In the romantic comedy “How to lose a guy in 10 days” A reporter is writing an article with that name – and wants to prove she can lose a guy in 10 days. On the other side, the guy, a big advertising exec takes a bet that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days. The result is genuinely cute (but mediocre) – no matter what she does that would make most guys afraid he sticks it out. Both are trying to win a bet. It’s not high on my recommended list, but a funny thought. If there are two people with exact opposite intentions, how to they get along? Is that the same opposite forces working between MMO developers who are trying to get as much money as possible for their product, and consumers who want as much bang for their buck?
The truth is in real life that doesn’t work that much. Quick on the heels of WildStar’s decline and some other big launches over the years, lets have a look at 10 ways to ensure you can push those gamers and consumers away from your product.
#10 A flawed vision
I don’t disagree with having a vision – that is critical! What surprised me with WildStar was that I don’t know who created the vision or why. Did they consult with players? Did NCsoft buy into it? I ask these things because I get it – I understand if McDonald’s offers the Super Grease and Cardiac Bacon Burger because they are speaking to their customer base. So Gaffney and targetting the 1% vision was the outcome, but who approved and funded that vision? Why would he no longer be running the company when he achieved what he set out to do? With brands I always believe to be who you are. KFC will never attract a healthy eating segment. Be who you are, and be proud of it. In gaming that means design your game for the audience you want – niche or not. I think you see this improving with recent Kickstarter projects – we’ll see if and when they deliver on those.
#9 : Have key people leave the company near/after launch
There are a few WildStar examples of this, but also some bigger ones in the past. I get churn, but nothing signals failure more than people leaving/fired who built it or spent years building the community – no matter what reasons are shared.
#8 Gate content in silly ways
Content needs to be gated, we get it. Do it in a way that isn’t insulting to the intelligence of the player base. I would be playing (and paying for) SWTOR if they didn’t make certain quest rewards contingent on subscriber status. I would be more fond of LOTRO if they didn’t make character classes gated by an expansion that isn’t required for them to play in the first place. This goes beyond cash shops though – if you have a subscription, don’t add a cash shop that gates content. If you aren’t a F2P or B2P title, don’t gate content with needless and obvious grinds. I would have played Mists of Pandaria a LOT longer if progression wasn’t gated behind daily quests.
#7 : Lose your most supportive community members
Games like WoW and EQ lived on as much in the fansites as the games themselves. I still read WoWinsider and I haven’t played the game in a year! Allakhazams was pure gold back in the day, and look at sites like MMO-Champion. You need a community to support and hype your game. WildStar lost it’s busiest podcast (among others) and some community news sites. Companies need to celebrate, support, and nurture those sites. When you lose those who are most enthusiastic about your game it sends a bad signal to the community.
#6 Do not reward loyalty to long time customers
The industry has to mature sooner or later and start treating customers like every other industry – rewarding loyalty, and customers, with things not just to do with who spent the most money the earliest (paid beta, collector editions, etc.) That guy that has paid a subscription to you for 5 years? Give him a title, or perk, or hell – a free month. Do something to recognize the growth that individual has provided you. I know some do this well with early beta access to future titles (etc.) but I strongly believe this is an area developers and publishers can greatly improve on.
#5 Be non-supportive of diversity in gaming
There is a lot of heat on both sides of this argument – I won’t link to the gamer definition discussions, or the Blizzard developer quotes – but it is out there – and companies that aren’t aware, or mindful, of how they represent different views of the gaming community in their games will have a much harder go of it going forward.
#4 : Over market, over hype, under deliver
Warhammer online comes to mind here the most. “We have PVP! PVE! PQs! We have EVERYTHING!” – and they did. Everything except an immersive, reliable, consistent and balanced gaming experience. Too much hype. Less sizzle, more steak. With marketing budgets making up more and more of development costs these days, I am one who firmly believes that money is better spent on development. People will market your game for you if it is actually good.
#3 : Charge a subscription
I know some people like subs. I know some people prefer them and won’t play games without them. The truth is that a large portion won’t even touch a subscription. This is all fine and good (again) if the company doesn’t mind having less users paying more. I believe hybrid solutions are the way to go and that will retain the maximum amount of players. The all or nothing approach of a subscription doesn’t work as well anymore. There need to be stages and varying access levels for it to be accepted by the majority. Yes, it works for EVE and WoW and the jury is still out on ESO – but WildStar will almost be certainly going to F2P – as have everyone else. There is a reason for this.
