The myth of the MMO market

Quoting Alan Dunkin (and finding the quote took me almost a fucking hour):

Money can come from a lot of places these days.. there’s an entire new generation of dotcom millionaires, energy barons and VC firms that are just waiting on the right project to fork out tons of money.

The premise is: the MMO market is ripe.

Good. This is the best thing. It means that there are the basis to build something excellent. We have ideas, we have the monies, we have wonderful artists. It may be the best moment ever for this genre.

We’ll see. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong, but maybe it would be wise to use that money on something solid instead of wasting everything along with a great opportunity.

I’m copying over some of my comments from FoH about the real state of this market:

I don’t think you can compare the EQ2 launch to VG, the MMO market has exploded since then thanks to WoW.

The idea that WoW opened up the market for other companies is a myth that devs are using as a way to find foundings from all those people out there with lots of money but no brain. And it works.

So. WoW was a good thing because now it’s easier for MMO companies to find the monies. But it’s a dream with short legs.

Moorgard: But anyway, I question the notion that WoW has a unique market that won’t shift to any other MMO.

Not as an assumption.

It’s a mistake to consider that as an open market.

1- It WAS a mistake thinking that this big market didn’t exist before WoW.

2- It is a mistake NOW to believe that this market is independent from WoW.

BOTH are mistakes. What people think change with the wind. You have to figure out what’s real and what’s perception. The fact that the MMO market grew for everyone is a wrong perception.

With games, I believe a game that is fun, polished, well-marketed, and easily available for purchase and play can absolutely attract WoW players as well as a huge segment of the population that never tried MMOs before.

SURE. But that’s the point.

To be wrong is the assumption that you automatically have WoW’s players and that today the MMO market is easier because there’s a larger public to feed.

The “Vision” isn’t about stealing someone else’s pie. The Vision is anticipating something that isn’t here yet. A successful game has to move past WoW, not behind it.

The product makes the market. First you have the product, then you have the resulting market. The STUPID idea is that there’s a market that can be fed every sort of product just because there’s an implicit larger demand.

What I’m saying is: the market may be slightly bigger due to exposition, but it’s not as big as people say to justify all this enthusiasm and all sort of stupid start ups. It’s a growth, but it’s a growth completely compensated and even overwhelmed by the stronger competition and (relatively) higher standards and expectations.

Making a MMO today isn’t simpler than how it was five years ago. Arguably, it’s HARDER, more risky and likely to fail.

(and I’m done for a while)

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Having fun playing WoW

The title is appropriate.

Now I’m not anymore so upset of having lost the honor points bonus of the last month. And all those players who ground honor points for two months now see the result: some less fun playing the expansion. The same applies to raiders. You get some fun before, and some less fun after. A compromise.

I’m quite happy of my own. The very first two introductory quests in the Outlands are already offering me upgrades to my relatively crappy gear (and I even did some raidin’). I’m taking this veeeeery slowly so that I can play for a bit longer before hitting the raiding wall again.

But this is also the main topic now. The mudflation. Raph wrote a few things about this. But he talks about the economy, where in WoW this aspect is completely IRRELEVANT. He obviously speaks a bit in general, but WoW has other problems, concretely.

It’s not necessary to make a big list, because WoW’s economy is the one that works better. And it works well because it’s very simple (and we can argue whether this is good or not). It’s all ruled by money sinks and, imho, applied even too diligently. My 60 warrior never got more than 40 gold during his lifetime and I also had to go farming (something that I really despise) in a few cases because I was completely broken and couldn’t even afford repairs. Epic mount? No thanks, I despise buying money more than I despise farming.

What are the main money sinks in WoW? Training skills as you level up, repairs and “maintenance”. Maintenance including all the added money required to support high-end activity such as raiding.

That works. The economy works even too well. But, again, it’s pretty irrelevant for the player. What instead matters in WoW is the CONTENT mudflation. And the content mudflation works on different premises.

Mudflated content (in my own definition) is content whose functions overlap. Two pieces of content have the same function in the game, one is clearly better then the other, and it replaces the other. The result is: content is removed from the game.

Also: path of least resistance. When we have two paths, one is preferred over the other. Such are games.

We design games with content reduction in mind. I already underlined the absurdity of this concept more than two years ago, the week that Blizzard announced the expansion. I also pointed out what was going to happen and why:

The rise of the level cap is a quick “fix”, both in the sense of game-drug and as a functional and effective way to give back to the players that experience that they loved along the way and that faded when they hit the top, when they had to adapt their habits to the bigger raids and guilds. It works basically like the nostalgia. It’s like if you are warped back ten levels without even remembering to have gone through them and have to repeat the experience like if it was the first time. In this genre the possibility to refresh the sense of awe and achievement is definitely something precious and satisfying for the players. So: why not?

While we can argue whether the current content will go or not right in the toilet, what is sure is that the current *progress* will.

We could assume that the players will retain their current gear for most of the hike to 70 but if this is true Blizzard would lose one of the strongest “fun” points: the sense of achievement. In the current game levelling is fun because you acquire new skills, spend talent points, get access to the mount and acquire progessively and constantly new gear. If the next 10 levels become just a grind with each level just giving out higher stats and nothing else, the “magic” would vanish easily and the expansion would finally feel rather dull. A game where you retain the same sword for 10 levels is a game that isn’t fun. So what could happen? Where is the line that will part the brand new level 60 character ready to move to 70 and those other players that have been at 60 for more than one year and collected all sort of powerful items? From my point of view the expansion will HAVE TO replace the gear for *all* the players.

And the implicit contradiction: why we burn and remove content when content production is the bigger problem we have today? Scott Hartsman offered the answer to this:

All of that “database deflated” content is called “shared experiences,” and they’re critical to a game’s success in the era in which they’re relevant. In the long run it loses value. That’s a given.

