Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Why aren't other MMORPGs doing better?

Ghostcrawler, a.k.a Greg Street, who is the lead game systems designer for World of Warcraft, recently advised WoW players to play other games:
Although WoW is a gigantic game, some players are just going to voraciously devour whatever content we can throw at them. There are certainly a lot of different ways to play the game that you can experiment with if you do get bored. I would suggest things like trade skills, achievements or completing all of the quests you might have skipped. Collect some offspec gear and try a different role (in PvP or PvE). Rerolling can also be a lot of fun. If you're just burned out, it's also not the worst thing in the world to try out some other games -- the past couple of years has been great for them. Just check back in with WoW every now and then. :)
Hmmm, sound advice I'd say. I'm already starting a bit to look around for other games, while waiting for patch 3.1. But I find that not many people are taking Ghostcrawler's advice; other MMORPGs than WoW are not doing all that great.

This week's news was that Age of Conan lost $23.3 million last quarter, after their subscriber base shrunk to less than 100,000. Or as they say,
Shorter average subscription periods than anticipated led to a decline in the number of subscribers following the launch of Age of Conan.
Yeah, right, that is one way to say that over 6 out of 7 people who bought AoC quit the game shortly afterwards. Funcom's chief financial officer has resigned, probably more in a desire to get out early than because anyone thinks that it was the CFO's fault that AoC bombed.

And Age of Conan isn't an isolated case. Pretty much every MMORPG except WoW is either keeping very silent about subscription numbers, or posting rather disappointing results. And all those news of layoffs aren't exactly painting a rosy picture of the industry either at the moment. So, if even Blizzard admits that they can't produce content fast enough and advises people to check out other games, why aren't those other games doing better?

One possibility is that people taking a break from WoW are taking a break from all MMORPGs, and rather play let's say Call of Duty or other single-player games. But personally I found that single-player games are extremely short in comparison with MMORPGs, and many, even good games, can be played through in a single weekend. And PC games sales figures aren't really all that good lately either.

So, in a context of economic crisis, are people playing Free2Play games instead? Predicting player figures for MMOs is hard, but you'll often hear multi-million player numbers mentioned for various Free2Play games. Of course these figures have to be taken with a large grain of salt: People tend to unsubscribe from games they don't play any more if they cost $15 per month, but never bother to unsubscribe from Free2Play games. So it is hard to say how many people are actually playing these games day by day.

While there is a lot of garbage among Free2Play games, there are some real gems too. Wizard101, one of the nicer games you can download and play for free (at least for some time), recently announced having 1 million players. Although that is registered players again, not subscribers, or maximum concurrent users. Nevertheless it is easy to imagine how the better Free2Play games could make life difficult for the less good monthly-fee games. Age of Conan wasn't completely bad, but seeing that you can play a game with a similar quality level for free really makes you wonder if AoC is worth it's monthly fee. For exactly the same monthly fee you could play World of Warcraft, and most games will find it hard to argue that they offer the same amount of content and quality as WoW does now. Why drive in a Honda Accord if you can get a Rolls Royce for the same money?

So I'm wondering whether it is the $15 standard price tag that is making life difficult for some MMORPGs. Free2Try games like Wizard101 or Puzzle Pirates appear to do better with a $9.95 monthly fee, or other payment options like microtransactions. Games that come with a cheaper price tag have the big advantage of not being automatically compared to World of Warcraft. And games with microtransactions at least *seem* to be cheaper than monthly fee games, even if ultimately you end up paying the same or more. Are games like Age of Conan simply too expensive for what they offer?
He did not say MMORPGs.

Just try Fallout 3, King's Bounty, Space Rangers 2, Mount & Blade and maybe even the overrated Sins of a Solar Empire. Some games I mentioned sell for 5-25 EUR, just use and check out what amazing single player games are out there for mere 5 bucks... 10 bucks if you buy 5 of them, special offer.

It might give you some insight and a different view about playing WoW. I do not think Ghostcrawler actually wanted that, but I decided to go ahead, and not back to WoW at all...
And yes, games are too expensive by default. Sell them for 5-20 EUR instead of 50 EUR, especially MMORPGs should not cost more than 20 EUR if they use the subscription system.
[i]Why drive in a Honda Accord if you can get a Rolls Royce for the same money?[/i]

Because I might get more enjoyment from driving a honda accord, perhaps? Or are you hinting that games are status symbols for players due to the costs involved?

