Tag Archives: Middle Age

MMOs and their Middle Age Problems…

I just recorded a podcast with Izlain from Me vs. Myself and I.  It should be up by the end of the week if you are simply dying to hear my voice.  I will put up a post about it when it is ready.

The topic of the podcast was Daybreak and looking back at what has gone on over the last year since Columbus Nova Prime became their new lords and masters.  As it turns out we are both, in our own way, SOE/Daybreak fan boys, having been heavily influenced by EverQuest and EverQuest II.

And it came up, as part of our discussion of what I call the “legacy Norrath team,” that both of us would really like to have EverQuest content with a new client.  The old client isn’t the worst thing in the world, and it has been improved over the years, but you can still feel every one of those seventeen years since the game was launched.  It clunks.  It chunks.  It does things in bizarre ways which betray that fact that it was created before some UI features became standardized in the genre.

I even wrote about this… whoa, nine years ago… as part of a list of five “insane” things I wanted.  Specifically, I wanted EverQuest content with the WoW client, my logic at the time being:

  • WoW = Easy to play, light system requirements, and stylized (thus longer enduring) graphics
  • EQ = Huge world, awesome lore, cranky old engine, dated graphics that will never catch up

As I put it, “I want to blend these two in perfect measure and make the ultimate super Norrathian experience!  I want Norrath to live forever… in a form I can actually stand to play!”

Because I have to admit that half the battle when I want to go back and play EverQuest is simply dealing with the client UI and its quirks.  A new client would improve the experience and make the game more accessible to a new generation of players.

Picture guaranteed to induce nostalgia in old school EQ players.

Picture guaranteed to induce nostalgia in old school EQ players.

Of course, as much as I want it, I know that a new client is never going to happen.  It is never going to happen because the legacy Norrath team hasn’t completely lost their minds.

To work on a new client the team would have to divert resources away from other things, including content for and improvements to the current game.  But EverQuest is in what I will now dub “MMO Middle Age,” wherein it is done attracting new players in any significant numbers, but it is still receiving content updates on a regular basis.  It is still worthwhile to make expansions for the game because enough people buy them.

The legacy Norrath team knows this.  They know where they stand.  They know the days of an expanding player base are over.  They mostly have a pool of current and former players that they can depend on for revenue, and they need to focus on that group.

And, to their credit, the legacy Norrath team has used the last year to great effect.  Despite an initial stumble, when they said they were done with expansions, a position they later and quite correctly reversed, the team has spent the whole year catering to their installed base.  There were expansions and updates and special rules servers for subscribers only… and let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the game and are playing, you’re subscribed… that included some special treat like the return of the Isle of Refuge, along with some of the best company/player communication in the history of the franchise.

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

And when you can sell people $140 expansions, who needs a new client?

So after a year of being Daybreak, I think the legacy Norrath team can be counted as a success.  They had all the right moves and had fewer mistakes and stumbles than one would expect after years of watching SOE in action.  I think the worst quote from the team was Holly saying that they didn’t want casuals raiding on the EQ progression servers, something that got reversed on the Phinigel “true box” progression server.

And don’t worry, I don’t think I’ve spoiled the podcast as we talk about all the Daybreak games.

Anyway, this is a team at Daybreak working within the reality of their situation.  With a pair of games that are 16 and 11 years old at the moment, there really isn’t anything they could do that would sustain their current installed base and attract, say, 100,000 new players, much less 100,000 players willing to spend some money on the game.  Aesop had a story about that sort of thing, letting go of what you have to try and grab something you can’t be sure is even really there.

Youth, that era of sustained growth, is over.

But middle age is respectable.  World of Warcraft is also in middle age.  It is still a cash cow, it still gets new content, but it isn’t the bright new thing.  Granted, Blizzard has bought the game a bright yellow Camaro, coming this summer in the form of the Warcraft movie, in a pretense of youth in order to attract new players.

My daughter asked me to "do donuts" in the car...

Me, as metaphor for WoW and the movie…

But I suspect any interest its bitchin’ new ride attracts will fade when faced with its own middle-age reality.  It is going to have to adapt to sustaining it installed base rather than attempting to attract a sea of new faces.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is also in middle age, after a short time in youth.  But it will hang in there.  It seems to have found its balance in middle age.

And then there is EVE Online, which enjoyed the longest period of youth… which is to say growth… of any MMO I can think of.  I think that long youth has skewed the expectations of many residents of New Eden.  Having enjoyed seemingly endless youth, it sometimes feels like the game has just stumbled for a moment or is maybe just having a bad hair day.  If only we could have another big headline grabbing battle or some shiny new feature like walking in stations, then youth, and growth, would return.

I think that is just us kidding ourselves however… though creating a new player experience that doesn’t confuse and confound probably 90% of players who try it out couldn’t hurt.  The game needs to focus on its installed base and keeping them happy… which is as difficult as anything in EVE Online, since the game has so many niches, each of which feels neglected when another gets attention.  I think we need to admit the game is now in middle age.

For these games the next stage… I’ll call that retirement I suppose… when they are still worth keeping online but not necessarily getting updates… as with Guild Wars… still looks to be a ways off.  Better to have the problems of middle age and catering to a shrinking base of loyal fans than to face that and the eventual shut down that follows.

I can attest, middle age isn’t so bad.  You have things.  You know things, like how escrow works.  You just can’t necessarily be all the things you once were.

What other MMOs are in middle age now?  They seem to grow up so fast these days.