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MMOs ARE Dying

Bhagpuss, one of my peers with a blog actually worth reading, brought this subject once again to the forefront of my mind.  I would end this entry with the title, but some of you may think my simple yet direct statement implies the entire genre is going away. Wrong. In fact, the MMO genre is here to stay, but in order to stay they are going to have to change so radically that the majority of this generation won’t recognize them. Perhaps the title should have been: “MMOs will be reborn.”

The MMO as most of you know it WILL die. The themepark model WILL be gone within a matter of years. The business models of today WILL change. Why? They aren’t working! MMORPGs (notice the RPG on the end there?) worked for years and the change to the MMO (McMMO even) was only brought on by big business. I have been preaching for years that it was a mistake to change or ‘fix’ something that wasn’t broken. Granted, that “mistake” introduced hundreds of millions of people to MMOs and brought in billions. Speaking strictly about the games, it was a mistake and led to the actual games being worse. Long-term (very long term) that has driven the industry into the ground.

You guys know me well enough by now, but it needs to be said again.  ::Steps up onto his soapbox:: Ahem…

You can ABSOLUTELY go back to that ‘first MMORPG experience’ and MMOs can ABSOLUTELY go back to MMORPGs and a modernized version of the old school mechanics! MMOs ARE Dying because the people who play MMOs are fleeting and moving on. MMORPGs never died and in many ways are still going strong in the hearts, minds, official servers, and player-run server communities.

There’s plenty of money to be made — ridiculous amounts in fact — for those savvy enough to bring back and change this industry once again back to its roots. How messy this whole situation becomes, and how hard it will be to bounce back, simply depends on how long it takes the decision-making side of this industry to wise up.

I’m ready when you guys are. Seriously. I’m ready to finally be able to post blog entries about the games I’m playing and the adventures I’ve gone on that day instead of talking about the same old crap not working. I’m ready to fully embrace a MMORPG again. Someone, please, give me that opportunity. Want help making one and getting people excited? I’m here for that too.

MMOs are dying; It’s not a matter of IF but WHEN. Hurry up already. We’ll all be better off when they do.

I still believe Blizzard is phasing out WoW

WoW dropped another 800k subs bringing it down to a lowly 6.8 million. Remember my crazy assertion that Blizzard is sorta okay with WoW slowly fading away? Yeah, I’m still crazy; I still think that’s the case. I’m not even close to hinting at even the remote possibility that they aren’t interested in making money — no, quite the opposite. I truly believe Activision Blizzard knows they can make more money by phasing WoW out and phasing in other more profitable products.

WoW is Expensive

I can only imagine how expensive it is to continually develop and support World of WarCraft. Very, very few products ever last for 10+ years with this level of continued support before being phased out for something new. Compared to something like Hearthstone or Diablo, WoW has to be sucking out cash like crazy. That’s fine since it also rains money down on the company, but there is a ratio and a point of inflection where I guarantee top brass want something a little more efficient. I face the same issues at my company right now where I’m trying to convince a team that it’s not okay to push our $18,000 product if we only make $2,000 profit — push the $9,000 product where we make $6,000 profit in 1/3 the time please.  No seriously… do it.

Momentum is Drying Up

Warlords of Draenor is still slated for sometime near the end of the year. This waiting game is totally intentional. Guess what happens when Blizzard fans don’t log in to play WoW? Many of them will try one of the other great games Blizzard has to offer. The strategists at Blizzard are incredibly insightful and know that the competition sucks right now — if you didn’t know that, it does. The landscape for transitioning customers right now is beautiful to behold.

Blizzard’s Future isn’t WoW

Blizzard has become synonymous with WoW.  People talk about WoW as doing things like WoW is the primary entity. For a while that’s okay to be known by your product, but after a while the team starts to squirm because that product cannot last forever, and when it does finally go away if you have absolutely no identity or loyalty to your company’s brand… ouch.  Lucky for Blizzard they have immense corporate brand identity, but that doesn’t change the basic underlying principles of this lesson

There will come a time when Blizzard is known for something else. They’ll want those 6.8 million+ people to transition to support a newer product with a longer shelf life. You can’t just start the moment the product releases. It takes time, and there’s no better way to start than to ever-so-slowly sunset a game without most people even realizing it’s happening.

Time Frames

This world we live in — the real one, not your virtual world of choice — is one in which we value time over anything else.  We’re constantly trying to make things faster because faster is ‘better’. The same principle appears to apply to MMOs.

Time frames for just about everything used to be very different in MMOs.  Leveling used to take years, then it went to months, now it’s as low as weeks or even days. Finding a group used to take days or hours, and now it’s instantaneous.  Obtaining the gear you wanted could take months and months, but now if you take longer than a few weeks or even days to gear up you must be a filthy casual who clearly isn’t as good as the guys getting their gear to drop on the first run.

Everything is speeding up, and as a result everything is getting more shallow. People care less about the moment, less about the experience, and more about getting to the next activity as quickly as possible. Developers are spending less time building quality experiences and focusing more on quantity.

