WoW’s Original Success: A Roadmap to a Future without 3-Monthers

Mists of PandariaAs I mentioned the other day while discussing the 3-monther, Blizzard did exactly what they needed to do with World of Warcraft back in 2004: Make something unique that addresses a need in the market.  As this GameIndustry.biz article points out, Blizzard’s success is not magic.  GameIndustry thinks it is hard work setting World of Warcraft apart.  It’s not hard work at play here; No, it’s good work.  Success is enjoyed because WoW is unique.

Back in 2004, WoW was unique because it was different.  Today, it’s unique for being the best and most innovating leader among its clone army.  You see, despite what the GameIndustry article says, WoW is indeed an outlier deviating markedly from other members of the sample.  Among many other reasons — and I do mean many —  a major factor in success then and now is uniqueness.

Going back to my original statement, WoW originally succeeded for being unique.  We can analyze the reasons for WoW losing subscribers, or for having a low retention rate every expansion, but I believe the answer is simply that the expansions are no longer unique enough.  WoW expansions are 3-monthers in a bottle.

The same principles apply to creating a new long-lasting MMORPG.

  • Is it unique? Every major, long-term success has been.
  • Does it address a pain or need in the market?
  • Are the mechanics and features in place designed to engage players in a ‘live in the world’ mentality instead of a ‘beat the game’ mentality?  (Note: WoW’s original model leaned way more towards living in the world compared to where it’s at now, hence why WoW expansions -are- 3-monthers.)
  • [Update] Let’s add SynCaine’s ‘Pick a group and design for it‘ angle to the list.

The GameIndustry article did say something with which I not only agree but think applies to the 3-monther: “Attempts to copy or clone [WoW] have ended in, at best, reputation-sapping climbdowns and transitions to free-to-play business models; at worst, complete commercial disasters.”  In other words, if you make a game closely resembling a 3-monther it’s no wonder you end up with one.

As I said before, the proven long-term framework of the past is being ignored without any contemporary proof to disprove its success.  That’s fine.  I believe there is every bit as much an opportunity for something completely new — the next WoW, perhaps neither sandbox or themepark — to move us forward.

  • Wrath and Cataclysm saw decline, and I’ll bet MoP sees a decline. It’s part of the model. Buy the expansion, play until it’s all burned down, then quit until the next expansion. Keep in mind, these are trends post-launch of the expansion.

    Growth followed by a decline. Growth followed by a decline.

    I’m likening the expansions to 3-monthers in a bottle.

  • It’s got a distinct trend down. As much as I bag on the whole genre, I had about an hour there were I wanted to buy Pandaria. It has a powerful pull.

    That said, I really don’t see what is all that different from the original WoW and the expansions. Maybe that is your point, but each one has plenty of raids and dungeons to do. Honestly there’s more content than ever, and generally better content too. A lot of Vanilla dungeons were really, really lame.

    Difference is that if you’ve got 8 max level characters, running them through the relatively small window of content you haven’t done already, and running dungeons that are more or less the same old thing, and raids that are the same old thing, is less appealing. What is missing from all these discussions is what novel thing will fix that. At the end of the day you’re killing monsters. There’s only so much lipstick you can put on the pig.

    I honestly believe that if when I first started playing WoW, if I had been able to do a blind taste test between WoW today and Wow as it was in late December 2005, I would have gladly picked the current WoW. I think it’s better in every way that I care about, and the problems it had are the problems it always had to one degree or another.

    What has changed for the worse is my ability to enjoy it, and my ability to find value in meaningless accomplishments. Once you realize that it’s all just a treadmill with an endless series of carrots to keep you running, it’s over. It doesn’t matter how much innovation there is, your interest is over once you realize that on an emotional level.

  • How many popular culture phenomena that were at their peak five to six years ago are still growing today? For that matter, how many video games that were highly successful half a decade ago are still getting more successful year on year?

    For MMOs to be what you want them to be they need to emulate hobbies or sports, not businesses. Chess, tennis, gardening, fishing, hundreds and thousands of games, sports and pastimes persist for years, decades, even centuries. They wax and wane in popularity, go in and out of fashion. They change very slowly over time and retain the same appeal to new entrants and old hands alike.

