I think Jack Emmert is a bit of a dolt at times and his games often reflect what he says. His most recent comments are up on Eurogamer and this time he’s talking about subscription games and how they relate to, I guess, why CO is changing tracks to be F2P. Interesting enough, Jack is very right about something: Quality matters. That’s right, if your game isn’t as good as World of Warcraft then why would you expect people to play it? DUH! That’s if you’re trying to make a game that competes directly with WoW. That’s where much of what he says unravels. The WoW-type of MMO isn’t the only one out there and people are often looking for niche games to fill a different need (look at EVE). That’s one aspect of this, but there’s a bigger issue here.
Jack sounds a bit defeated.
“You’re skating up hill if you don’t offer a free-to-play option,” Cryptic Studios head Jack Emmert told Eurogamer. “You’re skating up against World of Warcraft and theoretically SWTOR. That’s your competition. And unless you think your games are as good or better than those – because you also have to overcome their reputation – it’s going to be highly unlikely a large number of people, meaning 200,000-plus, are going to be willing to subscribe to your game.”
In other words, if you’re going to make an inferior game then expect to fail. I guess that explains Champions Online? That also supports just about everything I’ve been saying about about F2P being the “Plan B” or second class quality option. If you’re going to make a WoW clone and you don’t offer something competitive then you’re going to be second rate and if you’re going to be second rate you’re not going to make money. If you’re not going to make money then go free to play because that’s the quantitative route to success. If you’re not willing to fight that uphill battle then you might as well surrender now or never even show up to the fight — that sounds like loser logic to me.
He even makes mention of Dark Age of Camelot and why it hit the 200k+ mark as well as his own City of Heroes being close behind: They weren’t EverQuest. That’s exactly right Jack! You see, he’s contradicted himself. On one hand he’s saying it’s not even worth trying to compete, just go Free to Play. On the other he’s actually being insightful and pointing out that DAOC and CoH were different enough to appeal to a different audience and fulfill a niche, thus being a success (DAOC being the bigger success because it offered even greater alternative). The latter is, in my opinion, the right way for the industry to go.
He’s right though, as dismal as the loser logic sounds. If you can’t do it right then do it F2P. It’s better that way. Those who want to just jump into something like that can do it for free and those who want quality can play the subscription games. The only problem here is that eventually we’re going to need other options in the subscription market. WoW won’t last forever. SWTOR at this point is still up in the air and subject to the same “If it’s not as good as WoW” criteria.
“We’re not making a game for everybody either because when you make a game for everybody, you end up making it for no one. I know what we love, I know what we want, and the game that I’m playing is growing into being what we set out to make.” [...] “We won’t launch free-to-play. That makes no sense.” [...] “Given the feedback that we’ve gotten and in a lot of focus testing that we’ve done, people will pay a subscription if they believe that they’re getting their money’s worth“.
That’s the right direction and the surest way to see success. That’s also the way to create a successful game in this “oxygen deprived because of WoW” industry. Offer something that is different — something you’re making because it’s the game you want to make and not a WoW clone — and make it for a specific group of players and not a game for everybody. Then avoid the F2P model.
I’ve given F2P a chance several times now and I keep noticing the same thing: a self defeating attitude. Jack Emmert illustrates it perfectly. That’s precisely why those games will never measure up in terms of quality. As for the games that start as Subscription games and go F2P, it’s the path of least resistance. Personally, I find the path of least resistance is often not worth traveling. I don’t want to play games knowing that they were designed with the mindset that they’re already inferior. I want to play games from developers who fight the uphill battle to deliver something they feel players will find worth the money.