[MUD-Dev] MMO Launch issues ruining potential segments of themarket.

Ron Gabbard rgabbard at swbell.net
Fri Jun 27 10:59:28 New Zealand Standard Time 2003


On Thu, 19 Jun 2003 12:34:36 -0400
Daniel Anderson <melinko at insight.rr.com> wrote:

> SWG has a lot of leeway just because of the license-- which is
> sad.  I think people ought to ask themselves if they would play
> SWG if it wasn't Star Wars (which I don't think they would because
> SWG wouldn't be much different than a mixture of EQ and UO).  So,
> to get back at the point at hand (sorry to go off on that tangent)
> I do see the market for MMOs being overrun by games with bigger
> and bigger budgets.  It's going to be very hard for a small team
> to pump out a fun GOOD game.  In order for people to leave their
> current MMO, (assuming they only play one a time) the new one
> would have to better.  I think Raph Koster said that to make a
> perfect MMO would take at least 5 years and a $50,000,000 budget.

Bah! There's no such thing as a "perfect" MMO.  However, there is a
such thing as a perfect MMO for WHOM.  Meaning -- before a single
developer is put to work, there needs to be a clear understanding of
the target market, the game needs to cater specifically to that
group of people, and everyone's eyes need to be focused on that
player throughout the development cycle.  A game that tries to
appeal to everyone will end up not appealing to anyone...  McMMO.

Legacy Online, an MMO SIM City type game, is a good example.  Being
an economic simulation, it draws an older crowd than most.  The
graphics aren't much to brag about and the music is relatively blah.
But, it is a thinking person's game that can be run on lower-end
systems and can be minimized so that people can multi-task on their
machine.  Additionally, the overall game mechanics are set up such
that the tax rate is so high that players have to stop building and
start saving to pay their taxes in May, i.e., just let their
factories and stores run a majority of the time.  Finally, the new
year begins (the point where players have paid their taxes and can
start building again) at the same RL time every day... 5:30ish
a.m. and 5:30ish p.m. GMT-6 (they have US, European, and Asian
servers).  As a result, you'll find people logging on before work
and after work to expand their empires and chat... then just log on
occassionally to monitor things.  There is minimal advantage to
staying logged on 24x7 as the player has to save money to pay taxes
during most of that time.  (NOTE: This experience from Chrysalia
server.  Other servers may be different.)

Contrast this with Shadowbane.  Shadowbane draws a much younger
crowd...  typically college students who are very flexible in their
play time, enjoy PvP combat, and are running on higher-end machines.
As there is no routine schedule for city sieges, there is a definite
advantage to the PA that has the most players logged in 24x7.
Additionally, the game is PA-centric and definite loyalties build
between players and their "teams".  Now add city
building/maintenance to the equation.  The game was marketed to the
adrenalin-rush PvP/PK crowd yet a big chunk of the work that the PA
leaders/officers do is in the form of mundane GUI work with vendors
(which can literally take hours per day).  The result is that many
PA leaders/officers just burn out... which hurts the overall PA
morale which is the focus of the game.  The PAs founded by "older"
players who are more tolerant of the maintenance work and enjoy
building and maintaining efficient cities can't compete due to the
irregular schedules, i.e., 4 a.m.  sieges.  In short, Shadowbane
requires input from two distinct player types which causes a great
deal of angst to the players.  (NOTE: This experience from Dread
server.  Other servers may be different.)

The mass-MMO space is mature and may be saturated which would turn
the development effort of a new MMO into some costly behemoth.  So,
don't compete in that market.  The 20 year old player that could sit
for hours repetitively killing stuff in EQ while in college is now
24-25 years old, has a job (hopefully), and may be married with
kids.  Each year the existing MMO playerbase gets older, has more RL
responsibilities, and has more distinct tastes of what they like and
don't like in MMOs.  A large chunk of the Shadowbane playerbase is
relatively new and was in grade school when UO was released.  If new
games continue to require 100% attention for hours at a time, then
subscription numbers will seem to fall as the population of 16-22
y.o. players gets spread out over more and more games... many of
them smaller, "untracked" games.

It will be interesting to see the net effect of EQ2 and SWG on the
MMO market.  A segment of brand loyal players that have enjoyed the
SONY/VI experience in EQ will most likely make up a decent part the
new EQ2/SWG playerbase, which degrades the game experience of those
remaining in EQ (due to socialization factors or the group's regular
cleric becomes a wookie).  >From a business point of view, this is
an ideal time for the small game developer to enter the market with
a good niche product as there is a decent online word-of-mouth
advertising channel established
(http://www.tiguar.net/~jestin/sandbox/invision/forums/
http://www.pk-hq.com/ http://www.lostempireonline.com/ amongst many
cross-game online communities), a supply of MMO players that are
willing to try almost any new game and get that feedback into the
channel, and SONY is about to shake up 400,000+ loyal MMO players
(who are comfortable with the monthly subscription model) and draw
new players into the MMO market.  Over time as the market fragments,
even juggernauts like SONY might find it cost prohibitive to create
the "next EQ" when all the niche games are eroding the mass-MMO
market.

I realize that this has little to do with launch issues and such.
But, I've been through EQ's "it's UUNet's fault" launch, AO's "1
frame every 15 seconds" launch, and SB's "can't even log-in"
launch... and relatively decent to good launches with DAoC, ATITD,
and AC1.  While a bad launch can kill the big MO that a game wants
at release, it will probably have less effect on the overall market
as experienced players go back to their old games and new players
join PAs and learn of other games from the experienced players.

Cheers,

Ron

P.S. The assumption that players only play one game at a time is
getting more obsolete every year as the player base ages, their
income increases, and they develop more online gaming friends.  Just
like some people have bridge night on Tuesday, bowling on Thursday,
and tennis on Saturday, more people are carrying subscriptions to
multiple games.
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