Daily Archives: February 5, 2009

Players as Excuse

I keep reading posts and comments in this environment of “Warhammer Online only has 300K Subscribers” that try to blame the players for the failure of Warhammer Online to hit whatever subscriber threshold Mark Jacobs publicly (and idiotically, in my opinion) said Mythic needed for the game to be a success.

I keep seeing references to unrealistic expectations.

People who play MMOs should not expect a game to be stable on day one!

They should know that the game will be buggy and unbalanced!

They should know that an MMO is never done!

They should know that an MMO needs to be patched ad infinitum until it is stable!

And the crown jewel in the argument is that World of Warcraft itself had all these same issues at launch!

So there!  See! Warhammer Online is just like every other MMO! It is the players, the “WoW Tourists” and their unreasonable expectations that are the problem!

And the whole argument is a steaming pile of horse dung, damned by its own internal inconsistency.

After all, if World of Warcraft had all those same issues, how did it succeed?

When World of Warcraft launched, there were already other popular, stable MMORPG options on the market.

EverQuest, the former king of the MMORPG hill, was more than five years old and on its eighth expansion before WoW popped.

Asheron’s Call was five years old as well.

Dark Age of Camelot was three years along.

Even EVE Online had a year and a half jump on WoW, even if it wasn’t so popular at that point.

All successful games, all past their initial teething stage, all competitors against which WoW would no doubt be directly compared.

And yet WoW succeeded beyond all expectations in spite of having those all very same MMO launch problems.

The only reasonable conclusion is that launch problems… server queues, crashes, imbalances, bugs… are not a problem at all.  At least they are not as long as the game is playable and compelling.

And there, I think, is the real hitch.

Roll stock footage of Day 1 EverQuest and all the issues the game had.  It made WAR’s launch look as smooth as silk.  But after five minutes in Norrath, I was hooked.  I had to play that game, no matter the issues staying connected.

But that was 1999.  WAR launched in 2008.

And by 2008, anybody in the WAR target audience had played WoW at some point.  But even if they had only played EverQuest, there wasn’t a lot there that was truly new and different.  WAR would have looked familiar enough as to have lost its ability to be compelling in and of itself.

“Ooooh, a 3 dimension, multi-player fantasy world!”  That threshold has already been crossed by more than five million people in the US and Europe.

If WAR had brought something new and compelling to the table all the stability, patch, balance, and server population issues would have been details, minor gripes.  It had the hype.  It sold over a million boxes.  All it needed was something to close the deal.

But WAR showed up with a bag of incremental changes.  They were nice.  Many will no doubt be copied by other games in the future.  But nobody is playing WAR because the Tome of Knowledge is such a nifty idea.

You can cry “jaded gamer!” all you like, but for what other audience was WAR shooting?  After all, you can’t put up all those first arguments about knowing what MMOs are like and be seen to be talking about anybody else.

And yes, WAR did prove to be a compelling environment for some gamers, about 300,000 of them, which is a decent base of subscribers.

But what used to be the threshold of huge success is now just the line that gets you beyond niche.

And so Warhammer Online joins Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EVE Online, Age of Conan, and Star Wars Galaxies as the seventh dwarf of western MMOs.  Successful, but fated ever to be overshadowed by World of Warcraft.

You cannot be the next big thing without bringing something new and compelling to the table.