Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 12, 2014
An interesting theory on the Wildstar business model

Green Armadillo has an interesting theory on the Wildstar business model: He believes that Carbine is counting on most players leaving the game in the first 90 days anyway, and trying to retain just the top 1% to 5% of hardcore raiders. Quote: "Five percent of WoW's over ten million peak would be over half a million subscribers, which would put Wildstar in solid territory by any measure."

While as a theory this is interesting, I do have a problem with the math. Because the 5% Carbine could possibly retain are not 5% of WoW peak numbers, but rather 5% of Wildstar peak numbers. Which are probably closer to 1 million than to 10 million. And to the best of my knowledge of MMORPG economics, 50,000 subscribers aren't enough to keep a triple-A MMORPG afloat.

Numbers can be deceptive. If you look at a graph of World of Warcraft subscription numbers over time, you get the impression that for some time people joined WoW, then it peaked, and then people started to leave WoW. But imagine you had the possibility to track each individual WoW player. Imagine you knew exactly what the 8 million players of World of Warcraft during let's say Burning Crusade are playing now. It would be totally wrong to assume that just half a million of them quit WoW and 7.5 million of those 8 million are still playing. Chances are that the numbers are closer to reverse: Half a million people of those 8 million during Burning Crusade still play WoW, the other 7.5 million quit. The overwhelming majority of people playing WoW now are people who joined the game much later. WoW doesn't necessarily KEEP players, it replaces them by new ones.

I believe that for most people hardcore raiding is a phase, not a permanent lifestyle choice. For me certainly it was. You can't point at the 8 million people of Burning Crusade, of which 1% to 5% played raids with attunements and think that these people are still around, only waiting for another game with raid attunements. Raiding is fun, but it does have inherent disadvantages: You need to be online for a large block of hours simultaneously with your raiding friends, and while your personal performance might be important to you, it is not the deciding factor to whether the raid succeeds. You can fail because your raid companions failed, and that causes inherently unstable social situations. "Guild drama" is a term we are all familiar with because of raiding.

And, let's face it, we aren't getting any younger. World of Warcraft is approaching its 10th anniversary, and if you started raiding even earlier, in Everquest, even more time has gone past. The years are likely to have a negative effect not only on your reaction time and raid performance, but also on your availability for raiding, due to things like growing work and family responsibilities and competing claims on your time. And for most of us the years also did a good job of putting our priorities into perspective: We now have other goals in life than being a top raider in this or that MMORPG.

Thus I do not believe that it will be possible for Wildstar to attract a stable pool of half a million hardcore raiders and keep them playing (and paying for) the game for several years.

While you are right it's impossible to keep the SAME hardcore raiders, it's not a wild guess that there are half million hardcore raiders in every generation. So Wildstar can aim to be a niche game for hardcore raiders.

It's like EVE is a niche for market junkies and griefers. It's likely that the guy who ganked newbs 5 years ago is now a decent father. But there is a new college kid who wants to get back on life and found EVE a better way to do so than grabbing a shotgun and going to the mall.
This is one of those things I never understood: Raiding - obviously - was never something the majority of WoW players did. Still Blizzard focused on it as if it was the most important thing.

Just like you, I raided for a time. I don't intend to raid seriously again. I play MMOs for a whole lot of different reasons.
It's like EVE is a niche for market junkies and griefers. It's likely that the guy who ganked newbs 5 years ago is now a decent father. But there is a new college kid who wants to get back on life and found EVE a better way to do so than grabbing a shotgun and going to the mall

Love the snark. But let's say there are half a million EVE players (there aren't, but that is a different discussion). To how many of those does your "college kid who wants to get back on life" description apply? While EVE is definitively famous for the griefers, I don't think they make the majority of players. According to the devs, 80% of EVE players never leave the safe part of the universe. And of the null sec players there are certainly many who enjoy a political or strategical game without being primarily motivated by griefing.

I think the error of the Wildstar concept is not offering enough space for the equivalent of the EVE empire space player. Even EVE couldn't survive if it ONLY offered null sec content. Meanwhile Wildstar is not just excluding the so-called casuals, but is also putting off a lot of raiders with their 12-step attunement for raiding.
I am really confused here. Outside of pet battles and battlegrounds, what does WoW offer at max level outside of raiding?

Dungeons? Got that. Housing? Not yet in WoW. Warplots? Nope. Mount customization? Nope. Social circles? Nope. Adventures? Nope. Shiphand missions? Scenarios maybe? World bosses? Zerg runs maybe.

