While at lunch yesterday I read an interesting article by Gamasutra.com. Not that I was surprised. It was quite clear that EA’s objectives would be moved to this project (BioWare’s SWTOR), and any hopes in revitalizing or expanding WAR just wasn’t in the future. We saw that last year, when EA announced that Mythic would be top managed by BioWare and they starting pulling people to help that effort.
WAR was a lesson learned to EA. It set bars that have never been seen, it proved what a modern made fantasy MMO could do well, that RvR is still the perfect MMO PvP, and most importantly, it made a good amount of money, despite its constant taunting for being called a failure or flop. It seems to me, any MMO towards a release, and even WoW when it was released, had the goal to be with 300K in subs. EA is seemingly interested in far surpassing its previous numbers with EA Mythic’s WAR, which was slightly under a million at release. And really with the prestige alone, TOR should have no problem breaking the million threshold.
Ultimately, WAR had a great base of customers just because of it being Warhammer. And Star Wars is going to have far beyond that, just because of the very (major emphasis on very) large fan base. I will definitely being following SWTOR closely, and it will be the MMO for me in the 2011, I have no doubts on that. The only good in EA’s ownership of both Mythic and BioWare is the fact that it will allow SWTOR to have RvR (which one could only hope to high heaven that they will). EA is a necessary evil in that marriage. It is EA’s pocket-book that these games are going/were produced, but I have no doubt that EA will also be the reason for their destruction after release. I can only hope that WAR was a needed lesson learned to make Star Wars that much better.
What are those lessons that TOR can take from WAR?
Firstly, there is more to an MMO than release. In all essence WAR was done in a backwards manner for what seasoned MMO players know. Generally, MMOs releases, and hope through expansions and community that they can grow in numbers. Who wants to play the game when it first comes out? It’s like extended Beta. Really, it normally is. Any other expectation is stupid to have.
I’m a veteran of EVE, which didn’t hit it’s height of population of 350K until about 4 years in, it is a game that just steadily grows. Possibly only in the same players making more accounts, but $15 is $15. EVE is a game that consistently adds a free expansion usually every 6 months.
DAoC is great example of another small humble start. It took multiple expansions to hold a steady sub base. And even then it took till 2003 (2 and half after release) to hit 250K.
In Everquest case, it’s release in 1999 with 200K in subs was amazing at the time, it still took them multiple expansions and 5 years to finally hit 450K. To hit unrealistic number like WoW, you first have to compete with the non-asian number. 10 million is ridiculous, it’s because of their exposure to Asia. Cut out the Asian market, you cut 5.5 million right there. Cut the international market, WoW has 2.5Mil in North America. And it definitely was not near that at release, that took years and heavy marketing to achieve.
EA’s focus has been in Madden and console systems. Work hard, market, sell, get good/bad review, run with the cash. There is no community, and even in their experience with FPS, with Battlefield, did not expose them enough to the whinny base that is MMO subs. A successful MMO is not found at release, it historically, takes years, expansions, community and ideas. An expectation to achieve the best you can just at release, limits the true possibilities that an MMO can achieve. the anger you receive for WAR is only in the disappointment of the failed possibilities, all the potential was there.
Don’t design a game system that puts the ultimate end game at a particular level and tier. They built WAR to live and die in T4. And an expansion into T5 would mean completely overhauling the story, the maps and all of the gear. You built yourself into a dead-end. Meaning making a quick T5 to level 50 expansion to make more Cash (big point $) actually pretty difficult. Not impossible, but pitching the idea upstairs with ‘we need alot more money than we should in developement, because we designed the maps and gear in a stupid way,’ was not the best idea. Most MMOs, can easily say “crap, sales are decreasing, quickly, in the next 3 months build a shit expansion adding 10 levels and some gear.” Not so easy for WAR. The last Free Expansion (only expansion) simply could only add in some in-between content. That doesn’ t keep or bring back subscriptions. Not that we need that lecture, I’m sure that was a decent facepalm in June of 2009 when they realized it.
