A Theory of Fishing

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.


Fishing Yet Again

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

Fishing: None

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.


Don't mind me, I'm just fishing

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?


Something on the hook

Other Questions

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?

22 thoughts on “A Theory of Fishing

  1. zentr

    What little I tried of fishing in Asheron’s Call, it was pretty good. There was always a chance of getting something special. Though I don’t know if they had it from the start. …so I guess I am adding little to the conversation. But I do look forward to the comments that follow.


  2. SynCaine

    Oddly, I don’t remember if UO had fishing. Half of my brain has a mental image of me fishing, but the other half says I would remember it better if I actually did it. I conclude that while it did have fishing, it was not important/useful.

    DarkFall has fishing, and while simple (rod that loses durability, no lure/bait, can fish in most water, all fishing has the same item pool, skilling up makes you fail less), it is an important part of the game. Lobsters, which are the somewhat ‘rare’ drop, are one of the better cooked foods in the game and are therefor used in PvP. Plus you can take a raft out and go fishing, or pull out your fishing rod while you and your clan are traveling over water to some distant location. They need to add random loot drops though, especially stuff like house deeds or housing items, just at a very low rate. This supports your theory though, as DF=win, and fishing was a feature from day one.

    PotBS does not have fishing. DDO does not have fishing. Matrix did not have fishing (I assume). Motor City Online did not have fishing (I assume). Tabula Rasa did not have fishing. All games that either failed or greatly underperformed, so more theory support.

    Asheron’s Call 1 and DAoC did not have fishing, and both games were a success. While AC1 was the smallest of the original big three, DAoC was at one point the ‘it’ MMO. Need a side-theory to explain those.


  3. Karl

    Fishing was added in Asheron’s Call in 2003, so it wasn’t there from the start.

    EVE Online doesn’t have fishing, and is doing well.

    I’m curious if Vanguard or Age of Conan have fishing and so on.


  4. Centuri

    FFXI has an amazing fishing skill and system. Not only are there different fish types available in different bodies of water throughout the game world, but fish types caught in an area will vary by the type of bait used, time of day, and phase of the moon. There were even entire game areas dedicated to fishing complete with fishing barges that would slowly more throughout an area.

    Later the system was updated to create a fishing minigame in which you have to actually “fight” the fish stamina bar using your keypad to tire out the fish to real it in. Higher fishing skill, actual numeric skill not player, would allow you to more easily catch deplete the stamina bar of even the most mighty of fish.

    Sadly the vast majority of the fish that you can catch in the game are complete crap, whereas others are/were well worth the time to fish up for cooking recipes.


  5. *vlad*

    My earliest memory of fishing in a computer game (apart from in some text adventure) was in Zelda 64. Like many aspects of those early 3d games, it was there possibly to let you see just how fantastic game-play was compared to the typical side-scrolling platform games of the previous generations of games.

    Fishing in WoW funnily enough was a horrible grind in Vanilla. Even when Burning crusade came out it was not that great:
    Making it so you could fish anywhere was a good idea, as was introducing daily fishing. I would still like to see some more game-play elements involved beyond just pressing the ‘cast’ and ‘reel’ button.


  6. dave

    Star Wars Galaxies had fishing too.

    Pretty basic interface but fish was a component of some crafted items in the game such as medical components, etc. So you had a good reason to do it. (Best crafting system ever by the way, was that game before they ruined it).

    Galaxies was a strong MMO contender until they completely revamped the game to try to appeal to a younger impatient demographic.


  7. Squizz Caphinator

    While not an MMO, Zelda: The Ocarina of Time had some excellent fishing in it. And it was a great game too.

    I used to turn that game on just to fish when I had time to waste and nothing better to do!


  8. James

    UO most definitely had fishing in the game at launch. It was pretty much ignored by players and developers alike for a good period of time. One day, the developers took note of this and re-vamped the fishing system. I honestly believe that next to opening Trammel, the fishing re-vamp was the second largest impact to the change of UO’s landscape. My memory is horrible for remembering dates, but I remember the events very well.