Wildstar has way more max level content options than BC had, by far. But it also has more competition (though none til the holidays).

I see it more like FF14 relaunch. Media lines are really positive. The blogging sphere seems happy too. We'll see how that turns out I guess but the entire vibe seems much more optimistic.
MOBA games like Dota 2 demonstrate a solid audience for hardcore twitch gameplay - Dota is essentially 5 vs 5 arena style WoW PvP.

Dota 2 currently has 8 million unique players (LoL claims 60 million).

The difference with raiding I guess is that Dota 2 is very much "pick up and play" - no grinding, no attunements, and you can get a game in 5 minutes. Matches take less than an hour to finish.

Have you played any MOBA games Tobold?
Hardcore players like to feel superior and require a large player base to support their fantasy that everyone looks up to them. Without the sense of status they lose the motivation.

They don't want to play in an exclusively hardcore game where the average hardcore is the lowly scrub and the top hardcore players are only a minor life style change away from becoming the lowly scrub.

Hence history shows them constantly shying away from such games.

They would rather sit in WoW and complain about how easy it is.

At launch Rift offered the hard Heroic dungeons and TBC raid progression system that they constantly demand but they couldn't get back to WoW quick enough.

Wildstar had no chance of capturing the hardcore WoW player base.
Have you played any MOBA games Tobold?

Yes, and guess what MOBA players are bitching about in chat and on forums: Other players that underperform or quit before the game ends.

I don't think the *gameplay* is what keeps people away from raiding. But as you say yourself, these games are quick to get into and don't demand a significant long term commitment. I am pretty sure that once you got 40 competent people together, these players will enjoy a Wildstar raid. But getting there will be hell, and keeping it up will be a nightmare. How many people will you have to help through a 12-step attunement process to end up with 40 people actually able to beat a raid and willing to do so repeatedly over a long period?
If they market the market of hardcore raiders, they might just get it... but it's a niche market.

Yeah, I've also had my time raiding 4-5 days a week. No, I do no longer want to do that. If I were to raid again, it would be once or twice a week. And that doesn't mix well with the hardcore raiding aspect of Wildstar.

I suspect they're banking on those 50k begging 5-10 friends to stay with them or come join them or otherwise peer pressuring them in order to make up 20-40 man raid numbers.

This only works if the 50k don't collapse in on itself seeking out each other in an elitist brotherhood of awesome hardcore skills and gear.
"I am really confused here. Outside of pet battles and battlegrounds, what does WoW offer at max level outside of raiding?"

What makes you think that someone who quits Wildstar would go play WoW instead?

And the one thing that WoW does have over Wildstar is casual dungeons and raids in addition to heroic difficulty dungeons and raids. "I am really confused here. Outside of pet battles and battlegrounds, what does WoW offer at max level outside of raiding?"
"Social circles? Nope."

Social circles aren't in WoW? Could've fooled me. Unless there's some sort of specific UI option you're referring to, social circles are the main reason most folks I know keep playing WoW.

There's plenty to do outside of raiding at endgame in WoW, the problem that I (and many others) have is that it's not the best thing to do. All the prettiest gear, the best stats, the prestigious titles/toys are all associated with raiding. If THAT'S your motivation, then no - there's nothing to do. If you don't care about being the best/having the nicest things and only care about filling out the achievement log or seeing a decade's worth of content, then there's probably a shitload more to do in WoW.

I just hate that the 'best' stuff is raiding-only. There's no good reason for it that I've yet heard. It's perfectly within the devs' power to create solo/small-group content, but they don't. It's annoying that the 'best' doesn't include an option which doesn't require cat-herding dozens of adult schedules to tackle challenging content that test your skills as a player rather than a social butterfly. It's kind of insulting that the most prestigious gear is tied to being that kind of person rather than a skilled player.

Oh, also, you forgot alt-addiction. Levelling alts is why my brother is still playing. Oh and, transmog collecting. And solo-running obsolete raids, of which there is around 9 years of content for. That still dwarfs what Wildstar has on offer.
I just have to say, if there is a heaven, if I go there, every day I will play golf, and every night we will kill Vashj for the first time.
Great post, and I definitely agree. I think a clue as to why online games are like this can be found in marcleosguin's comment:

"I am really confused here. Outside of pet battles and battlegrounds, what does WoW offer at max level outside of raiding?"