So the question now becomes how do you slow things down, or should you slow things down?  I am clearly in the camp of people who believe MMOs shouldn’t be about ‘racing through’ but ‘living in’ the world. So with that said, I’m going to focus on the how. Some of these ideas work well together, and others do not. I’m just going to take inventory of the first 4 or so ideas that come to mind as I write this out.

Remove levels
Leveling creates a virtual finish line. There’s a desire to push toward reaching level 50 because that’s the perceived point of victory.  If that’s gone, you’ll take a vertical environment and almost flatline it completely from the start.  People will look around and say, “well, what do I do?” That’s when you can turn their attention to other activities meant to cultivate a virtual world. You actually want that moment to occur where they pause and think.

Increase the scope of character development
Characters have devolved into three things: (1) Levels, (2) Ability, and (3) Gear.  There are so many other opportunities available for customization. Characters should be able to develop social identities and/or a role in their virtual society. I can remember an experience I had in SWG where I had tapped a resource node and was harvesting amazing resources. I supplied those resources to dozens of other crafters and become a supplier. I spent a week doing nothing but trading commodities.  I had other activities I could do, but I put them off to take advantage of this opportunity.

Expand the world
Easy one. Make the dang world a whole lot bigger. I want the world to be so big that I can’t even possible comprehend its magnitude.  That feeling of not even realizing how big the world is and how far I have to travel, or how far others players are from me, is such an amazing sensation. It will eventually fade, but it should take months, not says, to have that illusion at least come into perspective. Traveling should take time and players should be spread out.

Increase the difficulty
I won’t soap box this topic or wax poetic about the old days, but realistically things just aren’t dangerous anymore.  I’m not saying you should die every time you walk outside a town or that you should lose your gear or experience. I’m also not saying fights should take longer or that combat should be twitch based.  I’m simply remembering a day when danger existed and how danger made me think before acting. That pause was important and slowed everyone down.

Instead of logging in and thinking I need to gain ten levels to feel accomplished, I just want to log in and have moved the mark ahead a tiny bit or had a fun enough experience that it doesn’t matter — perhaps I even lost progress. That mindset can still be present in today’s burn ‘n’ churn MMO, but it’s not at all supported by the game.

I want MMO time frames to once again be months rather than days. I want the experiences to last and the scope of every day activities to grow. I want a richer, fuller, and … I want MMOs to present an opportunity to build a ‘life’ once again.

I Hate Mounts

Here’s a random topic for you today: I hate mounts in MMOs. I was watching a video of Camelot Unchained where Mark Jacobs was fielding questions and two of them dealt with speed: (1) How quickly can players get into RvR, and (2) Will there be classes with speed buffs. For some reason I thought of mounts; My mind stopped listening to the video and went back into the depths of my memory where I recall how wonderful it was when MMOs were mount free.

I can remember how long it took to run places in EverQuest. Grouping with a Bard brought this feeling of pure ecstasy as the speed song kicked in and I felt so fast and free. I remember trying to get back to the RvR fight in DAoC and how crucial it was to group with a Bard, Skald, or Minstrel to have that run buff.  Without it you were so much slower, and without it you wouldn’t get back to the fight quickly — or you’d be left behind and ganked.

Not having speed or access to speed made having it better.  Again I find myself going back to that feeling of opposition and deprivation adding so much value to the experience. Classes with speed had something to offer and filled a key role.  That role existed because there weren’t prolific speed increases.

Mounts make everyone fast, shrink the world, and remove a huge dynamic layer from many systems. Mounts have become zany and an out-of-control arcade element.  Mounts are something sold in cash shops, earned with achievements, and akin to the prize you get with your tickets at the arcade.  They are an accessory yet can influence so much of a game’s design.

If the decision were mine to make in the future… I wouldn’t include mounts in my game.

Landmark’s Massive Discount

Okay, so this happened.

landmark-markdown

Some people are miffed. Some people are laughing. Some people wonder what the early adopters think. Hey there, I’m Keen — I’m an early adopter of EverQuest Landmark. Here’s what I think.

I got my money’s worth, and I recognize that this is simply SOE marketing their product. Do I wish I payed $34 instead of $100? Yeah. Do I regret having paid $100 8 months ago?  No more than I regret buying an iPhone knowing in 6 months there will be a new one — anything related to computers or technology for that matter.

SOE isn’t marking this down because no one is playing. They aren’t struggling for cash. Landmark isn’t failing. Think about it… this is now on the Steam top sellers list. People are blogging about it and putting it into the news site rotation. Let’s evaluate what has happened:

  • More people bought a “free” game
  • More people are talking about a game still in beta
  • The real fans are still going to play and be happy regardless; The EQ brand has not lost any value

That sounds like marketing success to me.

If this is the type of thing that bugs you then don’t be an early adopter. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this founder pack stuff is a growing trend for games. We’ll have to see how these companies balance integrity with marketing. That’ll determine how all of this plays out.