EverQuest: More Popular at Launch than WoW is Today…

But only if you use the Bizarro metrics.

For example, on Planet Tobold, it ISN’T how many who play your game that matters, but how many people DIDN’T play you game.

Taken to logical extremes, there are more than 7 billion people today who do NOT play World of Warcraft today.

However, back in 1999, when the first player logged into EverQuest, there were only 6 billion people not playing it!

A clear victory for SOE, putting it a whole billion “non-players” ahead of Blizzard!

But wait.  Back in 1987 when Air Warrior was finally rolling, it only had 5 billion people not playing it!

Who is the most successful online game now, bitches?

Meanwhile, SpaceWar, running way back in 1961 had a mere 3 billion people not playing it!

A clear victory in the unpopularity race!

And yes, I am stretching Tobold-logic to humorous extremes on purpose.  But even trying to work the negative player numbers in a serious manner… potential player populations, target populations, subscription rates, and what not… seems like building a castle in a swamp.

Of course, so does trying to measure how many people remember a game.  I suspect there are games out there that more people remember than actually played them.  But how do you even begin to measure that and, more importantly, how does that equated to success?

Being remembered certainly doesn’t pay the bills.

Nor does historical significance which, by definition, is an assessment of something that happened far enough in the past that  it has ceased to be contemporary and actual becomes history.  Real history, in the serious academic studies sense, only starts when those who were there to witness it… and thus have invested opinions about it… pass on and things that had to be held secret to protect governments and individuals alike are released to the public.

Which is to say that neither I nor Tobold can really make anything besides guesses now about how the future may view this era when it comes to MMOs and the like.

But when you’ve soured on a genre to the point that your agenda seems to be deny that any MMO with numbers south of 250K can possibly be a success merely because WoW exists and heap scorn on anybody who wants something different, I guess you have to take whatever crazy ammunition you can find.

I am certainly not saying WoW isn’t a success.  It is certainly what keeps Activision-Blizzard funded for the three quarters each year when they don’t ship a new Call of Duty game.   But success is not an absolute bar, now set so high by WoW that nobody can ever succeed again.  Mark Jacobs’ Camelot Unchained plans are not an automatic failure merely because he is targeting a small audience.  It is an experiment.  It has risks.  It has to live in the current MMO ecosystem.

But that alone doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Of course, even Mr. Jacobs isn’t above pulling out a silly metric himself now and again.

17 thoughts on “EverQuest: More Popular at Launch than WoW is Today…

  1. bhagpuss

    I reiterate the point I made in the comment thread on Tobold’s blog. One of the better measures of cultural impact is how many other creators you inspire. This is a well-known truism in music. The Sex Pistols 1976 Manchester Free Trade Hall gig, for example, had an audience often estimated at fewer than 50 people, but among them where founder members of Joy Division, The Smiths, The Fall and The Buzzcocks, all of whom, legend has it, took this event as the catalyst for starting bands of their own. The first Velvet Underground album is often said to have inspired more people to start bands (many of them very successful ones, too) than bought the thing on its original release.

    By this yardstick, WoW has certainly inspired a lot of commercial imitators but what it’s cultural influence has been is less clear. I think we’ll have to wait a little while longer for some of the teenagers inspired by it and other MMOs to reach positions of cultural power and influence where the effect becomes apparent. It takes a lot longer and a lot more people to make an MMO than to start a band, after all.

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  2. kiantremayne

    I’m with Bhagpuss. Commercial measures aside (and that’s a big aside, as these games are very expensive to make and represent the day jobs of the people working on them), I would say a game is a success if later games are seen to be learning from it. By that standard UO was only a success in that it made playing MMOs popular – it was the first MMO most gamers heard of but you don’t see much of its DNA in later games. Everquest was a success because it set a lot of design standards (DIKU mechanics, raiding as endgame) that others followed. DAoC has a measure of success because re-creating three realm RvR seems to be a perennial in the field.

    WoW is a massive success because of the sheer number of features from that game that have become a sine qua non for future games, from quest givers with glowing punctuation to dungeon finders. It also made Blizzard several metric ass-tons of money (in large denomination bills). Nothing comes close to WoW for either commercial success or influence on the genre. You don’t have to LIKE WoW, but anyone who dismisses WoW can’t be taken seriously.

    Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa on the other hand were both abject failures, not just because they bombed but because nobody I can think of has copied ANY features from them.

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  3. Aufero

    Fear of a Tobold-style descent into in(s)anity is one of the things that prevents me from blogging.

    (The other, of course, is that I only really like to talk about myself.)

    @kiantremayne – it’s really too bad Tabula Rasa wasn’t more influential. I liked the branching classes and control points that were constantly under siege. Even some of the combat was fun – Demolitionist and Engineer in particular. If they’d finished the damn game before they launched it, it might have been a success.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @kiantremayne – Your comment might invite the more cynical to note that you only pulled out two features that WoW introduced, and one of them was from Diablo II. (Exclamation points over quest givers.)

