Room for more gamers - by Julie Whitefeather
Sep 01, 2007 13:48:29

Who are gamers? Is there such a thing as a typical gamer any more? Where do gamers come from? In an article in the New York Times, Richard Garriott was quoted as saying the following:
"Every year someone writes a big article about how the M.M.O. business has reached a new plateau and won't get any bigger. And then every year we seem to grow 100 percent. World of Warcraft is just the next big step in that process." - Richard Garriott quoted in War of the Virtual Worlds, NY Times.

But not everyone agrees with Garriott. The following quote is a from a recent article in the Common Sense Gamer called "Where do they come from."
"It was that last bit about what Garriott said about the MMO market seeming bigger than people think it is. This couldn't be more wrong. The reason why the MMO market is this big right now is because of non-MMO players and heck, even non-gamers. I really don't consider these people as part of the MMO market, but as part of the gamer market" - Darren in Common Sense Gamer

But this presents an interesting question. Who exactly is a "gamer" then? Where do they come from? We all here the announcements by Blizzard Entertainment at regular intervals telling the world how big there subscriber base has become. The latest numbers put it at 9 million subscribers. Yes, just saying 9 million subscribers can be deceiving. Other questions that come to mind are: how many of those are in Asia? How many of those accounts are long time subscribers? What is the turnover like? Are there more accounts coming in than going out?

I found it interesting that Rob Pardo and Richard Garriott agree on this last issue. Recently Game Daily Biz had an interview with Pardo. At one point they asked him what efforts were being made to pull in new subscribers. Here is what he had to say:
"I don't think that we need to go through a lot of effort to pull in this new group of players; it's more of that "long tail" of players. You see this with a lot of games that are popular over time like people playing The Sims today are not necessarily the same people that bought it when it launched years ago" - Rob Pardo in Rob Pardo on the Art of 'craft

Richard Garriott recently told The Hollywood Reporter something very similar:
What is interesting is that gamers only subscribe to one MMOG for six to nine months and then they move on to another one. While "Ultima Online" still has hundreds of thousands of subscribers here in the U.S., those subscribers are a totally different set of people than the game had last year. Gamers tend to move on and look for something new and different to play. So, until there is a great new online game coming out once per quarter, I don't think there can be too many MMOGs. - Richard Garriott

If there is one thing that Blizzard Entertainment has done for the MMO Market that is bring it to the attention of mainstream media. It is no longer something that is discounted by media giants. We have entered an era where we even see advertisements within the games themselves. Even with the success of Blizzard Entertainment, there is always more room on the shelf for another successful MMO. When Game Daily Biz asked Rob Pardo about a "theoretical ceiling" on the PC gaming industry here is what he had to say:
"I also kind of disagree with the "theoretical ceiling" comment on PC games. I mean, what's the PC install base in this day and age around the world? It's got to dwarf the install base for any of the consoles or all them combined for that matter. It's just that a lot of people don't necessarily use their PC as a gaming machine and PCs themselves... you just have to jump through a lot more hoops to install and play PC games, and consoles are just dedicated gaming machines." - Rob Pardo in Game Daily Biz

When there is so much competition in the MMO market, the players always win. It may be a game like WOW that brought someone to this hobby of ours. But it is other games that will keep them there, and bring in new players when they leave. The era when there was such a thing as a "typical" gamer is long over with. There will always be games that address a niche market like Eve Online. But games with a wider appeal like Everquest 2 and WOW have players that jump between the two. It is, as Rob Pardo, and Richard Garriott tell us, the reason why the players that started playing an MMO are rarely the people that still play it. I constantly here from players that I met in one game, when I begin playing another. Just today I heard from someone who simply stopped to help me with a quest back in my days when I was leveling my first character in WOW. Now Trixie and I both are starting to play EQ2 and having a blast doing it. The reason for this is quite simple, and I think Richard Garriott recently explained it best.
"You know, solo computer games are really very anti-social activities. A gamer will sit by himself in a darkened room and never see the light of day, much less socialize with other people. The great thing about MMOs is that it is truly a shared experience among real people. That's the attraction for gamers." - Richard Garriott

See you online,

- Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Sep 01, 2007 13:48:29 CST (comments: 14)


'Nice' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-09-01 15:43:16 CST
Excellent article Julie...yet again.

