Daily Archives: May 8, 2007

To Contend With WoW

I have to hand it to Darren at The Common Sense Gamer. He is a man of much greater faith than I, despite a recent comment I made on his blog.

When I saw the headline up on VirginWorlds that read “Beating Warcraft at its own game,” I did not even bother to read the summary.  I figured it to be nonsense and not worth my time.  However, Darren did go read it and found what comedic gold it really was.

Of course, the main punchline was the three games set to vie with World of Warcraft for dominance in the MMO market.  Those titles were:

  • Age of Conan
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Star Wars Galaxies

Ay Carumba!

All three can be dismissed readily.  All three have (or will have, in the case of AoC) system requirements that are steeper than WoW.  That blows the competition right there.  WoW wins by default.

The system requirements (heaviest in the case of AoC), a lack of interest in the IP, and the absence of real PvP in the case of the last two, will probably also make all three games non-starters in Asia, where WoW has its biggest fan base.

Not that any of these games are bad, they just aren’t going to achieve WoW-level subscription numbers.

AoC could be big, if only because it will be on XBox 360 as well.

LOTRO has the potential to at least pass Runscape by getting a more than a million paying subscribers.

But SWG? The best part of the article is the section on SWG.

Some older games are taking on WoW too. Star Wars Galaxies is revamping to be more fun for both existing and new players.

“WoW’s success,” said Jake Neri, producer for Galaxies at LucasArts, “has meant everyone is seeing more players sign up.”

“The player base for MMO games has exploded. We see new people trying the game all the time. And we have some die-hard folks that will never play anything but Galaxies.”

All true enough, no doubt.  Anybody familiar with the game will attest to the somewhat rabid core fan base. (Among other things, the New Game Enhancements, or NGE, also gave people rabies.) And the incoming tide of MMO success has raised all boats to a certain extent.

Still, given that this is Star Wars we’re talking about here, nobody is yet calling SWG a stunning success.  Even John Smedley has admitted that the game should be huge with the Star Wars IP behind it, but it is not.

What we really have here is SWG being pushed into the Terry Malloy role in “On The Waterfront,” whose classic line was:

You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.

Then the comedy moves on with:

Galaxies launched in 2003 and has been tweaked a few times since as its creators realized what people wanted to do.

“Galaxies was one of the first MMOs,” said Mr Neri. “There was no handbook on how to do these things.”

Because, of course, in 2003 nobody knew anything about MMOs.  Certainly not Sony.  And nobody working on SWG had anything to do with, say, Ultima Online or EverQuest.

Some miracle must have happened within a year though, since the folks at Blizzard seemed to have known a thing or two about MMOs by the time WoW shipped in 2004.

The series of changes has aligned the game more closely with what players actually do.

Because the NGE represented what the players actually do?

The extensive tweaking has given Lucas Arts a “baseline” to keep everything balanced, said Mr Neri.

I suppose a baseline of discontent means that they can only go up from there.

The balance of the article has Mr Neri talking about the upcoming beast master expertise system, though he neglects to mention that a creature handling class had been in the game previously and was removed.  Part of realizing what people want to do no doubt.

I do not mean any of this as a knock against SWG or its fan base.  But in this list, SWG is the tragic character.  It could have been a contender. But it wasn’t.

And I do not think there is any sort of Rocky Balboa comeback, to continue the boxing metaphor, in its future, despite what Mr. Neri or the BBC has to say.

How Many More EverQuest Expansions?

The April 30th EverQuest Producer’s Letter contained the following statement:

In this Producer letter I am proud to announce that we’re changing our tactics so we can accomplish what we have set out to do and do it with the quality we know we can deliver. Our next expansion will be released in November. This will give us more time to polish the game content and features. I am also happy to announce that November will be the month for all future expansion releases as well. We realize that many players want more content but would like to be able to play through the last expansion before feeling like they are falling behind when a new one comes out. Our goal is to focus on the overall quality and let the players have time to enjoy the great work that we put into each release.

This has brought about some discussion on the future of EverQuest, both in the short term (how will expansions benefit from this?) and the long term (what does this say about the future of EverQuest?).

This generated two good posts over on MobHunter, “What Does a Yearly Expansion Cycle Mean for EverQuest?” and “Is SOE Abandoning EverQuest?

I think the answer for the first is probably positive.  Expansions will get better, and this will spell the end for the “runt” February release.

On the bigger question though, I think this is also a signal that wind-down for EverQuest is beginning.  This signals more updating of zones, some very good, broad-based content to flesh out the game further, and a general trend of setting up the game to be put on the back burner in favor of newer projects.

But how many more EverQuest expansions will we see?

My first, gut reaction is five more expansions based solely on the fact that EverQuest seems to have more stamina than anybody ever imagined.  That would get it out to November 2011, giving EQ twelve years of full life.  But who will be left playing in 2011?

My pessimistic streak says two more real expansions.  We’ll get the one promised for 2007 and one more in 2008, both of these will be heavy on graphics updates.  2009 will feature a final major face lift, a serious update to the client application itself, and some small addition to high end content to celebrate 10 years.  Shortly after that, SOE will announce an incentive program to move people off of EQ to one of their other games (Vanguard might be ready by then). Incentives might include a special server dedicated for EQ players, a way to move or reserve guilds and player names over as a group, in-game items, titles, and maybe even some trade-in value on the piles of platinum stored away in EQ bank accounts. (1 plat = 1 copper for trade?)  For those who remain, servers will be merged together drastically, and the game will be put in to a mode of patches for bugs and compatibility issues only.  Servers (or server) will remain running as long as there are enough players to pay the bills.

Somewhere in between these two may be the correct answer.  A real, 10 year anniversary expansion with rich content might be too hard to pass up.  I think that how well Ultima Online does with its 10 year anniversary revamp will influence what happens for EverQuest in and after 2009.

In the end though, one of these expansions will end up being the last one.  And at some point after that, maybe long after that, the last SOE EverQuest server will shut down.  The last expansion will come sooner rather than later I think.  The dream of the loyal EverQuest player base, the ability of EverQuest to attract sufficient new players to keep the game viable and expansions coming, is a false hope.  Price cuts, expansions, free trials, and technical updates are not enough.

EverQuest is yesterday’s game.  There is no crime in that.  It will always have some fans no matter how out of date it gets.  But the reality is that its days of growth have passed.

How much longer do you think EverQuest has?