If you travel in the gaming blog circles, you might have heard about or even read a little anonymous diatribe about Warhammer Online. And there are responses. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. And I’m sure there are more… But really, I don’t want to talk about that. Instead, let’s talk about what constitutes a failure in the MMO world.
I’ve seen a number of places, in comments on the above linked posts and all around the Internet that Warhammer “failed”. However, they sold 1.2 million boxes, which I have to assume covered a good bit, if not all of the development costs. We know they bled subscribers, and the last official numbers were that they had 300,000 subscribers as of March 2009. They have cut back on servers, down to 9 (4 US, 2 UK, 2 German, 1 French) and are most certainly down below the reported 300k. Still… if we can assume that the box sales and the first couple of months recouped the development investment, and if the current operating costs are below their subscription revenue, while the returns for the investors aren’t good, is an MMO operating in the black a failure? I mean, they haven’t shut the game off yet, so I kinda have to assume they operate in the black, or damn close to it. I could be wrong.
Clearly, the game did not perform as well as people would have hoped. They didn’t make WoW-style money hats to wear while driving dump trucks of money to the bank, but did they lose money? Is the game bleeding cash? Each perspective on a game defines failure in different ways. An investor, for example, will define failure as earning less money than other, less risky, options. If he earned less on his cash than he would have just putting it in a savings account, then it’s an epic failure. A publisher or game company probably defines success or failure on the affect the game has on both the bottom line AND the company reputation. If a game is making money but the press keeps bringing the game up as being crap or failing, then overall the game is probably a failure since it might affect getting future investors to give you their money.
For me, as a player and a wanna-be developer, success means the game runs and I, as a player, can play it and we, as the developers, are still able to release more content. Failure exists only when the game is in the red and we have to shut it off to keep from bankrupting everyone involved.
How many MMOs have truly failed? Asheron’s Call 2, The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, APB, Motor City Online, The Sims Online… Are there more bodies in the MMO graveyard? How do you define failure?