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Who Would Be in the 2011 Gartner MMO Company Magic Quadrant? April 6, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
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Gartner, a well-known (at least here in the states) IT research and advisory firm, had a pretty amusing April Fools joke.  They announced a new magic quadrant which was literally focused on magic. (Thanks to Xyd for sending me that link.)

But this got me thinking about applying the Gartner Magic Quadrant idea to the MMO industry.

Gartner divides up industries into grouping around specific technologies or foci and then rates all of the players in that industry based on two criteria: Ability to execute and completeness of vision.

I would show you the chart for my industry, IVR Systems and Enterprise Voice Portals, except that it would cost me $2,000 to get a copy from Gartner and I am pretty sure they wouldn’t let me just post it on the web.

But making it onto the chart at all, especially if you are a smaller company, is a big deal.  It means you are considered a player in that market space and need to be taken seriously.  And to arrive in the magic quadrant, the upper right hand corner, is practically money in the bank as you will be invited to bid on projects at big companies.

Of course, the irony here is that with many projects with big companies like, say, Dell or Wal-Mart, you are lucky if you break even.  Projects with small to medium size companies have the highest margins because unless you screw up, they tend to be happy and rarely ever call support.

This also does lead to more than a bit of the tail wagging the dog.  I have worked on more than a few features that were thrown in because it was felt we needed that for our Gartner review.   There was Gartner driving vision rather than measuring it.  And more than once I have pointed out to the marketing people that we have new feature X in our latest release only to hear that we told Gartner we had that a couple years back.

But I digress.  Let’s just say I have had some experience with prepping for Gartner.

And the standard Gartner chart looks like this:

The four quadrants are defined as:

  • Leaders score higher on both criteria; the ability to execute and completeness of vision. Typically larger industry developed businesses with vision and potential for expansion.
  • Challengers score higher the ability to execute and lower on the completeness of vision. Typically larger, settled businesses with minimal future plans for that industry.
  • Visionaries score lower on the ability to execute and higher on the completeness of vision. Typically smaller companies that are unloading their planned potential.
  • Niche players score lower on both criteria: the ability to execute and completeness of vision. Typically new additions to the Magic Quadrant, or market fledglings.

And the magic of the whole thing is how they score companies and place them in the different quadrants which is based on two criteria.

The first is ability to execute.  Can the company in question do what they say they are going to do and do it well.  That one is not so tough to figure out, at least in hindsight.  Funcom for example, not so good on the execution side of things with Anarchy Online and Age of Conan.

The second part is a bit tougher to judge because, for those of us who follow MMOs, “Vision” is a loaded word.  But vision is not what we are looking for, but “Completeness of Vision.”  Sigil Games, pre-Vanguard launch, laid claim to a lot of vision, but at the same time was clearly staking out too much territory without being able to explain how they were going to get there.

The vision we are talking about here is less the that of a wonderful future with flying cars than that of company both knowing what they want to do and being able to explain how they are going to do it.  They can make a game that is both fun as well as polished and keep it going.

They end up publishing something like this.


Success, as much as anything, seems drive you to the upper right quadrant, since that is seen as a validation of ability to execute and completeness of vision.

So if I were the Gartner analyst for MMO companies, I would surely put Blizzard in the Leaders category.  You can argue against that, but you’d better be able to pull out something better than “WoW sucks!” because they have the biggest claim to success currently.

Trion Worlds, with how they have done with Rift so far, would be squarely in the Challengers category.  They have shown they have the ability to execute so far, but are still too youthful to be able to prove their completeness of vision.  SOE would be there as well I think.  I think they have fallen out of the leaders quadrant for now.

There is a temptation to put Aventurine in the niche category, but I think they might just squeak into the visionaries quadrant.  They started off there, but seem to be working towards a more complete and sustainable vision.

I have no idea where to put CCP.  People call them niche, and they have certainly fumbled the ball when it comes to completeness of vision (features that end up not working as planned and are left to die on the vine) and ability to execute (maybe the root cause on the feature failure, plus a lot of down time and that UI), which could leave them candidates for either the challengers or visionaries quadrants.  On the other hand, they have seen steady growth over time, something that sets them apart from most MMO companies, so you could make the case for leadership.

But maybe you should be the Gartner analyst instead of me.

Who else should go on the chart and where should they be placed?

