A post in which I draw two points and declare there to be a line.
Before I start, I just want to point out the humor tag on this post. Some people will miss that and not read the post in the spirit in which it was written. It is Friday. Relax and just chuckle at my folly.
I have a theory about fishing and fantasy MMORPGs.
I believe that there is a correlation between how well a fantasy MMORPG does relative to its contemporary competitors and how deep and interesting the fishing mechanism that is available at launch.
So, the better the fishing is at launch, the better the game will do relative to other games that launch in a similar window of time.
My data set so far:
EverQuest: Launched March 1999
Fishing: A relatively straightforward but deep fishing mechanism. You needed a fishing pole which had to be equipped. You needed bait, which got used up as you fished. You could fish in just about any water you could find. And you caught a wide variety of things, from fish that could be used for cooking, to rusty weapons that could be sharpened, to junk for the vendor. So in many ways very much like real fishing; pick your spot, grab your pole, make sure you have bait, and fish away.
Market position: Rapidly became the king of the hill, declining only when the next generation of competitors came along.
EverQuest II: Launched November 2004
Fishing: Barely a fishing mechanism at all. No fishing pole or bait required. Fishing was reduced to harvesting “fish nodes” which at launch would yield at most a single fish per try before the fisherman had to move on to the next node, so you were constantly on the run. And then all you ever caught was fish, never the stereotypical old boot or rusty dagger.
Market position: A strong start that rapidly faded with the game never achieving anything close to the popularity of its predecessor.
Lord of the Rings Online: Launched April 2007
Fishing: None at launch, added later (too late by my theory)
Market position: Mid-pack, never a contender for market leadership.
Warhammer Online: Launched September 2008
Market position: Mid-pack after losing more than half of their early subscriber base
The Wild Card
Now, the hole in my data set is World of Warcraft, but only because I did not play on day one so I cannot speak personally to the state of fishing back then. But from what I have seen since I started playing five months after launch is that WoW has a very EverQuest-like fishing paradigm. You need a pole. There is no bait, but you can attach a lure. You can fish wherever you want.
And furthermore, WoW continued to improve fishing as time went along. There are fishing tournaments, fishing achievements, fishing quests, some truly special fishing poles, and even some pets that you can obtain only by fishing. You can fish up an amazing amount of things. Plus there was that fishing chair that was in the card game.
What Am I Saying?
Now at this point you may wonder if I am somehow suggesting that fishing is the most important feature of an MMORPG.
I am not.
I am moving more towards a “canary in a coal mine” view of fishing. If a company has had the resources to deliver a reasonably polished game and has had, in addition, the time to include fishing as something more than an afterthought, that the game might have the makings of a winner.
More Data Needed
Of course, to test a theory one of the things you can do is see if it would have predicted the same outcome for similar events outside of the current data set. In this case, other MMORPGs that have launched. I have taken two sample cases of good and bad fishing and drawn a line and then forced a couple of null set results onto that line and called it a theory.
So what other games have had fishing at launch, how good was that fishing mechanic, and how have the games done?
For example, while I wasn’t there, I am going to guess that Ultima Online had fishing of some sort. I mean, if you could be a shepherd, how could they miss fisherman. And while I tend to see UO as more the culmination of the long running Ultima series of games rather than a game on the D&D-Diku-EQ-WoW trajectory of MMORPGs (which isn’t a bad thing), it was the market leader in its time, it exceeded the expectations of the developer, and it lives on today.
What about Aion, Runes of Magic, or the upcoming Alganon? Alganon certainly took a cue from WoW on interface, did they also borrow fishing?
Should this theory include PvP oriented games or not? I put WAR on the list because Mythic invested in a PvE game.
Is it limited to fantasy? Did Star Wars Galaxies have fishing? Could this have been an early indicator for the fates of Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa?
Is there another game mechanic besides fishing that fits the theory better? I cannot bring myself to generalize this to a good resource harvesting mechanism because fishing generally represents such tangential feature to the game that I think it is special.
Or is this all just the view of somebody who has maxed out the fishing skill in every MMO he has played?