Seriously though, AoC had its share of shortcomings right out of the gate. Crafting was broken, and whoevers idea it was to implement the so called "random spawns" of being attacked while gathering should be laughed out of the game design business. Funcom also seemingly decided that forcing players to rename their characters with the server merges was a good idea also....heh. Alienating the player base is one of the most critical mistakes that Funcom has made with the changes they've made to AoC thus far. Is it any wonder that subscriptions have waned as a result? Bad economy or not, most of the blame for this lay directly at Funcom's feet.
Maybe everyone is playing Atlantica Online or awaiting Atlus Online's upcoming new game... Hmm...
You will never, ever, enjoy driving an Accord more than a Rolls Royce. Just no. Sorry. That's just not possible.
And yet, after playing AoC, it makes me not want to go back to the old style of MMO. Truly a conundrum for me. The game is more fun to me on some level (combat is probably key, with graphics coming second)
But, when I try to go back and play the slow press 1 wait, press 2 wait combat and the less than stellar visuals of those old games, I prefer to go single player then (my next games coming are Resident Evil 5 and Drakensang, a German RPG in the vein of the original Baldurs Gates)

But, I will never go back to WoW, never play WAR, and if this years offerings are any indication...maybe nothing else either.

Too bad Funcom screwed themselves.
I honestly don't have a pocket theory to explain it.
I started WAR this weekend and I am amazed at the quality of the game.

Let's see how i feel after a month, but so far it has been great and I really can't explain why the subs numbers aren't higher.
Maybe it's just the starter areas are just well done but the rest isn't I don't know. To be honest, as much as I wanted to find a replacement to WoW, I was ceptic when it came to WAR. It is turning out to be an awesome game and so far it really amazes me that they have such poor number of subs.

WEll, maybe I have a theory after all. Perhaps people are seeing all the "AAA" mmo's bombing and they don't want to commit to a game that might have it's servers shutdown in a couple of months.
Dawn of War 2 just came out so I have my offline fun to play with, I've become extremely bored with wow but am starting Naxx tonight so maybe that will give me something to do for awhile. Other than that I have given EVE a 3rd try and finally made it past the tutorial and am surprised at how much fun I am having with it.

Warhammer is pretty fun and I think if it's numbers hold close to what they have now you shouldn't have any worries of it getting shut down. I quit awhile back but might jump back in during the next live event and see if open RVR exists on my server now lol.
I should add that AOC wasn't too expensive in my eyes if it was a quality game. But all the bugs combined with the disappointment I felt once I started doing quests after level 20 and I didn't really have a desire to play. I don't mind the 15 a month if the game is worth it, I would like to see them a little cheaper to make it easier to play more than one though.
Not all games are suffering. Check this article out about Steam and L4D.

I play atleast 1 game of L4D a night now with my guild.
Price means nothing to me. For a real good WoW Killer I'd pay $200 for the start and $50 the month happily. A bad game like AoC, however, I don't play unless they give me money to do so.

WAR is indeed great fun for about a month - the greenskin starter area is great and public quests are a significant advance. Your experiences may differ, but I just found myself getting a little bored after that - things just didn't seem to vary much after that initial burst of goodness.

You have a good point there. WOW (and other MMORPGs) is incredibly cheap compared to what people spend on other forms of entertainment, such as season tickets for a football team or a satellite TV subscription. I suspect that people would happily pay more if the product was good enough. So far, though, it doesn't look like anyone is able to make a game that's as good as WOW, let alone markedly better.
I think you can play an MMO for a couple of months and get your money's worth out of it. It's the publishers that need the continuing subscriber model to work. For us players, why do we need to play any MMO more than a few months?

I also think there is MMO burnout, which leads to playing other kinds of games or perhaps playing nothing at all for awhile.

War at 300,000 subs is doing very well if you consider WoW to be an anomaly. NCSoft would love to have a North American game doing 300,000 subs.
WAR is a good game. I had more fun doing battle grounds in it that I've had in Wow in forever.