However, it’s absolutely critical to have it there in the short term, in order to get a game to the point where it can actually lose that value. That’s a problem of success. We should be so lucky to have that content beginning to lose its original value.

What happened in WoW with the expansion? The first result is obvious. It completely erased all the content from level 58 and above. Every instance past BRD is now completely USELESS. And I’m not exaggerating.

In particular. The most useless piece of content of the whole game is now that “tier 0.5” they added about a year ago after all the protests against the raiding game. Completely. Useless.

The point is: the mudflation from the perspective of those who build these kinds of games isn’t THE PROBLEM. The mudflation is THE SOLUTION. Read Raph with this in mind.

And if you are a good game designer you would also notice that for a new player the quality of the game is inversely proportional to the mudflation. The more you open the gap between the early and late game, the less players around, the more the solo grind is prolonged.

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Blizzard to offer digital download

It was discussed these days that Blizzard didn’t offer a digital download of their expansion (I commented this on Brandon’s blog).

Well, they are going to. Or at least I read it and I’m sure. It’s just that these days I read things and then forget where. So go find the link yourself.

Now. If only they offered it in time for the release I could have spared the ~$60 for taxes+shipment of my US copy.

Yes. $60 for importing, $40 for the actual game.

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New server caps

I collected some statistics about the new server caps on WoW as I anticipated in one of the previous posts. I wish I could quote the original plan where they wrote in detail about these new server caps but it is gone (and here you hear me swear, as it always happen when I cannot fucking find what I’m searching). This is taken out the server split FAQ:

Are any other measures being taken to avoid forcing a realm split?

Yes. One measure is to raise the player caps for all realms when The Burning Crusade launches. This will be possible in part because of the hardware upgrades that we’ve worked to put in place since the original launch.

So I went checking how many players they allowed on a single server.

Before this expansion the server caps were set between 3200-3400 players. Counting alliance + horde. From my new surveys it looks like Blizzard didn’t go all that far. The new cap seems to be between 3700-3800 or so. I’ll run more tests to see more precisely if little more or little less, but that number should be already fairly correct.

So we have a +500 players more or less. On the Silvermoon server there was a queue as I logged in to take the numbers and when I was done the queue was still there. I counted 2600 alliance characters and 1200 horde. So around 3800 overall.

About the two new races: usually 2/3 of Draenei are Shamans, and 2/3 of Blood Elves are Paladins.

I would post all the graphs but they aren’t all that interesting. The level 60 wall is starting to cascade on levels 61, 62 and 63. While the graph only hints at some more activity between level 1 and 20, but still very flat. Only around 1/4, 1/5 of players are starting new characters, while the others are storming the Outlands in the race to 70.

EDIT: I ran more polls today and I can count between 3750-3850 players. So the new cap is probably 3800.

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Forrest Gump dings 70

So the first level 70 was a french player on euro Archimonde. I have already reported this yesterday on the forums but what I find amusing is the subtext of the whole thing.

It reminds me the scene in Forrest Gump, where he goes running back and forth between the two US coasts. And there are all these people following him like a prophet, waiting for the final revelation. Then he stops, turns and says “I’m pretty tired.”

And here it’s the same. The race to 70. First player worldwide (assuming) to reach the top. And we expect words of wisdom. Something engraved in history.

What will our hero say? What’s the meaning of life?

“je ding”


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I don’t need a blog

Because he is writing all the right things.

That guy speaks Game Design the right way even when simply commenting daily play in WoW. And it’s always interesting.

His way of talking freely about everything without any fear or worry is also refreshing. Or maybe it’s just because he didn’t learn yet that devs “cannot have nice things”.

I hope it’s not a temporary thing.

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I like

I’m taking screenshots as if I’m playing for the first time. I like.

I confirm what I wrote in the post below. World design and art are excellent.

Blizzard has surpassed itself once again. What they did with this expansion is amazing.

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TBC launch: flawless victory?

I’m level 4 on my dranei shaman (as I don’t have any 60 to go see the outlands on the euro servers) and having fun.

The zone art is awesome and one step higher than classic WoW, while I have some complaints about some minor details and character art (like hairstyles, blood elfs in particular). I also didn’t like the running animations, but after playing more I like draenei’s animations overall (and voices too!).

The launch here was absolutely smooth, or at least it was from my personal perspective (and I also play on one of those servers branded “full”). The expansion was activated without even requiring downtime, just a relaunch of the client. The server is working without an hint of lag and the starting zones have players without being overcrowded (but it’s night here).

I’m speaking way too early, but for now it’s a flawless victory. We’ll see in the next days.

Tomorrow I’ll try to take out some statistics with Census to try to figure out what’s the new population cap.

EDIT: When even on FoH you read it was a flawless launch, then maybe it’s true. But we still have to see how the population increases in the next days.

Notice how the “secret” of WoW’s art is all in the colors. Every screenshot and zone seems to have an unique palette. And really close to a painting effect.

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Three things

I got the EU copy and already registered/patched it. While Gamestop is kaput (so no US copy for a while, I fear).

Three things:

– The opening screen with the portal has a great impact. The screenshot doesn’t give it justice.

– The musics. Wow. I love the rearranged theme. Epix!

– I gave a look to the credits. The full trio (Pardo, Kaplan/Tigole and Chilton/Kalgan/Evocare) is credited as design lead. While Furor was also promoted and he is now “Lead Quest Designer”. And… Sachant works for WoW? Huh? Last I heard she was with Shadowbane, but the credits list “Danielle Vanderlip” as one of the community managers. That’s her name, right? Or it’s her or someone else I already know. That name isn’t new at all.