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WildStar Pre-Postmortem

In the least surprising move this year, WildStar has abandoned the promised idea of monthly updates. Before launch, I remember some of the more hyped up fans stating that Carbine had 6 months of content already prepped and ready to go. Looks like that is simply not the case.

According to the Q2 report from NCSoft, WildStar only sold less than 500k units. WildStar is already bleeding subscribers. Will WildStar go F2P? Yeah, it will. I give it a few months.

All of this has nothing to do with the subscription model. Nothing. This has everything to do with the themepark design model and how it is no longer sustainable in this market.  People do not unsubscribe from $15 a month because of the subscription — they unsubscribe because the game isn’t worth it.

Here’s how you make a good MMO: Make a virtual world that sustains and allows players to sustain themselves with goals and progressions designed to casually scale over time. Oh yeah, and make it fun.

What can we learn from this?

  • People don’t care about end-game raids or how hardcore your promises about end-game will be
  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver
  • Pre-launch marketing doesn’t sustain a game after launch
  • Nothing else matters if the game is simply not much fun

Expansions are Barriers to Entry

There’s an interesting quote floating around from Blizz dev Tom Chilton. “By building expansions, you are effectively building up barriers to people coming back. But by including the level 90 character with this expansion, it gives people the opportunity to jump right into the new content.”

On one level I completely agree. I know the feeling of wanting to go back and play a game but feeling too overwhelmed by what I’ve missed in the past. I absolutely love(d) EverQuest 2. Wonderful, wonderful MMORPG. I’ve wanted to go back so much, but every time I download the trial I feel completely lost. A few years ago (gosh probably 4+ now) I went back for the Kunark launch and leveled a Sarnak from 1-65. As I worked through previous expansions, I felt lonely and never saw anyone around. I needed to do that content to level up to see the latest expansion, but ultimately never made it there.

On a different level, I don’t necessarily agree that this is an expansion’s fault or intrinsic to the idea of an expansion. I think vertical progression / development are the issue. If anything, an expansion can be an enticement for players to enter a game or for someone who has been gone for a while to re-enter because there’s more to do and see — essentially the value offering has hopefully increased. This is also because of the problematic nature of focusing on an end-game rather than an entire game or a “living world.”

Offering an instant level 90 in World of Warcraft is a bandaid fix to the problem of having the 1-89 gameplay be worthless. This is a case where we see the symptoms being treated and not the cause. Does this work for WoW? Yeah, it probably does and in fact it’s actually reducing their particular barrier to entry, but not fixing the core issue.

It’s not easy. Balancing character progression while still creating a world that expands the possibilities more horizontally, without boring people from a lack of “things to do,” is one of the most complex and difficult to achieve designs — that’s why we almost never see it happen.

Warlords of Draenor Could Save Warcraft

The cinematic for World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor was revealed yesterday proving once again that Blizzard is the king of both cinematics and hype.

hellscreamWow! [pun intended] My mind was racing with possibilities after watching. Grommash (Grom) Hellscream was supposed to drink Mannoroth’s blood and bind the Orcish Horde to the Burning Legion. However, it appears to that Garrosh (son of Grom) was able to escape prison and travel back in time to alter events. With Mannoroth dead and the orcs bound to no one, Grom can become warchief of a united orcish horde under the Iron Horde banner.

In a perfect world, this concept could completely wipe out everything we learned from Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft.  The thought sends nerd chills down my spine! This could be an opportunity to undo many bizarre choices and almost deus ex machina the entire series back to a point where we can have an amazing RTS series again with a story much truer to the heart of Warcraft.

Unfortunately, I think the plan is for Grom and Garrosh to go through the Dark Portal (seen at the end of the cinematic) and invade the MODERN day Azeroth rather than the Azeroth of their time. So technically, this wasn’t a time travel event as much as an alternate dimension or parallel universe. What a horribly wasted opportunity! I want to see an Azeroth where the Iron Horde’s technology (The Kor’kron Iron Star (spinny ball of death thingy)) allows them to conquer most of the Azeroth prior to the events of WC3 and how the world there adapts. Sounds like a great RTS to me.

I consider myself a fan of Warcraft. I don’t like where WoW took (and is taking) the lore, and I’m not a fan of the MMO side anymore, but I’m still an avid fan of the franchise. Hopefully the coming events allow Blizzard to make a darker, grittier, Warcraft focusing less on the touchy-feely-cutesie stuff and more of orcs pillaging and conquering once again!  Warcraft: Orcs & Humans Azeroth! I want to see Warcraft return to its roots.

Why level so quickly?

I was writing an entirely different post this morning and stumbled upon this rather interesting idea that forced me to stop and think: Why do players always want to level so quickly? If you think about it, that’s really a great question that singlehandedly carries massive influence in a game’s design.

There have been times in the past when I actually wished I could level slower. That seems counter intuitive because we’re conditioned so strongly to want to advance, become more powerful, gain new abilities, and see new locations. We want to chase the carrot. But do we really? I can remember how I felt leaving a dungeon after spending 10 levels there; It’s that pulling feeling attached to that pit in your stomach that longs for you to be able to just stay one more level.

Can MMOs be designed to encourage players to want to slow down? Key there is the ‘want’ since we recently explored ways that developers can force a slower experience. Can there be multiple carrots and the player be allowed to catch one carrot every day and enjoy?

I’m thinking back again to my experiences where I actually didn’t want to level and I think it was because I didn’t want to have to leave what became comfortable and familiar. I like the idea of coming to know a place well and staying there for a period of time. I liked the loot (rare items or currency) and maybe the spot where my group pulled monsters. I think the settings were always nice as well. Perhaps most of all I was scared of moving on. I didn’t know what came next and the comfort I felt was from already having my current situation ‘figured out’.

Old school MMO vets will really ‘get me’ here.  Remember when you leveled in a place and were getting great experience? I can think of a perfect example: Unrest. I stayed there from 16-24. When the moment to grew close and I started thinking about leaving I realized I didn’t know where to go or who I would group with or how quickly I could settle into my new routine. I didn’t want to leave. I wished I could stay there forever. That is the magic.

Moving beyond the ‘feeling’ and psychological side of this discussion, the biggest reason people want to move on so quickly is that MMOs today aren’t designed to really ‘begin’ until the max level. Simple solution: Make the game start at level 1.  Have the game actually be about the leveling. Kids today will probably look at me like I’m trippin on something wack (do kids still say that?). Yep, I’m trippin on the best wack there is: The journey. Leveling should be fun and you should be sad when it ends and want to start a new character or wait until the journey is extended once again.

I’ll continue this discussion in my next entry.

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.