View From the Road: Not Quite So Massive

View From the Road: Not Quite So Massive

An MMOG doesn't need to have a million players to get by.

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The trouble with the equilibrium is the level at which it settles. Sure, 50 thousand players can sustain a game and cover costs, but 100 thousand can cover more costs, leading to more being invested back into the game. A bigger game can afford to develop bigger content patches, or release them more frequently, or spend more time bugfixing and polishing stuff, or employ more GMs to improve response times, etc. The smaller the subscription count, the less you get back, even though the price is the same $15 per month. The number of players is not all that important for a game to be fun which is most important, but the more players the game has, the more your $15 is worth, and that's why we are obsessed with numbers.

I kinda spaced out about half-way through the second page because... well... You're wrong. In almost every possible way.

World of warcraft as it exists right now is the product of more than a decade's worth of development, billions of dollars, and trillions of man-hours. Its successful because its been in a constant state of development, bug testing, and QA since it launched.

But when it launched, it was in a terrible, terrible state. The world was void, half the quests didn't work, flawed server matching put every one of the first million or so subscribers on the same handful of realms, one in every three quests required multiple runs of instances that people leveled beyond before they had any real experience with them, a great many skills didn't work, half the classes didn't work at all beyond the concept phase. Then, to top it all off, when you actually got to level 60, there was quite literally nothing to do. The only raid instance was molten core and it simply didn't work. At all.

Right now, if something launched in that state without the "blizzard" name to prop it up, it'd fail completely and instantly. So to even have a prayer of competing with world of warcraft, a new mmo has to represent an extremely significant investment.

A low investment, low rent attempt at an mmo would likely look like crap, play like crap, and/or simply lack sufficient content to keep people playing. If you're going to charge people per month, you need at least a two month's worth of content polished to a mirror shine.

Lowered expectations does not increase chances of success. If you shoot for the stars, but only make it to the moon, you're doing pretty good. You can build from there. But if you shoot for the treetops, you're just as likely to brain yourself on a branch.

Also, peer to peer games (guild wars, the agency, etc) are not mmos. They're just online games with a full 3D lobby instead of matchmaking or something else. They're what would happen if valve expanded the 'safehouses' in left4dead to allow hundreds of people to be in them at once, to form their own parties and then venture out into their own private maps.

It doesn't seem like it should be that difficult to make an MMO that competes. The one thing that would make me play an MMO (gave them up a few years ago) is to minimize grinding throughout the lower levels and not have stupid limits to where you have to camp an item drop for hours on end. I guess what I'm saying is that I hate down time.

Hopeless Bastard:
I kinda spaced out about half-way through the second page because... well... You're wrong. In almost every possible way.

World of warcraft as it exists right now is the product of more than a decade's worth of development, billions of dollars, and trillions of man-hours. Its successful because its been in a constant state of development, bug testing, and QA since it launched.

But when it launched, it was in a terrible, terrible state. The world was void, half the quests didn't work, flawed server matching put every one of the first million or so subscribers on the same handful of realms, one in every three quests required multiple runs of instances that people leveled beyond before they had any real experience with them, a great many skills didn't work, half the classes didn't work at all beyond the concept phase. Then, to top it all off, when you actually got to level 60, there was quite literally nothing to do. The only raid instance was molten core and it simply didn't work. At all.

Right now, if something launched in that state without the "blizzard" name to prop it up, it'd fail completely and instantly. So to even have a prayer of competing with world of warcraft, a new mmo has to represent an extremely significant investment.

A low investment, low rent attempt at an mmo would likely look like crap, play like crap, and/or simply lack sufficient content to keep people playing. If you're going to charge people per month, you need at least a two month's worth of content polished to a mirror shine.

Lowered expectations does not increase chances of success. If you shoot for the stars, but only make it to the moon, you're doing pretty good. You can build from there. But if you shoot for the treetops, you're just as likely to brain yourself on a branch.

Also, peer to peer games (guild wars, the agency, etc) are not mmos. They're just online games with a full 3D lobby instead of matchmaking or something else. They're what would happen if valve expanded the 'safehouses' in left4dead to allow hundreds of people to be in them at once, to form their own parties and then venture out into their own private maps.