    Businesses make money catering to these hobbyists, often a lot of money. They work out what the customer is doing and try to give them what they want more cheaply, more efficiently or more conveniently than the next guy. They innovate but they don’t disrupt.

    Before WoW, MMOs were settling into this model. The whole genre hadn’t been around long enough for a critical mass to form when onto the trampoline dropped WoW. WoW could have added to the accretion of a critical mass had it achieved the success Blizzard expected – a bigger, more popular Everquest with maybe a million subscribers. When it grew out of all imagining to ten times that size it bounced right out of the genre and landed plum square in Popular Culture.

    Once your video game gets mentioned in international news reports and features in television sitcoms it’s passed out of the hands of hobbyists, both makers and players. It’s firmly in the grasp of businessmen and would-be businessmen. That’s where we’ve been for the last five years and more.

    Hobbies go on for ever and little in them changes. Pop culture phenomena flare and fade. WoW’s decline is absolutely inevitable but the genre out of which it grew doesn’t need WoW to persist. The MMOs you want won’t be the next WoW, if there is a next WoW, and the companies competing with WoW won’t be the place to look for the MMOs you want to see.

    Or I could be wrong and Titan or EQNext may be everything we ever wanted.

  • I think MoP is incredibly far from being a 3monther expansion. Blizzard has openly admitted that Cataclysm didn’t give enough to do to players and it’s obvious they tried (and in my opinion succeeded) not to repeat the same mistake with Mists.

    Problem is, MoP is coming after 8 years of WoW, so it has to deal with diminishing returns. It’s hard for an expansion to generate growth like 4,5,6 years ago on a game that is starting to show its age, no matter how great it is. It will though keep WoW on top for the next 2 years or so. Another Cataclysm could have been almost fatal to WoW right now and fortunately for Blizzard, MoP is definitely not that.

    And related to GameIndustry’s article, saw an interesting reply from Rob Pardo himself, one of the brains behind Vanilla WoW:

    “so funny that people think we are a data driven design company – we didn’t have data on players until 2 years after …”

    https://twitter.com/Rob_Pardo/status/251821559327621122

  • “What has changed for the worse is my ability to enjoy it, and my ability to find value in meaningless accomplishments.”

    The days where we played challenging games that limited content due to (1) player skill, and (2) ability to unite as a social group are gone. There has been very little challenge and almost zero incentive to play recent games like WoW, GW2 and SWTOR to hit the end game cap.

    I will give three examples where I was proud about playing games, where I had experienced the incentive to play more and achieved a sense of accomplishment:

    1) WoW TBC – Serpentshrine Cavern, Tempest Keep and The Black Temple: I was proud to be working alongside skilled guildmates when we downed Lady Vashj, Kael’thas, and Illidan. These dungeons were not setup as “easy mode” or “hard mode”. The content was challenging, but achievable. You and your group had to play well to experience this content. It was very rewarding to play these zones and this expansion.

    2) EQ Chardok, Howling Stones and Sebelis: I do not remember the last time I attempted to play a 5man isntance where I was cringing at the risk versus reward to play the game. Group wipe? Good luck getting back your corpse easily. Good luck fighting your way back down. Stepped on a false rug and fall down into a bunch of skeletons? That sucked. Died too much and now you’re a level behind? Time to go back and earn that level before coming back again. Did I have a sense of accomplishment when we played in these zones with skilled players (because you had to play with similar, good players to successfully clear these zones)? Heck yes.

    3) Dark Souls: Best game I’ve played with regards to risk vs. reward, incentive to improve my gaming skills to experience content (think fighting as many monsters as possible without dying to enhance your weapons/armor), and accomplishment (the fight versus Ornstein/Smough). Too bad it was single player only. It would have been nice to experience similar gameplay, but in groups.

    I hope the day comes when a new MMORPG is released that is challenging, gives me incentive to play to experience more content, and has meaningful objectives that inspire a sense of accomplishment.

    I am tired of the theme parks and being stuck in line with other whiny customers that think it is their right to experience content without earning it simply because they paid money to play the game (or to enter the theme park).

    One day….

