MMOs are not given room to grow anymore. Launch perfect or die!

When World of Warcraft launched in November 2004 is was new, it was shiny, but it really wasn’t as polished or infallible as people think of it today.  Aside from WoW’s launch issues, which mostly stemmed from Blizzard not anticipating the demand, WoW had issues that crop up in most contemporary MMOs.

WoW was evolving constantly back then, and surprisingly continues to evolve regularly even today.  There were itemization issues, stat issues, and content issues.  End-game wasn’t clearly defined.  PvP was anything but defined.  It was clear that Blizzard was learning like the rest of us how their future would unfold. I was there for all of it.

I remember playing and having discussions in general chat with the other players about raids.  All we knew at the time was that there was a raid.  Looking back at the 40-man raids of WoW’s launch and all they entailed, then looking at the raid finder experience of today, it’s truly mind blowing how WoW has evolved.  If you played the entire time, you’re even more aware of how many changes the raiding system has gone through and different systems/mechanics/features/implementations the content has seen over the years.

Then there’s the PvP system, which started out … actually it didn’t.  There wasn’t a “PvP system”.   There weren’t battlegrounds, rewards, titles, or gear.  It was just the ability to kill other players in zones like Hillsbrad.  Evolving just like raids, PvP has gone through countless changes over the years.

What am I getting at by giving you this history lesson?

MMO Players have allowed WoW to grow over the years, through the good and the bad — and the horrible.  Why then do we (myself included) have absolutely zero tolerance for new games?  If a game does not release in pristine condition with every subtle nuance figured out, it’s unpolished and not worth our time.  Ironically, most then return to WoW which continues to evolve and implement new ways of fixing something players may even currently hate when they return.

Is it Blizzard’s reputation that we trust?  Do we think “eventually they’ll figure it out” and not worry about the present?

Do we give WoW a free pass since it was the first?  Perhaps nostalgia has allowed WoW the right to be held to different standards.

Maybe we’re just tired of the same old thing.  Every game releases the same, and with each new release the flaws of previous generations agitate us.

I catch myself being unforgiving of young games all the time, and I try to take a step back and think with a relative mind.  The reality is, whether or not I might forgive a few shortcomings in a game, new MMO releases have only one chance to make an impression.   I’m generalizing when I say this, but no one gives second chances.  That’s why I coined the MMO 3-monther phrase.  It’s a real phenomenon, but I think it’s just as much the players fault as it is the developers — and it’s here to stay.

Perhaps the only way to avoid this demand for excellence is change.  The more a new game resembles its predecessors, the less forgiving players become.  If a MMO released which drastically altered how players perceive the act of playing, then maybe the player’s mind will be drawn to other areas, thus giving developers time to actually patch.

Speaking once again in a general sense, both sides of the developer/player relationship have lost sight of the “ever-evolving and changing world” mentality.

  • It actually *is* Blizzard’s reputation that I trust. Since Bioware has done more and more microtransactions with its single player games, including NPC’s in-game that try to sell you extras on the spot (Dragon Age), I’m assuming they are doing the same and more with SWTOR sooner or later, and as an immersion player, this sort of agressive marketing and commercialism is something that I don’t like in games. Yes, Blizzard is also a little bit guilty of this, but less so imo.

  • Is it “unforgiving” to expect designers to have learned from the mistakes their predecessors made?

    I agree that people who’ve been playing MMOs for a while could probably cut new developers a little more slack, but only a little. Sometimes it seems like a car manufacturer trying to decide whether the wheels should be round or square.

  • It’s absolutely true that the WoW that launched in 2004 wasn’t as polished or infallible as people think of it today. I’m sure we all remember queues, lootlag, server outages and maintenance. Looking at my account history, I got 25 free days credited in the first year of WoW’s life, that’s how many issues there were (at least on my server – I seem to recall some of those credits were specific to groups of servers that suffered outages).

    And I think you covered quite well some of the game design issues, balance issues, and features that have now been around so long that it’s easy to forget that they simply didn’t exist in 2004.

    But yeah, I allowed WoW to grow through all that. And it’s true, I have pretty low tolerance for new releases that are polished to less than a fine gleam.

    Part of this is that, rough and problematic though WoW may have been then compared to now, it certainly was NOT rough and problematic compared to what I was playing in 2004. Now, granted, what I was playing was Horizons, an MMO which achieved near-legendary status for how bad it was, but TO ME, WoW with all of its teething troubles was light years beyond Horizons.

