Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Blizzard's next MMO

On the open Sunday thread there was some discussion about what Blizzard's next MMO could be. As they aren't saying much, the possibilities are near endless. But lets assume for a moment that Blizzard is a company that wants to make the maximum profit. Or, if you prefer the idealistic version, that they want to make the maximum number of players happy (which then results in maximum numbers of subscribers, and thus maximum profit). Based on that assumption, how would they design their next MMO?

The one thing Blizzard doesn't want is their new MMO cannibalizing players from World of Warcraft. If you want the maximum number of subscribers, you have to go for both people who aren't playing WoW, and for people willing to pay for two accounts and play both WoW and the new game. That is nearly impossible to achieve if your new game is very similar to the old one. To attract different players, or to offer something very different to existing WoW players, the new game would have to have a very different gameplay.

Thus I do not believe that whatever MMO Blizzard is working on will have you talking to NPCs with a golden exclamation mark over their head, who send you out to kill ten foozles, in a hotkey-based combat system with tanks, healers, and damage dealers. Even if, as some readers speculated, the thing would play in a steampunk world, the game would be too similar to WoW in gameplay if it was playing on the surface of some world, with lots of zones, monsters, and some dungeons.

So my bet would be a game based on star systems and spaceships, although those could be steam-powered for more originality. Think EVE for carebears, given that so many of EVE's players never leave safe space, there would certainly be a market for that. Especially if you make the start a lot more welcoming, which is one of the weak points of EVE, still after lots of improvement. Think Earth & Beyond done right, with the usual Blizzard attention to detail and polish. Players could still have avatars walking through space stations, but most of the game would be centered around their ships. A good system of ship tuning, in which you have to balance various advantages and disadvantages, and upgrade your ship with ever new parts found, could replace the gear hunt of WoW. Trading, crafting, consentual PvP, exploring the galaxy. Blizzard could, in their usual manner, take the best of every existing single- or multi-player space game and combine it into one glorious masterpiece. The "Elite Online" we've been waiting for. I'd play that, would you?
Sounds good,

why not based on the Starcraft franchise then?
I'd be interested, sure. But it'd be competing firectly with Star Trek and Star Wars.
EVE for noobs and carebears, based on the Starcraft universe... I'd buy it. WoW took EQ and removed a lot of the crap while keeping a lot of the good parts and ended up with the cash cow known as WoW. Perhaps the next MMORPG from Blizzard would do the same for EVE.
'Elite online' would be like a dream come true. Eve is a great idea done well, but too hardcore for me. Not being the most social player in the world it's almost impossible to play the whole of the game alone or in a small group.
I wouldn't want it as carebear as WoW, but it would garner the most players so it would inevitably end up that way. I like the idea of scrounging junk and making something from it. Something like a useful version of the crafting in Fallout 3 where you can either repair your existing stuff or create new gear with what you find on your travels.
Or, if you prefer the idealistic version, that they want to make the maximum number of players happy (which then results in maximum numbers of subscribers, and thus maximum profit)

Wrong - unfortunately. To make the maximum profit, you want to make as many players as possible just happy enough to keep playing. It's like the Star Trek movies. You make them have enough action and non-sense to attract non-Star Trek fans, but call it Star Trek to attract all the Star Trek fans as well.

Maximum profit means to make a compromise that ends up with as many people as possible playing it, because it is 'just' good enough. They already do this with the PvE/PvP/Raids etc. in WoW.
That hypothetical game would be released into a game environment that would probably already contain Star Trek Online and Jumpgate Evolution, both of which sound promising, though not quite my cup of tea. JG:E in particular already sounds like Elite Online.

Meanwhile, back in EVE, Apocrypha, the March 10th EVE expansion, contains a massively updated new player experience (yes, again, but they seem to really mean it this time...), shiny new exploration content, epic storylines for mission-runners. Later in the year (we hope) there'll be Ambulation.

EVE's Empire Space pretty much is "EVE for carebears", or perhaps "EVE for careful carebears". (Disclaimer: I am an Empire carebear, mostly).

I will be fascinated to see a full-on carebear space ship game design without substantial item/ship loss that can avoid PvE gear stat inflation.
With Activision's support, there is a good chance it will be an FPS based MMORPG. It won't be a fantasy game because it would steal from the WoW crowd, so you can forget World of Diablo. Blizzard prefer to use their own IPs to build games, so that narrows the field down to either World of Starcraft or something new entirely...
Personally I do not think that a FPS based MMORPG could ever be a success. Not just because all previous attempts failed miserably. But because some fundamental game design concepts of a good FPS are completely incompatible with some fundamental game design concepts of a good MMO. Not to mention technical problems like lag.
@Tobold: watch Jumpgate Evolution. They seem to believe they've solved the FPS technical lag issues. Whether the game actually works or is fun to play, we'll find out. :)
if Blizzard's goal is to open up new MMO markets (i.e., people not currently playing WoW), then it's unlikely they'll go after the EVE/Star Trek/Star Wars crowd. Too small and too franchise-loyal. If their goal is to expand, they're more likely to go after the Second Life/Sims/Wii people, an MMO for everyone. Women, older gamers, etc. A Marvel/DC franchise MMO developed by Blizzard would sell like hotcakes and have fairly wide appeal.