  • I find this post extremely puzzling in context of our conversation in the comments of your post two days ago (copied some below). This guy is making the same point that I made and you dismissed: WoW succeeded and got 10 times everyone else’s numbers NOT because they were 10 times better but because they were the first and only people going after a market that was 10 times larger. (Even Syncaine seems to be taking the view that there are two distinct segments to the MMO maarket today.)

    You argue that there was healthy and robust competition, but all of that competition is completely irrelevant because none of those games did the unique thing that WoW did. Because it takes so long to develop a content-hungry solo game, the payoff for their innovation was that Blizzard had a functional monopoly on the online solo-friendly market for over two years. Ironically, that position allowed the game built on solo players to be more friendly to group players precisely because the only place the solo folks could go was back to the same old single player games from when we came, which in turn may help explain why WoW ALSO did well with the more traditional crowd.

    Green Armadillo: For example: Where was a solo player going to go in 2005 if they were dissatisfied with how almost all of the new content being added to WoW was for raiders? EQ1? FFXI? In 2007 LOTRO came out, EQ2 revamped itself to be more solo friendly, and WoW kept on patching in top end raids… until abruptly changing directions with easier epics in 2.3 and 2.4. Coincidence, or did their subscriber numbers do something unpleasant once there was finally real competition for the solo MMO market?

    Keen: @Green Armadillo: I totally disagree. First off, the solo player can go play a single-player game. I have always hated the idea of catering first and foremost to the individual in a massively multiplayer game. I’m not saying there isn’t something for them, but the single-player is NEVER an acceptable foundation for core MMO design (in my opinion).
    @Green Armadillo: I maintain that there was plenty of competition, and plenty of alternatives back then. I could play SWG, DAOC, EQ, CoH, UO, and each of them were totally unique.

  • I have a real hard time with seeing any uniqueness in WoW even back then, outside of its visual style. It was a friendlier EQ, had the essence of what battlegrounds offered in DAOC, and copied them both and improved on the formula in every way possible. Add to that what Green Armadillo is saying above – the only real unique aspect of WoW – solo friendliness. And finally, it had the best timing ever. A polished and fun mmo right on the verge of MMOs surging into popularity. Bit uniqueness wasn’t really its selling point.

  • …although other then that, I totally agree with your post here as to what game devs need to focus on to bring something that has a long term appeal. I especially like your point about engaging players in a living world. That for me is enough in a lot of cases and what makes GW2 for me a long term game.

  • @Green Armadillo: Can you identify where you are confused? Seems straight forward to me. There were plenty of choices to play around 2003-2004, almost all of which were unique. WoW came out, introduced yet another unique angle but also addressed a large need in the market and succeeded just like the previous unique games — just on a larger scale due to the need it targets.

    You’ll note that SynCaine and I are saying the same thing. There are two groups. Group 1 and Group 2. I’m in Group 1. I believe group 2 should exist. Group 2 believes group 1 is quote, “old and unwelcome.” All I ever fight for is the right for both groups to exist and for people to wise up and realize Group 1 has a lot of fundamental qualities many would enjoy if they ever get a chance to see them in a modernized version. I also believe group 1 has the longevity many like myself are looking for in a MMO. This post is pointing out that WoW is in group 1, despite the clone army being in group 2.

    WoW did more than introduce solo friendly play. I think a solo-centric game design is horrible, but that’s my opinion. That doesn’t change the fact that WoW was unique, and over time is losing that edge.

    @coppertopper: It was a ridiculously more friendly EQ. I think if we’re really being honest with ourselves, WoW did more than introduce solo friendly content. WoW was the first to take broad general concepts and cram them into a themepark. We could make a list and easily hit 100 things that WoW did to be different. Don’t discount the fact that polish back then -was- a uniqueness factor.

  • Interesting article that clearly illustrates that the target demographics have in fact changed since WoW’s release as it no longer caters primarily to hardcore gamers as opposed to the larger casual crowd.

