So I posted the story to VirginWorlds and then sat back and counted to ten… days.
And then I let another day or so slide by.
But in the end, I am still annoyed by the story on Yahoo Games. You know, this one, the one that proposed to contenders to the World of Warcraft throne.
Okay, yes, it is mainstream media… or what passes for it on the web. I should not expect too much. I mean, it was not as laughable as when the BBC ran a story that suggested that Star Wars Galaxies might have a shot.
Of course, then the first pick on the Yahoo list got cancelled. That can’t exactly be helping the story’s credibility.
But such jabs aside, we need to contain this “next WoW” obsession.
While I appreciate the responses some people put up about this article, such as Keen’s analysis at Keen & Graev’s, it seems to me that with the Rob Pardo speech at AGC last year and the Gordon Walton speech at AGC this year, we ought to be able to come up with a simple checklist we can all run through to gauge the likelihood of booming success.
Miss one on the checklist and your MMO is out of contention, at least as far as becoming the next WoW goes.
Here is what I have:
1. The Brand: I have contended in the past that this was of primary importance, so I was glad to see it make Gordon Walton’s list. If your company does not have a well known, well-respected brand, it just isn’t going to happen.
2. Itellectual Property: I am going to go out on a limb and say that a licensed IP can put such big restrictions on a game, both in terms of what the IP owner will allow and what the core audience will expect, that any MMO based on a popular licensed IP will only ever be a moderate success. BioWare, feel free to prove me wrong, but I think you have to own your game’s IP to end up making the game you really want to make.
3. System Specs: The bigger your potential audience, the better the chance of success. If you cannot run well on a 4 year old system the day you launch, you aren’t going to the head of the class. The wild-card in this is consoles, which is a target for Age of Conan. The system specs do not move, so they will have the potential of the whole X-Box 360 audience along with the PC players.
4. Quality/Polish: Hard to judge before a release, I know. We can always go on past behavior, which would hurt some of the games on that list. I’m looking at you Conan! And you Korean ports as well!
5. Solo Play: If your game doesn’t have it, forget about it. If WoW has done one good thing for the genre, it has taken the “you must group to play” mindset off of the table. Force people to group and they will head for the exit. Or they might not even come in. The reason I declined to buy Dungeons & Dragons Online is that it said there was no solo play right on the box.
6. Player versus Player: PvP is not something that works for me, but both Pardo and Walton say it has to be there, so who am I to argue. It apparently does not have to be well integrated into your game, just available.
7. Sandbox: If you use this term to describe your… game… well, you may well end up with a dedicated user base and a profitable product, but you will likely never be mass market. The sandbox genre appeals to a much smaller audience.
8. Financial Stability: If you cannot afford to keep the servers up (Ryzom), have to push the game out the door to survive (Vanguard is only the latest of a long list here), or cannot even survive long enough to ship (Gods & Heroes), stellar success will not be yours.
So that is my scorecard. If you cannot get past those eight hurdles, you will probably not be duplicating WoW’s success, at least not in the $15 a month subscription MMO market. You can find success and can be profitable, but you won’t be the market leader.
I see a lot of the upcoming games hitting five, six, maybe even seven of the above, but not all eight.
Did I miss anything?
I stayed away from any actual game mechanics, genres, or other specifics that differentiate games. I do not believe, for example, that you have to have elves to be a success. I am sticking to the $15/month subscription model games for this list however.
Are there any MMOs coming up that you think will hit all eight? Am I totally off-base with this list?