    How many features did Blizzard create and how many did they just borrow and integrate? The game felt to me very much like the spiritual successor to EQ back in 2005… because it cribbed heavily from EQ. But EQ in turn cribbed heavily from Diku. Is Diku MUD the real success story in the influence chain?

    And what determines success? Dungeon Finder is clearly the most successful… by which I mean most used… LFG tool in an MMORPG ever. But it came at a cost in lost connection with the world and lack of connection with random players from other servers whom you might never see again. The repercussions are not easy to assess.

    Meanwhile, Warhammer Online, another clear failure despite its Metacritic score, did get right public quests and at least the idea of slayer quests that did not need a quest giver to kick off. (Bears, bears, bears. And, as an aside, I love when people bring up the Tome of Knowledge when they talk about the influence of WAR, because so many games have adopted that!) So what does that do to the success rating of WAR?

    Anyway, this is more “food for thought” that would be fun to hash out if we were sitting in a bar than any sort of disagreement with what you wrote. I just like to think about these sorts of things.

    @Aufero – Are you implying that this whole blog isn’t really just me talking about myself? You must have missed the updated About page.

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  5. kiantremayne

    Pick a bar in London and I’ll be happy to hash this one out :) I suspect we’d end up agreeing – WAR’s public quests was one of the examples I edited out for fear of making the comment too long, ditto a lot of other features WoW either introduced, or else polished and publicised – daily quests, the combo point mechanic for rogues, etc. Not all of them are steps FORWARD, exactly (fully agree about the dungeon finder) but it’s hard to deny that a lot of features have spread from WoW to other games.

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  6. Aufero

    @Wilhelm – Apparently I did miss the updated About page. It’s inspiring, in a “younger people than me are writing about how old and forgetful they are” kind of way. (This is also true of Lum, but he appears to be taking a break from blogging.)

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  7. HarbingerZero

    From your post I was expecting slobbering rage over at Planet Tobold (not to say he hasn’t brought this image upon himself). I think you missed the point. To use your example and his argument (as I understood it) SpaceWar! is a perfectly valid piece of evidence. Of all the people playing computer games from 1959 to 1961 – how many of them were playing something other than SpaceWar?

    And to carry it forward – of all the people playing MMO’s – how many of them haven’t played WoW? The same significance holds for EQ as well.

    So, I have no issues with the argument.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – But you are then missing my point, which is that sheer numbers is not the sole measurement of success. Tobold’s point, or such point that I could extract, was that something like Camelot Unchained can never be a “success” because it is only targeting a small audience. Turning player numbers on their head and trying to count the number of people who haven’t played a given game doesn’t change that.

    Besides which, it is yet another attempt to use facts not in evidence.

    I can argue that, of people interested in multi-player fantasy RPG games with access to Windows computers with sufficient processing power and 3D graphical accelerators, a large portion probably ended up playing EverQuest in 1999 and that, furthermore, such individuals similarly inclined today and in possession of the right computer equipment and who are actually playing WoW represent a smaller percentage of the comparable populations. But I cannot really prove it, it is just speculation, and stomping my feet and denigrating other games over it doesn’t make it any less so. Plus it feels like a run-on sentence.

    Anyway way, it seemed like a very odd way to go about things, like Yogi Berra measuring the number of people who weren’t going to a ball game.

    Plus, you know, Friday.

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  9. Tyler Murphy

    World of Warcraft is indeed a great success, and will probably be the best sequel that Everquest, as it originally existed, ever gets.

    Still, I’ve always felt it was missing something. Its massive growth over the years have only made that feeling worse. WoW feels like a game devoid of its own soul.

    Yes, yes, that sounds emotional and silly and not at all backed up by any reason. Yet so many older games felt like worlds you experienced rather than just a game you played. Though I’ve got a lot of nostalgia, I don’t intend on going back to camping and free for all PvP and things like Hell levels.

    WoW has always felt to me like a game I played. Every expansion and new feature since have only promoted the notion that its a game that caters to a wide variety of different demographics, not to a single community. Things like Dungeon Finder make playing the game easier, but they remove any hope of socializing and exploring the world emergently with strangers.

    I would never doubt World of Warcraft as being a success. Not only has it made a huge amount of profit, but it forced MMOs into the big time spotlight as a mainstream genre. That alone has its own impact. But in the end, I feel that its successes have only done more harm than good.

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  10. HarbingerZero

    @TAGN – I would agree…except that Tobold does not claim that this measuring stick tells you what game is *better* – only which game has more historical significance. Nor does he stomp his feat or kick and scream. It was, from what little I’ve read of him, a remarkably sane post in comparison to what I’ve come to expect.