Except boutique MMOGs DO work. They exist and have thousands of subscribers, you just haven't heard of many of them.

Hopeless Bastard:

Also, peer to peer games (guild wars, the agency, etc) are not mmos. They're just online games with a full 3D lobby instead of matchmaking or something else. They're what would happen if valve expanded the 'safehouses' in left4dead to allow hundreds of people to be in them at once, to form their own parties and then venture out into their own private maps.

That actually sounds pretty awesome. I agree with teh rest that I removed.

Hopeless Bastard:
SNIP: Right now, if something launched in that state without the "blizzard" name to prop it up, it'd fail completely and instantly.

While I did cut out most the body of the post, it basically comes down to this sentence. Can you please turn the fanboy down a little bit, theres a lot of hot air in here already.

MMOs can succeed with a modest fan base. and that isnt to say that they can survive, basically with no further support, but succeed. But to surmise that only blizzard has the magic formula for MMOs is naive because theres a whole lot of people out there, and for every one person who cant get enough of WoWs raid or wallow in mediocrity mentallity theres at least one if not more who isnt.

Wows popularity is based on several things. First and foremost accesibility. I played WoW once getting about 25fps on a 10 year old PC. I would say that would be about the bottom end, but just consider how many PCs have been made in the last decade, thats a lot of boxes that have the potential to run WoW, giving it a degree of farmville effect that it has a large player base in part to how many PCs it can actually run on.

Secondly uber instant gratification. Im not saying WoW is easy, but seriously compared to some other MMOs of note it plays like a preschool MMO. (I would love to see how Wow players could handle something like Pandemonium warder from FFXI after 18 hours and still not getting any xp or loot, but I get the feeling it would result in a tirade laced with profanity and crying.) There really is nothing thats genuinely challenging in WoW outside of figuring out the proper number vs class ratio for the encounter you need to employ. Now im not saying thats a bad thing. Honestly, people play games to have fun and relax which Wow rewards players for playing. Its a good thing. That explains why alot of people are drawn to it, they like being rewarded for their effort. However there are plenty of people who look down on that and seek an actual challenge. Again, all the more reason for a myriad of different style MMOs to exist.

I do think that we are in a spot now where we are beyond the point of MMO oversaturation. I know ive played over 50 MMOs since 1999. I also know theres an abundance out there that ive not played. The market would do itself a world of good if it would start to contract instead of expand, but again... more MMOs, more styles, more choice. The real problem is that the largest bulk of these MMOs out there in one way or another are blatant or subtle wow clones. And really, argue all you like about this, but fact is even WoW started out as a clone itself, as have most the MMOs that have decended from the ultima/EQ mold.

Absofrigginglootly.

Given it took wow something like 5 years after launch to hit costs of 100 million, which is hardly a small team with low costs, I think the 100 million + ideas are hyperbole.

As is the idea that you should bank on an MMO getting a million subscribers. I would bet the wow team was aiming for Half a million.

I still think that is the mark for western MMOs with subscription models.

What about the free to play online games? How are they surviving through this? That is what always confuses me when it comes to this. Every week I am getting emails to beta test this or try that. I don't think WOW owns as much of the market as you think TBH.

Hmmm, well I tend to disagree with some of the assumptions there. I mean I can understand the "aiming small" thing and it would be nice if more developers had that attitude. On the other hand I think the problem with competing with "World Of Warcraft" has simply been that while a lot of people wanted it's success, nobody wanted to invest the money in trying because of the potential risks involved... well that and impatience, not many producers want their money in limbo for that long without seeing attempts to get a return on the investment.

"The Old Republic" is the only game so far that seems like it might not be all hype in trying to compete on that level, the needed money is being spent on it, and it seems to me that they aren't making the mistake of trying to think that they are competing with WoW as it was when it launched, but what it is now. As a gamer your comparable content to what WoW launched with doesn't matter if your looking to play an MMO and can choose to play WoW as it is at the moment and pay your subscription fee there, as opposed to another game in hopes that your investment in time, money, and dedication might be rewarded with more content down the road.

