Familiarity Breeds Contempt

I am enjoying WAR. It hasn’t quite turned out the way I had supposed originally (or even beta tested) but it has enough good to stick around for a while to see how it all turns out. This little piece is going to comment on where I think WAR went wrong, but not in any micro or specific ways. More of the general attitude and design decisions from the top down which has put the game in a precarious position. A position they put themselves in but am glad to see they are making the move. MMO developers have a giant elephant in the room that they ‘don’t want to compete with’, but rather expand on the space that WoW has made mainstream. The MMO development cycle isn’t much of a mystery – see who is in the market, see what they do, and build from both their successes and mistakes. The mistake that WAR made was confusing what made WoW a success and what makes WoW a failure. They got it all backwards. They developed WAR with the good of WoW for the players, and the good of WoW for the company. These two things are competing resources and a delicate balance is much needed. What is often good for the company isn’t always good for the players – players want change with their new MMO’s. Let me further explain, after the break.

WoW is built with grinds! It isn’t a hidden fact, and Blizzard is quite proud of it. Grind mechanics are GREAT for the company. It allows them to worry less about meaningful content and more on content that takes time. Time to grind levels. Time to grind factions. Time to grind gear. This beautiful grind setup ensures that players keep playing, and keep paying their monthly subscription. WAR saw the grind and the income associated with it, and wanted that too. Problem is that people that aren’t playing WoW anymore are often tired of that grind and wanted a new experience. Why go to WAR to grind, when you can stay in WoW and have a much smoother grind experience? Players tired of the grind in WoW who tried WAR, realized it was more of the same, probably went back. If I am going to be forced to grind might as well grind in a familiar environment. I used grind 15 times in this paragraph alone so you can guess where I stand on that issue. Now to be clear, time for advancement isn’t the same thing as the ‘G’ word – or at least doesn’t have to be. If the 23-40 experience in WAR mirrored the 1-22 experience in terms of fun the game would be much, much better. They ramped up EXP expectations so high after the first 22 levels it turned into a job real, awful, quick. The same job I had in WoW. Why quit Burger King to go work at McDonalds? I have 6 Characters below level 20 to prove how fun that initial experience is.

WoW sure has a big world! Better build a big world with WAR too! Problem here is that for WoW 90% of the world isn’t relevant at any given time. Which works in the PVE game since it all focuses on max level fun. WAR’s nice and big world works against it as there is too much space and too few people to fill it. They succeeded in creating a huge, incredible world of different flavors and zones, it really is an amazing adventure to go exploring. They failed at figuring out what their server capacity would be, and how big they needed to build their world to fit that server capacity to make it fun at EACH stage of the game. Not just the beginning, not just the end. I had mentioned in blog comments elsewhere that this problem might not have been much of a problem once we hit max level – thing is, people are already leaving and we aren’t going to see the happy max level dance. At least not until server transfers are complete, anyway.

WoW has Quests! Typical generic boring quests! WAR has to have that too – I mean, they are a staple of every MMO. Let’s do our own spin and make the PQ (which, I still love in theory but dislike in implementation) but throw a whole bunch of boring old quests out there to go along with it. My question is, WHY? Why not just have Public quests, Scenarios, and open RVR? For the questy-questertons, why not have every tome unlock a quest with suitable reward to make killing those 1000 Dark Elfs an even bigger reward than just a title. Wouldn’t that put the focus on what WAR is supposed to be, PVP? Aren’t we sick of the stupid quest systems anyway? I know WAR wanted to try to cater to the WoW core audience, but why not create your own core audience – and capitalize on the DAOC audience as well.

WoW has a ton of levels! So, since they do, then WAR must too! TONS OF THEM! MILLIONS OF LEVELS! (I need an afternoon Coffee/Vicoden cocktail). I talked about leveling systems before, and how WAR would have been a perfect backdrop to break the mold. All levels end up doing, and expansions with newer added levels, is create a gigantic barrier of entry for new players. Isn’t that against the point of what an MMO should be? In business terms it does make sense in a way, since it is always far cheaper to retain customers than to get new ones. That old moniker doesn’t quite work in the MMO sub model as not only do you need as many players as you can, but you need them for as long as you can keep them.

Wow charges $14.99! Hey – (bah, I don’t even want to touch that one. Here is a tip. When new, you need to entice people to try and give them a reason to enjoy your guaranteed-to-be-bug-infested new game. Make it fricken cheap for the first year while you make your game better. Will leave it at that. There is no rhyme or reason to the arbitrary number.)

I could go on, and on, but that Coffee/Vicoden thing is kicking in. There have been no changes on the past 5 released MMOs and there probably won’t be for the next 5. As a business man I have learned that thinking outside of the box, being the first position in the market, having the next “great idea” is always far more profitable (and personally rewarding) than being the company that copied the best idea they could find and tried to make it better. Even if they copied 5 core systems with their own spin on things, stop spinning and start creating. 

We need far fewer MMO “managers” and far more MMO visionists.

PS – Happy Halloween!



6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. My college marketing class was the only one that I took in the business college. Out of probably 300 students, I was in the top three (and far and away above the average earnings) in a market simulation game. I based my business model (selling computers) on selling the best known product (funding cutting edge research) at the lowest prices (somewhat slimmer margins), counting on volume discounts on the back end and huge market share to balance each other out. The average earnings in six virtual “quarters” in the game was something like 30 million. I earned just over 200 million. Would that I could do that in reality.

    Still, the take home message (one that I went into the class with) was “produce a fantastic product and sell it for very competitive prices, and the market will reward your efforts”. To me, that’s common sense. It’s baffling to me why MMO designers want to get by with as little effort as they do.

    I blame it on the shareholders and financial system that are allergic to risk and responsibility, catering to the unholy god of “perpetual growth” instead of sustainable business built on fantastic customer service and quality products.

  2. Sorry, “balance each other out” should read “compensate for the slimmer margins”. Me no writey so gud when I’m multitasking.

  3. @Tesh: I am a contract employee. I am a contract employee by choice, the company I presently am contracted out by wanted me to be a full blown employee – but I have been business for self since I was 20 and have a hard time “working” for “managers” who don’t really get business but instead are working to keep their job. Just wanted to lay down a little perpsective before I go into my shareholders mini rant.

    I am working on a project right now and get to hang out with some high-falutin’ finance professionals. Guys that bill out at $1200 an hour. We were sitting around a table and I threw out a concept on how to change the core structure of the business I am contracted out by. One of them looked at me, smiled, and said “As a business guy I think it’s brilliant. As a ‘bean counter’ I have to tell you you are leaving way too much money on the table.”

    Companies with shareholders are more concerned about the latter than the former. Privately held companies have the option of choosing what a fair return on their investment is, whereas publically traded companies have to maximize returns at every corner to drive investment. Obviously everyone wants to be rich, and work to make a ton of cash. The difference in private vs. public is that in the private setting I can decide what I am *comfortable* with making and design a company with that end goal in mind. In the public setting you are playing with other people’s money and anything not considered ‘maximum’ return is viewed as a failure.

    Private companies aren’t always better for the same greed motivators prevalent in public companies but you do have a much higher chance of getting a structure more conducive to employee and consumer satisfaction in a private company than a public – the latter is ALWAYS searching for ways to bump that bottom line regardless of their position in the market.

  4. Thanks, Chris. I’ve had an instinctive distrust of the stock market and “public companies” for a long time now, and it’s nice to hear some other datapoints.

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