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  11. bhagpuss

    I think that when reading Tobold it is quite important to remember that a) he is not writing in his first language and b) he is (I believe – maybe he’ll correct me if I’m wrong) a research scientist.

    Research scientists writing in their second language are unlikely to offer pellucid insights in cultural theory. It’s a bit like putting boxing gloves on a mime and asking him to juggle. Under the circumstances he does a pretty good job of getting a conversation started, I think, which I guess is why we all read his blog.

    I had a friend, sadly dead now, who had a similarly analytical perspective and encyclopaedic knowledge on many topics but even conversing as he was in the language he grew up speaking it could be very hard work dragging him back from the theoretical to the actual.

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  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – You have to take my comments in the context of his original post, of which his upside down “who didn’t play” post was actually just a follow up. I linked SynCaine’s shot at that in the post above to ensure that context was available.

    Likewise, his attempt to bring “historical significance” into the picture was an attempt to muddy the waters of his previous post which was, in my opinion, a prime example of stomping ones feet in the hopes of making ones point.

    @Bhagpuss – Indeed, a decade or so back I once spent a Thanksgiving dinner seated between two research scientists who argued about the impact of the internet all through the meal. One felt that the government needed to step in and protect people from it because, horror of horrors, anybody could post whatever they wanted and the average person was too dumb to know the difference. The other felt that the internet was an absolute boon and maybe the biggest gift to mankind in recent times.

    My attempts to join in the conversation were stifled because they seemed incapable of hearing anything in tones uttered by those without a PHd.

    As the conversation developed and each defended his position, it became clear that the defender of the internet had only just gotten online and has really only spent time looking at the web site for the Louvre. Access to great art… such a boon.

    Meanwhile, his opposite number, turned out to be angry at the internet in general because the campus IT department could explain to him how to use his email account.

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  13. Matt

    But Tobold has a point, no? I mean, you can take the success-defined-by-expectations philosophy to ridiculous lengths as well. If I make a game intending for ten people to play it, and ten people do indeed play it, in what sense is this a success in the same dimension as something like WoW? Tobold is, I think, trying to get at something a little more objective. A subscriptions target is just a shot in the dark anyhow.

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  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Matt – Yes. I have yet to meet a performance metric that could not be gamed. But this is people sitting on the outside with no concrete measurements, myself included, rather like the blind men declaring an elephant is like a snake, or a tree trunk, or a solid wall… you can see their perspective and how it has been shaped, and it can be fun to argue over, but it doesn’t make their assessment valuable.

    WoW is a huge success by any number of measures, not the least of which is that it makes money in huge bucket loads. It has many subscribers, it is stable and well polished, it is generally accessible and enjoyed by a wide variety of people, and has spawned a huge number of imitators. It is practically IBM in the 60s, dominant in its market to the point that the next seven competitors piled on top of each other would barely register.

    Taking that and saying that’s the way things are and to try and compete is foolhardy, but to try and do something different is even more so based on arbitrary measures of success (250K = failure) seems like a very odd stance to take from somebody who seems to still want to write about MMOs. You don’t have to be upbeat all the time, but he seems to have decided he is the sane voice in the discussion and is going after all sorts of things he doesn’t seem to like.

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  15. Bristal

    I just couldn’t get over my alarm at how quickly the population is expanding, and that bummed me out all out of proportion of caring about gaming. Thanks for that. Now I’m going to go have a couple of beers and convince a random female never to have children. At least not MY children, which will probably be much easier.

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  16. Toxicroach

    Well, I think you went a bit far with Tobolds point. He’s just saying that a game that had 100K subs for two years won’t be remembered. Fair enough.

    As far as WoW’s cultural impact, I would guess that would be virtually none. The gameplay is hardly unique or interesting and was dated even when it came out (by overall video game standards, if not MMOS which are habitually awful when compared to single player gameplay) The story, to the degree anyone gives a damn, is highly derivative of generic fantasy tropes, not to mention it’s, you know, a total ripoff of Warhammer… As an ex hardcore WoW player, the list of NPCs I can remember are Ragnaros, Ohprah Windfury, that orc guy from that one place, and yeah… not exactly burned into my memory.

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  17. bernardparsnip

    “your agenda seems to be deny that any MMO with numbers south of 250K can possibly be a success merely because WoW exists”

    In fairness both Tobold and Syncaine agree that there only a small number of successes. The former bases this on low sub volumes in respect to WoW, the latter on the fact that few (1??) MMOs are still growing their sub base long after launch. Indeed it is only recently that Syn has stopped linked Xfire on a monthly basis.

    By either of these measuring sticks, if Camelot Unchained sees an influx of tourists at launch that will dissipate in time, it could be considered a failure.

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