    “Given that conventional wisdom, you can understand why some hardcore players are aghast at Blizzard’s insistence on continuing to cater explicitly to the casual, social player. Cataclysm’s refresh of the game’s original levelling zones was a good example of this, clearly focusing the team’s efforts on improving the game for people who just enjoy questing and exploring at the “expense” of catering to the end-game hardcore player. Mists of Pandaria is the most blatant example yet, though; it’s heavily exploration focused, clearly aimed at attracting younger players (there’s an assumption in many parts of the media that the panda theme is a pitch at the Chinese market, but it seems far more likely to be aimed at pulling in tweens and young women) and filled with systems that are designed to provide an easier experience and sociable alternatives to end-game raiding, such as the new Pet Battle system.

    This is an eight year old game. Why isn’t it catering to the people who want to put together 40-man raids that take six hours to play, toilet breaks strictly forbidden? Why, in fact, does Blizzard seem to be, calmly and politely, perfectly willing for those hardcore players to take their leave?”

  • Well Gar, I did the raiding lifestyle thing. The 30+ week grind to be in a guild that is really getting through content is not part of what I probably would have chosen when I started WoW. The idea that the endgame should be reserved for maybe the most dedicated 10% of players would have been totally alien to me, or that it should be your whole life.

    While I think you guys have a very valid point about WoW’s rather odd choice to make it easier to solo than group, that may well be the key to WoW’s success. For years the average player didn’t see these raid bosses; he just bummed around doing his own thing. Maybe being able to do that without wasting an hour assembling a team is the reason WoW kept him playing.

  • I refute the argument that WoW was Unique.
    It was a dumbed down, easy to pick up version of existing MMO’s, it just arrived at the perfect time, with the right IP and Dev team, the game itself was nothing special and mearly survives of that old popularity. The majority of people play it because ‘that’s where my friends are’

    A lot of the games people are calling 3 monthers would probably of been long term oens 10 years ago, but because they chase wow’s numbers, they dumb em down, remove social elements and add big goalposts to attract the masses (Which is exactly what wow did when it released, it was eq/uo/whatever for the new gamer), thus shooting themselves in the foot.

  • Well Keen, it goes back to the contradictory ideas you have.

    Group 1 has several games they could play if they wanted to. Aside from UO and EQ, which are still around, there’s EVE, that one about post-apocalyptic crafting whose name I forget, and Darkfall. I know nothing about Aion except it was really grindy, so maybe that qualifies too.

    It seems to me that you want the polish of a 100 million dollar budget, but have the game designed to appeal to the relatively tiny % of players who want a socially driven grind play style. That simply isn’t going to happen. This reminds me of automotive people; if you listen to car guys in the internet, all they want in the world is a diesel station wagon with a manual transmissions. Of course, when someone actually releases a manual diesel station wagon in the US it bombs horribly. So no one makes them anymore. But people live to whine about how they would totally buy one if they could.

    Basically what you want is for some investors to waste 100 million dollars crafting the MMO equivalent of the manual diesel station wagon for you. It’s not going to happen and whinging about it on your blog is not fighting for change.

  • @Evalissa: Didn’t the fact that it was the first to really dumb things down make it unique?

    WoW doesn’t play like EQ. It really doesn’t. It shares some concepts, but when I play WoW I don’t think “This sure feels like EQ.”

    @Toxic: You’ve missed the whole point. This has nothing to do with wanting to play older games. I’m talking about game design and how games made today — new games — don’t have to be games that last three months and get gobbled up by players because they are designed as little bite-size adventures. And btw, I am playing EQ and SWG.

  • Ironically, I think you may have missed Toxic’s whole point, which as I see it is that the demographic that you are part of, dedicated old-school gamers, is not the demographic that is driving current game mechanic development.

    His analogy is an excellent one. Although you can envision the ideal vehicle for your gaming desires, AAA developers do not think that is what the modern casual-social gamer (“fast-food gamer”) wants. In their minds your demographic group is antiquated and marginalized as it is deemed not as profitable.

    Appreciating the massive target demographic shift is fundamental to understanding the paradigm shift in game designing that leads to the 3 month phenomena.

    People want to have WoW’s success at launch, but forget that is not how WoW achieved their current tremendous player base. They initially utilized the dedicated old-school gamers (not so old back then) to stably bankroll their MMO while they debugged and polished their base product. Back then it wasn’t mainstream or cool to be a MMO gamer any more than a paper and pencil D&D player. Over time the expanded their player base and insidiously modified their gaming mechanics to become more accessible to the casual player base, until they transmogrified WoW into its current mainstream Pandas and Pokemon level of game play.

