Desperately seeking anyone
Jun 08, 2009 14:21:54

lonely orcBetween Fran and I (my co-host for No Prisoners, No Mercy) we play a variety of games. Having let her account expire, Fran received a desperate email last week. At first glance, were it not for the graphics and HTML in which the email was written, it would have seemed like a letter from a desperate lover:

OMG PLEASE TAKE ME BACK….

The first part of the letter was a clever (if not intrusive) bit of advertising. The good folks at Mythic went to the trouble to tell her which of her guildies were still in the game, “carrying the banner”. I suppose one can’t expect a friends list to remain private, but even so, it just sets my teeth a bit on edge to have some advertising exec pry into my account. Yes, I will admit that was a bit of advertising that was a bit above the rest of the run of the mill trial subscriptions that are usually offered - not exactly “head and shoulders” above the rest, but above the rest none the less.

When Mythic was done telling Fran and I that all the cool kids were still playing Warhammer, the tone of the email changed entirely. If there was any doubt about the desperation of the letter this part removed all doubt. Like a desperate lover who will say anything to be taken back, Mythic began by telling Fran and I...

I HAVE CHANGED, REALLY I HAVE, PLEASE TAKE ME BACK.

The letter then launched into a litany of changes that Mythic had made to the game. Ironically, as I scanned down the list, none of them were changes about which we receive emails citing reasons why our listeners have quit playing Warhammer. Mind you the emails are from a great variety of players - both hardcore and casual, both bored of end game and tired of not being able to reach it, and all the other myriad degrees of involvement in the game.

Taken by itself, I might have simply dismissed the email as a clever advertising scheme and moved on. But that, as we all know, is not where things end for Mythic of late. I will be the first to admit that any time an MMO opens its virtual doors for the first time, deciding how many servers to start out with is little more than a crap shoot. Open too few and players get frustrated by long server queues and quit. Open too many and you will end up having to close or merge servers - which will immediately raise the hue and cry that the company “is in trouble.” Mythic made a valiant effort to entice players to move to the same server, but in the end it failed. As often happens, time and again, give players a choice and they will take the attitude “let everyone else move THEIR guild”. Even with all those reasons for it, having to close 60 out of 100 servers doesn’t exactly lend an air of confidence to a company.

Like the desperate lover in the metaphor above, it is always possible to find reasons (whether those reasons are “reasonable” or not) for circumstances that caused problems in the first place. The eternally optimistic will still point out that the 300,000 subscribers EA reported for Warhammer at the end of last quarter is still a lot of paying customers. But as any over eager or overly anxious investor will tell you, absolute numbers aren’t what matters here. In accounting parlance, what matters is whether or not the net profit before depreciation is a positive or a negative number.

It is all too sadly true, despite what Reuters News Agency recently claimed to the contrary, the videogame industry is far from recession proof. As we all know too many developers have laid-off employees lately. It may be common to have to lay off employees that helped develop a game, once the game is out - but I wonder how often those lay-offs include senior developers? Even though the circumstances are too close to Funcom for comfort at this point I am far from attempting to even reach for nails, let alone nail them in a coffin. I do wish, however that a more common sense approach to marketing was being taken rather than the whole “carrot and a stick” that they are presently using, whether they are forced in to it by EA or not.

Even though Mythic has never claimed to be a “wow killer” (which as R.W. Harper told the No Prisoners, No Mercy show recently is just crazy talk) they have been trying to compete for some of the same players. I have no idea how much Warhammer Online cost to develop, and I have my doubts whether anyone outside EA/Mythic really knows either. Still, even if you take all the actions above as just “good business practice” it makes me consider games like Darkfall, and the advertising approach that has been taken in that case, and it makes me wonder if the era of the big AAA MMO is not a thing of the past and the niche market and free to play markets are not the wave of the future.

See you online,
- Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Jun 08, 2009 14:21:54 CST (comments: 6)


Comments:


'F2P' by Jmo
Submitted on 2009-06-09 19:30:59 CST
I definitely have to agree with you about F2P options being the way of the future. It was just this morning (long after you wrote the article, I'm sure) that Turbine announced DDO becoming F2P. I for one am stoked! Myself, like many others, love MMOs but cannot afford multiple subscriptions. By going with this new model, companies such as Turbine are allowing hoards of new players a chance to play the basic version of their game risk free, and they then have the option to give the company money for extra perks. And if you end up liking the game, who wouldn't throw down some cash?

Here's where I'm going with all of this: F2P is a win/win situation for consumers and developers. Firstly, it forces developers to make a quality product. That way when people do try it out, they like it and want to keep playing. Secondly, it means developers can reach more players. And if they have made a quality product, that means more subscribers/microtransactions. If there will every truly be a "WoW killer" it wll be in the form of F2P, and from my prediction, from a small unknown studio.

Anyway, that's my rambling. And I received the same e-mail from Mythic and ignore it. The force is strong in this one.



