Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 06, 2015
 
Extrapolating from a sample of one

One of the most common mistakes when people write their opinions on the internet is what I call extrapolating from a sample of one: You like something, and think that means everybody likes it; you lost interest in something, and think that applies to everybody else too. I was thinking of that when I read about both WoW Insider and Massively being reincarnated as Blizzard Watch and Massively Overpowered. I read somebody commenting that Blizzard Watch might have captured a lot of the nostalgia money by getting their Patreon out first. And I thought, well, there isn't going to be much interest in a new Massively anyway. But then I thought that I might be completely wrong about that, because currently I'm playing WoW and no other MMORPG.

I couldn't find any information how many readers the two sites had before AOL shoved them out of the door. So I was thinking about the respective audiences of the two sites: Blizzard Watch will appeal to everybody playing World of Warcraft, and depending how they develop their content further might also include other games like Hearthstone, with its 75 million players. With World of Warcraft having recovered a lot of subscribers with the latest expansion, that seemed like a large possible audience to me. Where I am more pessimistic is about the possible audience for Massively Overpowered, but as I said, maybe that is just me. Massively probably appeals more to people who do not play WoW or any other MMORPG for a long time, but rather to what some people call the "tourists", the people who try out every new MMORPG. And I'm wondering how well that sort of tourism is doing.

Personally, 2014 pretty much killed my desire to try out new MMORPGs. I was disappointed by Wildstar. I didn't like The Elder Scrolls Online either, but then I never had high hopes for that one. In particular I am left with the impression that the genre is stagnating: Games either come with a long list of features that everybody else also has, or they run on nostalgia for some past game with a much narrower appeal.

Not only am I not part of the narrow niche a game like Crowfall is targeting, I also seriously doubt that it can succeed with such a narrow potential audience. I mean if your designers KNOW that their design is driving away 70% of new players, and still rather want to repeat that design than the alternative which fixed that problem, what chances does the game have. It'll be Crowfail, with subscription numbers like Darkfail. 2014 also was a bad year for the idea that you could fix all problems of MMORPGs by moving from a theme park design to a sandbox design. ArcheAge couldn't get out of the negative news cycle long enough for me even wanting to try it. And later that year Elite: Dangerous (while not exactly a MMORPG) reminded a lot of adults why they stopped playing in their neighborhood's sandbox at the age of 5: An unlimited amount of sand isn't the same as an unlimited amount of actual content. So overall I felt as if the genre was somehow stuck between old ideas that have been already repeated endlessly, and new ideas that just don't work.

For me the news of Massively and WoW Insider being kicked from AOL, and SOE being kicked from Sony, are all indicative of a decline of the MMORPG genre. Even Blizzard doesn't want to make another MMORPG. And with Daybreak now being "independent", it looks like big companies have lost all hope in the genre, and all upcoming games are now indie games, more likely to be financed by crowdfunding than by investors.

The really funny thing is that the one outlier from this story of decline is World of Warcraft, which has been declared dead so often in the past. I guess if you are presumed dead, you live longer. On the current trajectory where expansions repeatedly succeed to halt the decline, WoW will still be around when every other MMORPG has closed down.

Comments:
Hard to say how long WoW's boost will last. I've already seen some people drop their subscriptions, while others are teetering on the edge of dropping it.

 
I've seen people drop WoW, but I'm also seeing some people pick it up now that the holiday glut of game releases is over.

If I haven't said it on here before, I see the PVE side of the genre heading in the direction of being a weekly DM-less D&D session for a lot of players. The dream of a vibrant 24/7 virtual world is dying if not already dead. It just didn't survive collision with resource constraints and the real-world demands placed on the aging playerbase. The younger players seem to be mostly into Minecraft and casual mobile games (all of which are free, at least up front) and "gaming" various forms of social media. As far as the market leader goes, WoD pushed WoW even more in the game-y direction, and Blizzard was rewarded for it.

Have you ever read Ready Player One, Tobold? It's been getting a lot of hype in gamer circles the last few years. Really fun book, but ultimately its completely immersive world struck me as the fantasy a lot of us had for MMOs a decade ago. I think the current trajectory of the genre couldn't be farther from that. It was amusing because I read it for a book club of friends who have never played MMOs, and I thought they all treated it as a much more credible possible future than I did.
 
"Hearthstone, with its 75 million players"

75m free accounts created. Very, very different from 75m people actually playing the game.

"The really funny thing is that the one outlier from this story of decline is World of Warcraft,"

And FFXIV, and EVE.