I doubt that's their plan though. Blizzard likes to improve on and take over existing genres, not make new ones. They're more likely to create a "better" PVP-based MMO and crush the Lineages/WARs/AoCs out there, and make WoW a decisively PVE MMO; to cover both avenues. The Starcraft license would work very well for them there (both for PVP and to wedge-open the Korean market), I've never interpreted those nebulous Blizzard press releases as saying the next MMO definitely won't be SC or Diablo. In that scenario, emphasis will be on combat and not so much scuttling around salvaging scrap metal.
I would love to see a MMO about Starcraft in a mould of Tabula Rasa - ie warfare over quite a few worlds between the three races, lots of PvP for outposts and PvE intermixed (similar to WaR PQ's and outposts provide PvE quests so muct be captured). However i think it would not happen as people would get to obsessed with the whole "tabula rasa failed" arguements.

I agree they would not want to kill World of Cashcraft by releasing something that would make people change subscriptions but i could see alot of people playing anything to do with starcraft as well as WoW.
Why even another MMO? Step 1: Make Starcraft 2 BNet cost money. Step 2: People are now paying 2 subscriptions.
nah BNet + WoW would be same subscription. That's why they are forcing the change. It's how you increase cost of WoW subscriptions without really increasing the cost.
Tobold, the market for MMOs is past the massive growth phase; there are no big untapped pools of players left. It doesn't even matter what kind of game really; there's only so many people who are willing to spend $15 a month on a game or have an MMO as their major hobby/major goal in life.

Blizz will be damn sure that its next MMO appeals to WoW players, but that it is just different enough to keep them happy. No way are they going to after an EVE model.

It may have space ships or not, but at its core its going to look a lot like WoW. Count on it.
Tobold, the market for MMOs is past the massive growth phase; there are no big untapped pools of players left.

Exactly the same was said in summer 2004, before WoW came out. One highly paid industry consultant even put numbers on the size of the market, estimating the total size of the European MMO market to be 280,000 players. WoW sold 380,000 copies on release day in Europe. The market will grow further if there is something substantially better on offer.
I think the big thing is that the next MMO will be console-based. There is great talk about there not being many console-based MMOs. Blizzard dabbled in making WoW console based, but decided they couldn't port the play style. They are building one from the ground up.

A console-based MMO would not pull much from WoW and would bring in a bunch of players who have never played WoW b/c they don't have a PC or don't like PC gaming.
I don't think it makes a difference whether it's based in fantasy, space, or steampunk. For the most part, the same kinds of nerds (yes, I am one of them) like the LoTR movies, D&D, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Cyperpunk novels. Fantasy and sci-fi are even grouped together in bookstores and libraries.

I agree with Tobold that to make money, Blizzard doesn't want to cannibalize WoW users. So to make a commercially successful game, they have to choose between more hardcore or more casual. Which market is bigger: the 99% of people who are too casual to play WoW, or the 0.01% who are too hardcore for WoW and now play EVE?

My bet is that crafting, player housing, mini-games, and character customization will be a much larger part of their next MMO. There will be less raiding, and much less emphasis on PvP. Because for casuals, ranked PvP is basically a big bell curve with an arrow on the lower end that says "You are here, loser."

I don't know whether storytelling will be a bigger part or not. On one hand, more storytelling could make the game more like an interactive TV series, where to advance the plot you need to complete quests and beat challenges. The primary enjoyment would be the same as you get from watching any good media -- plot, character development, etc... On the other hand, Blizzard could make the game more like a virtual theme park like Neopets (which is free to play and has many more visitors/players than WoW). Maybe they'll combine both and make a theme park with various stories that evolve over time. Something akin to a very large-scale murder mystery dinner.
The difference between now and then was broadband.

In 2004 having broadband was relatively rare. Its nearly doubled between now and then.

The 41% of homes that don't have it are largely made of people who don't want it, or do but not at 50/month.

MMOs are in the same situation as cell phone companies; the massive growth period is over, at least in the US and Europe. Pretty much everyone who would be interested in an MMO has access already. There's only so many people who are going to find MMOs of any stripe attractive, and those people mostly have broadband access already.

