Monday, March 30, 2009

Really? There can be only one?

In light of Tobold's and Syncaine's tet-e-tet over the past week regard "WoW Tourists" and what not, the subject regarding the chances of any new game to be "successful" in the current (and future) marketplace were discussed again yesterday on Tobold's open Sunday post. The subject seems to have struck a cord with many people lately and Tobold responded to yesterday's comments this morning.

WoW may still be the dominant game on the market, but if I simply take myself as an example--someone who was/is an avid WoW fan for the past four years--one has to wonder just how many people are longing for something else to play. Does the fact that WoW has over 11 million subscribers mean that all other studios need to shelve their MMOs? They don't seem to think so, judging by the number of them on the market right now as well as those that have been recently announced.

Success means different things to different people. To be successful to a gaming studio, the game must be profitable. Perhaps with an increasing player base over time. And success or failure isn't something that can or will be determined within the free play period after release. That doesn't mean that a game has to eclipse every other game on the market however. WoW did not attain 11 million subscribers over night, and I think it clear that no other game will be able to attain that within a short period of time either.

From a player perspective success or failure seems to be something they determine quite a bit more quickly, and has nothing what so ever to do with profitability. To a player the only thing that matters is entertainment, which itself is open to differing opinions. But taken as a whole, is the game fun? Does it have stamina? Those are the sorts of questions players ask themselves in very quick order, and ultimately make them decide to stay or to leave. And of course discussion on the game and players feelings will take place all over the Internet. It's intersting to note that development studios can often harm themselves much more than they can help themselves by standing on a soapbox at release time stating they sold 750,000 copies, when they have to admit later on they only retained 300,000 players. Particularly when you go on the record in an interview by stating you have to have "500,000 subscribers to be successful".

The questions are, is it possible to be successful in a post-WoW age? And is it possible an upcoming game will eventually unseat WoW as the leading MMO in the market? The answer to the first question is undoubtedly yes. There are many profitable MMOs already on the market which don't come anywhere close to even a million subscribers. Many of these companies don't release subscriber numbers, though we can infer anecdotally that their subscription numbers are stable enough, or even slightly increasing over time that they remain in operation.

The answer to the second question is "of course". Blizzard itself answers it well enough when they announced they are developing a second MMO. Consumers are finicky and Blizzard knows that eventually WoW will lose its appeal in the market place. They don't want to lose the subscriber base however, so they intend to market a second MMO to retain as much of that base as possible with the next best thing. But its important to remember how WoW became the dominant MMO on the market. At the time Everquest was in the lead. WoW was released at nearly the same time as Everquest 2 and according to SOE, beat out its product through Superior marketing. Marketing is a gimic to get consumers in the door, but it won't make you stay. People stayed because the game was better than what they'd had before. And that is what will have to happen for someone else to eventually unseat WoW as the dominant MMO of the future.