    I think you’re also definitely right with “the more a new game resembles its predecessors, the less forgiving players become”. I know I do. When I compare a new game its existing alternatives and think “basically the same, less polish & content, different world map” (i.e. Allods, Alganon, Rift, SW:TOR), it’s hard to think of any possible reason to bother playing it. Whereas other games, such as Atlantica and Uncharted Waters Online, are every bit as problematic – certainly far less polished that some of the above examples – but I’m more than happy to cut them some slack, because they’re DIFFERENT.

  • As has been suggested already, it totally depends on the evolutionary leaps made over its predecessors. DAOC was a quantum leap over EQ, yet didn’t even have itemized dungeons past level 30. Totally forgiven though with all the other generational leaps it made over its predecessors. WoW did the same thing, eclipsing all its peers, so much was forgiven during its launch days. WAR – even the mail system was worse then its peers. And SWTOR has made no qualms about what it is trying to be, so it is inevitably compared at launch to games it is competing with that are 5+ years old. No excuse to at least match all current games in basic mechanics. And when it falls short, there is extra blame to be laid given all the models Bioware had to follow.

    So no – its not being to hard to judge launch MMOs on existing models if they aren’t trying to reach past what current games have to offer.

  • I agree with this article.

    It is an unfortunate situation for developers because, as consumers, why should we give them a “chance?” Do you give other MP3 players a chance, or do you stick with an iPod? What about android tablets? The barrier to entry in the AAA MMO market is a 7-year iterated behemoth that you either have to beat Day-1 or stop trying to compete with.

    And that is the solution: stop trying to compete with WoW. At least not directly. Whether it crashes or burns, I’m glad SWTOR exists because I’m tired of generic quest text and boring narratives. It’s just unfortunate that they layered it across yet another hotkey MMO frame that is otherwise strictly worse than the polished one we already have access to.

  • I tend to see it as a problem of new MMO’s, which could be compared to WoW, saying they have it all, building the hype and going for the huge launch with million+ box sales.

    What ever happened to starting small, building trust and expanding? We all know that you don’t need million+ subs to be a successful MMO, so why the burning desire to over promise so that you can watch your MMO baby crash and burn; it’s something that baffles me. :/

  • Generally, if something has perked my interest, I’ll give it 6 months. Because in my opinion, if you’ve gained my interest – you deserve that much. I don’t have a lot of games on my shelf because I don’t buy “maybes” anymore. Maybe it’ll be fun? Maybe I’ll like it? So if you’ve sold me on buying it, you’ve got six months. And every six months, I re-evaluate it again. (Not just games, I do the same with comics! Btw, DC? You’re almost on your issue 6’s. *taps watch*)

    So far, I’m enjoying TOR. Will I continue to enjoy it once 6 months rolls around and I’ve completed every class story? We’ll see. But for now, they’ve got six months.

  • You touched on the answer in your post. Players had patience when WoW launched because there wasn’t an mmo like WoW around at the time. A game that was so polished and so good (ok, subjective term). WoW was more accessible than any mmo before it. And it’s not like it launched with 10 million players. The expectations were way lower than they are for mmos that come out today. Now that we’ve seen WoW’s potential, if an mmo doesn’t hit that (which they really can’t) it’s deemed a failure.

    We’ve been spoiled by WoW. Personally, I don’t really even like the game anymore. I find the pvp horribly imbalanced, the pve just a mindless boring grind. But I go back because it’s got such great polish. I’ve put thousands of hours into it. I have friends who play. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into the game and that has of making me want a payoff, which means keep playing.

    I think the only way to break free is for a truly different type of mmo to come out. One that doesn’t try and give the ‘WoW experience’, with a slightly different flavor. Right now I have my hopes on GW2. I think they’re offering a different enough of experience that the comparison to WoW won’t really matter. You can’t release an mmo with WoW’s polish. So these mmos that have tried to be a ‘WoW clone’ just pale in comparison to WoW’s polish. Players aren’t going to leave a game they’ve invested so much time in for just a less polished version.

    So you gotta give players something DIFFERENT.

  • You are right but WoW was staggeringly ahead of anything else around at the time and every year it improves (excluding the new expansion which is just very silly) so each new MMO is aiming at a moving target.

    Almost all have been a shambles but I’d say both Rift and SWTOR manage to release a finished, polished game which took WoW as a baseline and actually improved it in several ways.
    On a persoanl note with the way these MMOs now launch “complete” it’s actually kind of silly when on Day 1 all the “Endgame” vendors are just lined up in your home city waiting for you to reach the appropriate Level / PvP Level / Raid Level etc. It reminds you not just how much of a game it is but just how much of a Gear Grind you face.