    To restate, WoW utilized your demographic group, the old-school gamer, to initially fund, troubleshoot, and polish their game, and then abandoned them by degree in favor of the larger casual target audience to achieve their current commercial success. As it stands, the latter demographic is the target audience for the current AAA developers.

    Game development like every other product R&D has limited resources to be allocated. Although ideally you might be able to envision your perfect gaming vehicle, your vision is not similar to what is driving current game development. Until you accept that you are a vocal marginalized and disenfranchised minority you won’t understand why game designers don’t implement the ideas that you consider obviously beneficial. But don’t fret too much, you are not alone as most of us reading this blog share similar ideas of what might constitute their ideal game; instead look on the bright side, even the best words of prophets can remain unheeded…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2Wx230gYJw

  • I’m sorry. Maybe I got people confused. This isn’t about my demographic vs. yours. This isn’t about demographics at all. This is about making games that last longer and don’t end up like SWTOR (or other 3-monthers).

    I know some people like how SWTOR turned out, but I’m not sure they constitute a demographic I’m going to spend time addressing because the games they love are in plenty supply.

  • Not much to add this time.. I agree with what you wrote in the blogpost.

    Come to think of it. Its like saying before wow came out blizzard should just have copied everquest or ultima online.
    They did not, yet all those companies after 2004 just tried to copy wow and failed.

    An mmo community can forgive a lot if something is different and has a long term vision. Example Eve online.

    To bad said love does not always go both ways…
    (I’m trying to forget how greed eventually took over at Eve online at one point and the big backlash the players gave when they tried to force the game into a sub+cashshop model.)

  • Game industry in general is really fucked up right now, I work right now at a startup (all 5 of us) that lease some space from one of the newest social/addictive BS crapware game “studios”. Watching these “games” being made is puke inducing. Saddest part is seeing a bunch of recent grad naive developers working 12hours days for shit pay to produce this crap. Because they think they might one day make real games (lol right..). I would not recommend anyone to touch this cesspool of an industry

    Anyway I think key things from what Keen said is World.. it can not be a leveling railroad, it has to be a world in which people want to adventure, protect, something that elicits feeling from people. EQ was like that, DAOC, SWG. WoW sortof (at the start).

  • Wrath saw WoW’s largest sub numbers and only declined towards the end if I remember correctly. I think you are letting your personal preference show with the “living in a world” thing. I like that kind of game too, but I think you are overestimating it as a draw. Wrath saw retention and steady growth in a large part due to how accessible end game content was. It was during Cata’s return to really difficult heroics at the beginning that people started to leave in droves. I’m getting my data from here, I can’t find anything better: http://www.mmo-champion.com/threads/1091607-WoW-Subscriber-Data-Complete-Breakdown

  • @Gankatron: That’s a nice story about WoW, too bad its not correct. WoW grew in vanilla and BC, back when the game was still ‘all about hardcore raiding’ and the word ‘accessible’ was not a game design insult. As Pardo himself said, Blizz did not start focus group-designing WoW until much later.

    WoW started its decline with WotLK, which is the first time Blizz started making it ‘accessible’. We all know how Cata went, and it sounds like only friends and family have picked up MoP.

    I love how people marginalize the design decisions of vanilla (letting everyone in, building around the core), while highlighting later decisions (accessibility) as the reason for success, despite the fact that those decisions have only lead to failure (on the WoW scale of course).

    In defense of you and others who believe this, most MMO devs today would also agree. How’s that working out for everyone?

  • @Zhenya: WoW declined during WotLK in the NA/EU. The total number of ‘subs’ is offset by WoW expanding into new global markets, hence WotLK numbers overall being stagnant.

  • As far as I see they did build WoW game on the backs of the harcore dedicated population only to switch to a more casual group of players over time; is this the part you think is inaccurate?

    I never said the game was unsuccessful with the former approach, obviously it was, but just as obviously they have changed demographics which is where we find them today, still a financially successful company, certainly outlasting all other MMO’s after 8 years. To again cite the article:

    “This is an eight year old game. Why isn’t it catering to the people who want to put together 40-man raids that take six hours to play, toilet breaks strictly forbidden? Why, in fact, does Blizzard seem to be, calmly and politely, perfectly willing for those hardcore players to take their leave?”

