Friday 9 January 2009

The WoW gamer and the WAR launch

I’ve been on beta and launch for most of the major MMOs since Ultima Online, I have to say other than GOA’s open beta cock up, this has been the smoothest MMO launch I’ve ever been on. The servers are very stable (with the exception of fortress raids, more on that later), the classes & factions are much better balanced than you would expect at launch and the CTDs (Crash to Desktop) were nothing compared with the likes of Age of Conan… Following on from the launch day Mythics patching has been excellent. Content of the regular hot fixes and larger patches have been well communicated, and noticeably have rarely introduced other problems. So certainly in my mind, the best launch I’ve ever been on. However in this post WoW age, is this probably best ever MMO launch good enough?

The veterans of other MMO launches were playing games with subscription figures of up to around 430,000 subs (EQ for example), but with WoW you’re talking over 11 million subs! Today’s MMO publishers want a piece of that 11 million pie, so when launching a new MMO a developer is now dealing with WoW’s monstrous subscription numbers. But the vast majority of those WoW players haven’t been on an MMO launch before; WoW was their first MMO... They don’t give 2 shits that this is a great launch, even when compared with WoWs, they weren’t on the WoW launch anyway. They are comparing WoW NOW with WAR at launch. They expect WAR to instantly be on par with a game that’s had 4 years of patching and live testing, so that’s barely any bugs and 4 years of patched content included please! Clearly that’s just not possible, but is the new breed of players from the WoW age wrong to expect this?

Yes and no. WoW’s horde of new MMO gamers are here, they expect their MMO to be faultless (anything else would be EPIC FAIL!!111), they’re very loud about it and they are paying your subs fee. If you want to compete then as a developer you must accept that and deal with it. It is what it is. Which means you need a damn well polished game and a shit load of content. But those gamers that write off WAR because it’s not as “polished” as WoW (yet) are also missing out. If they chill out with the rage about the odd bug or things working differently, read up about MMO launches, listen to what Mythic are saying (and importantly are doing) and look at the game objectively, they’d see this game has massive potential. Potential that on active servers is starting to be to kick in. Of course people just argue, they’re paying for this game, so why should they care about MMO history.

It’s impossible to launch a flawless MMO, but it seems to me that these days only a flawless MMO will be an instant hit, if what qualifies as a hit is judged against WoW’s subscription numbers. A new MMO needs time to develop in a live setting, but it’s now imperative that development is of a high quality. It needs to be tempting people away from WoW, not just an alternative, it needs to be a temptation.

However, I think WAR will end up having millions of subscribers and establish itself as the clear second place MMO. EA are not stupid, they know that Mythic are on the ball, they know that they’ve got the best licence in gaming and they sure as hell will understand the MMO world today (EA owns Ultima Online for example). If you are on an active server the game right now is awesome fun, I’ve had more memorably epic moments in the last few months than I did in all 4 years of WoW. Then if you look at the content additions we know about for this year… we have 4 major cities to be added, which judging by the current cities should mean another 4 end game and 6 mid range dungeons for each faction. And then we’ve got the last 2 missing classes apparently coming in the next few months. That’s sure as hell going to draw some attention.

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Half man half pixel. Music obsessive, likes a drink, occasional bastard.