Little clarification. Where I think Rob and Richard and others go wrong is assuming that the 9+ million subscribers represent the MMO market, I don't think that is entirely accurate and could be a bit inflationary.

The reason why WoW is successful and is seeing the numbers they are seeing is because WoW is a fun GAME, not because its a fun MMO. I know I sound like a broken record, but that was essentially the point of the article that you linked on my site. The reason the other MMOs, EQ2, CoH, and others don't hit those numbers is because they are unable to cross that threshold of being a fun game...they clearly stay in the "it's an MMO" category.

The danger of thinking your market is bigger than it really is, of course, is that you create a bit of a bubble. We saw it in 2000 with telecom vendors "selling" equipment to supply a demand for bandwidth that just wasn't there to begin with. The result was customers not paying for the stuff they ordered and telecom companies bailing out all over the place as soon as they realized what was happening.

I know, it's a huge leap to go from telecom to gaming, but I see almost the same kin of thinking. Companies thinking that there is a huge market for MMOs, when really what they are looking at is the market for games in general. If they market their MMO to be a fun game first and deliver, then there shouldn't be a problem, but that's not what I'm seeing....yet.

'Semantics' by Julie
Submitted on 2007-09-01 21:17:12 CST
I doubt very much that two industry giants like Rob Pardo and Richard Garriott are wrong in this case. One of the great things about Blizzard Entertainment is that they have introduced console gamers (I was one of them) and even people who didn't play video games to the MMO industry. I have met many people much older than myself who now are avid players of MMO and HAVE made the jump from WOW to other MMOs. These are people of a generation that did not grow up with computers.

Differentiating between WOW and other MMOs and somehow downplaying its success attibuting it to being a "fun game" seems more a matter of playing semantics than anything else. The old adage, "50,000 Frenchman can't be wrong" applies in this case.

Be honest with yourself. Was Cuppy right in her recent article where she said you usually disagree with Richard Garriott? If I hadn't brought up Richard Garriott would you still disagree?

No matter what I may think if Blizzard or not - all other issues aside, they have brought the MMO industry forward by leaps and bounds. They have brought it to the attention of main stream media.

The point is also this, the MMO market IS bigger than anyone thought it was years ago. But as we all saw recently, we can learn from Brad McQuaid's mistake. A game DOESN'T have to start out to be a "WOW killer" to be a success. There is always room for more players. There will always be room for Blizzard's success as well as other companies.

There will always be room for more gamers.


'Pardo isn't a prophet' by hallower
Submitted on 2007-09-01 21:52:12 CST
Maybe I'm wrong, but the most important element in WoW success was its accessibility to Asian gamers. If it wasn't for the game's massive population of Asian players, it wouldn't have surpassed Everquest's old numbers by so much. The mainstream media's taking note because of the massive numbers, and that attention is driving a lot of the acquisition of non-gamers.

Don't get me wrong... I have respect for the changes WoW made to the MMO model. But how many changes did it really make? The most important changes (in terms of attracting new gamers to the genre) were probably in a faster pace and lighter death penalties. But, even then, not as many gamers were familiar with the basic idea of an MMO during EQ's time as during WoW's now. Surely, that has played a significant role in WoW's success here in North America and Europe.

Pardo deserves credit for overseeing the production of an exceptionally polished game. But WoW really isn't a spectacular vision of the future.

And being involved in the creation of something successful doesn't make one an expert on WHY it was successful. I'm a songwriter. When some of my songs are much more popular than others, I can discern some of the reason what's behind their success, but I certainly can't paint the whole picture. Pardo surely has a lot of meaningful insight into MMOs and WoW's success, but don't think that he's got the full picture. On a lot of it, he's guessing as much as the rest of us. And, as a salesman (business representative), anytime people attribute his game's success to its design, he's not likely to deny the claim... even if he knows the reasons lie elsewhere.

That all probably sounds pretty cynical, I'm sure, but I'm really just trying to suggest that we don't settle for simple answers on issues like this.

'Hmmm...' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-09-01 21:59:15 CST
If Bugs Bunny said what Richard said, I'd probably still disagree :)

I'm just not convinced that the MMO market is as big as they think.