Don’t worry about damn game balance so hard. Ultimately, it’s just going to nerf someone, and those people are just going to un-sub. Plain English: you balance by nerf, you lose subs. And even if it’s to bring some back, you’ll lose more than you can bring. Balance should be buffing to overcome, not nerfing to make fair. If I’m the weak kid on the dodgeball court, I don’t want you to tie an arm behind the big kids, I want a giant sling shot. Buffs make people happy, debuffs don’t. You would think that was obvious, yet I have been facepalming on WAR’s behalf on every nerf made since the Iron Breaker Knockdown nerf in October of 2008.
Don’t expect the fans of the theme to be long-term subs. Yeah, WAR got 850K in subs on release. Most of which were a combination of DAoC players and Warhammer Table Top fans. The DAoC will remain, the TT players won’t be there in 3 months. Hence the very strong loss in subs within 2 months after release. 850K to 300K is massive. So as much as I want to be wow’d by the Star Wars theme in the game, it should only be the essence. Be prepared for giant skill level differences in speciality themed games with players that have never played an MMO before and the grind veteran. A speciality theme game like WAR, encountered something that no other big selling MMO had, a giant population of non-MMO players coming in. They were the first to go too. Boredom, frustration, lack of understanding. Designing a new player guide a year after the release is stupid. Do it now. If someone’s not already on the project, they should be. The only guide to MMOs that WAR received was this half ass long read in a PDF given in our Open Beta package. The later tutorial was great, it was just way too late to matter.
Things that were done incredibly awesome, but not seeing as much of in SWTOR:
The Warhammer Online site was my go to every other day since 2006. Because once a month, even once a week, once a day, there was a podcast, concept art, articles, reviews, something keeping our eyes always on the game. One that we really didn’t even know anything about gameplay wise, until about February of 2008. I guess what SWTOR is missing is ‘the podcast.’ Dumb and almost useless, but fan service none the less. Making a 30 second camera run around harassing devs was brilliant. Nothing happens, but it keeps us glued. And maybe, having developers faces in the public was not the best thing, but us fans and opinionated people like the connection. It showed Mythic was about community, not just a product. We don’t see that in EA. When you have a consistent something for people to consistently come to your website, you are guaranteeing subs. Maybe go find Paul and move him to BioWare. We like Brits.
EA is going to spend a crapload on this game. Horay. They are also going to fire well over half of BioWare 3 months after release. And really, unless BioWare can hold on to the SW fanbois and please the dedicated MMO’ers at the same time, holding a decent sub base will be as shaky as WAR has been struggling with. I mean, really, what’s the likelihood that EA doesn’t just buy the company that lands the Harry Potter MMO deal in 2011, and then SWTOR is just the next failed WoW killer in 2012 that doesn’t have a budget for expansion, and is letting that new studio burrow devs for the Harry Potter MMO in 2012?
Not that I want to be extremely hard on a game that isn’t even close to release, but there is really nothing wrong with WAR, and a real expansion would definitely bring a crapload of subs and bring in back some decent revenue. Very little elbow grease and some attention could turn better numbers and a great game to admire for ages. EA really put a strong disdain in the mouths of WAR lovers and Mythic RvR based fans. And these measly “couple hundred thousand subscribers,” Mr. Brown, aren’t going to forget the project that EA left die after making their money. Because there should be no doubt to where all these ”couple hundred thousand subscribers” are going to be in 2011, and will be sure to let the next fan base know what’s in store for 2012.
I said it once, I’ll say it again. In 2008 we said, don’t worry, it’s Mythic. In 2009 we quickly were reminded it’s not Mythic, it’s EA Mythic. In 2010 we said, don’t worry, it’s BioWare. In 2011 …
I hope patterns don’t have to repeat, I can only hope though. I don’t want to be back here in 2012,