Niche markets are all well and good, but to look at games like "Age Of Conan" and "Warhammer Online" they at least talked the talk of wanting to compete with WoW and being the next big thing. Even going so far as to promise content that wasn't there, and they might not have ever really had any intention of producing. I remember when "Age Of Conan" was going to have like 40+ character types, and formation based PVP involving hundreds of players. All excuses aside, you'll notice what they promised isn't exactly what they wound up delivering. It was all stripped away a piece at a time "well, we're not really going to be able to do this".

Not to mention that I don't think many of the games have been trying to avoid WoW's flaws, instead looking at emulating what it did right. I look at say Warhammers massive and easy to predict "Order/Destruction" imbalance right from it's launch. Truthfully as much as I like "Old Republic", what will really sell me on it is if they can tell me how they plan to resolve "Sith Mania" and keep the factions balanced and competitive both in PVE and PVP. My big concern here is that even by the cinematics the good guys seem so underwhelming that I don't think much time was spent on them. The last thing we ned is another case of "Alliance Syndrome" and "Penny Arcade" calling rolling Republic a gip on the level of rolling "Alliance" in WoW. :)

Bioware has said very little on the above concern that I have seen other than some basic and very generic reassurances.

viranimus:
-snip-

Wait, I'm a fanboy because I recognize WoW only survived its first six months because of the name blizzard? Everything you listed are the reasons wow is successful right now. None of which existed in November 2004.

John Funk:
Except boutique MMOGs DO work. They exist and have thousands of subscribers, you just haven't heard of many of them.

Oh I've heard of them. Its just that for every one that scrapes together a community, there were nine or ten that utterly vanished.

The smaller MMOs have a number of additional advantages if the they reach equilibrium.

1. Its much, much easier to listen and respond to a player base in the thousands than a player base in the millions. Finding the diamond idea in the noise that is the wow forums is next to impossible, even if you ignore all the trolls and the screamers. You are going to have a large number of poeple vehemently opposed to any new idea however good or bad it is. The forums after a certain point stop providing decent feedback to the devs. With a smaller player base sorting the wheat from the chaff becomes much easier and also its easier to gauge the level of support an idea has.

2. Longevity means your costs drop over time. Take everquest, its been going 11 years now and just look at the advancement in processing power since then. What was bleeding edge then is old slow now. What would have taken a large cluster in 1999 now only requires a single server now.

Hopeless Bastard:

viranimus:
-snip-

Wait, I'm a fanboy because I recognize WoW only survived its first six months because of the name blizzard? Everything you listed are the reasons wow is successful right now. None of which existed in November 2004

Hrm..well I remember 2004 pretty well. I also know that as it related to MMOs Blizzard had basically no name recognition. The warcraft franchise really didnt have a massive widespread appeal and was still seen as a niche RTS franchise, that wasnt even the top of the pack at the time. Try to think back.. in 2004 there was a fair amount of trepidation toward Wow, thanks to Blizzards previous online efforts with things like Diablo being prone to hacking, duping, and other related security issues. I even remember a lot of people speculating that FFXI would crush WoW simply under the weight of having an established franchise name entering into the MMO arena.

Actually, I basically listed 2 things. Accessibility, which As I mentioned before I once played wow with what is now a 11 year old PC. in 2004 that was a 5 year old PC.. which in gaming standards that is still highly accessible. Also remember WoW had lower spec requirements than other MMOs that came out before it such as EQ2.

Secondly was instant gratification. While the depth and polish of WoW has certainly increased over the years, The further you go back into its history, the easier the game was. Which again is what initially drew alot of players in before they exploded with numbers thanks to marketing.

So to say those things didn't exist in 2004 release of warcraft is a little bit off. Just as much as my notion of fanboyism might be off. However when you make a statement like Blizzard made wow successful based on the power and notoriety of the blizzard name, especially when they really weren't all that popular globally at the time opens yourself up to have the fanboy comparison made.

EDIT: Got clipped: None the less... There is plenty of room for all sorts of MMO experiences. I think what we need to see now is the genera branch away from the RPG element to other types of game experiences. What is dissapointing is that people have this notion that an MMORPG cannot be viable unless it has greater than 1million subs, when its simply not true. If it were we wouldnt have 1/5th of the active MMOs in existence that we do right now.