And if Crowfall is aiming to attract X number of players, and it gets X, how is that a problem for either the players of the game or the devs?
 
And FFXIV, and EVE.

I have no data on FFXIV. I have data on EVE saying that they have been in a slow decline for over a year, with a current steep drop (EVE counts "accounts", not "players", and banning multi-boxing hit them hard).

Hard to say how long WoW's boost will last.

Agreed that this is hard to say. But at yesterday's earning call (where they can't lie for legal reasons) they still had over 10 million subscribers.
 
"Personally, 2014 pretty much killed my desire to try out new MMORPGs."

This mirrors my own thoughts. I actually predicted WoW would make a significant comeback with WoD while knowing absolutely nothing about the expansion. I just saw what a barren landscape the rest of the MMORPG genre was.

I previously quit after Cataclysm assuming I would never return, under the assumption that surely another game would advance the genre. And yet here we are, after a series of niche games and "solo quest to max level then raid" games.

"And if Crowfall is aiming to attract X number of players, and it gets X, how is that a problem for either the players of the game or the devs?"

I have no problem with Crowfall, or any other niche game. These games tend to underdeliver (even in the eyes of their target audience), but I wish them and their audience of a few thousand well.

My problem is that the game I was most interested in last year was ArchAge. But my reaction was the same one I saw from most people: "I would really like this game if it wasn't open-PvP." Where the hell is MY "niche" game?

Instead, what do you see? Crowfall, and a sea of other open-PvP games whose highest realistic aspiration is 20-30k subscribers. All while a non-PvP open world game has an upper ceiling in the millions, but all you ever see on the PvE side is WoW clones.
 
I read the article about Crowfall's crafting system and how it will supposedly have an expansion of SWG's crafting system... and then saw it was pvp... and thought... why would a crafter want to play this game?

I wish I could find a crafting centric pve game... all of the crafting centric games seem to be pvp and fail miserably... (examples, Earthrise, counter example... Eve?)
 
Not to restart the whole sub debate, but Chinese subs are worth about a tenth of what a sub in the rest of the world does. They're also not a subscription in the "I'm subscribed to a newspaper sense." So I'd argue they been, uh, exaggerating for a decade now.

Wow is an odd one for sure. They've been very effective at making changes that piss of the hardcore but keeps people playing. Of course having a 11 year headstart and nearly infinite money helps with that.
 
@samus

Was Star Wars Galaxies v1.0 the type of game you want?
 
@vinciblegod

I have to admit, I never played SWG. I was younger then, and still enthralled by questing MMORPGs. I also have an issue with the sci-fi setting in general, because I feel like any rationally realistic vision of the future has to include a heavy amount of automated robotics handling nearly all the tasks the game would want to confront the player with. A more realistic version of EVE would encourage botting an unlimited number of ships per account, which would obviously destroy the gameplay.

The best I can come up with is ArchAge without the open-PvP. Incredibly complex farming and crafting systems, along with the requirement to move resources over actual distances in real time without fast travel (a requirement for a decent trading economy).

The major things I would change from ArcheAge are obviously the open-PvP, and the graphics. Basically, the graphics are too good, stylized graphics work better for huge games. My understanding from reading about MMORPG costs is that 90% of the cost is from graphics, and I'd rather have WoW level graphics with 10 times as much content.
 
Oh come on Samus.

This whole "Sci-fi needs to accurately depict the future" thing needs to go.

Sci-fi is NOT about accurately predicting the future. Some of it can be like that, but at the end of the day it's mostly just fantasy with a technology instead of magic. That's it.

People make way too much out of genre.
 
@8f559f86

We're going to have to agree to disagree. Immersion is quite important in any RPG, particularly an open world game. I certainly wouldn't complain about the realism in old school Asteroids or Galaga. But when the selling point of a game is that it is a realistic alternate world simulation, it matters.
 
@Tobold

Why do you think the MMO lanscape is fading? Bad design(to include unacceptable, alternate monitization schemes)? A limited, or even a possibly shrinking playerbase? Or something else entirely?
 
I think bad design is a big part of it. That bad design comes mainly in two forms: Choosing known features that have worked in the past over risky new features. And being too afraid of negative player interaction, leading to a design which has no interaction at all.

Back in the days where there were only 3 MMORPGs, the least successful and famous of them was the one that got social interaction right: Asheron's Call. If a dev absolutely has to copy features instead of inventing them, he should copy the vassal liege system of AC.
 
