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.

15 thoughts on “Players as Excuse

  1. Jim

    I agree with you on every thing except the last sentence. WoW brought nothing new to the Genre it just did it better than every one else. I guess that may be what you are saying.

    I don’t get why every one is saying WAR is a failure 300k is good solid numbers. Not compared to WoW but every other western game it is good numbers.

    I think one of the biggest downfalls of WAR is that it looks just like WoW. I think a lot of people just see it and say it is a WoW clone.

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  2. Rick

    Well said.

    I’m a jaded gamer. So burned out on MMOs that I can’t face the thought of logging in to anything any more. I miss characters and worlds, but the mechanics of those worlds have worn me down.

    I might retire to a little house in the Shire, where I can cook and farm and maybe play my lute (no leveling!)…but god, you’re right about the genre needing something new coming to the table, especially if they ever want to break out of the “500k and under” subscriber category. Which is pretty much every MMO, except WoW. I feel like I never want to level again.

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  4. Beau Turkey

    The difference between WoW coming out and WAR coming out?

    WoW did not exist when WoW came out. That’s the difference. Once in a while, something comes along that gets all the attention for a myriad of reasons. More people like WoW than any other MMO, that’s it.

    The “next big thing” will not come until Blizzard brings it. Granted, I don’t play the game but once a week, but there’s many more WoW players than not. It’s not that they don’t want innovation, it’s just that WoW suits em just fine. Why leave when the game is still good?

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  5. Dino

    For me definitely it had ‘jaded gamer’ problems. I’d already levelled in EQ and WoW, so when I logged into WAR and straight away was just levelling again in a different game (but which looked and felt similar enough to my previous games) I was worn out and jaded of the content straight away. I loved the Tome of Knowledge – I wanted to get into RvR but just couldn’t face levelling on PvE (done) and Scenario (done WoW BG to death).

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  6. Ahnog

    Great column. Having said that, 300k subscribers is not a bad number. At 14.95 (if that is the sub rate), that is 1.5 million a month and a respectable 17 million a year.

    No, it is no where near what WOW is, and you are right about what will be needed to beat wow.

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  7. *vlad*

    “I don’t get why every one is saying WAR is a failure 300k is good solid numbers. Not compared to WoW…”

    …and that last sentence is the problem.

    Comparisons will always be a measure of whether something is a success or not.

    Imagine I made chocolate Orc bars, and last year I made a profit of 100%. Sounds great, right? Until I tell you that Mr Blizz made chocolate Murloc bars (the same product, except he called it something different), and he made 200% profit on them.

    Now my profit margin doesn’t look so good anymore, does it?

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  8. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Now you’ve said “chocolate Murloc bars” aloud, so Blizzard will probably go out and buy Nestle or something and we’ll see bags and bags of them come Halloween.

    Not that that would be a bad things… chocolate Murloc bars…

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  9. Graktar

    The problem is one of core gamer vs. casual gamer. Core MMO gamers have dealt with bugs, instability, lag, etc. in every MMO at release, ever (even WoW). The casual MMO gamer who has only played WoW (which makes up a VERY large portion of the WoW playerbase) didn’t even play WoW during the major bugs/lag/instability phase. Remember that WoW took about a year to hit the 1 million mark.

    So, the vast majority of players leaving WoW to try a new game only have the experience of a 2-4 year old WoW to compare against a newly released game. They didn’t experience WoW’s growing pains, so the growing pains of a new MMO are going to count against it, severely. This isn’t specific to WAR, this is going to effect every new MMO that attempts to draw part of WoW’s playerbase away.

    The 300k subscribers that WAR has are more than likely core gamers. They’re probably in it for the long haul, and play the game for the features it brought to the table (and saying WAR brought nothing new to the genre is a gross misrepresentation of the game, and you know it) and a gameplay style they prefer.

    WAR is not a failure, but comparing it against a game designed for ‘joe average’ (WoW) is stupid when it’s clearly a niche game. If you don’t like PvP, WAR is not for you. I’d go so far as to say WoW has inoculated most people against the concept of PvP by making it such a horror in their game that players don’t even want to try it in another.

    Finally, if Mark Jacobs hadn’t made his foolish ‘500k’ statement, nobody would even be commenting on this in the first place. 300k subscribers is a nice solid base. No, it’s not WoW numbers, but it’s not actually POSSIBLE for WAR to have WoW’s numbers, considering it hasn’t even been released in China yet.

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  10. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Graktar – Actually, if you look at MMO Chart, kindly linked in the side bar, WoW hit a million in a time span a lot smaller than a year. I boggle every time I look at that chart. There was no post-launch lag, just up and up and up. And even today it is a pain to load the game, patch, and get onto a server where you might know somebody because it probably has a queue.

    Also, when I compare WoW to any of the “seven dwarf” games I listed, I usually quote US/EU subscription numbers. At least five million people in that zone have played WoW, and that number still exceeds all the others combined.

    Finally, I hope nobody took this as a “WAR sucks” message. It is a fine game, has a steady population now, and a subscription base that ranks it among the top western MMORPGS… once you exclude WoW.

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