So the total market size for MMOs may double or triple eventually, but the era doubling subs every year is done. And it doesn't really matter how care bear it gets, or whether it has lasers or magic swords, or what hot new titles come out. There are only so many people who are going to use MMOs as a major hobby. The attraction of MMOs is not in the gameplay; it is providing an alternate universe for people to have a higher (virtual) social status, or provide social structure, or sheer escapism. Most people aren't attracted to that and its not that they are noobs; they just don't have that psychological need. Even among MMO gamers, there are phases of their life where they have that need and others that they don't. I'm not saying the growth is over, not by any means. But I'm positive that the era of explosive growth is over. Especially with the burnout rate, the MMO market is looking at much more moderate growth rates in the future.

P.S. An MMO for everyone is an MMO for no one. Second Life is for perverts and the Sims Online died after a none too impressive performance.

Relatively few people are attracted to living a virtual life. That's why more 5 times as many Americans watch American Idol religiously that play WoW. It's a niche market and it'll stay that way.
The one thing Blizzard doesn't want is their new MMO cannibalizing players from World of Warcraft.

That’s a false assumption, Tobold. Marketers cannibalize from their existing products all the time. The reason is pretty simple and straightforward – it’s better to cannibalize from your own product then to let someone else do it for you. A smart marketer works to anticipate the decline and have a replacement product ready for the consumer. The next Blizzard MMO most certainly will be cannibalizing from WoW and more importantly, Blizzard will be counting on it. Blizzard has even said as much in interviews.
I can think of a number of things a starcraft MMO could do that would be quite cool.

The different starcraft units provide a chance to bring in shooter type mechanics, flight simulation type mechanics, fighting games perhaps, or other new types of combat systems.

It also provides a way to include some sort of levelling type mechanics that a lot of people seem to like, but still easily allows people of different levels to group effectively together. You could have low "level" players using stuff like individual zerglings, marines, etc., than have higher level people be allowed to control zergling swarms, ultralisks, Archons, etc.

I do think if blizzard releases a new MMO, they'll want to do it sometime after starcraft and D3 to allow those games to sell heavily and bring non-mmo players ot blizzard sites, where the new MMO can be shown and advertised. That's my personal version for why WoW was so successful, lots of people playing starcraft, warcraft, etc. were watching for future blizzard games and saw WoW. The game was than good enough/fun enough to keep players around and get a good population to grow. It's certainly how I found out about WoW and MMO's in general, and originally Ithough of MMO's as just other Diabo type games. Other MMO companies don't really have this advantage, since even MMO's based on star wars, warhammer, etc. aren't being made by the same businesses that produce the actual movies and such.
With CCP being an Icelandic Corporation (I believe), I'd have to think they'd be damned cheap in US$ right now. Activision would be best off buying them out. As our host points out in his later post WoW and EVE Online are two wholly different game experiences. This would solve the internal competition problem, be quick to market (since it's already there), and bring with it a pre-built subscriber base (avoiding the "come to our beta" finagle they did to EQ). I can't see any real downsides to the idea.
I don't think Blizzard is worried about cannibalizing their own player base. I expect something like the SOE Station pass. We will all be paying Blizzard $20/month for access to two MMOs instead of the current $15/month. Just my guess.
Would I be interested in the game, especially a steampunk riff? Sure. Will I subscribe to play it? Not a chance.
1. Add Starcraft
2. Add Planetside
3. Sift
4. ????
5. Profit!
WoW is going to hit end of life sooner than later. People are getting bored with it faster and faster after each patch. They can create a game much like WoW and they will only lose the people who were waiting for something better to come along anyways.
Blizzard's new MMO will not have pre-existing lore. No pre-existing lore means they are free to do as they please with the story, the races and the classes. They will realease the new MMO around the time WOW is winding down (level 100). Winding down WOW allows them to start producing Warcraft RTS games again.
Maybe that be mmo in fps....
"People are getting bored with it faster and faster after each patch."

And that's why the playerbase is growing, right?

WoW's newest patch coming up is adding hardcore content to balance out the ridiculously easy raiding bosses. Really, calling EVE Online hardcore doesn't sit too well with me. When I think of hardcore I think of playing as much as possible in order to maximize your avatar, but EVE is a slap in the face when it comes to that since training is done in real time, so it doesn't matter if I put in 1 hour or 10 hours a day, I have to wait for Battleship Rank 4 training to be done before I can actually pilot the ship. Yes, yes, I am aware you can do other things in the meantime like missions or mining, but it's still a setback for sure.

Really, Blizzard is revolutionizing the MMO industry with WoW, introducing a game with both casual and hardcore elements. People don't think it takes much skill to play it, but really, what do they mean by that? Just because a boss hits hard or has RNG attached to it doesn't mean it takes more skill perse, just like how amping up the damage the enemy AI does in a shooter doesn't necessarily mean it's harder, because the AI is still dumb as a rock, it just hits for more. I don't know if that makes much sense, but I'm hoping you get the idea.

As for the new IP Blizzard is working on, I am hoping it's different from WoW, a lot different, something to spice up the market. Although WoW introduced some new things, it's still based off of EQ's system.
I thought i've read that they do no intend to base it off starcraft.
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