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?
Search around the gaming blogs and you’ll probably find out the opinions of everyone weighing in on SOE putting RMT in the form of their new Station Cash into EQ and EQII. There have also been announcements that the new Star Wars MMO from Bioware might be a free-to-play/RMT model game. And SOE does have FreeRealms and The Agency coming.
To be honest… I really don’t care overly much. About the only problem I have with the whole thing is that I find it weird when a game offers both on the same server. EQ and EQII both still have a monthly fee that you have to pay to play the game, and now on top of that there is the Station Cash which allows you to buy weapons and armor (nothing great, but definitely a leg up from starting with nothing if you are willing to pay the $10 for it rather than get gear as you play), and experience point bonus potions (where you get use it and for the next 4 or 2 hours you get a 10%, 25% or 50% bonus to your exp earning, again nothing great, but would help you out if you’d rather spend the cash than the time it would take to grind out that exp on your own). It will be interesting to see where they take it, how much of what kind of items they end up putting on the market, and how much profit they derive from it. And of course, if they release an expansion that increases the level cap, now that they sell exp bonus potions for cash, will they be inclined to increase the experience curve in new levels making people desire the potions more? If that is the route they end up going, that’s where I find the problem of using both payments in one game. So now I am paying my $15 a month to get a game designed to make me want to pay more money… seems underhanded, if that is the direction this goes. But for now, its all a “wait and see”.
Another reason I don’t care about which payment model they follow is that neither subscriptions nor microtransactions address the problems that I have with most MMOs. Let’s take Warhammer Online for example. I really wanted to play this game, and on some level I still do. I haven’t played it since beta because my contract job ended and I am out of work. Its hard to justify paying for a game box and then a monthly fee when I need to be saving every penny until I find work again. (I am just about the unluckiest person when it comes to unemployment… contract ends right as the economy goes to shit… the last time I was unemployed was in 2001… you remember 2001, right? That was when the tech field kinda collapsed a bit and then terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center… so, I’m unemployed, sell your stocks and don’t visit any targets of opportunity.) If I were to play Warhammer Online, sadly, I could only play with half of the people I want to play with. A bunch of gaming bloggers and readers made up a group called the Casualties of War and picked one server. I tried to steer my old EQ friends on to the same server, but they ended up somewhere else. Unfortunately, these two servers were not merged. So, if I did buy the game, I’d have to pick one group of friends over the other. This has pretty much been true of every MMO to come out since EQ. Even with EQ, while I started out on E’Ci with my local friends when I started a new job and found out a couple of people there played EQ too, they were on another server. Sure, we could still share stories about the game and talk about stuff, but we could never play together… and even more odd, the two servers in question had totally different communities: for example, on E’Ci, player item auctioning was done in the East Commonlands tunnel; on the other server, Greater Faydark. One server was fairly decent about setting up a raid calendar and people trying not to close people out of content, the other was totally free-for-all. And while it was interesting to be able to talk about and compare how two groups of people played the same game completely differently, it was overshadowed by not being able to play together without paying fees, leaving behind friends, or playing on two servers (which given the “effort” required to level and raid in EQ, playing on two servers was kind of insane unless you were only serious about one of them).
These days, when a new MMO is launching, I don’t even bother to ask if its a subscription game or a micro transaction game… the first question I always ask is “How many servers do they have?”