Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The Hype Cycle

It is in the nature of any form of journalism that it focuses on the new. Thus if your source of information is MMORPG blogs, you could be forgiven of thinking that the genre is dominated by the new entrants: Star Wars - The Old Republic, The Secret World, and soon Guild Wars 2. The Nosy Gamer is more interested in seeing what people actually play than what they talk about, and so he compiled a list of the 12 most played MMORPGs last Sunday, based on XFire statistics. World of Warcraft can quote Mark Twain and say: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated"; in fact WoW was played for more hours that Sunday than the other 11 entrants together. The open beta of The Secret World, in spite of being both new and for free, was played 20 times less.

Fox News trademarked the slogan that their reporting was "fair & balanced". Not many people believe that. Blogs aren't even trying to be anything but biased opinions. That isn't as easy as it appears: Gamers tend to get stuck in the denial and anger stages of grief when discovering for the millionths time that yet another game has failed to live up to the hype preceding it. Woe to the blogger who dares to voice his opinion that The Secret World might maybe not be the greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread. Well, at least if he dares to voice that opinion now, when it isn't yet part of the general groupthink. There is an extremely predictable news cycle for every new MMORPG, with early hype always being followed by disappointment, and then the game not being mentioned at all any more.

I am currently very pessimistic about the MMORPG genre. There is certainly a part of that opinion which is due to me having played too many of them for too long. But there is also a part of that opinion which is justified by the glacial pace of innovation of the genre. There are a few highly innovative but low budget games, like A Tale in the Desert or Puzzle Pirates or Wizard 101, which in my mind show how huge the possibility space for MMORPGs is: There are millions of possible ways how a game could work and still be very clearly recognizable as "a MMORPG". But the big budget games are all huddling together in a tiny corner of that possibility space, very close to where World of Warcraft is. They all have the same sort of quest-based gameplay and the same sort of hotkey-based combat, to the point that some people have started believing that any game that works differently is not a MMORPG, despite evidence to the contrary. Games get major kudos from bloggers for having features that deviate minimally from the norm. Oh, wow, this game has quests you can pick up near to where you finished the last quest, instead of near the previous quest giver!

Game companies are increasingly aware of the hype cycle, and increasingly are trying to milk it. Early on there is paid-for beta access, pre-order prices up to 50% higher than retail price on release, very expensive collectors editions, and offers of lifetime subscriptions. Six months after release, when the first server mergers are announced, you get longer and longer free trials and special offers. And a year or two later the game goes Free2Play. Basically the price of the game follows the hype cycle. The price-conscious player can play the same games for much less if he only is willing to wait a while after release before starting.

The problem for me as a blogger is that nobody wants to read about a zoomed out view that ignores the hype cycle. I'll get angry comments for pointing out how many people still play World of Warcraft, and I'll get angry comments for pointing out that the currently hyped game will appear not so hot in six months. I'd get crucified if I dared to predict that Guild Wars 2 will only do well because it doesn't have a monthly subscription fee attached. It simply isn't fun to blog about MMORPGs any more if readers can't stand me blogging an opinion which doesn't conform to the current groupthink on where that game is in its hype cycle.

Well, summer is ahead, and as usually I will quit my daily blogging schedule for the holidays. And I can always blog about D&D or other games.

Well, what can I say? You're perfectly right.....

The hype cycle works exactly like you describe, and what you predict will invariably happen. It has happened for all the latest MMO releases, it will be the same for GW2 and TSW.

I don't think that it's a matter of lack of innovation in the MMORPG genre: the genre is very much defined by the way those games are today, anything straying too far will not be called an MMO, but will create another genre. So we're left with incremental improvements inside the genre. But it's time players started to recognize this and abandon any idea that you can have big changes while remaining in the same genre.

The "space close to WoW" is pretty much a consequence of the money required to launch a new game: when selling stuff to any kind of investor, it's a lot easier if you indicate that you're cloning a hugely successful game. New ideas may be nice and wonderful, but the graveyard of games is full of new ideas, only few of which made it to successful games.

Personally I have nothing against the current themepark way of things, if not the fact that too often it forces me to do things I don't want to do, since activities are not well split. I don't want to be forced to farm when I want to quest, I don't want to be forced to quest when I want to raid, I don't want to be forced to do PvE when I want to PvP, etc. etc. WoW/subscription model seems to be the only ones who are (slowly) improving on this, GW2 has promise, but the F2P crowd always tends to become F2F (free to farm) and P2P (pay to play), with the price for P2P being a lot higher than a subscription game.

