Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
I wonder what went wrong

It is always tempting to make a "survey of one" and extrapolate one's own opinion to everybody. So in spite of reading lots of "I quit Wildstar" blog posts and having quit myself, I was at first resisting temptation to comment further on that. But now I've seen some additional data from the Nosy Gamer which suggest that it isn't just me: The big MMORPGs of 2014, The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar, are doing quite badly. In his XFire ranking, flawed as it may be, they now rank on 12th and 8th place, behind games like Tera and Aion.

Which makes me wonder what went wrong. Neither of the two games is actually bad. Both games were extensively marketed, and TESO had brand recognition from millions of Skyrim players. Neither launch was a big catastrophic mess, albeit TESO having more problems with bugs than Wildstar. But in the end the two triple-A MMORPGs of the year appear to have failed just months after release, and we didn't even get to the next WoW expansion yet!

My favorite theory, but that might again be an extrapolation from one, is that the MMORPGs of 2014 had to fail because the genre failed to attract many new people. The people who played TESO and Wildstar were mostly people who played other MMORPGs before. So they got bored fast, because the new games were just like the old games, just with a fresh coat of paint on.

Another theory would be that the overall market for gaming has evolved since World of Warcraft: We are spoiled for choice. Between the classic gaming platforms and the new mobile gaming platforms we now have so many games to choose from, and often at so low prices, that a classic MMORPG which wants lots of our time and lots of our money just appears like a dinosaur today.

The worry of course is that with every failure it becomes less probable that somebody else decides to make yet another triple-A MMORPG. Archage apparently already resigned itself to a Darkfall-sized niche market. Everquest Next seems further away than ever. And Blizzard appears to be more occupied with other kinds of games than with a next generation MMORPG. Is Titan still actually a thing? They might just be happy to milk their remaining 6.8 million WoW players (presumably going temporarily up by a few millions by the end of this year) until the lights go out. This doesn't look like a great year for MMORPGs.

I was one of those people that was really excited about Wildstar. I evangelized it's coming to anyone who listened. But now I've canceled my account a mere two months after release. I made it to max level on two characters in that time, but found myself stalling out once I hit 50.

At first, I thought it might be because the end-game was not much fun and that certainly may be part of it. But at the end of the day, I think the problem I have with any new MMO is simple - it's not World of Warcraft.

And I don't mean that it isn't as polished or fun to play. What I mean is that I've invested literally 10 years into WoW. When faced with the possibility of seriously dedicating myself to a new MMO, I always end up feeling wistful and overwhelmed. All of the pets, mounts & achievements of WoW took tons of time and effort. It's very very difficult to walk away from all of that, and it's very daunting to have to rebuild it all.

I've tried a bunch of different MMOs and it took Wildstar for me to come to that realization. I'm proud of what I built in WoW and I can't walk away from that easily. WoW will probably be the last MMO I play seriously, because re-establishing myself elsewhere just isn't worth the effort.
I think part of the confusion is the mixing of "game qua game" and a business selling a product as a game.

E.g. I think for a lot of people Wildstar is quite enjoyable so I certainly think it is justified to call it a "good game." As an investment, my bias is that I don't see how business executives could think hard raids for the 1% was an optimal business choice.


I think AA might be a precursor to the future. If a company is spending a hundred million for an Asian MMO, then 10 million spent on localization for 30 million in revenue is good incremental money even if 30 could never justify investing 100.


/grumble The biggest disappointment is the next sandbox, and from the company that champions sandboxes, will be ... H1Z1. OW PK in a peaked genre? /sigh


I really do think MMOs have peaked. My example is Witcher is taking their critically acclaimed title into a MOBA. My opinion is that 5 years ago that would have been a MMO. Remember then the Take 2 president said MMOs in the west are broken and all the commenters at the time derided him? I kinda thought he was right.

OTOH, it could be me, but it may just be that "raiding" MMOs are in decline. With all the doom and gloom in MMO land, I am overwhelmed with a cafeteria of choices. Yet none of these choices have the content to keep up a subscribed 365/year. If Blizzard can't ship any content for 14 months, how tough must it be for developers with 5% or 15% of their budget.

Two festivals and new zones in Lotro.