I honestly cant think of anything good to say about Wow. Ive played the game for a couple months back in 2008-09, or the pre WotLK time, and I thought it was just the most awesome thing when I first started. When I stopped, I realized that it sucked on so many levels. One of the biggest which killed it for me the "end-game drive"; this is what everyone strives for, reaching Outworld or whatever the fuck its called and going on the level 70 raids. It was near impossible to find a group of people that are willing to go on Azeroth raids. And the people sucked also, yeah I could play it on my old shit laptop, but that didnt mean it was a good thing.

Im hoping for a MMOG that I dont need to grind and shit in order to be able to "play" with the big boys.

John, can you list a few of these boutique ones?

Exactly. I am curious to these boutique ones. Though the only MMORPG I would dare playing beside WoW is definitly Rappelz. I really like that game for some reason.

I actually don't believe that you can make MMO out of everything(to whoever said that). For example RTS and FPS players just don't have the mentality to go on a year long games. They usually just want to sit in front of the PC/MAC/TV and play for half an hour before doing something else.

WanderingFool:
I honestly cant think of anything good to say about Wow. Ive played the game for a couple months back in 2008-09, or the pre WotLK time, and I thought it was just the most awesome thing when I first started. When I stopped, I realized that it sucked on so many levels. One of the biggest which killed it for me the "end-game drive"; this is what everyone strives for, reaching Outworld or whatever the fuck its called and going on the level 70 raids. It was near impossible to find a group of people that are willing to go on Azeroth raids. And the people sucked also, yeah I could play it on my old shit laptop, but that didnt mean it was a good thing.

Im hoping for a MMOG that I dont need to grind and shit in order to be able to "play" with the big boys.

I'm sorry but your last line there just kind of grated on me. So what you are saying is that you want a game that allows you to be as good as someone who has given hours upon hours of time and effort to this game when you yourself have put forth almost nothing? I really can't comprehend how you could even conceive that as being fair. Why should you be allowed to experience the same things they are experiencing when you obviously are not as dedicated as they are? You get what you work for, simple as that. As far as I see it, maybe MMOs just aren't the right type of game for you. To each his own etc, etc...

viranimus:
-snip-

Well... a few points.

Massively multiplayer online rpg wasn't even being abbreviated in '04. There were still many terms floating around attempting to label the format and massively multiplayer online rpg just barely stuck.

Everquest 2 launched the same month as wow to extremely lukewarm reception due to bugs and system requirements. EQ2 was intended to be "future proof," but they didn't know how to code worth a shit. So even on computers that met or greatly exceeded the minimum requirements, EQ2 was almost completely unplayable.

WoW, on the other hand... When blizzard started wow's open beta stress test, over 250,000 people signed up in four hours. Almost twice the subscribers EQ2 had at that point.

You've got some pretty revisionist memory if you think WoW wasn't an extremely anticipated title solely because of blizzard's absolutely stellar reputation at the time.

VegetaPrinceofSaiyans:

WanderingFool:
I honestly cant think of anything good to say about Wow. Ive played the game for a couple months back in 2008-09, or the pre WotLK time, and I thought it was just the most awesome thing when I first started. When I stopped, I realized that it sucked on so many levels. One of the biggest which killed it for me the "end-game drive"; this is what everyone strives for, reaching Outworld or whatever the fuck its called and going on the level 70 raids. It was near impossible to find a group of people that are willing to go on Azeroth raids. And the people sucked also, yeah I could play it on my old shit laptop, but that didnt mean it was a good thing.

Im hoping for a MMOG that I dont need to grind and shit in order to be able to "play" with the big boys.

I'm sorry but your last line there just kind of grated on me. So what you are saying is that you want a game that allows you to be as good as someone who has given hours upon hours of time and effort to this game when you yourself have put forth almost nothing? I really can't comprehend how you could even conceive that as being fair. Why should you be allowed to experience the same things they are experiencing when you obviously are not as dedicated as they are? You get what you work for, simple as that. As far as I see it, maybe MMOs just aren't the right type of game for you. To each his own etc, etc...

Hmmm, obviously didnt say what I said clearly enough to explain.

So what you are saying is that you want a game that allows you to be as good as someone who has given hours upon hours of time and effort to this game when you yourself have put forth almost nothing?