A tale in the desert sounded interesting, but after a visit to the forums (ok, not the right place maybe :), it seemed like the design was full of troubles just like everywhere else. I'll check again, but the free-demo-version was way too short to get an idea when I last looked.
I agree with you there. The hype machines, whether from the publisher or the players is a very dangerous thing. After being swept up into a few of them myself, I've just gotten to the point where if its a game I'm very interested in.. I'll just ignore it till I can actually play it. The open beta's that games have (aka free demo time) have saved me from purchasing a few of them. What really gets my goat is players who are of the mindset that their game is the best and the rest are terrible. The company forums of any of these games are filled mostly with folks ranting and complaining about how bad their game, that the keep paying monthly for, is. Some of these people I don't think will every be happy with any game. Maybe if they hadn't got caught up in the hype (or their own hype) they wouldn't be so disappointed. Or maybe they are putting their own self worth in how epic their character is, rather than real life.

On another note, I did give TSW a try over the weekend, but got to a point where the screen shook and there were some flashy lights. This (and any other game that does this) made me nauseated and fired up a headache. There's some pretty good games out there I cannot play because of my reaction to it. While I like the idea of TSW, classless systems, modern IP, etc.. I won't be able to play it (there's not even an option to turn that off).

I actually started playing SWTOR after not caring for it too much in beta (thinking it was the 2nd coming and being a SW fan, and old SWG player). Its had some time to fix bugs, release a few patches, and let the hype die down. I got a free trial and rolled a Jedi Knight (prior run was Sith Inquisitor). In my mind, knowing that it didn't live up to the hype, and how much I didn't like it in beta, I thought I'd give it another shot. It has been pretty fun, but I'm treating it as more of a single player game that I can group with my wife with rather than an MMO. Because my expectations were pretty low (I'll kill time till GW2 comes out), I think I enjoyed it more this time. But when I hit 50, who knows what I will do then. Might be bored with it by the time that rolls around. But if I get a month or two of fun out of it, thats good enough for me.

I'm sure at some point with MOP comes out for WOW, I'll go give it a try. I've never been one personally to stick with just one game I play for years at a time, I tend to bounce around. If some of these end up going F2P (and aren't stupid about it), that will work pretty well for my game-bouncing habit.
The hype machine has become better, but the underlying products have only made marginal progress at best.

It's also MMO tribalism at its best.

Will it go away, probably not.

Will we eventually grow out of it, and learn to evaluate products critically and independently? I'm hopeful.
I've done the last couple of beta weekends on The Secret World and I guess I've posted less than stellar reviews. Oddly, with the possible exception of a review I did of Iron Sky, the reviews of TSW have attracted probably the most attention to my blog of anything.

I guess that's me using the Hype Cycle, though it wasn't my intention. I write urban fantasy and thought people who read it might be interested in what is, essentially an urban fantasy game.

I intend to rid the Hype Cycle further; I'm not going to touch the game for now. It's too broken and it's Funcom, so it's bound to go F2P. Why should I pay for it?

Beyond that, hype has an opposite effect on some, and I'm uncluded. The more I see a company trying to ram something down my throat, the less I want it. TSW interested me massively a year or so ago, but they over-hyped it, and now it was going to have to be awesome to get me to subscribe. Guess what; it wasn't.
This comment has been removed by the author.
I think there is currrently a big gap in the market for a pessimistic MMORPG blogger, I'm sure it's the way a great deal of us feel right now, I know it's certainly the way I feel.
Gah, please don't back off because of silly people on the internet.

Just remember that many of your fans, are your fan because you speak against the usual group think. I'm your fan because you reliably say meaningful things about a genre and industry that needs it, yet gets little of it.

Please don't back down due to random people on the internet that you know are wrong.

(deleted my previous comment as horrible typos changed meaning :)
It is perfectly OK for a blogger to voice their own opinion (strong, biased, whatever) as long as the discussion remains civil and every one (including but not limited to author) is able to take criticism for granted, accept different opinions, contain depth; in other words a mature discussion.

I'd also say comments about moderation (disagreements and such) should not be "fought out" in a discussion but in private ie. e-mail. But in general the readers should accept the blogger removes their post if they don't find appropriate for whatever reason. There's always the optiont to make one's own blog post as reply.

How does Xfire measure you're playing a game? If you are playing TERA and then fire up WoW it changes your status to you're playing WoW even though you still have TERA active. Which game are you playing? For how long? I know various people who are "in-menus" in Diablo 3 but surely not always playing the game as I get replies "sorry was away", and done so myself too. I'm not sure about the relevance of this regarding the statistics.

