Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Times change

The majority of MMO's in the last five years, assuming they managed to launch an endgame at all, have drastically reduced or eliminated both hard requirements [you must complete this attunement to zone in] and soft requirements [you must have X gear-score, but we are resetting the gear curve every patch] to enter compared to days of old. Excluding the two titles that launched in the last two months [for which the jury is still out], none of these titles have done especially well at retaining their subscription base, and have instead been forced to relaunch with different business models. Yes, Blizzard continues to release raids, but I do not see the increasing efforts to lower raid difficulty as a vote of confidence. Instead, it seems a reaction as more and more people and guilds either refuse to play them in the traditional formats or struggle to field the requisite rosters.

Business models are not a democracy, so the percentages do not matter. What matters is whether the content you are creating is retaining your revenue stream or not. A possible explanation of the trend, which I believe is what Carbine is banking on, is that it may not make sense to invest the time to develop raid content for the less dedicated crowd, because they are leaving in a few months anyway.

Raiders will often swear that WoW's first expansion, the Burning Crusade, was the pinnacle of the genre. I do not believe this is solely nostalgia, as TBC existed at a unique time in history. WoW opened the genre up to players who wanted to spend some or all of their time soloing, but at that point they faced little or no competition to retain those dollars. This left Blizzard free to do what Carbine may be attempting to do with Wildstar - pocket money from the majority, accept the risk that these people will run out of content faster than you can produce it and leave, and spend your effort on the minority who will only stick around with a robust raid game that's not feasible if budgeted solely on a per-capita basis.

That said, it is a different risk today than it was in January 2007. As other companies finally caught up to Blizzard's lead, WoW faced real competition for solo players dollars for the first time from titles like the newly launched LOTRO and the largely re-launched solo-friendly incarnation of EQ2. After cramming three full tiers of raids into the first four months of TBC, Blizzard spent much of the remaining time in that expansion, and arguably most of the time since, trying to make the game more accessible. You do not make that kind of change to a 10 million subscriber cash cow because things are trending in the way you wanted.

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