Actually, I think there is now too much focus on player interaction. Developers are obsessed with pushing players together with stuff like raiding in hopes that they will make friends and keep playing well after they lose interest in the game.

It has been a long, long time since I have seen much of an attempt to actually improve the game itself beyond the WoW model, aside from minor changes like action combat. No one wants to come up with actual activities that are themselves compelling enough to spend extended time on.
 
@Tobold, you constantly ignore EVE Online with its 300K accounts (probably 100K actual players). It's also 10 years old, getting constant updates and shows no sign of dying.

@Samus: you can't build an open-world PvE game. Imagine PvE EVE: everyone would have a titan after a year and absolutely nothing to do.

A game needs an antagonist. It can be another player or an NPC. But if it's an NPC, once it's defeated, it's farmed. So you either make a PvP game, or constantly add new "even bigger baddie".
 
Just a quick note. I think I've read that Hearthstone has 25 million players from the ActiBlizz earnings report. Where do you get the 75 million players figure? This is the quote from the earnings report: "In January 2015, Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft reached more than
25 million registered players."

(source: http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/ACTI/3942562874x0x807511/3FF882C5-E09D-4270-B7E3-EC34F6138AD3/Q4_2014_ATVI_Earnings_Press_Release.pdf)

Also, I think, in the medium/long term, Hearthstone will be Blizzard's biggest earner.
 
@Gevlon

"Imagine PvE EVE: everyone would have a titan after a year and absolutely nothing to do."

You have done the numbers yourself, only a very small percentage of Highsec players will encounter a ganker. The majority of EVE players DO play only a PvE game. Do they all have Titans after a year?

"A game needs an antagonist. It can be another player or an NPC. But if it's an NPC, once it's defeated, it's farmed. So you either make a PvP game, or constantly add new "even bigger baddie"."

You mean, constantly adding content? Just like every other PvE game?

I think you are imagining a typical open-PvP game that adds no content at all, and just assumes the PvP will be the content. If all you did was take away the PvP, you are right, that would be a problem. But one with an incredibly obvious solution: add content.
 
I think your comment here sums up your opinion on the potential of Crowfall quite well:

"One of the most common mistakes when people write their opinions on the internet is what I call extrapolating from a sample of one: You like something, and think that means everybody likes it; you lost interest in something, and think that applies to everybody else too."

The reality is that Crowfall is indeed bringing something original, and regardless of its concepts, it's bringing in a huge potential audience.

You see, in the world of business, those who spend time in the industry BEFORE branching off into their own company are able to more effectively build audiences and followings than game companies who pop up out of nowhere, even if they DO have a really great idea.

So the fact that this is led by industry veterans makes me leery of dismissing it right off the bat. I can't speak for Gordon Walton as I'm not familiar with his games, but I imagine his case is like J. Todd Coleman's: people have been following what's he's doing ever since he left his last company. KingsIsle had 50 million players, a large part of which know who J. Todd Coleman is. If that isn't a potential audience, I don't know what is.

The Crowfall forums, in a few weeks time, already have over 45,000 posts and 12,000 members. And that's just with teasers. We don't even have a full information release about this game. Judging it now is like deciding not to see movie after a 30-second preview. Not only can previews be deceiving, but you also have to read the reviews and get feedback from others.

I think people are going show a level of dedication to this game that will be surprising. And for quite a few of us, it looks fantastic.

I'm afraid, sir, that in your own opinion, you've extrapolated from a sample of one.
 
One of several sources on the 75 million.

EVE Online with its 300K accounts (probably 100K actual players). It's also 10 years old, getting constant updates and shows no sign of dying.

Gevlon, you should update your numbers. EVE Online has lost players over the last year, and recently took a big hit due to them banning multi-boxers. I'm not saying it is dying, but it is currently on a steeper decline curve than WoW. They went down from a record concurrent user number of 65,000 to now just 40,000 on Tranquility. And, like WoW, a good part of their subscribers are Chinese on the Serenity server.
 
@Samus: if you add content, it won't be more "open world" than the WoW levelling content, which is an open world, but no one cares, because players interact with the content and not the other players who are nothing but scenery and maybe competition.

My point is that you can't create an open-world PvE game where players meaningfully interact.

@Tobold: I'm aware of the problems of EVE, but also their constant effort to fix them. The mentioned banning of multi-boxers is an effort to make the 1-account casual player more competitive. But above all: the company is solvent and profitable, not in the danger of being bought up. Their layoffs affected their other games (DUST and some vampire crap) and non-developer personnel (PR, sales, marketing and other corporate bullshit).