    Your story seems to be that WoW grew during the hardcore gamer focus, and then shifted to a more casual audience where it currently remains a powerhouse MMO. How again is your story fundamentally different from mine?

    I didn’t state whether I felt Blizzard’s shift in demographics was a sound one, but pointed out that it did occur and does seem to set THE model for the MMO industry today; that is my “story”, I don’t understand how you can disagree with this…

  • @Gank: During the period it cared for the core, WoW grew. During the period of caring for the casuals, it has been in decline.

    Based on the above, would you call the switch a success?

  • Well it depends.

    If you think that led to the decline, I guess you think it is a failure. If you think they’ve just been managing the decline (by making a kazillion dollars) it looks like a big success. These games aren’t immortal. Exploding growth followed by more or less treading water for 8 years is a fantastic success.

  • Just to preface this, I consider myself part of that “vocal marginalized and disenfranchised minority” that WoW has turned away from. If you believe that I am a supporter of this demographic shift then you are incorrect.

    I hope that I am not putting words into your mouth, but it seems you believe that there was a set tectonic event where this demographic shift occurred, that is Cataclysm; the author of the article states that this is a good example of WoW’s shift “to cater explicitly to the casual, social player”, but note that they don’t imply that there wasn’t shifting prior to this expansion.

    I used the terms “insidiously” and “by degree” as I believe the signs were there back in BC. Prior to BC getting a purple item felt truly epic; in BC I replaced my blue and purple items with greens that I got as quest rewards and those I crafted myself. Prior to BC making gold was not easy, and I remember people proudly posting in mapchat that they had just accumulated their 1st gold piece; in BC I had daily quests where I made handfuls of gold by flying around from event to event. I also remember back when they changed the old battlegrounds to an honor farming system where people would shout in channel that “A short loss wins more honor per hour than a long victory!”

    All of these overt Skinner Box devices I interpret as shifts to a shorter attention span play style where rewards where lavished upon players just for showing up (even if AFK’ing in some circumstances) instead of the “40-man raids that take six hours to play, toilet breaks strictly forbidden.”

    As far as the question of whether this shift a “success”, I am not trying to be evasive when I say I am not sure. Firstly I assume you meant financially for Blizzard, as opposed to its impact upon one’s enjoyment of the game, as the latter would be too subjective an experience to assess for the community at large.

    Hopefully we all agree that WoW still remains a wildly successful MMO with a sub base to make competitors envious. Was the turnaround in sub numbers due to Calaclysm? The decline does correlate with its release. Was this due to a too heavy-handed approach to shift demographics? It seems like a reasonable hypothesis.

    Of course we do have to remember that it is an old game and every game has its heyday and eventual decline; perhaps there were other reasons why players didn’t feel inclined to stick around? So was it a mistake, I let more business-minded people consider this, but don’t be surprised if one factor in the impetus to shift WoW into a casual, perhaps eventually F2P model, is their upcoming title Titan; having multiple titles that compete for different player bases could make sense, but that is pure speculation.

    In any case please don’t lose perspective about the primary point of these posts of mine, which is my belief that demographics shape game mechanics, which in turn play a critical role in determining whether they appeal to a short attention span type of gamer, that is the 3 month phenomena, and which in turn impacts whether the hardcore player base can have meaningful input upon the development of such games.

    Whether this is a successful business approach for a company to follow was not directly broached by my posts, either than to offhandedly state that WoW remains a financially successful product (albeit one that I no longer choose to purchase).

  • I’m honestly not sure that Titan is actually happening in any significant sense. It’s been 5 years, and just now is the game entering “full production mode.” I mean I realize Blizzard believes in taking a lot of time with everything, but that is pretty ridiculous.

    At this point it will nearly certainly be a few years late, and also a massive disappointment. I mean, it could be a great game, still going to be a disappointment.