Comments»

1. Tobias Mathes - April 6, 2011

I would put CCP in the left bottom box at the right top border, a bit off the cross. :-) To be honest, they are more like leaders in their type of MMO genre. It’s not that they have any real competition in the sci-fi space flight genre. :-) It’s definetly a niche, but they are also visionaries.

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2. mandrill - April 6, 2011

Does completeness of vision reflect the vision or its execution? Not their ability to execute but the extent to which that vision is actually achieved.

CCP are incredibly visionary, their future vision video shown at fanfest attests to that. They have a vision of EVE as something much more than it is now, a complete virtual world extending from the surface of the planets to the depths of interstellar space.

CCP are also challenging, to both themselves and the rest of the industry. “We can do a single chard world, why can’t you?” “we can support battles involving thousands of real people at once, why can’t you?” “We are going to link a console based FPS with our existing MMO universe so that events in one affect the other, why aren’t you?”

Whether CCP are leaders or not is more debatable. Technologically they are pushing the boundaries of what is considered to be possible once again (after seeming to rest on their laurels for a while there), but in terms of business practices and getting people to actually follow them (ie copy what they’re doing) I wouldn’t really say they were leaders.

That CCP are a niche company goes without saying, although this may change with the release of Dust, Incarna and World of Darkness in the coming years. EVE is being brought to a wider market with the introduction of human avatars, and the console shootery of Dust, and we know that the twilight groupies are just going to go nuts for the vampiric shenanigans in WoD. CCP may be niche now but they may not be for much longer.

It just goes to show how unique CCP is among MMO companies that they can’t be easily pigeonholed on a chart like this, and personally I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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3. Old Tom - April 6, 2011

Nice paen to CCP and Eve. However, CCP is clearly in the visionary category — Great Ideas very middling execution.

Eve is strewn with unfinished features. They were all released to great fanfare and have languished on the vine, original problems not ironed out, new iterations not .. iterated on. These chestnuts include: FW, PI, Epic Missions, etc.

CCP chases the new shinies of their vision at the expense of polishing and completing other gameplay elements.

CCP also boasts of visionary 1000 player battles .. but, ahem .. have you played in 1000 player battles? They are horrific lag-fests. Again, great idea poor execution.

CCP is technologically pushing the boundary to simply to realize what they’ve often promised, i.e. large battles without Eve turning into a slideshow.

CCP can easily be pigeonholed ..

Just my .02 isk.

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4. Sara Pickell - April 6, 2011

Actually, putting it all in perspective I’d say that CCP are actually pretty solid challengers leaning in the direction of leaders.

They’ve shown a tremendous ability to execute, even since I first started playing there have been the additions of faction warfare, wormhole space, tech 3 cruisers, planetary facility development, a complete graphics overhaul, a tutorial overhaul, the CSM. Some of those include some pretty hefty sub-components as well, such as a new ai for wormhole opponents and balancing out the various tech 3 combos not only with each other but with fleet combat in general. Their real problem lies in their communication, promising community favorite features that never make it, not building up that same hype for other features that did make it in. Overall that probably stemmed from some errors in vision, knowing what they wanted, but not necessarily knowing how to get there. Now, though, they’ve become old hands. They have more time and more success under their belt, they’re getting more projects rolling. If they can keep those errors in visions from tripping them up, I’m certain they’ll become a market leader here very soon.

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5. Yeebo - April 6, 2011

I’d have to agree with Sara. Challengers, putting out a lot of new features and innovating technically in ways that other companies aren’t. However, their vision really only applies to a fairly limited niche audience (hardcore FFA PvP sandbox enthusiasts that don’t mind a clunky UI, a steep learning curve, and generally slow paced moment to moment gameplay).

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6. Wilhelm Arcturus - April 6, 2011

This post got linked in the City of Heroes forum where somebody asked where CoH would rank. Since I cannot post to that forum, I cannot point out that the chart is for companies, not products.

So it would not be where CoH ranks, but rather where NCSoft would rank, in which case you have to take into account other products like Aion, Lineage II, Guild Wars, Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, and Dungeon Runners, to name what jumps to my mind.

Does that range of products, their history, and their current trajectory get them a spot in the upper right quadrant? I’ll let somebody else make that case, but it doesn’t seem like a slam-dunk obvious choice to me.

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7. Letrange - April 6, 2011

CCP – solidly in the visionary quarter edging up update by update towards the leaders, There’s too much vision for them to be in the chanlenger side of things (which by definition would lack vision).

