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.

3 thoughts on “To Contend With WoW

  1. Kilanna

    At the moment there just seems to be an obsession with muscling in on the WoW subscriber gold at the end of the rainbow. I would like to see more of an emphasis on putting out a good quality, fun game that does not have excessive hardware needs. I believe the subscriber base will follow.

    I presume I am like many or most MMO players. After a significant investment of time and enjoyment, it will have to be something pretty darned special to tempt me to change.

    And of course it is SOOO easy for an armchair commentator like myself to make such sweeping statements, even though I have absolutely no idea of the industry other than my experience of a player :)

    I don’t think I will ever get over the trauma caused by the Star Wars Galaxies NGE *dramatic sigh*

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  2. Tobold

    If people hate your game at launch, it is nearly impossible to turn it around. Be it SWG or Vanguard, in this business you only get one chance to get it right. But even at the subscriber numbers that SWG or Vanguard have, they might already be profitable. Not license-to-print-money WoW profitable, but at least profitable enough to pay back the development cost and keep the game alive.

    Asking developers to produce a “good quality, fun game” is silly, because every developer of every bad game out there will swear that his game is good quality and fun. The sad story here is not that SWG failed to be a contender, it is that people like Raph Koster still don’t know *why* it wasn’t one.

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  3. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    The problem with creative ventures in general is that the factors that make for success or failure are pretty vague.

    I like to compare WoW with Titanic. Titanic has the highest box office gross revenue of all time. What lessons for success or failure can you draw from it? That 3+ hour tragic love story disaster movies are the way to go? Or is it that intangibles like sympathetic characters with which the audience can identify and root for will entice even movie goers with tiny bladders?

    As much as people pronounce on why WoW succeeded so well, I think there is a lot of intangible “just feels right” going on that other companies will be hard pressed to even identify, much less emulate.

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