Been under the weather of late, which means had plenty of think-tank time, but little pen to paper time. Just a not-so-quick thought that might be worth time-stamping, should events transpire accordingly.
There are various sums circulating the interwebz concerning the budget of a certain AAA MMO. Gaz has speculations as to the ability to recoup of the dev team. His post spawned heavy speculation as to the precise sum that was released as PR, but sadly I didn’t save the research on the matter that I forwarded to him (my ‘educated guess’ is more akin to the 300m figure).
But this post doesn’t even involve finances. It does however, involve two IPs of very significant financial interest: Warcraft manifested through WoW and Star Wars manifested through SW:TOR. Let’s be honest here. In the [Western] MMO market these are the players to watch. No one else matters when considering the landscape of what is to come (I will spare details and proofs in this department). And this is why I think now is the time to watch the genre, as decisive lessons are going to be learnt.
In essence, I offer a prediction. The purpose isn’t self-serving in the vein of ‘I told you so‘ (albeit I can offer no guarantees that it wouldn’t not take place), but to match whether or not the causes were properly evaluated should the effects manifest.
Teaching Elephants To Do Ballet
SW:TOR had a tragic launch. This could be said for any MMO, and every excuse would be valid due to the sheer technical impossibility of accounting for every potential make:config:model:year on the client end and the associated bugs etc. on the server end. However, you know things are tragic when the company doesn’t bill its customers, or worse, removes the ‘unsubscribe’ button then makes it super difficult to navigate to. A slap in the face to paying customers with expressed lack of trust?
The focus of SW:TOR is on the single-player experience. This can be noted by in-game play, as well as the obvious statements surrounding pillars and personal storylines. This is the focus of the game, this is the design angle that was taken. The game will either succeed based on this approach, or fail, but to switch gears is always a nigh-fatal mistake unless it goes off with no hitch whatsoever. Anyone who chases two rabbits…
Our Next Guest Eats Lots Of Carrots. Welcome: A Donkey!
WoW is hurting. The model is in rapid decline. Due any day now is the most recent stock report. In recent history sub numbers have been a point of interest to stockholders, and numbers have been exposed. Given that patch 4.3 has recently been launched, a very recent nerf to all of said content, and 4.3 being the last content patch before an unannounced launch date of WoW:MoP will surely bring us news in future months of increased subscription hemorrhaging from the title. We know that in the past 5 years, the focus of the game has shifted more and more into herding its playerbase through the raid-game. This also, can be either empirically witnessed through play, or a coursury observation as to the tools incorporated into the game recently.
Ironically, raiding is an activity that involves other people, but yet the experience of raiding in WoW’s current iteration feels like collective soloing. A bottomed-out community coupled with (or perhaps due to) developer tools such as the x-realm LFG/LFR have made player ‘interaction’ anything but. Perhaps the title has come full circle now? At its launch it was lauded for its solo-friendly play, something EQ didn’t tote.
Elephants And Donkeys
What do both titles have in common? A very solo-centric experience. A very solo-centric experience. And the prediction is that the numbers will show us that this approach is indeed toxic to the genre.
WoW has twiddled its thumbs as king of the MMO hill for 7 years now, and has churned through a multitude more players than are current subscribers. Hype and initial purchases from titles like WAR and Conan would indicate that many MMO gamers have become transients. It stands to reason that WoW brought a good many current MMO players into the genre, but then we also see vast numbers who aren’t sticking with the title. Many, many people have speculated as to the reasons, and plenty of ‘old school’ commentors have offered logical explanations but always unfounded. I think that that time will change.
- New gamers will be brought into the genre via the Star Wars IP. These unsuspecting will have no clue as to the history of the genre, and will take SW:TOR as being gospel for how ‘MMOs are supposed to be’. This post does not address these gamers. They will learn in time.
- Many ‘transient’ (previously defined) MMO gamers will try out SW:TOR and enjoy it for what it is, as long as it has ‘it’ to ‘enjoy’. Given how damn hard BioWare/EA have stacked the odds against themselves in terms of content creation (voice acting requirements, personalized storylines…) and how the game is oriented towards individual gameplay, content will be consumed faster than created. The flaw in the design will be exposed. Sufficient time passes (2-3 months) and numbers will drop.
- Many [non MMO purebreds] will leave WoW for SW:TOR. This will be in part exemplified by the upcoming sub number divulging (if one is given). SW:TOR will give content for 2-3 months play before it becomes stale (previously asserted). And this is the thick and thin of the thoughts behind the post: one of two things will happen:
- The wiser of this group will recognize the flaws in the ‘WoW model’ (that SW:TOR used) and become/return to being transients of/in the genre.
- The unwitting of the group will return to WoW. But SW:TOR will have served as an eye opening experience and WoW (and the ‘WoW model’) will be forever stale in their eyes. They will join the ‘wiser’.
SW:TOR will act as a catalyst to the increased decline of WoW and the ‘WoW model’.
That’s the prediction, complete with gory details so as to not be ambiguous in cause:effect. Of interest are the collective sub numbers (WoW+SW:TOR) at SW:TOR 1mo (subs kick in) , collective sub numbers 1mo before MoP release , and collective sub numbers about 3mo after MoP release . Already if there is a visible drop between  and , that’ll be indication enough. But if there is a sustained drop between  and , that’ll be the deal-maker.
The marketing machines will be in full swing for sure (coupled with vague sub number reporting), but if the marketing can’t sustain the product bottom line numbers, and the numbers give indicators nonetheless, then I think it’s as good as proof as any speculative person will ever get. (All this hinges on even having sub numbers available, and remotely surrounding the times of interest, but these criteria are beyond my personal control.)
We’ll see if the theory holds. In either case, one can’t go wrong by studying the effects, right?