Their current big problem is that they need to “put in the 2nd foundation” for their expansion into avatar space. This is currently eating up enormous amounts of development resources. Once that foundation is in place we’ll see if they can resume their march on adding more vision. Or hey increasing execution.

If once we have full body avatars and some game play to go with it (that’ll take a few expansions) we’ll see if they revisit some of the older systems and polish them up a bit (fill in some of the execution holes they currently have). They do that and they will graduate into the leader category. For now however – solidly in the vision quadrant.

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8. Angry Gamer - April 6, 2011

CCP should not be on the chart.

Gartner would try to put them somewhere in visionary leader very close to the center. This is where they put companies they can’t figure out.

CCP is an anomaly they are a SciFi MMOish first ship-person shooter platform in a fantasy dominated market. Their tech platforms and architectures are outstanding and scale better than anything out there. For example CCP is the only popular game to date that can have every player in the real world in THE SAME universe/realm/shard.

Truly a great tech story. However, how do you account for a significant multi-box playerbase? How do you talk about expansions and other revenue cycles. CCP does not add content so much as add FUNCTIONALITY.

CCP and Eve represent the modern day equivalent of Rogue from the 1980s. When we see Eve we see the future of gaming in about 20 years. Literally the story and the tech vision is that bleeding edge.

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9. Brian 'Psychochild' Green - April 6, 2011

Therefore, I’d say that Blizzard would be in the Challenger quadrant. While you might argue they had a good amount of vision initially, the last few expansions show that they are losing steam. They still execute well, as there are no problems there. But, they just aren’t pushing boundaries and leading others as much as they used to. It’s obvious they’re milking the cash cow at this point. We’ll see if the “Titan” project lets them capture the visionary title.

Honestly, I’m not sure what company I’d put in the Leader category. No company seems to be executing well with an exciting vision. The most visionary companies tend to have problems in execution, and the companies that can execute well tend to just borrow most of their vision from previous works. Rarely do you get both in the same company in the game industry.

Even beyond MMOs, the only “Leader” company I can think of would be Valve, as they’ve constantly pushed their vision in both game design and business, and they execute amazingly. (Well, as long as you weren’t holding your breath for the HL2 episodes to come out in a timely manner… ;)

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10. Wilhelm Arcturus - April 6, 2011

@Brian – I think you are confusing the Gartner measurement, which is “completeness of vision” with your own interpretation, as you use the words “visionary” (heavily loaded, that one) and “exciting vision” which are, to my mind, different things entirely.

I think Blizzard has a complete vision (which is a plan, not a Brad McQuaid “Vision”) on which they are executing, and which they have shown measurable success with in the past and can be expected to continue to succeed with until they either screw up or the market changes.

That you or I fail to find that plan exciting is a different measurement altogether.

Or, in my example chart from Gartner, would you claim that IBM had a vision for database management that was at all exciting or market changing? Or Microsoft for that matter. They have a plan they can explain and they aren’t screwing it up: Complete Vision and Execution.

That said, I still lay no claim to having a right answer.

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11. Snick - April 7, 2011

Very interesting.

I have been intrigued by Funcom’s upcoming Secret World MMO, which might actually be the first legitimate zombie themed MMO..? From their latest video reports, all video aspects seem to be well balanced.

So I think that might put Funcom in for Visionary, considering it’s released yet and who knows how good the execution will be. The design team certainly seems on the ball.

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12. Old Tom - April 7, 2011

I am utterly baffled by people who claim that CCP executes well. Pardon me but WTF?!?!?!

Anyone recall the 10 “optional” patches from last Fall’s update? An update that utterly broke basic things?

Just today, the new patch hit .. and broke a ton of things .. POS’s are destroyable while in Reinforced mode, Mining modules complete cycle even when canceled, modules’ cycle continuing even through jump gates.

They’ve also seemingly reintroduced lag mysteriously after having dealt with in Tyrannis.

Apart from minor technical bugs which inevitably crop up whenever, their game features sound pretty good on paper but never match the description once implemented. And once implemented, any flaws pretty will remain because they are too busy chasing full body avatars.

One exception to the above has been Planetary Interaction which sounded cool but turned out to utterly mind-numbing and a clickfest to boot. They returned to make it slightly lest clickfesty .. still utterly boring though.

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