  • @Gank: I originally quit WoW just before BC, because 25 man raids are for casuals, so I know exactly what you mean 🙂 That said the actual raiding setup in BC was arguable harder than vanilla (Nax40 aside), and I’d still say BC kept the feel of WoW more intact than WotLK or Cata.

    And sure, at some point an MMO is going to decline. But why WoW at age 6 or 8, when at age 10 EVE is not? Is it JUST the focus switch to casuals? No. Was that a factor? I believe so, yes.

    Saying the game is still successful is obvious. Just like saying I’d rather have 12m subs than 9m is obvious.

  • EVE never peaked?

    I mean how ridiculous is it that EVE, a game that has like 1/30th of WoW subs even if you don’t account for the fact many players have multiple accounts, is held up as the alternative here?

  • I am not sure whether I missed something but the problem I see is that Keen only considers games 3-monthers or not based on the relative number of users that keeps playing after several months. There were some people who argued similar to what I’m going to but I haven’t seen an answer.

    The argument is about absolute numbers. How does a typical so-called 3-monther after it’s 15 minutes of fame, compare to one of the more popular pre-WoW games in terms of PCU or subscriptions? I find it hard to get single-metric data for both new games and what was 10 years ago but it seems they aren’t doing that bad. There were, are and always will be people who jump from game to game no matter how long-lasting it is and people who claim their home in a 3-monther and stay there; what I’m saying is maybe the original playerbase had quite a lot of the latter cathegory or the new players are of the former.

    An argument can be raised the games should have more PCU/subs because there is more users in total – however, there is also more games than there used to be. Another problem faced by new gamers is the fact that if a mass exodus happens, players who wouldn’t otherwise quit may do because their guilds and friend circles cease to exist.

  • I think Keen’s idea of ‘uniqueness’ is overrated. There are plenty of ‘unique’ MMOs that haven’t gone anywhere, especially in the early days (how many folks bought Auto Assault or Tabula Rasa? how many even remember?). Our current dearth of creativity in games is a direct result of none of those titles making any money. In fact, I’d go further and say that a lot of the ‘unique’ titles that commenters here hold up as successes (Hi DAOC!) only qualify if you set the bar immensely low (i.e. didn’t lose the dev’s money low).

    I think there’s a decent argument to be made that the only major successes we’ve seen in MMOs are EQ, WoW, and (very borderline) AC, and everything else (SWG, DAOC, GW1, COH) were decent middle of the road titles.

    I’d actually argue that more than anything on Keen’s list, the level of polish in the game is probably the largest deciding factor. I’m pretty sure you can have a pretty accurate guess at an MMOs success within a few days of play just based on that alone (it’s one of the reasons I think GW2 actually has legs, but I might be wrong). EQ and WoW at their respective releases were head and shoulders better made, and slicker than anything else on the market. And well financed titles like AoC, WAR, and SWTOR were distinctly rough around the edges when they released, despite having well regarded studios working on them.

  • I saw the word design mentioned a lot but I haven’t found explanation on what the design differences and their impact is – maybe a missed a link to something explaining it?

  • @Imakulata: It’s been an on-going topic for over a year. A few days ago I made a post about not all games being 3-monthers and described how it matters that a game be designed as a world to live in, and not just a world to beat.

    Xenevore, frequent reader of this blog, summed up some points very nicely in a comment to the aforementioned post from a few days ago.

    1) Players can effect permanent change in the world. Even simply having player-created houses and shops goes a long way (as in UO and SWG). I would like to see this extended to include things like building fortifications and bridges, digging mines and dungeons, planting trees and crops, razing enemy camps (i.e. no constant respawns), etc.

    2) Truly dynamic events, run by GMs (or good AI). It’s already been successfully done in MUDs and UO.

    3) Player-centric economy. I.e. player-crafted items should always be better than junk found as loot; then there’s incentive for player’s to actually craft stuff and for others to purchase it.

    4) Finite, non-node-based resources. Then it becomes relevant for players to get good at finding and exploiting resources (or collaborating with players that are).

    5) Limited, earned transportation. I.e. finding, or saving up money to buy a horse, boat, hot-air balloon, runestones, etc. becomes meaningful and satisfying. Exploring and finding new locations only accessible via a specific transportation also becomes interesting and fun.