'market size' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-09-02 04:27:09 CST

Even if not counting the Asian countries, WoW still had active players in the millions in both North America and in Europe, which is far more than any previous MMOG and in particular when it comes to Europe. (perhaps except for Runescape, not sure about its regional numbers)


I think both you and Richard Garriott are right to some extent. You are possibly right in that most of the WoW players may not be that attracted to the current MMOGs for various reasons, but that does not exclude them from being potential future players in other MMOGs, or that the companies doing MMOGs today will only do persistent world games with the first M in MMOGs. I think they are _multiplayer online_ game companies foremost and that will include a broader spectrum of potential games in addition to the MMO games.

I think Richard Garriott's comment about the turnover rate is also a valid point - most likely only a small minority of players have been playing WoW for example for more than a year. I do not know about other countries, but here in Sweden the top selling game (any platform) has been The Burning Crusade for quite a while and it is still at #1 spot. The original WoW is a bit lower, seem to hover around in 2nd to 4th position...

I.e. lots of people still buy the game. And there are still people who won't buy it because it requires too much time to do something useful/fun (not because it is an MMOG).

're: market size' by Julie
Submitted on 2007-09-02 12:34:15 CST
Sente, when you say "that most of the WoW players may not be that attracted to the current MMOGs for various reasons, but that does not exclude them from being portential future players in other MMOGs" I certainly agree. I tend to think of it as "come for WOW stay for other MMOs". As Mother Superior and I were discussing yesterday, there are alot of gamers that are die hard WOW fans and wouldn't dream of playing other MMOs. Even among them, however, I have met players in Vanguard and EQ2 that I knew in WOW who were the same way originally. Said one player "it reached the point that I would log in and just stand around in Ogrimar talking to friends and never move."

There have been post Blizzcon interviews where more than one of the devs has said that they are not worried about bringing in new customers to WOW. Not because they don't think that their won't be any, but because they seem to agree with Richard Garriott and see a natural rotation of players.

Even if Blizzard's subscribers never reached millions of players, what they also did was expand the demographics of the MMO market. There are now MMO players from all ages and walks of life that WOW attracted. It used to be that people were ashamed to admit that they played MMOs. Blizzard Changed that. They made it acceptable to come out of the gamer closet.

'Question' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-09-02 13:00:13 CST
Hmmm...hey Julie, do you think that games like AoC, TR, WAR etc will bring any new MMO players into the market like WoW did? Or do you see WoW as the only bridge between markets at this point? Is WoW the only game that has the capability at this time to be that bridge?

'EQ & WoW' by Wilhelm2451
Submitted on 2007-09-02 14:20:44 CST
Just to pile on Hallower here a bit...

Brad McQuaid said in one of his many dubious Vanguard-related forum posts that the total number of accounts ever created for EverQuest, world wide, was just past the two million mark. The most concurrent EQ accounts I ever saw reported was half a million.

Meanwhile, Bilzzard has said that their North American and European current subscriber base for WoW is at the 3.5 million mark.

Now, even allowing for a bit of a fudge factor on these numbers, WoW is still pretty freakin impressive. You basically have to give stuff away for free to beat them in the US/European market.

'other games to attract new players' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-09-02 17:50:59 CST

I do not think any of the upcoming titles that you mention will bring in new people to the same degree as World of Warcraft. They may potentially have the same level of playable fun for a solo player, but not the leverage of the Blizzard name and their old titles.

Richard Garriott's name may perhaps help a bit here for Tabula Rasa and NCSoft obviously believes that given that it is called "Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa". Still, their marketing message is primarily aiming at the existing MMOG players - the differentiating factors they point at mainly is relevant for those who have played MMOGs before.

'exactly' by hallower
Submitted on 2007-09-02 20:07:46 CST
That was my point, Wilhelm. Thanks for the figure.

WoW was released 5 years after EQ. Relative to the MMO industry's growth, as well as the growth of the internet and computer industry, that's a long time. A lot more gamers were familiar with MMOs, even if they hadn't played one yet. A lot more people in the West had personal computers and internet connections capable of gaming. The general gaming industry was also much bigger and more mainstream. Keep in mind that the internet wasn't common in private households just 20 short years ago. Just 10 years ago, the very idea of an MMO like EQ was extraordinary, almost beyond belief. So again, relatively, 5 years is a very long time.

