivative is an issue because to people outside the MMO world looking in the time is about right for the next market leader to step up. SWTOR is certainly a bid by EA to get the top spot back (they were top with UO until 99). So it's important and significant to tell the investor community that this won't be the next WoW, just another shadow of the current one.
 
If you wanted to be fair, you would say that Syncaine started to be more negative once Trion went Blizzard and started nerfing content.

I don't think it is fair to blame Blizzard for changes Trion made to Rift. This is still the same Trion syncaine and you previously claimed were walking on water. Me, who pointed out that Trion was just as fallible as every other game company, was being accused of being a "Rift hater". I was right, you were wrong, end of story.
 
Even though it was unsustainable content cycle was such a clever thing to attack WoW on because content is super-easy (ask any modding community) and Blizzard has always pretended it's an issue of resources because they feel they can't be honest and tell the players they drag the content out.

Thanks for pointing that out so clearly, Stabs.

-----
Hardly anyone raids in Rift because it's just not worth the slog to get gear that will be obsolete in a couple of weeks.

Trion uses the content in the wrong way. Less vertical and more horizontal content would be required. Get rid of badges and start using random drops (or whatever) and people have an incentive to go somewhere and enjoy all the content. If there wasn't a strictly vertical leveling game, there would be immense amounts of content for everybody, of course.
 
I totally agree with Nils. By copying wow, Trion has repeated several of their key design mistakes. Too much verticality leads to burn out, apathy, etc.

Rift has many many subs since a good number of players bought the eart promotion of six months for a big discount. But a lot of people have already lost interest. So even though Trion may report solid sub numbers, actual play is down signficantly -- approx %30-40 according to xfire.
 
"I don't think it is fair to blame Blizzard for changes Trion made to Rift. This is still the same Trion syncaine and you previously claimed were walking on water. Me, who pointed out that Trion was just as fallible as every other game company, was being accused of being a "Rift hater". I was right, you were wrong, end of story."

Just like it's not fair to blame Blizzard for slowly killing WoW with the 'accessible' garbage, right? You have always been blind to that fact, never accepting that perhaps, 2011 WoW is not 2004 WoW. No no no, it's just 'burnout'.

Rift just went from 04 to 11 in less than 6 months, and my guess is 'accessible' will work out as well for them as it has for Blizzard. Question left is, will they be able to inflate sub numbers with new regions to make up for the US/EU drop ala WotLK, or will they directly go into all out decline ala Cata?
 
SWTOR will dominate WoW! It will be the biggest and best selling MMO ever!

Sorry the inner star wars geek got out!

I think SWTOR has a better chance than rift at being successful because it is different in environment and some game dynamics are different but it will play like WoW. Also it has the chance to pull new players to the MMO genre because it is star wars.
 
Just like it's not fair to blame Blizzard for slowly killing WoW with the 'accessible' garbage, right?

A) Blizzard is currently killing WoW with INaccessibility of Cataclysm. They lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers (including me)very early in the expansion, because these players found they had no accessible content to play with.

B) Whatever change you believe ruined Rift, it was design decisions made by Trion. You can't just take any change in any game and blame a completely different company for that change. And in this case the design decision of Blizzard on Cataclysm and of Trion on Rift were diametrically opposed: Blizzard made WoW harder, Trion made Rift easier. So you can't even say Trion was forced to copy Blizzard or any such nonsense.

C) It really, really is time you resubscribed to World of Warcraft if you don't want to continue to constantly say completely outdated stuff about that game. The "Blizzard made WoW too easy" song is sooooo last expansion, and you didn't even play that one.
 
Syncaine, Tobold, both of you got it wrong.

The problem is not inaccessible content. Nor is it accessible content. The problem is content!

Nobody cares whether a game as inaccessible content as long as it has some content for him. During classic and TBC, WoW reached 10 mio players. All the while having content that 99% of the player base couldn't access. That wasn't a problem, because there was enough accessible content !

In TBC players raided Karazhan and were happy - at least they re-subscribed all the time. It worked, because they didn't get Black Temple loot via heoric dungeons. Thus, Karazhan was fun and meaningful. Karazhan allowed them to advance their character.