So you acting like EVE wouldn't exist and not a good example of the success of "make a game you'd like to play, the trends be damned".
 
The Hearthstone 75m account rumor is all from the same source, some 'leak' from a supposed Bliz employee, and was directly contradicted by the most recent financial filing. Not to mention the game is still in the pits on the App store downloads/revenue charts, but it must have a decently active PC following (though nothing even remotely close to 25m actual players)

Also the latest EVE number was 500k subs from CCP. It's down from that, but thinking it lost 50% is funny; CCP didn't Cata/MoP the game...
 
@Gevlon

"if you add content, it won't be more "open world" than the WoW levelling content"

This is just an argument about the definition of "open world" then. You are just defining open world as "having no content," and then talking about the problems of having no content. If they added more content to EVE, would it cease to be an open world?

It doesn't really matter, maybe you wouldn't call the game I'm talking about "open world." Picking what features to add or not add to a game simply so it will best fit some definition is an idiotic way to design a game (and yet something I see in the comment section quite often).

"My point is that you can't create an open-world PvE game where players meaningfully interact."

Like all of your criticisms, this applies to every PvE game. And in fact, it obviously applies LESS to an open world game. If you can't see how players could possibly interact without ganking, that's your failure.
 
and still rather want to repeat that design than the alternative which fixed that problem

How does it fix the problem if you wouldn't play it anyway?

Bunch of players are getting jaded on mmorpgs - why bother chasing after them when 30% were excited for rampant PVP and stayed for it. Why aim at the jaded market who don't want to play when you have an excited market? A lot of people who wont spend money isn't somehow better for being a lot more people than the excited market.
 
@Syncaine: So, are you implying that a public company like Activision Blizzard can lie and/or embellish numbers on a report when they say that 25 million people play their game? Isn't that illegal? Can you please link the source about Hearthstone tanking in the App Store? I'm interested in seeing which game tops the App Store in dloads and revenue, just out of curiosity.
 
"Bunch of players are getting jaded on mmorpgs - why bother chasing after them when 30% were excited for rampant PVP and stayed for it."

That's 30% of the players who knowingly signed up for that rampant PvP game. The vast majority were turned off from even trying it in the first place.

When your target market is only very small portion of the overall market, you can't afford to lose 70% of them in the first 60 days.
 
Richard. Lying/embellishing might get them in trouble. Defining terms in ways that are not immediately obvious is far game.

As far as that goes, Blizz has been doing that for years. A Chinese 'subscriber' buys time cards. He buys 100 hours, he gets 100 hours. In the rest of the world there is a monthly subscription. You play 0 hours, you play 500, it's the same.

The average RoW (Rest of World) subscriber is paying $13-15 a month. The typical Chinese Wow subscriber pays $2 a month or so, IIRC the research I did on this a few years ago correctly.

I would argue that since there is no repeating function to Chinese subs, describing them as subscribers is about as accurate as claiming that people who buy a burger from McDonald's is a a subscriber to McDonalds. It also makes WoW look more profitable than it is, since people think a subscriber is someone who pays $15 a month.

But of course there's a definition somewhere in the report that makes it clear that anyone who logs into WoW is a 'subscriber.' And then WoW has used that to create the impression that it's this hugely popular game when in 2.5 times as many people bought FIFA 15 as play WoW, and about 10 times as many if you don't include China.

So lie? No. Create false impressions through clever word play? Absolutely.
 
@Ricardo - Just open the app store on your iPad and look at the most popular and highest revenue charts. Then try to find Hearthstone. Last I looked Hearthstone was in the 50s for revenue, and in the 200s for downloads.

The 25m accounts number is true, but free-to-create accounts are about as meaningful as number of characters created in an MMO in terms of how well something is doing, especially when said product had a WoW tie-in to win three games and get a mount. How many of those 25m accounts have exactly 3 wins and have never been touched again?
 
Surely 'subscriber' must be defined somewhere in the reports for Chinese players? For example, you could say a subscriber is someone who has played for at least 10 hours in at least 5 months out of 6, or who has bought X hours worth of time cards.
 
Yes, I think there is a definition somewhere in the annual report defining a Chinese "subscriber" as somebody who spent something in the last 30 days. "Active player" would be more precise.

As far as I know CCP uses the same definition for its Chinese players of EVE Online, only that they always count "accounts" and not "players".
 
Samus,

It doesn't matter if you lose them if they were jaded and weren't going to pay money anyway! We're extrapolating from a sample size of one, remember?

