Daily Archives: December 21, 2018

A Short Rant About the State of the MMORPG Market

This started as a response to a post over at Massively OP about the worst MMO trend of 2018.  However, a few paragraphs in I realized I wasn’t really on topic, focusing as I was on MMORPGs, since MMO pretty much means “online multiplayer” in today’s market, and I wasn’t keen to dump this much text into their comment section where about a dozen people might see it before it scrolls off the front page into oblivion.  Better to bring it over here where I can regret it again later.

So we’ll call this another end of 2018 post and I’ll run with what I had.

The most disappointing trend for me isn’t really a trend, but more the realization that MMORPGs are a trap for most studios, a tar ball that they find they’re stuck with once they have one. An MMORPG can bring in money, sometimes lots of money, but they have expensive infrastructures to maintain and they need a continuing stream of content to hold enough of an audience to keep them viable. They can eat up all the focus of a smaller studio, so they neglect or never start other projects because you have to keep feeding the monster or it will stop crapping out money.

But the population peaks, often very early these days, and then every content update pisses somebody off and they go away like it is a game of musical chairs and each patch is another point where the music stops. Or it would be like that if people wouldn’t also leave if you don’t patch often enough.  You can’t sit still or you will lose players and you can’t change anything or you will lose players.

Meanwhile MMORPGs have only gotten more expensive to make, which makes innovation a risk that few can afford. And then there is the target player base which complains about every game being a WoW clone and yet will also complain even more bitterly about anything that strays from the WoW formula.

And don’t even get me started on the false hope that is PvP.  It seems like a great idea, and a true money save, to just get the players to be the content.  In reality, anything beyond a tiny, consequence free instance of PvP in an MMORPG will be shunned or ignored.  Few developers who follow that path and go in on PvP are rewarded with any success and trying to move PvP out of its tiny corner is almost always a waste of development time.  Add in a capture the flag arena game… or a battle royale game these days… and move on.

The customers are no better, myself included.  The loud demographics that haunt any developer’s forums should serve as a warning, but if that is the only feedback you’re getting then where are you going to go?  There is always somebody agitating loudly for their favorite thing.  Some want PvP everywhere, others think your game will die if it doesn’t have player housing, another group hates walking and wants to fly everywhere, and somebody in the back seems to believe in time travel and that everything would be great if you could just teleport everybody back to 1999 or 2004 or 2007 or whenever they felt they were having the most fun playing your game.

And none of them has a fucking clue about the level of effort their one “simple” request entails.  But if you’re not doing exactly what they want or it is taking too long then you are “lazy” or “stupid” or both.

If players could keep their focus on actual game play issues it might not be so bad.  But they are on about how you charge money for this or that, with “greedy” or “cash grab” being favored terms.  They complain about how they just want to play the game and not worry about real world politics, a sentiment that is usually the opening salvo about how they’re bent out of shape that the CEO or some dev or some rumor indicates that the company has somehow transgressed the whiners personal stance on the topic of the day is; gamer gate, gender politics, overtime, unions, campaign donations, boarder walls, or whatever.  And then there are the truly loopy who see conspiracies, collusion, and corruption in the machinations of a studio that is really just trying to keep the lights on and the customers happy.

Add into the mix the players who see the genre as a zero sum game, so feel they need to constantly crap on every game that competes with their favorite.  The worry is that they might be right.

So we see studios going under, the weight of their MMORPGs around their necks pulling them down.  The revenues are no longer enough to keep them afloat, much less fund anything new, but they cannot let go because what else do they have?

Even Blizzard, long addicted to the huge income stream from WoW, once past a billion dollars per year, is in trouble now that the game is stumbling again. They don’t want to depend on WoW, but they haven’t made another game that has come anywhere close to the money WoW was bringing in at its peak.  And even their best, Overwatch, could only sustain its peak for a few months at a stretch and is now reported in serious decline.  Companies, like people, size themselves to match their income, and when it drops tough choices loom.

Someone in Blizzard at least recognized a bit of the problem, so we don’t see the company making any more MMORPGs.  But WoW was enough to distort the company and change investor expectations.  They can’t go back to selling stand alone games.  They have to keep WoW going or die, because there is no replacing it.