The PVE needed work (haven't played in a while), and every guild I was in blew up so I ended up playing solo... and that ain't no fun in War.
@Tobold: "So, if even Blizzard admits that they can't produce content fast enough and advises people to check out other games, why aren't those other games doing better?"

* A huge pool of WoW players aren't "MMO" players, they just like playing WoW. You can't woo them away.
* The social gravity effect -- people who play MMOs typically like playing with other players, and most of the other players are in WoW (with all the Western world, Pay-to-Play caveats in place to fend off the Runescape namedrop)
* Games that, at release, try to compete with the WoW of 2005 rather than the one of 2009, lacking content and/or polish and/or target audience
* A crappy economy hurting newer, riskier ventures
* Lack of good marketing

...and probably several other reasons creating a Perfect Storm of suckage.

As far as the price point -- that depends. One of the reasons that Wizard101 and Puzzle Pirates can thrive at their price points is, I expect, their low costs of development and upkeep. Cheap + Fun will always rake in the dough more than Bleeding-Edge + Meh Gameplay Experience. (See also: PopCap games.) While dropping the price from, say, $15 to $10 might bring in more players I have no idea if that'd mean a corresponding increase in revenue. If you went up from 100K players to 150K players, you'd still get the same amount of income.

So while Age of Conan is too expensive for what it offers, I think that's only part of the problem. The other part is that a lot of people simply didn't like/got tired of the game, and pricing it at $5 or $50 won't offset that.
WAR is a good game. I had more fun doing battle grounds in it that I've had in Wow in forever.

The PVE needed work (haven't played in a while), and every guild I was in blew up so I ended up playing solo... and that ain't no fun in War.

So, playing solo is no fun in WAR? How about playing duo?

I've accomplished just about everything I wanted to in WoW/WOTLK - replaced the last blue on my priest last night in Naxx, got my Explorer title, got all professions up to 450... sure I have every intent of checking out Ulduar and Icecrown when they come out, but in the meantime I'll be scaling back my WoW game time to one or two nights per week.

The reason I ask about WAR is, a close RL friend of mine kind of missed the boat on WoW a few years ago and wants to get back into gaming. My friend's been a fan of the Warhammer franchise (both the regular one, and 40K) for some years and would much rather stay in that universe than try to "catch up" to me in WoW. How much more can you get done in WAR as a pair of players rather than soloing?

Related to the topic of Tobold's post, the only thing that's been keeping me back from switching over to other MMOs and helping them "do better" is the social network that's keeping me rooted in WoW. Too many RL friends and family in WoW right now. That's why when I see one of my friends talking up other MMOs, I begin to plan my exit strategy...
@ kb3edk -

Like most MMOs, I think that War will be better in a lot of ways as a duo, especially in scenarios if you pick complimentary classes (like a tank+warpriest or somesuch). And if well played, I imagine a duo can knock out most BO guards as well. PQs were the biggest disappointment for me though, and I think you'd be hard pressed to beat most of them outside Tier 1 as a duo. Even if you and your buddy never level up to experience the lagfests of Tier 4 sieges, it'd still be a good experience.
The Honda/Rolls is a good analogy. I tried both Kingdom of Loathing and Wizard101, and found them to be bicycles. Zero upkeep costs, but not in the same league as WoW. $15/month * 2 accounts is not a significant fraction of my discretionary income, so cost is not a factor. In the end, why drive anything else when you can easily afford a Rolls?

But WoW requires a computer with an internet connection, so I recently bought a Nintendo DS to play on airplane flights.
I think they needed pas. If you went with a tank healer combo you would have fun in pvp and be able to do at least a couple of stages of the pq, which will be enough to advance.
Needed pas=nerfd pqss with autocorrect on
I'm a bit bored with WoW and keeping it down to two raids a week. And I don't feel like levelling my alts just yet. So in the meantime I bought some games from Playing stronghold & 7 kingdoms again. And maybe I'll get Kings Bounty or Dawn of War 2. All single player games or multiplayer games which can't keep me occupied for long. But it's an excellent time to play through the games I missed in these past few months of WoW only.

I just can't play two mmorps. If I play one, it gets my full attention. And if I don't play WoW, it's simply "on hold" untill a next content patch/expansion/I feel like levelling an alt.
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