There was a discussion about EQ2’s UI on the FoH’s forums and it made me think that too often people tend to completely ignore the most obvious things. While they tend to consider what is instead absolutely irrelevant.
So here why WoW racked up millions of subscribers worldwide and why it dwarfed every other mmorpg:
First Postulate on Mmorpgs Subscriptions: If you suddenly double the minimum hardware requirements, then even your potential subscribers base is HALVED (if not worst, considering the scaling).
There, I said it. WoW’s success is for the biggest part contained in that line. No need for thousands and thousands of pages and design researches. Just one fucking line.
Hello? Accessibility barriers. The GREAT MAJORITY of people on the internet have computers that SUCK. This is why browser-based games are popular. Not because they are “casual” games, but because they embrace a MUCH BIGGER potential subscribers base.
Crappy internet connection, instable, badly configured system, old drivers, conflicts, incompatibilities. All these are the NORM for PCs. Not everyone is a geek who assembles his computer, runs benchmarks, reads hardware reviews and figures out obscure quirks in the Bios of the motherboard. This is also why the consoles are much more popular. Not everyone has the patience and dedication to swallow that. In particular after having spent considerable amounts of money for that hardware and STILL managing to see games running like crap.
WoW broke the market in three moves:
1- Low hardware requirements, wider compatibility (here)
2- It launched EVERYWHERE, localized and with a good support (here)
3- Game design all focused to simplify a genre and make it accessible/usable (here)
WoW became so popular because it lowered the accessibility barriers. BOTH from the hardware requirements perspective AND the game design. It’s accessible. Its engine is the best out there. It runs more smoothly and without incompatibilities compared to any other mmorpg, old or new. And in nearly all the cases IT EVEN LOOKS SO MUCH BETTER.
Seamless world, smooth framerates with tenths of players on screen each with particle effects and perfect animations, no jerky LOD, impressive environments and clip plane, beautifully painted textures, consistent art direction throughout the game.
Not only it is a charming experience because it runs great and doesn’t stutters or crashes all the time, but it even looks great.
And here we come to that discussion about EQ2’s interface:
I don’t know if it’s a Nvidia vs Ati issue but the UI simply eats a lot of resources. I use the standard EQ2 UI + maps here and I can be in a zone with 30+ FPS or another with 15 or so, the UI still eats up significantly processing power.
Arguably WoW has the most powerful and flexible UI out there, but where it really shinies is in the fact that it takes nearly zero resources. I can have the barely needed on display or I can open hundreds of buttons, windows, features and energy bars and the game maintains roughly the same amount of frames per second.
It’s obvious that it’s a matter of how the UI in EQ2 and WoW are engineered at a basic level and rendered on screen. It’s surely not a matter of “optimizations”.
The point is that in other games the UI really does not impact the framerate. In EQ2 it does sensibly. Now it could even get optimized but the fact that it takes resources will hardly change if it’s not recoded at a very basic level, I suspect.
And don’t bring up the “focus to support hardware for the years ahead”. Slowing down the game just because people have more powerful hardware is not an argument. If I’m buying new hardware it’s because I want new possibilities supported, not so that I can swallow horrible engines.
If your hardware requirements are high, then the game better demonstrate that the slowdown is worth it (and it usually never is). Instead of just an excuse for a crappy engine.
EQ2’s engine is already heavy enough without the UI slowing it down even further. One thing is about supporting better graphic possibilities and advanced engines, another is having high hardware requirements because the engine is not so great. Here the competition is stronger because these things CAN be easily compared.
The same applies to Vanguard. If it looks like crap, then better run *very smoothly*. Because noone swallows extremely demanding engines AND overall deluding graphic quality.
Which is also why I have that terrible nightmare.