The number of people you have, despite how old school mmorpg'ers love masses of bums on seats, doesn't matter - what matters is if they pay and how much. A small bunch of people excited to pay a lot each is obviously better than a large number who, being jaded, pay nothing.
 
We're entering the era of the boutique mmorpg
 
@Callan

The assumption that casuals never spend money or stick around is one of the worst "everybody knows" in gaming. The most successful games cater to casuals. Nearly every game that caters to hardcore players is a massive flop. There are games like EVE on the border, but they succeed through most players playing the safe PvE, never seeing a ganker their entire career.

I'm also not sure what payment model you're talking about. If it is subscription based, everyone obviously pays the same. If you are talking Free2Play, the most common microtransaction items are either fluff, or speedups/boosts. Both of those are aimed at casuals.
 
"The most successful games cater to casuals"

LoL, CoC, CoD, BF, StarCraft (just to name a few) would all beg to differ.

Both on the casual and the PvE statements.
 
@syncaine

If we're going to do the absurd task of including games from all genres, Tetris, Wii Sports, and Minecraft top a list of basically all casual games.

If you want to talk about MMORPGs, let me revise my statement slightly: the most successful MMORPGs (WoW, GW2, SWTOR, and even EVE) have all offered plenty of PvE content for casuals. The idea that "catering to casuals is a waste of resources" is provably false, and in fact we have every indication of the opposite: casuals are the best customers. Their sheer numbers make up for everything else.
 
Also, some other commenter in another thread says LoL is "extremely casual."

"why don't you spend however much you need to get above Silver 1 (which is still extremely casual, but lets set the bar really low for you)"

You know anything about that?
 
Sorry, you wrote games in the first post, so I thought you were talking games. Also Tetris/Wii Sports/Minecraft don't stack up to LoL, CoC, CoD, GTA, etc, but anyway.

If you are talking MMOs, PvE is indeed more popular in the US/EU (In Asia PvP games dominate the market, notably L1).

PvP has done well with titles like UO, DAoC, and EVE, but those don't stack up to WoW or FFXIV, nope.

And S1 is extremely casual in LoL. The key you seem to be missing is "in LoL", which is a MOBA, which I wouldn't call exactly catering to casuals any more than I would say CoD does.
 
I have been very disappointed with the current WoW expansion. Were the guild I am to collapse, I would drop my subscription in a heartbeat. Only a feeling of obligation to them is keeping me in the game.
 
"The key you seem to be missing is "in LoL", which is a MOBA, which I wouldn't call exactly catering to casuals any more than I would say CoD does."

CoD is a game more often played by guys in their underwear on their couch than any kind of competitive gaming. CoC is a mobile game, it doesn't even require the couch...or the underwear. GTA is played almost entirely PvE, and I don't see it only any lists of "super hard" games. LoL can be played casually too, just a few games here and there by a not particularly skilled player. And what do you know, the last numbers I saw had 86% of the ranked population in Bronze or Silver.

All of the games you mentioned can and are played by casuals frequently. Point me to the successful hardcore game that casuals can't play, something like Darkfall.

My original statement was actually "nearly every game," but so far it is looking like every one.
 
"Point me to the successful hardcore game that casuals can't play"

So you are asking me to provide you the game that not many people play (ie: the hardcore) that is hugely popular?

Basically asking to give you a really huge number using only one digit. See how that doesn't make sense and misses the entire point?

Another easy example of not understanding how things work; most LoL players are in bronze and silver because ranking is tiered; it's literally IMPOSSIBLE for most people to be in the higher tiers. If someone moves up someone else moves down, that's how it works.
 
@syncaine

Okay, now your posts are becoming completely nonsensical. I set out to refute Callan's contention that games should ignore casuals, and I have done that pretty thoroughly. If there is some other argument you'd rather have about what constitutes hardcore or not hardcore according to syncaine, I'm not really interested.
 
Just for what it's worth, I'd bet a significant number of LoL players aren't even bronze or silver or whatever, as they simply never play ranked. I'd bet the same games for games like Hearthstone.

I've put a ton of hours into LoL and Hearthstone, but I always just play free/random games for fun, never competitively.

Is there really any point in doing ranked play when you're solo or just a duo? Don't you need a full team to be at all competitive?
 
Samus,

The assumption that casuals never spend money or stick around is one of the worst

I've talked about jaded gamers not paying. I don't know why you raised casuals and dismissed that as if you'd engaged what I'd talked about? Are you saying all casuals are jaded? No? Then why are you switching the subject?


 
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