SWTOR: Two events and Casino and a housing mini-expansion and a 2014-sized expansion later in the year.

STO: 9.5 with expansion 2 in October

Rift: new souls in 2.7 ( WoD is so late yet has no new classes or races)

WoD: ships this year; we have date for date.

Gw2: I don't play but an impressive cadence.

So none of those come close to being as absorbing as WoW at its peak. But combined, they are quite impressive. IMO, it's not MMOs per se but the 2009 fixed raid team running at a fixed time is really strained with peripatetic customers.

@Hagu - the exception to your "content" argument is Wildstar. They have put out two content updates already and a third is on the way.

But this only strengthens Tobold's premise. Wildstar even avoided the 'no new content' problem that plagued other MMOs and it STILL hasn't kept an audience.

I have to admit, despite my enthusiasm at Wildstar's release, that I'm contemplating unsubscribing as well.

My own "audience of one" reasons are basically that I can't or won't devote the time needed to an MMO anymore. I simply want to put that time into other hobbies and passions.

Games like BL2 or WoWarplanes give me allow me to fully enjoy the game without the huge time commitment that an MMO needs.
I have to agree with Honor's Code here.

I was subbed for 1 month, and at the end of the month I just couldn't justify the time commitment and the ongoing money commitment to a game that basically had a very large time-commitment associated with it.

I feel much more relaxed, and much less like I am missing things playing Smite, Civ V, the beta for Elite: Dangerous, and trying out other things whenever I want.

All that being said, I am sad that Wildstar might run into trouble, as it is a well made game, and I think their contribution to the MMO action combat is a very worthwhile and needed change for the industry.
I like to think I am typical of a lot of players. I have previous been heavily invested in MMO's and I love trying new ones...briefly.

I may get to level 10 at most and quit. Having previously burned out and shunned the MMO lifestyle I am not prepared to put in the commitment required to get to level cap and participate in end game group content. I won't commit my life to one game at the expense of all others.

Too little quality, spread far too thinly and too much commitment and sacrifice required for the juicy stuff at end game.

The "no life virgins" (as they are called in community discussions) said that "this game is not for you". I agree. It isn't for me.

TESO could have been the largest smash hit of the year. How?

Make it single player-only with players only meeting and interacting in cities.

All dungeons/raids would have had to be converted into solo (or with NPC companion) encounters.

Those dungeons/raids should be tuned for solo play and the game should have a range of difficulty levels like Skyrim. Perhaps allow an entirely optional co-op system so that you can do some quests/dungeons and explore with a friend or two. Those quests and dungeons must remain easily completed solo though so that grouping isn't mandatory.

Sacrifice some quantity in exchange for more quality. Remove all the weak filler quests and enhance the most juicy offerings. Make each minute you play a richer experience.

Does Bungie understand what I just said? Nope. I won't be buying Destiny after their most recent announcements and they just doomed their game to the same terminal decline from the time players hit level cap as all the other failed MMO's.
It... is... as... I... foretold.
How are we defining failure here? After all, didn't we, Western bloggers and commenters, write off Aion and Tera as flops and three-monthers and yet there they still are, running successfully and presumably, unless their owners are deep-pocketed altruists, profitably?

How many of the "failed" AAA MMOs of the last five years can really have said to have failed? How many have closed down? DDO was a massive "failure" at launch. Still running, still adding content. STO underperformed, didn't it? Still there. SW:ToR, that industry-sinking disaster? Still seems to be trucking along nicely.

All of these and more certainly failed to satisfy and hold the attention of a particular segment of the MMO commentariat but that's hardly going to bother the companies still raking n the money or the players still happily playing, is it?

I'd wait to see TESO and WS not only go F2P but fail to make a go of that and close down altogether before I called either of them a failure.
I think it's rather simple, really. WHen you play these games (and I do, I play nearly all new MMOs), you simply end up feeling like you may as well go back to WOW. I haven't played WOW in a while, but I did for seven years. I have 6 90s. They were happy years with my guild and also my partner played. It was a game, yes, but it was also a social thing.

Why start from scratch in a WOW alike when you have a massively established base in WOW?
I was actually quite fond of Wildstar's leveling content. What got me to quit was two things.