#2 : Have a bad cash shop
Not ironic behind the previous point and cash shops aren’t inherently bad on their own. #2 and #3 are interchangeable in order. However, a bad cash shop is as much the kiss of death as a bad subscription. Cash shops should be always available, never annoying. Let players know there is a cash shop, let them know the sales, then leave them alone and let them play. Constant reminders and popups are a great way to lose the community by sheer annoyance. I did spend a LOT of money in League of Legends, who never did anything silly with their cash shop. In hindsight, I spend more money per month in LoL than I did with a subscription in WoW – but didn’t regret it once. I had the choice of when and how much to spend.
#1 : Lack of immersion.
This is the number one problem for me personally, so I listed it as #1 although I am sure other people will have other thoughts on that. While reflecting on WildStar the truth is that while I loved the setting, the style, the characters and so many things they did right – the worst thing they did was constantly drag me OUT of the immersion. They had an announcer for so many things – challenges, dings, etc. It took the world away and constantly reminded me that I was playing a game. Sure, the point may be to play a game, but I play these kinds of games to feel like it is more than just a game. I want to get into it and feel like my character is helping solve the poisoned river that is destroying the town. I don’t need the 4th wall to be broken with an announcer voice telling me “f&*cking awesome job, cupcake” when I do get it done. EQ immersed me by the third person view alone that was standard back then. The game was through my eyes. DAOC through my realm’s reliance on my actions. WoW has it’s easter eggs but it really dug down in the lore overall. You felt like you were in Azeroth. Let’s get back to to immersion.
Do you agree? I admit these are very personal to me but I also feel they have merit to what is going on in the marketplace as well. Some are more obvious than others and the rankings could wildly change depending on who is reading them. Overall I think it is a good barometer of some huge issues in our hobby and I’d love to play a game that avoided these 10.
I made my feelings known about Mr. McQuaid back in the day when we couldn’t tell if he was hoaxing or not when coming up for air – and Jim Collin’s “Good to Great” research was pretty clear research that ‘rockstar’ CEOs tend to fail more often than not (its a great read) especially compared to the down at home, technocratic types.
Is it ANY surprise that “our” generation’s ‘rockstar’ CEOs – Lord British, Arundane, and Marc Jacobs (does he even have a cool rockstar-CEO pseudonym?) haven’t done any gaming good since their “one and done” hits that many would chalk up more to timing than to vision.
I tend to agree, after all, if it was vision, follow up games would have been better (because they have the budgets to support their visions!) Yet WAR failed miserably, Tabula Rasa as well, and Vanguard…. ok, they all may have contributed to gaming and gave some people some good times – but on the backs of the “superstars” these three games were supposed to revolutionize the MMO spaces – because look at who they were made by!
So each are now 1/1 in shipping a successful title and I am surprised that anyone is giving them even a fighting chance – all made some pretty good excuses for failing the second time around (issues with big labels, etc.) but the true failing was their leadership – and the employees paid the ultimate price.
They will all get their chances thanks to fandom and Kickstarter and I honestly hope they make something worth playing. I am not holding my breath though. I’d rather support people that make great companies and have a history of success that’s not tied to one win 15 years ago…
Despite my obvious and clear negative reaction to the original thought of supporting Mark Jacobs, a couple things happened that was a tad silly and makes me a soft person. No no, not that kind of soft but mushy nostalgic soft. First, I tried to find the Stratics boards which were the main boards I used to chat it up about DAOC. Weren’t they the official boards at one point? Either way, they are changed but still there. It shows that I have made over 700 posts there back in the day, but alas, only a handful of them are find-able. I guess they migrated and/or scrubbed the hell out of the old boards.
A little google-fu took me to these boards where I recognized names from the server from 2001. And it felt strange yet nice to reconnect and then I realized – the same feelings that made you dislike or distrust a dev (fairly or unfairly) are the same that made you feel connected to the people within that gaming community. And that’s the key, isn’t it – that there is any feeling whatsoever, in a MMOSCAPE dominated by apathy. Who cares what happens in any recent MMO that doesn’t require people to make the game great in the first place.
So heck, go support Camelot Unchained. The $5 you spend might just make meaning in an MMO again. Even if it doesn’t, that’s just one less trip to Starbucks this week. I even give you permission to cancel your WoW subscription 10 days early this month so you can afford it.
(yes, I know it doesn’t work that way. But it should, no?)
Funny enough, I managed to convince a DAOC rep (now EA.. damn you!) that I had enough intimate information about my old account, that even though I didn’t have the email address for it anymore.. its mine again. There is no free trial, no ‘welcome back’ not a thing! But hey, I’ll buy a month – if only to remind me why it badly needs updating and that supporting CU was worth it.