1.5 million more Western subscribers than EQ had is something to be proud of, but it probably doesn't represent much (if any) greater popularity, when placed into context. In the West, WoW doesn't seem to have succeeded far beyond EQ did 5 years ago, because they're drawing from a larger pool of potential subscribers. Has WoW likely expanded the market? Sure, but not nearly as much as everyone's claiming. Most of those 1.5 million were already available...if not already playing MMOs, already paying attention to MMOs.

Which is why I see WoW's primary success as being its accessibility to Eastern gamers. Achieving such popularity on both sides of that cultural divide is WoW's greatest accomplishment.

'market' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-09-03 01:22:56 CST
You are absolutely right in that being successful on both Western and Eastern markets is the greatest accomplishment here, Hallower.

You are comparing apples and oranges with the Western subscriber numbers though - 3.5 million is what WoW had as _current subscribers_ at a given point, that should be compared to the 0.5 million number, not the 2 million.
The total number of WoW accounts ever created so far is probably substantially larger.

The conditions for people to be able to play and become aware of MMOGs have certainly improved over the years - but that is likely also a slightly different audience, plus that the current audience is changing as well.
If someone 5 years ago thought the best thing to spend online time was with an MMOG, do they necessarily think that now as well? While the potential market is growing, companies also need to adapt to understand it - or at least try.

I think Blizzard had a fairly good understanding of the market. Not to the point that they would or could assume their current size and success with WoW, but at least to the point where they would make some decent profit on the game and get back their investment. They probably aimed for something larger than EQ and try to take advantage of the untapped market a bit better (perhaps 1 million?) and then it snowballed into the current state.

'Hard To Impress?' by Wilhelm2451
Submitted on 2007-09-03 12:11:14 CST

You must be seriously hard to impress or in a state of denial.

At 3.5 million, WoW's current, active North American and European subscriber base is SEVEN times as big as the past reigning champion, EverQuest ever had as a current subscriber base.

3.5 Million users is more than was estimated to be the total MMO market for North America and Europe just a couple of years back. And all of the games that came before WoW didn't just dry up and blow away when WoW showed up.

The only game that came close to that kind of number previously was Lineage, which was almost all in Asia.

So give credit where credit is due. Blizzard has expanded the MMO market with WoW in North American and Europe.

'0.5 vs 2 M' by hallower
Submitted on 2007-09-03 16:10:39 CST
If Sente's right about the 2 million subscribers being overall, and not simultaneous subscribers, then I agree... going from 0.5 million to 3.5 million is more impressive. Those non-design factors I suggested are real, but of course I don't really know how those factors translate into actual subscribers.

Aside from that, my hesitation about applauding WoW for expanding the market has to do with the overall lack of innovation in its design. I played WoW for a few months. It was cool, but there really wasn't much that separates it from other MMOs. Like I said before, the pacing is faster, the death penalties are slight, and the art is perhaps more inviting even to Western gamers... it's certainly easier on computers. Are those and its keen polish really the key the basis of its wider appeal here in the West?

It's not that I dislike WoW or anything like that. I'm just cautious about accepting stuff that "everybody knows", and I don't like accepting conclusions (like "WoW has greatly expanded the MMO market") before understanding the how and why. Y'all are probably right. I just tend to be skeptical initially about big claims, especially when they're being repeated everywhere by everyone.

'size' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-09-03 17:34:28 CST
I do not think the items you mention about WoW are the key factors to its success, although they may contribute.
And it is not about innovation really - players who have not played MMOGs before could probably not care less if there was innovative design elements or not for MMOGs, they would have nothing to compare against.
It is a game you can pick up and play and have fun with even if you would be playing it as if it were a single player game. Not many previous MMOGs can actually claim that. Blizzard's previous games may have helped some to get people interested in trying it out, even though it carried a monthly subscription.

The current size of its player base I think may be to a large extent due to that people may pick the online game that most of their friends play, if any. Not because it is so much better - it just needed to reach a critical mass.

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