    I quit Rift once I’d hit Level 50 because 6 years of WoW burned me out and I just did not want to get onto the Raiding Treadmill again.
    I quit SWTOR in 2 weeks because I found the combat dull, PvP absolutely terrible and overall just found myself doing other things.

    So I’ve changed a lot too and I might never be sucked into an MMO again.

    Still really looking forward to PlanetSide 2, Guildwars 2, MechWarrior Online….

  • Awesome discussion on the comments.

    I do not believe it is so much a lack of willingness to give it a try as it is what has been said already.

    WoW was forgiven because there was nothing like it out at the time. Now, a game releases and it already has a polished competitor with all the features we now expect.

    To go back to another comment about tablets or even phones. It would be like releasing a new cell phone without a camera. Or a smart phone without a touch screen. Heck, even the cheapest MP3 players now have a video screen (Obviously barring the ones designed for running etc…). Cars are brought up a lot in this comparison and it is not that bad of an analogy.
    What was only dreamed of 10 years ago as a “standard” feature are commonplace in vehicles today. How many people would, given a healthy vehicle allowance, choose to forego the little things that make our lives easier? Things like, power windows, power locks, am/FM stereo’s with cd players and an aux jack, adjustable seats that are not “bench”, etc…? Not many.
    The standard feature bar has gone up. Rift actually had most of these standard features, but it lacked a few which is added relatively quickly. However, the game was so similar to WoW that it was like playing a clone with a different class system. I liked the soul system a lot btw.
    SWTOR launched with so many standard features missing it is almost laughable. I don’t mean big things like the dungeon finder. I mean little things such as auto stacking loot in your bank / bag, dual specs (which after wow and especially after rift are things that have become “standard”. The old mantra of being 100% stuck as one specialization has gone away), and the ability to choose which bg to queue for. These are little annoyances (HUGE in the case of the stacking as my girlfriend is OCD and spends at least an hour a night cleaning up that cesspool of a bank.) that when combined with all the other things (getting stuck on random terrain, over use of the gpu/cpu causing heat, performance problems, guild list bugs, general bugs that have been well documented since the earliest days of beta) begin to wear down on you when you realize that you can go to another feature rich game and not have to go through the growing pains again.

  • I think it’s indeed because there was less competition in 2004. WoW was going up against EQ1, while MMOs today are going up against a WoW that has been iterated upon and polished for all these years. This is the reason why all the WoW-clones are doomed to (relative) failure – you can’t out-WoW WoW, not unless you have 10+ years and hundreds of millions of $ to develop your game. The fact that most of these recent games have been utter faceplants (i.e. released in what amounts to an early beta stage) doesn’t help and I feel that the gamers, myself included, have grown rather cynical as a result. MMOs only get one shot – if the game is not working properly at launch, then it’s GG.

    Polish really helps, though, the best example here is Rift – while a fairly standard WoW-clone that didn’t bring a lot of new things to the table, it was working and relatively bug-free at launch and, as such, it didn’t fail in the spectacular manner of, for instance, WAR or AoC.

    It’s also true that we might be more forgiving if an MMO actually introduced something new – it’s harder to directly compare a game to WoW if it has many innovative features that are not featured in WoW. Luckily, it seems that developers are finally starting to grasp that and the era of WoW clones is hopefully drawing to a close with games like TSW and GW2 releasing in 2012. 🙂

  • Great article. It still all boils down to fun per time spent. For me it doesn’t matter at all what’s fair, it just matters with the time I have am I having fun.

    To stick with WoW vs. SWTOR I really do like a lot of things TOR is doing. BUT for me 90% of my core fun is combat (NPC and PvP). And it’s exactly the same as WoW. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not different and fresh. For me the story part isn’t as important. The “choose your own adventure” type story with cut scenes is a GREAT improvement, but only until I have to go out and do the same repetitive combat to the exact same type of mobs. I just don’t have it in me to grind level another character when the questing makes me cringe.

    Another part that really disappointed me was the brilliant idea SWTOR had in having the “Stat Increasers” (don’t remember the name) scattered all over the world. This is SUCH a great way to motivate folks to explore and discover. I WISH every MMO had this. BUT then I realized that in my strategy guide it shows the location of every single one of them. WTH! Why not make them spawn random. Now instead of this cool incentive to explore I have another “job”.

    I TRULY wish I could get into SWTOR, but I have found that I am logging back into WoW for no other reason then I find it more enjoyable.