    6) Meaningful, satisfying challenges. It’s boring when everything is handed out on a silver platter. Not only are MMOs “fast food” these days, but they’re all milkshakes sucked down through a straw.

    7) Focus should be primarily on world content not story. A story automatically creates boundaries and limitations on the world setting and can railroad players into doing things they wouldn’t necessarily want to do. Let players create their own stories.

    8) Last but not least, no DikuMUD-based design, like so many are. There needs to be more than combat-centric, level/gear-based progression; it can only go one way and is inherently unsustainable. (Especially if content is consumed faster than it can be created.)

    Hopefully that clarifies some ways that design impacts whether or not a game is a 3-mother.

  • @Keen, I would say WoW did not conform to the points you mentioned and neither did many pre-WoW games. (I agree that it can be argued it did fit points 4 and 6 – although the modern games definitely do for the latter as well – however, that’s still 2 out of 8.)

    Unless I’m wrong, there must have been something else.

  • @Imakulata: Sorry, that wasn’t a “this is what it takes to not be a 3 monther”. That was just a list of some things that create a virtual world setting — a setting that is diametrically opposed to a 3-monther. And I would argue that games pre-WoW did have many of those traits. Not the point, though.

    For a game to release and not be a 3-monther the focus must be on the world, not some story, and there must a be a long-term approach built into the game. GW2, for example, has a short-term approach hard-coded right into it. Many people max leveled in a week, got the best gear (other than a legendary weapon), did all the dungeons, 100% explored the world, and had nothing to do. The game was not designed to sustain people.

  • @Shutter DAOC was incredibly cheap to build we are talking 1/10-1/30th of the budget of current games, it was also cheap to run (small team etc). It made them a lot of money, was the money printing press like WoW no, but I doubt that roi was far under EQ. Eve I am not sure about. Other thing to consider that risk of investing 10 mil and 200.. is quite different even if roi is similar. Not to mention time to build and see returns etc.

    The cheap to build quick turn around is why people put money now into free to play mmos, low risk low reward and stable return.

    Polish wise when WoW was released it absolutely horrible. If you actually played game in the first month you would know. Not bugged mob horrible but, can not play for days, get server roll back can not loot anything whatsoever cause it freezes you horrible. DAOC was a model launch in comparison. WoW had a lot of other great things going for it but their launch was bad.

  • Wow had several distinct stages:
    1. Launch wow. Primary activity PvP while questing. Hit 60 and run instances and PvPing all the damn time. Pinnacle of the PvE leads random PvP experience. Town raids and massive PvP was common for nothing more than shits and giggles. Best part of wow.
    2. Battle Ground wow and the dishonor system. BGs enter the game and all world PvP ends due to loosing honor if you acidentlly killed a quest giver. Blizzard seems intent in prevent all large scale world PvP. Battle grounds horribly hard to get into and use.
    3. Raiding wow. MC is fully open and players start to transition from PvP centric game to a raiding centric game. Most hardcore PvPers raided for gear to show off/fight with in BGs. The PvE grind -> ubar PvP gear was a fun reward system.
    4. BC hits. Lots of world PvP, interesting instances and very fast leveling. World ganking comes to an end tanks to flying mounts. BGs made easier to use and more accessible. Blizzard buffs all the guards making almost impossible to PvP around towns.
    5. Resilience gear completely kills the PvE grind -> PvP gear and turns PvP into it’s own grind fest. The game becomes much less hardcore in almost every way. Arenas cause nerf after nerf to fun PvP abilities and arenas are utter trash. Flying mounts made the world feel small.

    I had a ton of wonderful experiences in early wow it kept me playing on and off for 7 years. I kept hoping that blizzard would cater to the people who wants to PvP out in a huge savage world. Cata was the end of that dream.

    Wow is a much more polished, easy to use, and functional game today and it sucks. For the horde!, For the alliance! Used to mean something. Now’s it’s just hamsters in the wheels with no real conflict, no real faction pride, nothing more than scripted worlds and pretty graphics.

  • name any game, no matter how good, that last forever… one even get bored with Solitaire ™ or Plant vs Zombie

    a good game that can grip you for 3 months is good game. granted, for an MMORPG , 3 month retention is not good enough,

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