My New Scorecard

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?

10 thoughts on “My New Scorecard

  1. mrrx

    I can’t see any of them hitting all eight either. You’ve got the right list IMHO.

    I could have sworn G&H had a firm release date on Friday 10/5, of something like February 2008. And today it’s cancelled ? That’s a shame, but not totally unexpected, they’ve been having lots of back-end problems according to rumor.

    I can’t imagine POTBS being the next WOW. I guess it depends on how broad the “Pirate Love” is out there. From where I sit plenty of people are into pirates, but Disney has gone and muddied up the waters with an MMO that will definitely suck, but might bring down POTBS with it.


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  3. Pixie Styx

    to honest wow is an anomaly in the mmo market so for the general mmo producer hitting 200k submscribers is probably a good start and money maker for you. therefore you dont need to hit all 8 to be successful although some of the list are must haves, pvp, solo, sys specs and finnancial backing


  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I think I said as much above, Pixie. “Success” is a relative term, and planned correctly, a game can enjoy success with a relatively small base of players and only two or three of the items on the list.

    My point is that, if a game cannot make those 8 items and somebody starts saying it is “the next WoW” (and I agree, somewhat, that WoW was, if not an anomaly, a very rare event indeed) you should expect me to bring up this list again.


  5. Link

    I think you should add “learning curve” to the list. If that curve to get into the game is too steep, you’re going to turn off many casual players. It’s the whole easy to learn, difficult to master thing.


  6. KevinC

    First, I think this is a great list. Certainly seems to hit all the major points. I think War actually might hit all eight. Yes, they are using an established IP but I think in their case it will actually be much more of a help than a hindrance. Looking at all the others, I think War will have all of those.

    But even if War hits all eight, it still won’t be “the next WoW”. I’m not sure we’ll ever see another WoW to be honest, at least not for years to come (and perhaps unless Blizzard themselves make it). I just think with WoW it was a bit of lightning in a bottle – the right place at the right time with the right product. And people who were ready and willing for something new. I don’t want to say that WoW just lucked out – they certainly have a good game – but I think the stars aligned to a degree as well.


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  8. brackishwater

    Advertising and Availability: The game needs to be known and marketed enough to reach a lot of potential players. Also, those players should be able to not only pick up the product locally but also find it easily online and through various types of distribution. (D2D, CD Order)

    Ryzom saw a resurgence when it was picked up by another developer after Nevrax crashed but I rarely ever saw the product on the shelves after that.

    Blizzards ability to integrate itself into various types of media has only added to the popularity of the game. They set the bar with this as well and if companies want the same ‘success’ they to will eventually have to reach that point of publicity.


  9. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I think the advertising comes under the brand flag. Any company that is building and maintaining their brand is keeping the public informed about it.

    Availability is something of a function of brand, in that a strong brand gets premium shelf space, displays, and gets featured in store ads The marketing group should have the ability to drive in-store presence with incentives and co-op dollars.

    I would, however, disagree with electronic delivery being a requirement. When dealing with a product that goes beyond a niche, having product on store shelves is far more important than being able to find a way to download it. Electronic delivery presumes knowledge of the product while an in-store presence can create knowledge of the product.

    Not having electronic delivery for most of its life has not hurt WoW.


  10. krones

    Your list is great, I don’t think I could add much to it without mulling it over for a bit and being picky. Warhammer might hit 7, POTBS will probably be the most underrated game for 2008, but that’s saying a lot because I haven’t played it. I do think if POTBS is successful it won’t get the recognition it deserves by the mainstream media when comparing it up against the big uns.


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