I never said that, I want a game where I can do things. You make it sound like I want to have access to everything in the game right off the bat, I want to work for the stuff to, thats where the fun is suppose to be. But the is such a great devide between new players and vets, and from my experience there is hardly anyone will to help a lower level run through the older raids. One of the most anoying things I kept hearing was, "The game starts at level 70." Im not sure if it was just the server or if all of them are like that, but when you have to grind 70 levels just to participate in events, it loses what was suppose to be fun. Almost all MMOGs I played were like this, everyone who is a higher level is off doing their thing, and all the lower levels are doing their thing, but none of the lower levels ever want to "work togwther" to accompliush goals or missions, they just want to level up and get better gear. For a game thats suppose to be a "massive multiplayer online", when your a new player in a level based game, its really fucking lonly.

I really can't comprehend how you could even conceive that as being fair. Why should you be allowed to experience the same things they are experiencing when you obviously are not as dedicated as they are?

Also how is it people who spend more time playing this one game desearve to be treated differently from people who dont? Just because they spend 50% of the week playing as oppose to my two hours a day? I honeslty think everyone should have a shot at something, not just those who are "dedicated". And why do you make me sound like someone who feels etitled to have things given to me without any effort? I never said that. You took what I said and cuorrupted it. I never said anything about have things easy, I want the fair chance to achieve this things. While it is fair that everyone has to go to level 70 before they can head to Black Temple, that doesnt mean its any fun grind all that way.

Im hoping for a MMOG that I dont need to grind and shit in order to be able to "play" with the big boys.

What I meant with this was a MMOG that didnt have such a level disparity, or hell, maybe no levels at all! Why does a MMO need a leveling system? Its not like the higher level you are, the more skilled you are; Ive seen pleanty of players who play like noob, even at 70. Theres no defining of skill, just tenacity. It works for a game like Wow, which is a MMORPG, which typically is defined by leveling (course this is just my own experience with RPGs). But I didnt say MMORPG, I said MMO. Is leveling that important to every MMO? I think not.

As far as I see it, maybe MMOs just aren't the right type of game for you. To each his own etc, etc...

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there just needs to be a MMO that isnt trying to be Wow...

I think, as long as the game works well, and people work together, to try and make it fun...then, anygame, which is an MMO, can succeed in its own right

I like MMO's like FFXI, its about 500K members, but because its smaller, the community is really cool, and a lot of people are real fun to just chat with, great game, and I enjoy the job system, not only that, but I like Japans take of fantasy Medeval over that of the western (OH LOOK AT MY HUGE SHOULDER PADS AND SWORD OF UNNESSESARY DETAIL THAT IS ALSO HUGE!) at least, thats what WoW was to me, and people say Cloud's buster Sword is too big and compensating, (yet they boast about their compensations) ANYWAYS before I go and start a massive flame battle over sword size,

Final Fantasy XI has the balance of numbers and quality, its fun, great people, great level system, big world, small threats and big threats, Large party things to do and small party things to do, but its also a challenge, which adds flavor, and unlike WoW, it requires team work and paitience to be fun and entertaining, Nothing like DeBuffing those enemies as my Red Mage, as my group white mage and Black Mage chill behind me, and the ninja, monks, warriors, dragoons all tank the mobs, great fun indeed.

I'm not really sure who you're writing this piece for, budding bedroom MMO programmers?!

I am enjoy the MMO verse having as much diversity as possible. I have played every MMO that John listed and the only one I stuck with for any length of time was Age of Conan and even that got boring after 10 months of play.

The only thing I am hoping is that TERA decides to stay niche and not try to compete with WoW because let's face it, no one can compete with that game right out of the box. It has taken WoW years to get as big as it is and it's impossible to lay out that much content at launch..... well unless you have EA/Bioware money. They might be able to pull it off.

3nimac:
The trouble with the equilibrium is the level at which it settles. Sure, 50 thousand players can sustain a game and cover costs, but 100 thousand can cover more costs, leading to more being invested back into the game. A bigger game can afford to develop bigger content patches, or release them more frequently, or spend more time bugfixing and polishing stuff, or employ more GMs to improve response times, etc. The smaller the subscription count, the less you get back, even though the price is the same $15 per month. The number of players is not all that important for a game to be fun which is most important, but the more players the game has, the more your $15 is worth, and that's why we are obsessed with numbers.