Game development is a bad business to start with. But at least with a stand alone game you can walk away to work on the next thing. An MMORPG never goes away, unless you have several and you have to make Sophie’s choice. Studios tied to MMORPGs die and other studios with less ambition buy the remains, put the games on life support, and try to milk the remains for some more cash. But only the unbalanced jump into the MMORPG market to create a new game and expecting happiness and success.

And so it goes.  Expect more studios to shut down operations, more games to be closed or put in maintenance mode by some third party game aggregator like Gamigo, and more loud complaining from players that if the studio had only listened to their completely uniformed opinion, then everything would have been fine.

Oh, and expect the usual level of optimism for every new MMORPG title announced because we also apparently never learn.

There, with that out of my system, let’s move on… or not.

SuperData Says League of Legends is Back on Top, But WoW is Nowhere to be Seen

SuperData Research is out with their November 2019 charts just in time to take the holidays off, and this data set has some interesting changes.

SuperData Research Top 10 – November 2018

First, League of Legends, which has been having a down year, has returned to the top of the PC games list, the spot it has pretty much owned since SuperData started publishing this particular format.  So the top three are back in what we might consider their normal alignment.  Missing, however, is Fantasy Westward Journey Online II, which had been bouncing around between fourth and sixth place for months.

But the bigger mystery is what happened to World of Warcraft?  I have been posting this chart since December 2016 and WoW has been a permanent resident, even when it was split into East and West for a few random months in 2017.  WoW has been as high as second place and as low as eighth, usually hanging around one notch ahead of World of Tanks most of the time, but it has never fallen off the list.  Well, until now.

WoW was doing well on the chart recently, rolling in the money from the Battle for Azeroth box sales and then propping up its revenues a bit with a six month subscription deal that threw in a special mount.  You know all the faithful bought in on that.

But now those birds are coming home to roost.  The faithful won’t be spending subscription dollars again until around May 2019 while the Battle for Azeroth expansion remains a confused muddle.  A pretty expansion with a set of very solid leveling zones and an actual split experience for the Alliance and Horde, seems to have fallen apart due to ill considered ideas and half measure fixes.  And once you lose the rank and file, the game is stuck until it can do something new.

I expect that we may end up seeing WoW Classic launch sooner than expected in order to “save” the game, or at least its revenues.  If Blizz sticks to the summer launch, it will be in June.  But I wouldn’t be surprised to find it moved up to May or even April now that Activision is probably on the phone every day wanting to know what the hell is going on.

That big news aside, the rest of the list isn’t unexpected.  Fortnite rang in at fourth, followed by the debut of Battlefield VPlayerUnknown’s Battleground grabbed sixth while The Sims 4 came out of nowhere to hit the list at number seven.  Was there a new expansion there?  World of Tanks hung in at is oft repeated eighth position, sans its usual partner in WoW, while the on-again, off-again Valve pair of CS:GO and DOTA 2 took the bottom two spots once more.

On the console chart, the game everybody was talking about, Red Dead Redemption 2, tops the charts.  This month shows how driven by new titles the console market can be compared to the PC market, where the same old online titles linger for years.  Almost everything on the console chart is a fairly recent release save for Fortnite in fourth place and the ever present Grand Theft Auto V in eighth.

And then on the mobile end of the chart Pokemon Go has managed to take the top spot, beating out the usual leader Honour of Kings, pushing it into second place.  And an even older title, Candy Crush Saga managed third place.  And so it goes.

Other items from the report:

  • Battlefield V and Fallout 76 launches fail to meet franchise benchmarksWe estimate Battlefield V and Fallout 76 sold 1.9 million and 1.4 million digital units, respectively, across console and PC at launch. Both are down from Battlefield 1 and Fallout 4.
  • Ultimate Team continues to underperform. Total additional content spending in FIFA and Madden grew by 1% in November, compared to a 25% year-over-year increase last November.
  • Destiny 2′sForsaken” boost was short lived. We estimate additional content revenue for Destiny 2 dropped 63% year-over-year. Overall, engagement and monetization seem to have reverted back to the same levels last seen before the launch of the “Forsaken” DLC in September.
  • Rainbow Six shows signs of fatigue. Ubisoft’s popular FPS title has had a better-than-expected performance throughout most of 2018. However, additional content revenue declined 33% in November, the game’s biggest decline to date, and follows a decline in October as well. This points to some likely disruption from recent launches of other high-profile AAA shooters.