I believe the MMORPG genre will migrate to a more action-based MMO genre with RPG elements. We already see this change with TERA and GW2. This means tactical, fast-paced action combat; more like a FPS with MMO aspects than a traditional MMO.
Ok then, if all are in their little corner of the space, and the games you mentioned (A Tale in the Desert, Puzzle Pirates, Wizard 101) did the step forward to "innovate" the genre then why people don't play these games instead? As far as I know there is a whole community out there that would like things be like the past...and no it isn't just nostalgia..thousands of people play in vanilla/tbc private servers..

they don't just say they like vanilla, they play on these servers and do it regularly and serious..lot of my friends when we discuss complain about how mainstream the games became and want to play like the old days of vanilla wow and EQ.

not everyone like innovative things and of they did they would play the games you mention which first I heard them from you.

As for wow in the list of played time, do not forget that wow have 10 times more wow have 11 million players and have 51754 hours played and star wars have 500k players and have 8500..

that means that the people who play star wars play almost double hours their game than the people have they enjoy more their game probably.
I'd be happy to hear about games (or other apps) you're enjoying on your iPod, if you're having fun there.

I agree there isn't much to be said about MMOs lately, and was glad to see you taking your blog in new directions (although I've never really gotten into D&D).
If you clicked on the historical data from the article, you can see that WoW numbers have been dropping significantly every week until the last week, down by more than 50% since the beginning of the year.

The WarcraftRealms census is reporting 1.7 million characters active in the last 30 days, versus over 6 million two years ago (and 3.6 million a year ago, which I said then and everyone ignored).

I would also argue that "cross-realm zones" is just another term for server merging.

You are right that WoW is still obviously king of the mountain, by a huge margin, but it is still significant that they are experiencing a massive drop in activity (if not yet subscriptions).
Ok then, if all are in their little corner of the space, and the games you mentioned (A Tale in the Desert, Puzzle Pirates, Wizard 101) did the step forward to "innovate" the genre then why people don't play these games instead?

Because they are low budget games which don't have all the features of a big budget game. Graphics aren't great, etc.

so wow have 11 million players

I doubt they use Raptr in China, thus activity per player is roughly the same for the two games.

but it is still significant that they are experiencing a massive drop in activity

Nobody said that they aren't currently experiencing a massive drop in activity. And they will have a massive rise in activity when Mists of Pandaria releases.
Who says sliced bread was so great?

Seriously, though, I get the impression sometimes that many of us (myself, and to be honest, you to some extent, as well) use the hype cycle to fill our blogspace with something topical to write about. I know I went through happiness and unhappiness with WoW, LotRO, Rift, Fallen Earth, and a plethora of other games, but like an abuse victim continuously returning to their abuser, I'm gearing up again for Secret World.

To be fair, I've already privately voiced some opinions (maybe publicly, too; who remembers everything they publish?) that I think the whole MMO culture might be in "the middle of the end" for me, and that TSW will just be another notch on my bedpost of games that have come and gone. I fear several of the same things that you mentioned in your earlier post, but it's not enough to stop me, either. Then again, as "veteran" as I may be, it seems you've got about 5 or 6 years on me (online gaming-wise), so it stands to reason you'd have already called it for TSW.

I think the hype cycle is totally natural, really. It's less about particular games or IPs and more about hope and desperation. If we didn't have the hype cycle, we might find more middling enjoyment in everything instead of riding that rollercoaster of happiness that switches to a log flume that drenches us, but what fun would that be? Remember Episode 1? Remember Last Action Hero trying to compete with Jurassic Park (that reference may or may not work intercontinentally, but it was quite a hilarious scuffle between a truly awesome movie and a mediocre one)? The Atkins Diet? Electric Cars? Going to the moon (that one worked out okay but has definitely let us down since we've never been back and now the US has cancelled government sponsored manned space flight)?

The hype cycle is part of human nature, I think, just like hope and desperation. It's not going to go away, and we're not going to be rational about it. Hell, even talking about the hype cycle has generated a lot of buzz here and now, so even when we're pushing back against it, it's still good press. We might as well be fighting back the tide, but here we are hoping against our despondency that we can break the cycle, while really, it's just another hype cycle against hype!

Good post, and I hope you enjoy your summer; I'll still be back regularly to see what you've written. (:
Just because you've burned out on traditional MMOs and slight variations thereof doesn't mean everyone has. We aren't all looking for a radical reinvention of the genre - just some good, solid, well-made traditional MMOs.

I find the upcoming titles as exciting as I did the upcoming titles of a decade ago, not only when I read about them but when I get a chance to try them.

In my opinion the genre is in the best shape it's ever been and the MMOs coming out now are more interesting, intriguing and downright entertaining than most of their predecessors.