  • @ Howdy

    Your first comment actually gets to the root of the issue. The arguement has nothing to do with WoW vs. SWTOR vs. what ever other game people want to insert here. The issue with the consumer base is that people are much more fickle with what they spend their entertainment dollars on because there are a lot more choices now then there were then. These choices are not just gaming choices either. hence there is little motivation to “wait and see” or “give developers a break” because these dollars can be better spent elsewhere for more instant gratification. Consumers are no longer looking for a game they can spend the next 3 years playing. They are looking for a game they can spend the next 3 months playing.

    I would argue that the typical gamer only focuses on one game at a time as well. I realise some of us will remain subbed to multiple games while enjoying other single player games as well but I believe those are in the minority now. So we are over critical of games instead of being patient because we want to focus on one game. We are now looking for reasons NOT to play a game rather then reasons why we should play a game.

  • How I judge an MMO launch is in proportion to the degree of problems. ATM I can no longer play SWTOR due to Error 9000 dc’s and terrible frame rates. This developed for many to an intolerable point over the last few weeks.

    I won’t be renewing my sub because it has become unplayable. I certainly feel justified in my harsh judgement of EA/BioWare wasting my “free” month and am not comforted by the numerous beta posters who express that these issues were known well prior to launch.

  • I agree that this phenomenon seems exacerbated by the lack of progress being made mechanically and aesthetically. When your game offers predictable, familiar gameplay and atmosphere, then your attention is left to dwell on minor mistakes and oversights.

    I think GW2 has a chance here, since it seems to be offering a truly uniu

  • EDIT for hamfisted posting:

    ….offering a truly unique set of gameplay systems. It seems like there will be enough new stuff to learn and experience – i.e. the novel combat and weapon system, the nuances of the event scripting, etc. – that people will be somewhat distracted from any niggling details.

    Unfortunately it will be hard to truly determine if GW2 avoids the 3-monther issue, due to the short leveling curve and the lack of a true “endgame” to artificially keep people playing. That, as well as the lack of subscription, seems to guarantee that large numbers of players will filter away from the game after a few months and go back to WoW until more GW2 content hits. Hell, it’s basically designed to be played in that way, so it won’t really be a failure for GW2. But it will mean we still can’t really say if the 3-monther phenomenon is an issue of quality, quantity, vision, or just an unavoidable reality that developers must now deal with…

  • I think expecting TOR or any other game to launch without the faults of the past is expecting too much from the gaming industry or software industry at large. Management focused on business and not coding quality, cost overruns leading to cuts in testing etc are all SO common in the software industry, why should games be immune to this?

  • Polish aside, if you release a game 5+ years after WoW and it doesn’t address the gameplay issues that WoW has, then the game is probably never going to address those issues.

    New games need to appreciate that WoW doesn’t have some magic formula from which any deviation may spell failure; rather WoW’s gameplay resonated in a particular space at a particular time, when the players were younger. Similarly, Pong was a great success, when it launched, but noone wants to play it now.

  • WoW in 2004 was one of the most polished games out at that time. Now back then the bar was somewhat low, but it was what it was. The bar in that area is much higher now in 2012. A 2 hour queue in 2004 was ok. A 2 hour queue in 2012 is less so.

    BTW, the original PvP in WoW was awesome. Towns with guards that could be killed, flight masters that could be knocked out, different towns having different levels of difficulty. There was a LOT of world PvP content at that time, and on PvP servers (at least mine, and I doubt it was unique) it was very frequent. That all got destroyed with later PvP ‘improvements’ of course, but what was there originally was very good.

  • I agree, the original WoW PvP was great. The majority do not agree, though. A game without a PvP system now is ridiculed.

    And while WoW was polished at launch compared to some titles, if we keep things relative it wasn’t any more polished than many games that release now. It has over the years exponentially been refined.

  • I am not the Thomas that posted above. I followed SWTOR for years prior to launch and I am a Star Wars fan boy. I just stopped playing SWTOR today before they could charge my credit card for the 6 months I had signed up for.

    I had one level 50 character, I completed every quest that wasn’t bugged, completed every heroic, completed almost all the flash points, completd several hard modes and my crafting and missions were at 400. I loved the story that was provided.

    I stopped playing because they did not fix bugs in the game, the crafting was pretty much worthless and the customer service was very poor. I do not need to go into specifics or debate my reasons. The bottom line is, it is my money and I feel that I was not getting my monies worth.

    I treated this game like I would any other product or service that I buy. If I am satisfied, I will buy your product again and again. If not, I’ll spend my money else where.