'actually./..' by Julie
Submitted on 2009-06-09 20:20:39 CST
Actually the article above was written all the way back in March with a followup article on the very subject waiting in the wings, and other I am going to submit today. I agree that there is certainly a great deal of truth in what you say: ""it forces players to make a quailty product" and I will certainly quote you in today's article. While I don't have a crystal ball, I think that while everyone is busy hopping on the "Free to Play" bandwagon, and businly diluting the market, I think it is SOE and Free Realms that will win any contest in the "free to play" market, but not for any reasons that have to do with business models.


'I see it two ways...' by Jmo
Submitted on 2009-06-10 02:00:14 CST
"I think it is SOE and Free Realms that will win any contest in the "free to play" market, but not for any reasons that have to do with business models."

Quite true. Right now "Free Realms" is breaking records left and right. They have well over 2 million and on their way to 3 million accounts. This is extraordinary. But where you say it isn't the business model, I have to disagree. I believe it is the business model. Yes, they have great advertising as well, but the game is 100% completely free to play. Anyone can get into it. What makes it even more popular though, is it being geared towards Tweens. What a perfect idea! Free AND aimed towards the gamers of tomorrow! But the keyword there is "FREE."

Just like Turbine is doing with DDO, the game is free. You CAN subscribe if you choose to (or buy station cash) to get extra perks out of the game, but no one is forcing you to. The only reason people are is that SOE hit the nail on the head with their product. It's very high quality and the Devs working on it are 110% behind their product. They believe in it and its potential, and this shines through to the players. For anyone who listens to the SOE podcast, you know exactly what I mean. Anyone who's heard interviews with the DDO devs, you can say the same thing. They LOVE their game, and they play it as well.

What a concept! Making a game that YOU want to play. And this is where it all wraps back into the successful F2P subscription model that I see as the wave of the future. If more companies can follow suit, we will have tons of high quality, F2P games on our hands. And as MMO Gamers, what more could we ask for?

I look forward to more of your articles on this topic Julie.



'WoW Cancellation' by Seritaph
Submitted on 2009-06-10 18:11:20 CST
When I canceled my WoW account recently on the community website I had to click through all sorts of nonsense including pictures of sobbing characters wanting to know why I was canceling, and if it's was for another MMO then who is it, and are you absolutely sure you want to leave me?

Ok I can't stop you, but I'll be willing to take you back.

They really poured in on thick. Granted they've yet to send me a "please come back" email, but I left feeling like I just went through a nasty break-up.




'War...is not winning' by Celestian
Submitted on 2009-06-10 22:26:01 CST
I recently reupped my account and bought into the rhetoric that things had changed. Well somethings had changed, you get tokens that you can use to buy gear and the capped fort raids so much that every time I was involved in locking a zone to get to a fort I never could attend cause it was already capped... fun stuff.

What didn't change is the CC is just as bad and the most ridiculous pvp abilities around, rift/magnet, still exist and still have no counter other than "stay away" which doesn't work for anyone but ranged classes. Just get summoned, knocked down/stunned and killed and you can't do dick about it.

The emblems on first glance sound good as well but after playing some 2-3 weeks I've yet to even get 1/2 the badges I need to get even the cheapest items. This was AFTER they reduced the cost of the items! I have 35 officer and 3 conq and I really don't consider myself as a casual player... but 2 weeks and nothing to show for it is old.

Oh, and oRVR renown is still ass. You get more in scenarios and trading BOs. oRVR is a blast but when you realize you just spent 2 hours and got no influence or renown it's a massive let down.

Did I mention the upcoming patch they removed the combat and career changes? All the things EVERYONE has been asking... delayed for the... land of the dead content. Adding yet more content and ignoring the things they can fix easily.

I've already canceled again. The final straw was the guild leader has been inactive for more than 30+ days and it still hasn't moved the leader flag to the active. I've had a ticket opened up for 5 days on it (I had one opened the day I restarted but it got deleted) and still no answer. Asking on their website is pointless cause they only deal with billing and redirected me back to Mythic.

All in all, same of same old. Craptacular mess on Mythics part.




'Let me say this about that...' by Julie
Submitted on 2009-06-11 14:33:02 CST
@ JMO: The reason I say that any overwealming success on the part of SOE's free to play will not be the free to play part (thought I am glad of that as you no doubt heard on the no prisoners no mercy show). One of the big differences is that the game, per the new york times, does away with archetypes...something I wrote about in an upcoming article.

@ Seritaph: Yes, indeed, the experience in the article is a far cry from being limited to Warhammer Online. Kudos (sort of) to the pr person at Mythic that thought up the personalized emails idea. I recently (and reluctantly) quit EQ2 and had the same sort of experience you did with WoW.

@ Celestian: I will agree with what you are saying, tempered with that Colin Campbell said on an earlier no prisoners no mercy show, that a developer has to believe in what they are doing. I do think that there has been a great lack of communication between Mythic and the gaming community (starting with the original, but understandable, refusal to have official forums) - I think it sometimes shows in the development decisions that are made. I went back recently to the same experience you had - a once active guild was no a ghost town with tumbleweeds blowing through it. As to the emblems idea...well sometimes great ideas take time to work out, and sometimes they start to work out but go awry, like public quests.




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