The assumption here, of course, is that the end game is all that matters, and your only real concern is entertaining players once they reach that level cap. Except we know that the majority of WoW players never reach that level cap, much less care about raiding.

The problem is, a typical developer is a hardcore gamer. The other developers around him are hardcore gamers. The other players in his guild are hardcore gamers. The majority of people active on the forums are hardcore gamers. Most online games have little to no feedback from or representation for casual players.

And I can sense the same line of reasoning behind Wildstar that I have seen in so many other online games: why bother with players who are going to quit after a few month anyway? (Which, as a casual, my box + subscription hundred bucks isn't worth your time?)

But I think it is becoming clear that excluding casuals to only get hardcore players is like scaring off the free players in a Free2Play game. It doesn't work that way. Your target demographic is not separate, they are a subset of players who grow so attached/invested in your game that they stick around and become very good customers.

But if your initial game isn't friendly to anyone but hardcore players, it all falls apart.
I just hate that the 'best' stuff is raiding-only.

That sure is debatable. But I will take a game like WoW in which the best stuff is for the hardcore players, and the casual can visit the same dungeon and raid content for less good rewards any time over a game like Wildstar, where the casual can't even enter the raid dungeon.
"...Wildstar, where the casual can't even enter the raid dungeon."

I thought I was alone in making that distinction but that's exactly what bothers me too. I am okay with high difficulty content - let people go, see and fail if that's what they will do. erecting 12 gatekeepers (timesinks) beforehand however....bleh.

on a more general note, it will be very interesting to see what happens from here because whether some of us 'like' that particular attunement or not, from a more objective raid-focused POV, the 12steps are a recruiter's nightmare. hardcore raiders don't want that kind of thing - unless maybe they don't have a clue about 40man raiding just yet...

it's ironical that this whole thing is supposed to appeal to raiders when they're probably not so enthused about it, either. the official forum thread is full of raiding veterans facepalming already.
I wonder if the difficulty and long attunement are less due to the devs thinking hardcore makes a better game, and more due to them thinking they need to stretch out the endgame content by making it hard.
"and more due to them thinking they need to stretch out the endgame content by making it -time-consuming-."

Fixed that for you. :)

Gotta keep those subscriptions going!
JG said in a talk last year that 10% of WoW players leave every month and that half return. Subscriptions tend to be about retention and acquisition cost. Bliz also said a lot of their sub decline was not more players leaving, but fewer returning. So that is my thoughts how SC could affect EVE. Very few players will leave EVE for SC; but if the bored ex-players try out SC instead of EVE, it could affect numbers.
I think it is an interesting theory: there are 93 million ex-WoW players, many with much nostalgia for the early days. If they could get a couple of million to buy, then that pays for development - making 50-100k subs not so disastrous.
If you are a Serious Raider, I think there will be considerable temptation to try out WoD when it launches.
I feel kind of not represented in the calculations. I was a hardcore raider once, but I no longer want to dedicate that amount of time. But I'm also spoiled enough that I don't want to do Raid Finder. Raiding for me is about being a little part of a big machine where everything just clicks together. If I can't have that, I don't want to raid. I'm also not huge on PvP, never was.

So what does Wildstar offer me? Leveling fun for example, I always was an alt guy. Since my play time is low and I'm in no rush to reach max level, I'd guess I'm looking at about half a year of leveling fun (with 4 characters) at least.

After that I'll just see what happens. It won't be raiding. But even if I leave after that, half a year is about twice the 90 days from the calculation. And unlike hardcore raiders I don't see why there shouldn't be a lot of other people like me.
IMO the people who don't get why raiding is the main focus are missing the core hook of MMOs.

We habitually watch movies and read books about people who are better looking, richer, smarter, and otherwise better than the average person. In some sense the possibility of having more status, money, power, and success is what drives people to show up to work every day. Raiding is the focus precisely because most people can't do it. It creates the same keeping up with the jones thing that excites our primal monkey instinct to fight for status. Without the illusion that what you do in an MMO matters, it's just a really shitty game. Which is why the games rely on handing out status and rewards to motivate players instead of just being fun.

Without content that most players can't reach, an MMO just because a really bad, horribly outdated, poorly written, and poorly designed RPG game. The fact that there's this eternal conflict between the hardcore and the casuals is proof of that. Nobody gives a crap that there's difficulty settings in any other game.
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