1) The constant split-second ATTENTION required to solo was just too much. I don't want that. It was simply tiring.

2) Dungeons were way, way too hard for pugs.
Because if you are going to charge subscription, your game better be head and shoulders above the rest.

Free to play games are much more attractive if they offer a similar experience.

Even more so other subscription games that people have already dedicated years to.
ESO and Wildstar didn't innovate enough to breathe new life into a stale genre. If Titan ends up being a Moba/MMO/sandbox/FPS/WTF/BBQ that revolutionizes the genre we might actually see a ton of new people coming into the MMO scene. Making WoW clones will not bring in tons of new players or dethrone WoW. The list of failed attempts grows longer....
I would have enjoyed Wildstar much more, and would probably still be subscribed, if it was a closer WoW clone. Challenge in group content I could deal with. But they changed the combat, and that drove me away.

I look at this issue from a different angle than most here. I have at least 4 hours every day that I can put into playing a computer game. But I want to play one game not several, so MMORPGs fit for me. I know a number of other people in the same place. But the other things we have in common are:
* a been there done that attitude to raiding.
* no interest in 'action combat'
* a preference for a consistent virtual world with graphics that look adult.

Now Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online do not match that list. They provide some stuff for those like me but then kill it by providing stuff for the 'raiders' and 'twitch' crowd. They provide the 'twitch' and the 'raiding' but fail to provide the raw meat for the other crowd.

At least two markets, and the problem with these games, and many others, is that in trying to meet all needs they meet none.
I think there are a few factors, but I think Hagu has most of it. From a business perspective, it is ridiculous to cater your game to hardcore players, they are such a small minority of potential customers. Wildstar's trajectory has gone pretty much exactly as I would have predicted given what I now know about the game.

I would also say that not only are the majority quite casual, I think they are getting more casual. There are so many free games and mobile games now that people are playing, I don't see a lot of people who would focus simply on one single game for months on end. My own attention is being split between League of Legends, Civ 5, Supreme Commander 2, whatever latest solo game (currently Warlock 2), and a smattering of more casual games. I think the days of me playing the same game every night of the week as I once did with WoW are over.
I played WoW for five years, and when I finally cut the cord the only thing I was still playing there was PvP. I'd lived through multiple build implosions and mass exoduses, the trolls and bizarre story changes, and I had no desire to run end game raid content. I actually got more enjoyment talking to blogger friends both in and out of game than the game itself.

And that's the thing: a robust community that's built on things other than just achieving a specific in-game goal is what the new MMOs will need to cultivate. But the problem is, that takes time, and unless you're a private company where you can wait out the up and down initial surges in population, time is something you don't have.


Guild implosions, not build implosions. Stupid autocorrect.

Re Bhagpuss and the definition of failure: the lowest level of failure is it can't stay in business.

But say you built a $100mm factory and make $2mm a year in profit. It can run indefinitely on that profit. But it is clearly a failure; the return was not enough.

So success and failure have to take into account cost. Getting 500,000 subscribers that will drop to 100k within a year is a failure if you spent $200mm and a huge success if you spent $20mm. IMO, success is finding a small enough feature set that it can be profitably built. E.g. Camelot unchained has zero quests or PvE. You are never going to make a AAA that way, but you might make something profitable.
For in case someone have not mentioned it, i believe it's all about that subscription. Both games have that in common and the ones you mention in your blog (Aion/Tera), guess what? Free2Play.

Seriously, i would rather play SWTOR or GW2 now (both F2P) on a casual basis than try to squeeze value out of a subscription which i am not playing alot...
you need to realise people are willing to invest into a MMO. not money. invest their time.

lets face it many people at this point have invested nearly a decade of their life into WOW. they aren't going to switch to something else if it is the same thing rehashed.

the next success will be a vibrant world that make people want to invest their time. the dollar value will be insignificant in comparison. if you are willing to invest the next five years of leisure time into something the dollar cost is almost irrelevant.

it might need to be f2p to generate a world whales are willing to dump cash into p2w.

however it might also be $100 per month subscription. if you know all the other players are truly 'invested' you can justify investing your time into it.

ps: I read your blog all the time and this was the first time I needed to respond enough to set up a fake openid
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