This.
And I think a big issue is that wow has "shown" players how good it can be. And anything less is never "enough"

I have tried a few other MMOs, and they are often lacking... not in the big departments though. A lot of the MMOs I have tried are lacking in what I view as the basics, Good meaningful game play being the biggest part.

I do not care how small your MMO is, but it better be solid and decent. Don't make 30 levels of game play and give me 60 levels to fulfill.
Don't give me a broken combat system, if "the content is really good"

I do not have all the solutions, but I do see a lot of flaws in how MMOs are made today.

This is pretty much how I've always thought about the gaming industry, everyone has a bad habit of comparing a game to another game of the same type and has high expectations.
People don't really pay attention to the fact that stuff like this is pretty basic business management, "How many copies of the game do you need to sell to break even?" anything beyond that is considered a success, not a big success, but a success none the less.

WoW may not have as many players as people think, but despite that they're still an industry leader for the genre and are still the game everyone MMO dev wishes to be.

DC universe online fails to have anything the cinematic trailer got me hooked on.

all you need a large enough loyal fan base to make more money each month than it takes to run the game and pay the staff. u make a profit each month and use that money to get more advertising and more new comers to the game and your golden!

Perfect example EVE ONLINE. they started out with around 25000 subs and they were a tiny company then. they made a profit each month, expanded and now they have 300 to 500k subscribers. (for such a niche game that is impressive as hell and its 7 years old!)

Cater to the ones that care and more will follow! (the proverbial "If you build it, they will come") you dont need to be pulling down a BILLION dollars a year to be a success.

Dofus is quite large really, with subscribers reaching millions...
...in France.

The English contingent is much smaller, and as such much less known. It might not be one of the smaller ones, though the subscription fees are much lower than usual (about less than half), and it just keeps trundling along quite nicely.

Though, to be honest, saying it has millions of subscribers is probably wrong, as quite a lot of people multi-account, the game even has features that help you run a few characters simultaneously.

a bigger subscriber base doesn't mean it's a better game. I've played several MMOs. EQ, EQ2, RO, WoW, Atlantica, city of Heroes. Perfect Worlds just to name a few. and if there's anything I've learned is often times the more numbers there are, the more assholes there are. and most people play MMOs for the community. the community can make a brake a game. thankfully they make it easy to just up and block the people you don't wish to deal with.
EQ feels empty because it has too many servers. America could make it buy with it's RP server, PvP server and 3 maybe 4 PvE servers. they should take a tip from the smaller games like Thang.
When you get right down to MMOs, like any other genre....and cars is if it's right for you. You don't like EQ2? don't play it. don't like WoW? don't play it. Don't like MMOs? Don't play them.

the biggest complaint i hear with most mmos is the battle system and if you haven't notice. most of them are the same. Atlantica being the only one I've played that has a truly unique battle system in MMOs (note I said in MMOs). But I agree. Numbers of subscribers don't make the game. kind of like box office sells don't make the movie.

Quite surprised you didn't mention EVE Funk, since the last time I saw its numbers it was one of the few MMO's actually growing in subscriber numbers. Its also fairly well known, as far as i'm aware, since they do loads of online advertising. Considering they started at the same time as WoW and the sub base figures were "around 25k" when it first launched, and now there reporting nearly 300,000 accounts (last time I checked), admittedly, most of those are multiple accounts, since I hardly knew anyone in EVE who didn't run a second account, but its still a 7 year old MMO that is bringing in new subs year on year. Kind of bucking the trend so to speak.

Though I suppose one of the reasons its sub base is steadily growing is because there is no game out there that competes with EVE for sandboxy MMO atm, and its kind of in the same situation as WoW atm, whereby anyone who launches a game like EVE will have to have try to compete with nearly 7 years of experience and community built up, as well as the 7 years of content and history, which in EVE, or any sandbox MMO, is imo more important than it is in "themepark" MMO's, since its been player created.

There are a lot of cool,fun-to-play free mmorpgs out there as well...I had played the mmorpg Soul of Ultimate Nation last month...and it was a fun game with more than enough players to have some good playtime...even the graphics and animations looked better than some of the popular mmorpgs out there, and all this for free!!!!

 

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