In Classic there was so much content to explore, including the dungeons, that people couldn't care less whether someone was running around with Naxx gear. They still had fun doing a weekly MC or UBRS run.

In Cataclysm the problem is not that there is inaccessible content. The problem is that there is no accessible content for a lot of players.

Even after severly nerfing the current raid tier, this will be a problem, because this raid tier drops inferior item levels compared to heroics. And there aren't even nearly enough heroics, anyway.

What a game like WoW need to do is very simple: Provide content for all players that allows them to advance their character. Therefore it's best to have very easy and very hard content that drops meaningful items. This worked very well for the first two expansions and reasonably well for WotLK (sub-numbers stagnated).
It doesn't work for Cataclysm.

Last, but not least: The Cataclysm leveling game is ridiculously trivial. I needed to do it myself, to really understand how trivial it is! I just can motivate me to do this after level 30 or so.
 
The Cataclysm leveling game is ridiculously trivial.

Now here is something we agree upon.
 
Funny that you believe I need to play WoW to see it's design flaws, when you yourself (inadvertently) continue to point them out, along with plenty of other posts/comments. That someone of your player skill can't access the raiding content is one thing, but when most are not challenge by the vast majority of the total content, well, we see the effect that has on subs. Just like we saw it with WotLK (good thing WoW launched in Russia at that same time, huh, or instead of stagnant 'total subs' we would have just had the US/EU decline to focus on).

It's funny you point to 'hard' raids and you quitting, when you're not a raider. Wonder what else changed to actually make you quit. Looks like that 'accessible' bar finally dropped below even your level.

B) At least you now admit my change on Rift is due to the game changing. Makes your original point in the post look a little silly, but hey, you're pretty new to the whole direct trolling thing.
 
Bad reading comprehension, huh, syncaine? I said that IF you believe a change ruined Rift, you would still need to admit that it wasn't Blizzard who did the change.

I don't think Rift changed all that much in reality. Just reread your own review: 99% of the things you praised in that review are still there unchanged. That the 1% change to the game is enough for you to make a Keen 180° turn only proves my point that it is changes in the head of the player which cause him to burn out, not changes to the game.

Rift simply always was what it is now, a reasonably well done themepark MMO with a weak endgame. You just failed to notice that earlier while you still found rifts fascinating and considered them to be a genre-changer. What happened to the fantastic immersion and all that stuff you liked so much when Rift was new? It is still there, but you simply outgrew it. I was simply several months ahead of you in my evaluation of Rift. Neither the game nor my view of it have changed all that much.
 
Re: "It worked, because they didn't get Black Temple loot via heoric dungeons. Thus, Karazhan was fun and meaningful. Karazhan allowed them to advance their character."

Actually the only reason many of us raided Kara was because it started dropping Badges of Justice (same as heroics) which gave us access to loot like:

http://www.wowhead.com/item=34893 (iLevel 146)

which is higher than items like:

http://www.wowhead.com/item=32348 (iLevel 141) which was dropped in BT.

Kara dropping badges was the only reason small guilds like mine bothered with it. Relatively easy badge farm to get better-than-BT loot (except for Illidans drops which were 151, or 156 for the warglaives).

Granted, the Fist weapon and others like it did not come out til Sunwell, after BT was technically "obsolete" if you were a hardcore raider, but as shown that was a very small percentage of the population. Many still ran older raids at the time.
 
The problem with Rift is while 99% of the game remains unchanged the 1% that did change is all related to endgame content and making it vastly easier. Thus rather than know and expecting to wipe as you run a dungeon and having to learn how to beat bosses Trion nerfed the dungeons to the point that you blow through them now with no worries about dying. And what you learned about bosses can now be forgotten as you simply dps them down ignoring all else.

The other 99% is still awesome. Problem is once you hit 50 its the other 1% you end up playing.
 
The point is that Syncaine would be perfectly happy if Trion would offer him some content to do. But they took the content he used to do and gave it 'less advanced' players. Problem is not that these players now have something to do with the LFD. Problem that he doesn't have anything to do anymore.

Clockw0rk, that's exactly my point. I actually wrote a post on it.
 
The other 99% is still awesome. Problem is once you hit 50 its the other 1% you end up playing.