    Prior to the fishing revamp, only the hardest of hardcore roleplayers were fishermen. The reason? The rewards were crap. As far as I remember, you could only fish up fish and boots from shore, but if you were out on the sea you might rarely fish up a sea dragon that would attack you.

    After the fishing revamp, practically every player had a grandmaster fisherman character. The reason? The rewards were AWESOME. You could fish up treasure chests, treasure maps, or S.O.S. messages in a bottle, all of which resulted in large amounts of gold and items that could previously only be attained in dungeons such as Hythloth or the ice dungeon (memory fails me on the name).


  9. Kyojin

    Going to have t back up Centuri on FFXI fishing. It was the most in depth and complex fishing I’ve yet to see in an mmo. I especially liked the waxing and waning of the moons effect on it, and the effect the different elemental days had on catches. The days effected it to such a degree that you could actually see an impact on the AH and prices of varies fish.

    All I’ve got to say is that fishing will be my first craft skill when FFXIV comes out.


  10. Karl

    @Letrange – I’ve done my share of mining and hauling and producing in EVE, and I don’t think those fairly compare to fishing in WoW and other games. But after reading the post again, I see the original claim is “how well a fantasy MMORPG…” does, so I’ll exclude EVE.

    Anyway, back to the post. If you consider WoW the contemporary competitor of current MMO’s, then the fishing comparison boils down to how well a game does versus WoW. Given current subscriber trends, all are crushed in the face of the competition.

    But comparing games against others launching in a similar time window, as the post says, that is more interesting. Champions Online vs. Aion, as far as fishing (or any in-game hobby), Age of Conan vs. Warhammer Online… hm. I have to go look up launch dates for these games. For example, I also play LoTRO, and can’t think of any MMO that launched around the same time (April 2007), other than WoW: Burning Crusade. But again, that just comes down to how well game X does vs. WoW, which is to say they all exist in the giant shadow.


  11. Karl

    Heh, Vanguard launched Jan 2007, as it happens right around WoW: BC and both 3 months before LoTRO: SoA. So V:SoH versus LoTRO. Well I’ve never played V:SoH but I think LoTRO is doing better, and it added fishing after launch. So if V:SoH had fishing at launch, the premise fails as LoTRO didn’t and is doing better.

    I guess I don’t buy the theory, but it is interesting to think about. For example, I’d say Warhammer didn’t do as well because the segment they went after is too difficult to please (hardcore PvP/RvRers… notorious complainers when it comes to issues like class balance and realm population) without critical mass, a chicken-and-egg problem. Not because there wasn’t any fishing.


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  13. Saritor

    Along the same vein of RPG’s with fishing (not necessarily MMO’s) the breath of fire games nearly all had very fun fishing mini games, and the games themselves were very fun as well.


  14. Bronte

    I essentially have the same issues with fishing that I had with crafting. You click a button, and then you watch a bar fill up till there is a splash. Click again. Click to loot. Repeat.

    It’s too mind-numbing for me. Strangely, Torchlight makes fishing fun. It’s engaging, you need to pay attention, and it even tests your vision in a manner of speaking.


  15. Vett

    After thinking about it a while, and having maxed fishing in quite a few games, I think the quality of fishing also directly relates to the quality of crafting overall in most games. It seems to me that most of the games that had fishing, had it built into their crafting system in some way or another, and most of those games I recall had decent crafting.

    For me crafting is something I have enjoyed in many MMO’s.


  16. Morane


    “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau

    Not an idle quote, it applies to MMORPGs as well as real life.


  17. dorgol

    Vanilla WoW fishing was actually EXTREMELY lucrative. Or course, that could be because it was easily “botted” (the earliest WoW bots were fishing bots, almost as early as release). In the early days of fishing you could easily fish up green quality gear.

    Once Blizzard realized how bad it was, they TURN OFF THE FISH. Thus, for quite awhile in the earliest days of live-WoW you couldn’t fish at all. The game simply gave a message that there were no fish there (or something to that effect).

    When Blizzard finally got around to re-activating the fish, they turned off all rewards. Lockboxes dropped mostly useless cloth bolts, leather scraps, or ore (something that still happens today). Like others said, Fishing didn’t really get quality “love” until Burning Crusade (with the sole exception being the Fishing Tournament).


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