    I get tired of reading that it’s an MMO, the game just launched etc…. Gamers like us should not have to deal with a broken product. The industry keeps putting out products just like this because we suck it up and deal with it. I am tired of dealing with it. Give me perfection or I will spend my money on something else.

  • I felt the original WoW PvP was “close”. I did love the moments of walking over a hill seeing a huge battle. I did love sitting in Iron Forge and hearing someone yelling that the Horde were heading this way. Only to walk outside and seeing 100 Horde coming up the mountain. Even those battles at 5 fps were still AMAZING!

    But I didn’t like the stupid Tauren Mill stalemates that lasted forever with nothing to be accomplished.

    I wish Blizz gave the ability to hold towns, flight points, etc. Add some strategy and reasons to world PvP. I know that may not be for everyone as it would disrupt some folks leveling. But that’s what PvP servers should be for.

    WoW has a fantastic world that is almost never used. It’s just a shame.

    Quick Question for Thomas. I agree with everything you said (I quit SWTOR because I didn’t think it was fun, period), but there are times I would rather have the game now, with some lack of polish then wait another year. Would you rather wait an extra year to get it near perfect? Just curious.

  • I am the first Thomas who posted, so since my name is Thomas and I quit for many of the same reasons that the other Thomas did I will respond!

    I would not mind waiting the extra time. The only reason the majority got ramped up was because the hype machine was ramping them up. Spread out the hype a bit, people will buy it when it comes out. Heck, after a year of no SWG I bet that portion of the fanbase would be RABID to get their hands on the new star wars game.

  • @Thomas(s)

    Just curious. Sounds like you played alot of hours…

    What is $60/(hours played)? Doubt you can find a deal anywhere near that good some place else.

    I’m not defending the game, but your whole point is your not getting your money’s worth. For someone that has completed all the content, that seems far fetched.

  • @JJ

    Not far fetched at all JJ. I had fun during the pre launch and the so called free thirty day period. I thought the cut scenes were awesome in so many ways. I do not feel that I was cheated out of my money one bit.

    Since I completed almost everything in the game it wasn’t worth the extra money to do the same thing over and over again or wait around until they fixed the bugs. In short I would not be getting my monies worth.

    I could have rolled alts and received new stories ( New Class Quests ) but the questing, heroics, etc…. would have been the same. Getting involed in the other class quest stories was not worth the money to me.

  • It drives me crazy when people defend a lack of features in SWTOR with “The game just released, vanilla WoW didn’t have that either. It isn’t fair to compare SWTOR to a 7-year-old game.”

    It may not be fair, but the reality is SWTOR (or any other new game) has to compete with 2012 WoW, not vanilla. As a consumer, I’m choosing between the games available to me *now*. As has been said, 2004 WoW may not have been as polished as many think was, but it was obviously better (for many/most people) than the other options at the time, even though they had had years of development (EQ, DAoC etc).

    The frustrating thing about SWTOR is that many of the missing “standard” features are not big things at all. How long could it have possibly taken in their development cycle to add target-of-target? That’s something I have wait for a future content patch for? Really? I don’t care how long it took WoW to come out with that kind of stuff, in 2012 it’s standard and not that complicated.

  • Well basically when WOW came out it innovated what an mmo could “feel” like. Before WOW most mmo’s felt clunky and didn’t look that good. WOW helped merge the fps scene with mmo’s. The “twitch” feel was brought into the mmo world for the first time. That is the KEY reason WOW took over from its beginning.

    Unless a mmo can innovate like that you won’t see any game knocking WOW off its pedestal anytime soon. Thus most companies choose to go the safe route and mimic instead of innovate. That combined with the fact that AAA titles have little room to break the mold due to politics and funding support and you end up with the string of re-skinned mmo’s we’ve been seeing since WOW came out.

    It’s a vicious cycle that were in currently and I don’t think many people or developers even understand it. It’s sad really.

  • The real reason why is because most new games suck. The MMO’s before WOW weren’t much, the ones after haven’t been either. Because no one tries to make anything new, it’s just the same thing as wow, just a different name for the factions races and classes.

    However, SWTOR has a lot of potential. It is A LOT different, has a lot of new things, but has enough older things to keep people comfortable. I think it will rival WOW one day. Not beat, rival.

  • […] enough content, etc.  Over and Keen and Graev, a piece was written about how MMORPGs must “Launch Perfect or Die.” My opinion differs, I think players are roughly as patient as they used to be (they aren’t […]