That doesn't sound like good game design to me. Why not design a game in which you keep playing the awesome stuff?
 
That doesn't sound like good game design to me. Why not design a game in which you keep playing the awesome stuff?

What game doesn't do this? The endgame in pretty much all MMO is raiding for gear once the leveling is done. You have the people that power their way to level cap to 'start' their game. And you have the rest that level and then hit the cap and the game ends.
 
Spidubic: What game doesn't do this? The endgame in pretty much all MMO is raiding for gear once the leveling is done. You have the people that power their way to level cap to 'start' their game. And you have the rest that level and then hit the cap and the game ends.

But the point Tobold's trying to make is that, wouldn't it be better if we didn't have an irrelevant levelling game in the first place? And many many games do this. They're just not RPGs. Any game where you don't have to level your way before you can really play is an example.

I would love a raiding game where I didn't have to level a toon for 30+ hours straight (which I did on Cata launch, I passed out right after) before I could do what I felt was the real content.

I would love a game where my toons started out ready to go, which means that I would have MORE customizability for my characters because I wouldn't be limited to a single class and their specs, but rather I could choose any class and any spec at any time because I had alts all at the max level.

The levelling game adds very little to me; Blizzard has added some nice side content and doodles to make the levelling experience interesting, but for the most part it's as interesting as WoW's fishing content (not to belittle the diehard fishermen out there, but at least fishing is optional).
 
Most of the complaining and dissatisfaction about Rift seems to come from disgruntled PvPers and raiders.

I just tabbed out from sorting my bags after a 75 minute invasion in Iron Pines Peak. From a slow start we built up to two full raids and successfully completed the event. Last night after work I completed a zone invasion in Scarwood and another in Stillmoor. The evening before I did a 90 minute event in Stillmoor.

Raiding and PvP may be struggling but open-world rift events happen all day, every day at all levels on my two servers. They are mostly well-attended, even at very off-peak hours. In the evenings two or even three raid groups per invasion is normal.

If raiding fails, good riddance. I hope Trion pay attention to what people are actually choosing to do in their game and remember that that was Rift's U.S.P. to begin with, and why most of us were interested in playing all along.

If they have the sense to throw all their weight behind open-world, easy-access rift events, they will continue to prosper. If they carry on down the instanced raid cul-de-sac, they may not.
 
"I was right, you were wrong, end of story."

The only thing I wrote about Rift in this blog was that I was having fun playing it. The same way I said I was having fun leveling my Druid until 85.

But yes, I am on of THEM!!! the elitist you seem to be seeing everywhere now. :)

In any case people have the right to demand a game that suits their needs. Casuals have the right to ask for Wowville and gamers have the right to ask for World of Demon Souls...

If a game changes direction, some people are bound to be let down. Like you with WoW.

(Please, get Demon's Souls. It's probably dirt cheap now and it's a fine example of what people who want harder games truly want. And I would love to read your comments on it...)
 
Of course Blizzard didn't directly do the change... but they did start the whole dungeon finder/accessible themepark spiral, yes? And yes, stupid of Trion to follow them down that path, but it is what it is. Day one they seemed to have learned from Blizzard's mistakes since 2004, 1.2 went the other direction. One little change can do a lot of damage, you should know that from WoW. Even if 99% of the game is unchanged, if that 1% is critical, down we go.

Still nothing 'keen' about that though, but keep trying if it feeds whatever trolling bend you have been on lately.
 
I seems extremely stupid of the players to only want to play exactly the 1% of the game that sucks, instead of having fun with the 99% that are awesome.
 
"The problem is not inaccessible content. Nor is it accessible content. The problem is content!"

I strongly agree with Nil's statement regarding the state of WoW's content. The leveling content is irrelevent since once it's done, it's done. Upon release the only RvR pvp added was a highly unbalanced zergfest.

From a BG perspective all this talk of rated Bgs and such sounded great but of the 10% of the population that is interested, try finding 15 people ready to go that can compete against a guild team. So pugs were pointless and the 10% split between ignoring rated bgs and joining a guild doing them. Not the mention the two new bgs were pretty much a spinoff of AB and WSG designed for balanced play instead of more dynamic play.

