So I realized something this week, the release of WoD is going to clash with my annual gold survey. The release is set for November 13th, and I know I usually have the survey right before this, but 6.0 is going to land before that, and that’s going to screw up some of the numbers possibly. It might also mean that I get less responses to the survey. Could also mean I get more responses since interest in World of Warcraft will be at an all time high.
I guess I have four options:
Run the survey at the beginning of November per usual
Run it in October
Run it in December
Skip it this year
I really don’t want to skip it, but delaying it or running it early isn’t ideal either. And I don’t know what the pre-WoD madness is going to do to the data. This is going to require some thought, but I guess I’ll have to decide soon.
Yet another of Activision-Blizzard’s always thrilling financial reports has included some World of Warcraft subscription numbers, indicating that subs are down to 5.6 million people.
World of Warcraft numbers operate on such a different plain to other videogame statistics, that there are a couple of ways you can view this news. In one sense, it’s absolutely incredible that this decade old MMO still pulls in numbers that other games can only dream about. 5.6 million subscribers is clearly not to be sniffed at.
But by WoW’s astronomical standards, it is a decline. The Warlords of Dreanor spiked the subscription numbers back up to the 10 million range as recently as late 2014/early 2015. Viewed through that lens, dropping back to 5.6 million within eight months or so is quite a precipitous fall.
However, Blizzard are poised to announce a sixth expansion for the game at Gamescom on 6 August. The last expansion pushed the subscription numbers right back up again. Will it happen once more?
Elsewhere in the financial summary, it was noted that Diablo 3 has now “sold through” more than 30 million copies, globally.
There were also “registered player” numbers of Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, but they were rather unhelpfully bundled up with Destiny. Across all three games, there are 70 million registered. But without the break-down for the individual titles that’s pretty useless as a statistic.
I am not your regular scheduled Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 reporter, so I’m afraid my insight into the new Gamescom trailer is going to be minimal.
Naruto is in it, I can spot that much. Also, the game is now delayed until February 2016. It was originally due in September, but this video concludes with the new date of 9 February.
Designing MMO content is, IMO, far different than designing gaming content, primarily because MMO content has to last, while other gaming content has to be as fun as possible. It may sound odd, but I don’t think you should try and make all of your MMO content as fun as possible. Allow me to explain.
We generally play MMOs far longer than we do other games. If you get 30 hours out of a ‘normal’ game, that’s considered pretty good. If you only get 30 hours out of an MMO, you likely quit long before hitting the level cap or seeing the majority of the game, which in turn means you didn’t really like it. The business is built around this as well, especially the sub model. A happy customer who only played your sub MMO for 30 hours is not a good customer.
As MMO players, we are odd beasts. We will do things we don’t really like/love (dailies, farming, travel, etc) to allow us to do the stuff we do like/love (main quests, PvP, beating raid bosses, etc). Not only that, but we will continue to do this for far, far longer than we would tolerate in a normal game. Imagine if you had to hit rocks in an sRPG for 50 hours before you could craft a half-decent weapon? You would quit that game in short order, and it would get ridiculed in reviews. In MMOs though? 50 hours to level up a crafting skill/profession is considered rather short, and in many games that timeframe is orders of magnitude longer, with thousands and thousands of players participating and accomplishing that goal.
To return to not making your content fun, I believe MMO content should be designed on a scale. On one end you have rewards, and on the other end you have fun. The more fun said content, the less rewarding it should be, while the less fun something is, the more rewarding it needs to be to stay viable/relevant.
Some MMOs already do this well. PvP in EVE is considered the fun stuff, and not only is it not directly rewarding, it’s in fact neg-sum. Sticking with EVE, mining is perhaps one of the least fun things you can do in any game, let alone an MMO, but it’s highly rewarding (not just for the ISK earned, but also because the reward comes with so little effort). Travel in an MMO is generally not fun gameplay, but it’s again easy to do and the reward is easy to see (you arrive where you want to be). Raiding is hard work with little reward initially (but learning encounters and seeing new content is fun), while farming a raid isn’t all that fun, but it’s highly rewarding.
“Syn, why not just make content rewarding AND fun?”
