Yesterday while pondering the direction Trion will take, I casually mentioned a few market dominance strategies that I want to expound upon a bit more today. These apply to any industry, but I really think they’re perfect for MMOs, especially if you twist them slightly to represent categories as well.
If you’ve followed the MMO industry at all you should immediately be able to name a few games for each. There are a lot of really interesting and quite awesome tactics for each strategy to use, but I’ll only skim the surface and give my opinions about how the MMO industry fits this model.
Most of the original MMORPGs were leaders like EverQuest and UO. I’m struggling to classify any MMO in the last nine years as a leader, other than World of Warcraft. The leader is a company (game) with the most market share, and usually has the most flexibility, and the power to set the strategy for the rest of the industry. The weird part about the MMO industry is that everyone seems to think there’s going to be some new emergent leader — or that one will come at least every time the next MMO releases. In reality, this is incredibly false. One of the only ways for the leader to lose their spot is for some catastrophic misstep wherein they miss the paradigm shift (buzzword) completely, and fail to come up with a new product offering.
We really do not have any challengers in the MMO industry. These are like Pepsi to Coke. They’re in a really strong position but not quite capable of taking down the leader. A lot of companies think they’re challengers. They think they are going to step up to the plate and hit a home run, snag a huge chunk of market share, and be 2nd place — by the way, 2nd place is an awesome place to be when you can’t be #1. Here’s the key to being a great challenger: You have to target weaknesses and realign resources quickly to continually strike. No one does that in the MMO industry. They tend to make the same games. When a challenger comes up and fails, it usually disappears quickly because the company didn’t have the resources to be a true challenger. Perhaps they should have been a follower.
Here’s where the bulk of every MMO after 2005 falls. These can be perfectly good companies, but their strategy is simply to align themselves along the same trajectory as the market leader. They get all the upside without much of the risk… that is to say, in most industries. In the MMO industry, the players are predators. We don’t just ignore a follower we don’t like — we attack! We sink companies who don’t act like challengers. I think Rift tried to be a challenger. Remember the ads directly targeting WoW? They still run ads — I’ve seen them on this website — targeting WoW. I think Rift has done much better after sliding back into a follower position.
This is the focus strategy. Companies here keep narrowing and tailoring their segments until they find a group large enough to be profitable. These are the EVE’s and the Camelot Unchained’s. It’s all about realistic profit margins over market share, and providing value to the player. Perhaps it’s even about making the game the dev(s) want to make. The games don’t have to be blockbusters, and they’re made to appeal to that one person in the crowd who finds that game fun.
So where does a game like FFXIV fall? WildStar? How about TESO? None of these games will be market leaders — absolutely none of them. FFXIV is clearly a realign to take the follower spot. WildStar and TESO, however, are tougher. I think WildStar and TESO want to be challengers. Here’s where things get tricky. I see games all the time following the wrong strategy. TESO and WildStar might try for challenger, but have to slide back to follower. Had they started as a follower from the beginning, perhaps they could have utilized that capital spent fighting a face-to-face battle with the market leader. Instead, they’ll likely spend inordinate amounts of money in advertising but in the end have to lower the quality of the product to survive. You can name a few of those games, I’m sure.
SoE just announced that they’re looking to take the lead with EverQuest by being the company who once again pioneers the next step forward. Lofty goal. EQ Next is indeed different, and that’s what it will take to successfully enact change. Pepsi could surpass Coke, but in the end it would still be a cola. As with all innovation, failure is a component. I’m curious, though. Could the real future be with the nichers? Could the small idea spark a revolution? When EverQuest originally propelled the industry forward, it wasn’t because they were taking an industry and evolving — they were a relatively unknown, small team of people. Not that EQ Next, WildStar, TESO, and FFXIV won’t be solid games, but I bet the future of MMOs will come out of left field where we least expect it, from a team small enough to only care about making the game they want.