I'm sorry you're not enjoying the new MMOs more but if you've fallen out pf love with the way the genre is developing you're right, it's probably best if you write about something else that you actually like.
Agree with Bhagpuss about how great the MMO genre is to me, but not the part about blogging something else. I like your dissatisfaction and angst. It feels to me like you are working toward some resolution and some real change. And it feels real. That's all a reader can really expect.

I'm interested to see where that goes.

What's next the yearly "Do you like me?" post?

Tobold here's the deal

You say: "The problem for me as a blogger is that nobody wants to read about a zoomed out view that ignores the hype cycle."

It isn't too hard to read "zoomed out" as "disinterested observer".

It's like you blog about the World Cup while admitting you do not like Football.

Why are you blogging about things you do not apparently like?

Or as an alternative...
Why are you poking the troll if you don't want to cross his bridge?
lol, you're the top mmorpg blogger imho Tobold but you sure can be fickle ;)
Hype is repugnant. Hype is a complete turnoff to me and it was the blatant hype coming out of the designer's mouth that led me to write my anti-hype TSW post back in March.

But I am not pessimistic about the MMO genre. I am quietly excited about the small, low-budget projects out there now and in the future that will experiment and cater to my particular niche (sandpit me!).

I don't need to be playing with a zillion other people (I probably wouldn't like most of them anyway :p). A small, close-knit, friendly gaming community is gold.

Despite that I WILL be playing TSW and I truly am looking forward to it because I believe I know what I'm in for. I just don't take kindly to being lied to so I'm feeling a bit 'shuddup & get back to work' to the game designers with their overblown pitches and their hateful Facebook fascination.
I see a lot of bloggers asking for innovation in the MMO space. But if you look at the games they are playing, they tend to prefer variations on the familiar hotkey combat model.

The cost of entry into the MMO market is high and there are a lot of cases of failure to indicate that evolution, not revolution, is the best approach.
The possibility space for restaurants is huge. We could be eating insects or algae except for the cowardly money men only supporting what has worked in the past ;-)
I don't entirely agree about innovation and here's why. Compare a WoW type MMO with a set of pen and paper rules.

Now, you could easily run lots of different campaigns in different worlds and setting with the same base D&D rules. You don't need a massive rules change in between each campaign and actually players might prefer the rules they know.

So it shouldn't be that surprising if players who like WoW are perceived as wanting 'a new campaign in a different world but with the same rules'
I am currently very pessimistic about the MMORPG genre.

It's probably just burnout ;)
Ofc it is not just MMO players. If you had written on Mac versus Windows [I am old enough to remember when I knew people with Windows machines :-) ] or iPhone vs Android or Coke vs Pepsi. In ancient times the car culture was a big part of the US and well studied. There were Ford guys and Chevy guys and our marketing professor was clear that no studies showed any pattern or difference between the two groups. Why would MMOs - ongoing time commitments where it matters to you how many others are playing - be any different? Unfortunately, regardless of how you feel about Obama, the Euro, America or ManU, you probably get your news & opinion from sites that agree with you.


And I suspect every game saw a huge decrease around mid-May. Even internet sites were seeing 40% traffic drops due to D3. The lack of business analysis by the game bloggers does not help things. Apple and Ford would expect to sell more when a new model is released than just before it is discontinued. And many products have sessional variations. Looking at subscriber numbers without looking at market share, product life cycle or season is not as informative as it could be.


Everyone says they don't want another WoW clone ... as long as it has all their favorite WoW features in it. Recent example was people without irony disparaging TOR for being a WoW clone and then two sentences later complaining about WoW features it lacked.


My hypothesis is that for personal and historical reasons, it will be impossible to have a mass market/high volume MMO that many experienced (jaded? been-there-done-that? Tobold?) bloggers would like. I.e., if it is expensive enough (i.e. has a large enough feature set it requires tens of millions of dollars of development cost), then it would be incredibly risky to get too far from the MMO mainstream. Ergo, the blogger/reviewer will not like it. There can be quite innovative MMOs and quite successful MMOs. Pick one. For now anyway. I am confident about certain bloggers who will not like the next big thing. But off they still try the game and are disappointed. And I read their disappointment. Yet neither of us can resist.


Tobold, are you pessimistic about the MMO market as a market or the likelihood of future MMOs being to your taste? A year ago I would have been more pessimistic than now about the former. My guess is Blizzard will be more successful with MoP than Cata and in a 12 month period we will have SWTOR, TSW, GW2 ship with big expansions from WoW, LotRO, & Rift. The MMO industry seems to be pretty vibrant.
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