Content has to be balanced, in that it all should be viable to the average player. If one bit of content is ‘the best’, it not only ruins the other stuff but also gets your players into bad patterns and ultimately sees them out the door quicker. As a designer it’s important to remember that one of the worst enemies of your game are the players themselves, and it’s your job to protect them, even if that means being the adult and telling the child that he can’t have yet another candybar.
Take FATES in FFXIV for example. Many players will form groups and grind nothing but FATES. This is because fundamentally, FATES aren’t well balanced. They are a bit too rewarding for what they are; decently fun group content. It would be hard to tone down the fun of FATES (I guess you could make them longer/more grindy), but lowering the rewards would be easy. But why would SquareEnix want to do this? Because you have a lot of other great content, and the more you can spread people out, the longer it will take for someone to get bored of your game, and keeping people around is what the model is all about.
Note that this only applies to content which is expected to last. A one-off piece of content, like a story quest or special event, should be as fun as possible, and so long as the rewards don’t spoil the rest of the game (like giving you the best weapon or a massive amount of gold), all good. Those little bits of content should be highlights for the player, something to look forward to and further motivate you; a bit of long-term ‘reward’ let’s say.
Far too many MMOs get this all wrong IMO, where a lot of developer resources are spend on imbalanced content, and one or two pieces are left unchecked that everyone rushes to, consumes, looks around, and leaves because everything else seems to lacking in comparison.
The recent news of Smed being let go lured Brad McQuaid out to drum up a little bit of noteworthy conversation. Brad wrote a few articles on his Pantheon blog (one of which he cut and paste in the comments of my Smed post) that I think are definitely worth a read.
The gist of his sudden onset of hypergraphia boils down to the very debate I have been having on this blog for the past 8 years: There are still people like me out there who want to play the same kinds of games we used to play, and our interests or tastes in MMOs haven’t changed. We aren’t too small to matter.
Brad summed up part of the problem:
Debate as to whether these newcomers are the only true audience now, or arguing that the ‘old school’ games were better, or more truly an MMO, is really unnecessary and unproductive. There’s nothing to win here, nothing to be proven, nothing that has to be protected, and also no need to declare one style or design somehow, magically, obsolete. Unfortunately, some behind some of the newer games that failed to retain subscribers, many of whom then intelligently switched their revenue model, have also (for whatever reason) proclaimed that their failure to retain gamers is because that gamer no longer exists, that the gamers who want to play long term, involve themselves with the community, and to work together in groups and guilds are gone now, or radically different.
I will disagree with Brad about there being nothing to prove. If there were nothing to prove then we would have MMOs being developed to match his solution (see quote coming up below). At every turn we are seeing MMOs come and go, and every time a game fails it’s because “that kind of game isn’t wanted anymore” or “people have changed.”
The problem rests with taking a business model that worked with one design targeted at a specific type of players and applying the same business model to a completely different design aimed at trying to target all sorts of different players.
The future I believe are MMOs that have identified and targeted specific audiences. Like with any space that has grown tremendously and become much more diverse, developers need to adapt as well and make great games for these gamers but also be ok with this reality: several diverse yet successful games can co-exist, each with different mechanics and features and content. Likewise, if you make a good game, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it.
That is the key right there, and that is what players like me have been trying to prove. I’m not one of the people saying that MMOs were better and every MMO should be like the old MMOs. While I do believe that older MMOs were better, I also believe that newer MMOs offer something that tons of people enjoy.
For example, if you enjoy SWTOR or WildStar then more power to you. A game like SWTOR or WildStar exist for people who want a game like SWTOR or WildStar. To say that because these two games “failed” means that MMOs are unwanted, or that the model/design these games originally tried to follow is obsolete, is unequivocally false. I’ll refer you to my comment above about using the wrong business model and wrong design for the wrong audience.
MMOs of all types should absolutely exist. And there IS a battle to be fought here for fair representation in the marketplace. Those wanting a group-centric social virtual world with devoted crafters and some edge of difficulty shouldn’t be relegated to failed Kickstarters and small teams with barely enough funds to hire decent artists. Similarly, those wanting a themepark or something more arcade-like shouldn’t be stuck with the McMMO budget games run by poor leadership destined to go F2P.Read More