Waking the Giant (revisited): Ignoring the Giant
Jun 18, 2008 17:31:47

world of warcraftBack when I started writing for Virgin Worlds I began with an article called "Waking the Giant". Over one year and millions more players later the giant has acquired a new name (Activision/Blizzard) and is still sleeping where ever it pleases. Mike Royko, the late and VERY great columnist (and one of my personal heroes) once said the only way to get a bureaucrat out of their chair is with a stick of dynamite. Had Mike lived long enough to see the advent of mmos and the internet he would have taken one step further:

The only way to unseat the Activision/Blizzard giant is with a small thermonuclear warhead.

But as the old saying goes, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." A little over a year ago a well known game developer and one of the pioneers in the industry said the following words:

"Ideally, you launch with both a flexible engine that grows with you and also in a tech window that doesn't mean that a lot of your players feel the need to upgrade their machines significantly."

Do you know who uttered these words? Who do they sound like? Rob Pardo perhaps? After all in an era where some of the latest games still require a system just short of a Cray Supercomputer to run, Blizzard still produces one of the most popular games in the world and yet it will easily run on a machine that is four years old. What about John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment (SoE)? In a recent interview at Gamesindustry.biz he was quoted as saying, "...we've been making games for machines that we all have at home...well, that doesn't help us get the 10 year old kid with the 4 year old computer"

If you guessed Rob Pardo or John Smedley you would be wrong. The quote in question is by none other than Brad McQuaid, progenitor of Vanguard, the would-be "WoW killer" (or so he once told us) who got beat so bad he looked like the proverbial man who brought a knife to a gun fight. Even so, it appears that the MMO market still has not learned the lesson that the Blizzard Giant tried to teach. Not long ago the community manager for EA/Mythic was quoted on their Warhammer Herald website as saying the following in answer to what the system requirements will be for that game:

"I've been winking at people and saying 'The second best system for sale next summer.' I'm only mostly kidding."

Even if EA/Mythic was kidding, Funcom is not the Age of Conan (AoC) doesn't even run smoothly at the RECOMMENDED system requirements, let alone the minimum system requirements. As fun as Age of Conan is to play, when I run it on either of my computers (both of which exceed the recommended system requirements) the game still runs about as smooth as trying to pushing an elephant across the rug on its nose.

As Brent recently said, "If you want a game to be massive, it can't have massive system requirements." No one will ever unseat the Blizzard Gorilla if developers are busy telling us what computer systems and upgrades we will buy just to play their games. Personally, I am glad Vanguard was made. It taught the industry some valuable lessons - lessons it seems that are quickly being forgotten. However, when game developers reach the point where it seems they are getting kickbacks from the people who make computers and video cards, it just might be time for another "Vanguard."

Dazzle 'em with Bullsh*t...

Yes, the fact of the matter is that people like Jeff Kaplan and Rob Pardo talk so much about "Polish" in developing a game that many columnists are ready to throw up on their shoes every time the word is uttered. That in mind, you would think that it is a lesson that is drilled in to just about every game developer's head in the industry by now - you would think so, would you?

Yet that isn't the case.

These days, game developers throw so much hype at us in their market campaigns, that if they fail to deliver they are setting themselves up for failure. As one of my readers recently pointed out to me, developers seem to feel that they can change anything after a game is out, as long as they do it gradually enough. Even after the release of AoC, Funcom is busy promising the subscribers (yes I am one of them) how great things WILL BE, but aren't yet.

So what is the lesson here? Simply put, dazzling graphics and empty promises of great game play don't equate to a high subscriber base in the long run.

In the long run...

For a long time, Blizzard was one of the few, if not only, companies where the developers of the game could tell the publisher when the game is ready, but even those days may be changing. Even though good escapism sells well in a bad economy, the fact remains that "disposal income" is a lot less "disposable" any more. Companies like SoE may have built a business on keeping servers open as long as they are paid for by the subscriber base, but it is questionable how many other developers will have that same option any more.

Some of the latest efforts in expanding the video gaming market, at least where mmos are concerned, go by the adage "bring 'em young". If Blizzard expanded the definition of who plays video games it also caught the attention of the rest of the entertainment industry. Every corporate executive and their brother seem to have an idea for an MMO in their back pocket these days, and seem to feel they can grab for part of Activision/Blizzard's action. For gamers it means a lot of choices and good times ahead - for game developers maybe not so much. A game company that doesn't deliver on promises could rapidly find themselves at the bottom of the heap.

So I may personally be so bored with World of Warcraft that I would rather drill my own teeth and pull them out through my nose, then play the game. Still, to paraphrase an old expression, "10 million players can't be wrong". Blizzard HAS to be doing something right and industry developers had best stop ignoring the lessons.

See you online,

- Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Jun 18, 2008 17:31:47 CST (comments: 1)


')**(' by AlikSteel
Submitted on 2008-06-18 23:43:46 CST
I have only played WoW once. I played for only 4 hours and just never got into it. I have found that now I hate it when any one ever talks about how great the game WOW is. I don't know why hate it. I just hate WOW and any thing dealing with Blizzard. I may be becouse all my MMO seem to be SOE games. It just may be hating what they have and what I don't.

Like what you said "10 million players can't be wrong. Blizzard HAS to be doing something right and industry developers had best stop ignoring the lessons." I am with you on that and beleave that it has to happen soon. Blizzard has been on top for a few years now and some one some where has to have seen. Even with me thinking that some one or some ones will find the way of the Blizzard. I beleave that I will not be in on it. I tend to like games that most do not. So as all of you look to the next best thing I am looking for the next love to hate fest.

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From the desk of Julie Whitefeather


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