Add in the few heroic options at raid level difficulty with 40 min ques and you can begin to see the problem. The semi casual heroics the playerbase wanted instead of zergruns turned into 5man raiding. Taking 2 hours to complete a heroic from the time you qued is annoying. More annoying is that you use to complete 4 heroics in the same time a month ago.

Well blizzard has addressed some of these issues they are largely to blame for the 5% drop in players.

Personally having left WoW my main reasons were that I felt like I was playing a system instead of a game. Sitting there waiting on ques trying to farm the mats/rep or whatever it was I needed to raid. At the time on my server a night of 3 hour raiding cost about 600-700g. Most serious attempts at bosses raided 3 nights meaning about 2k a week. Well 2k is nothing to a Goblin it is a little slower for unefficient people such as myself. Couple that with gear needs a daily 2 hour heroic and rep grinds you were looking at at least 3 hours a day to keep up with the rest of decent progression guild to just have raiding content readily available.

For me it is easy to understand why Blizzard is losing players. When you are putting in more hours preparing to raid then actually raiding, you can expect to have burnout. Couple that with poor content releases overall and well watch how it unfolded.

As for Rift I expect a decent amount to be fallout from WoW. The whole invasions and rifts provide a random factor to the amount of XP you recieve. This means that it is almost impossible to stay at the appropriate place lore wise as you level and in some cases even finding the proper places to quest. I suppose you could grind grey mobs for your quests but why not do it at 50 if you aren't getting anything from it.

Rift pvp is a joke. Four warfronts with no RvR or Arena. Add in a serious oversight early on with the burst capabilities of Saboteurs and you get endless annoyances from a balance point. The add in no separating of Twinks and premade groups and quite frequently you are simply crushed. Oh and try explaining a plan when your whole team isn't even in the game until about halfway through the match. The only good things I have to say about Rift pvp is that it can only last a certain length of time if your are getting farmed and that low level toons are buffed to a range where they are useful.

For me dungeons were pretty much WoW clones. The only improvements were that you rarely ran into completely terrible newbies because the Rifting allowed people to learn how to tank, heal and not pull aggro. The flexibility of the soul system made it so that groups didn't dissolve when they failed. They just tried another spec. There seemed to be alot more tolerance towards figuring it out instead of quitting. My experience in Rift though were below 50 so i can't really comment there.

P.S. Sorry about the length...had alot to say.
 
"I seems extremely stupid of the players to only want to play exactly the 1% of the game that sucks, instead of having fun with the 99% that are awesome."

How many times are you able to watch a movie you really like? 100? 150?
 
And I know, I know, your blog and all but could you try for once talking to people you disagree with without a passive aggressive insult in the middle?
 
@Wyrm: As soon as you guys stop insulting me and other players you consider to be "idiots", "morons & slackers", and whatever other terms you use. Which will probably be right after hell freezes over.

How exactly should I react to somebody commenting that Rift is 99% awesome, but players are stuck in the 1% that suck? Do you consider that to be good game design, or a wise decision by the players? If you have a game of many parts, most of which are great, why play the parts that aren't good?
 
"@Wyrm: As soon as you guys stop insulting me and other players you consider to be "idiots", "morons & slackers", and whatever other terms you use. Which will probably be right after hell freezes over."

"You guys"? Now I belong to a collective without me even knowing it? :)

Anyway, I haven't insulted anyone. Some people call other people morons & slackers and some people call other people no-lifers and mom's basement dwellers.

In exactly what way one is better than the other?

I do think that the tendency of making games easier in the name of accessibility is detrimental to the experience of those who are entertained by a gaming challenge rather than a series of easy tasks wrapped in beautiful paper. That's why I loved Cata Heroics until they got the nerf-hammer. And I still think that Kara was far harder than BRD when we started doing it.

If you feel that my opinion implicitly calls everyone else a moron & slacker or affirms my supposed superiority over someone then there's nothing I can do about it except telling you: you're wrong.
 
The 1% here is not a specific piece of content, but a change that effects the entire game. By making what appears to be a relatively small change (easier instances), you also impact rifts, zone populations, soul system, etc.

And, I would never call what 1.2 did to Rift a 1% change anyway. I'll post about this later on my blog, as we're pretty far off topic now.
 
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