Diffusions in MMO Gaming

I just read an amazing book and while I am saving that for another entire post one part stuck out to me. That part was in regards to the explanation behind how, and what rate, new technologies spread throughout societies. That explanation is called the “Diffusion of Innovations” and was written back in 1962. It was recently updated in the 2000s and it is popularized by a Professor of Communications, Everett Rogers. It’s a pretty cool theory in our tech driven world and it makes sense.

The author used it to prove a point for a business argument. I immediately thought of paid beta/alpha tests.   The theory goes like this (basic format) for adopting new technologies.

The theory goes that new technologies are best picked up by Innovators, who evangelize to Early Adopters (who purchase on their recommendation) – and then it gets a bit of steam for the Early Majority to pick up, and the Late Majority now sees a lot of people using it and they don’t want to be left out. The Laggards never buy but only adopt when it’s been standardized, cheaper than their current option (etc.).  I may have bastardized the whole Theory – but that is the way it was explained in the book I read.

The argument goes that for new tech its best to solely target the Innovators and the rest sorts itself out. If you target the Majorities (Early, Late) they don’t understand why they need the tech as they would if it had gone through Innovators and Early Adopters. It makes sense – who knew we needed DVRs until TIVO? Now they are a standard cable box. (for the record, TIVO is an example of a failed new tech – they went straight to the mass market and people weren’t ready / didn’t understand)

Of course, with my love of gaming, after reading this theory in a business book I wanted to try and apply it to what we see in gaming.

Applying the theory makes sense with the “pay for betas” trend we have been seeing – and in which I have participated. This makes sense – if you get the early innovators and they start blogging, podcasting, and sharing their experiences with others you may be able to get Early Adopters involved. This has actually created a revenue stream for SOE. This has been working really well for Archeage as well – I have been reading great blogs and stories around blognation. While that particular one isn’t my cup of tea (I’ll be a Late Majority for AA – if at all) I’m still reading and thinking about it.

For early Betas the theory doesn’t work as cleanly for two reasons – one is because characters get wiped because its software and not new tech – this causes people (like me) to not invest as much time or evangelize as much to other people. I spent more time in Landmark than I did in WildStar and if I knew my efforts would exist, I would still be playing. If I was still playing, I’d still be blogging and posting pictures about it. It’s fun, it’s a grown up Minecraft. If it can be as commercially successful and trendy as Minecraft remains to be seen. The second way the theory is a stretch for gaming is that MMOs in themselves aren’t really new anymore and the curve is meant to represent the adoption of new tech.

Despite that I still think it makes sense that gaming companies reach out and engage their best players and potential players as early as possible and get them talking about it – good or bad. Conversations and top of mind – the buzz – is always important.

The other way to look at that curve and apply to gaming is possibly the population curve of a MMO.

  • Innovators = Alpha
  • Early Adopter = Beta
  • Early Majority = Pre-orders
  • Late Majority = Launch
  • Laggards = Post-launch purchasers

Looking at it that way  works with the overplayed market share % as well – and isn’t it true that at launch most new games peak anyway? This doesn’t replace the Gartner Hype Curve but fits along with it. For all NEW MMO launches (post-Wow) it seems that every game except for WoW, and EVE, had peak subscriber base at launch. That is a sobering thought to the importance of launch to developers. SWTOR, AOC, WAR – are there any that ended up with more subscribers than boxes they sold at launch?

If that is indeed the case and we can apply it directly then a MMO has ~90% of it’s maximum player base at launch.

Since I read about the theory through a second hand source I am going to get to the source material and read the actual applications. I have a habit of looking at a lot of my experiences through a gaming lens (service, loyalty, math, experiences, heck, even family!) and I suppose that in itself could be a measuring stick of my passion for this pastime.

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