Blog Archives

Where Are All the Bodies?, pt 2

Almost exactly two years ago, I asked “Where are all the bodies?” in terms of a trend of flight from MMOs. Last week, Wilhelm presented the SuperData Research group’s June report. The two slides of note are below:

Hmm.

Hmm.

Research2

HMM.

As pointed out in the comments over on TAGN, the accuracy of numbers and legitimacy of the research company itself might be in question. For one thing, neither FFXI nor FFXIV are even on that list. The absence of Guild Wars 2 makes a little sense given the criteria for inclusion (subscription option), but the others? I dunno. Perhaps they are being implied in the missing 26% of market share. Which, incidentally, covers $756 million of the total revenue on the chart.

In an attempt to compare the subscription revenue graph to the last update from MMOData.net, I got the following result:

Extremely scientific, I assure you.

Extremely scientific, I assure you.

My methodology was to squish the one graph until the years lined up. Regardless, I have a hard time imagining the precipitous drop in subscription revenue on their chart is correlated in reality. There is a very real decline in overall MMO population – we have reached the same population levels from mid-2008 at this point – but revenue can’t be that bad. Can it?

What is sorta interesting though is in the small text below the graph, which states the data was pulled from “36.9 million digital gamers.” If you take that figure and multiply it by the market share, you get 13,284,000 as the WoW population. Of course, WoW did not have 13+ million subscribers in 2013. Discrepancy! Or is it? If you assume a 5% churn rate each month, at the end of the year you are left with 7,178,143. That is somewhat close to the estimated 7.6 million from this year. In other words, it’s entirely possible that 13+ million players played WoW at some point during the year and 6 million of them cycled out.

On the other hand, when you plug EVE into that same equation, you get 1,107,000 players throughout 2013. So… maybe it’s all bullshit.

Accuracy aside, I think the takeaway from all this is twofold. First, the MMO market has clearly peaked and we are transitioning into a much lower (presumed) equilibrium. Second, it’s still surprising how money there is in the genre. I mean, look at SWTOR there. $165 million in revenue last year? It actually took this Forbes article to kind of shock me into the realization (emphasis added):

And what may be a surprise to many is that Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually #4 on the list, bringing in $165M in revenue last year. While much of the game went free-to-play after a disappointing debut, there’s still a subscription model that has made the MMO profitable for EA. Often SWTOR is regarded as a cautionary tale in the industry in terms of bloated budgets, over-ambition and emulating competitors, but looking at the numbers, the game has evolved into a profitable enterprise for EA, and has made even its massive budget back at this point.

I don’t even know if that is true for sure, but remember, SWTOR budget was somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. So… are we still allowed to call the game a “failure?” The criteria gets a little goofy when you are making ~44% more than the paragon of subscription growth¹, EVE. We can maybe say that it could/should have earned more, but (presumably) profitable businesses really speak for themselves.

As always, I believe key to success is keeping realistic expectations and budgeting around that. If you need 500,000 or 1 million subscriptions to stay afloat, maybe you should calm your shit, Icarus. The entire market is like 18 million subs, and more than a third of those are locked down in Blizzard HQ. If you can get by with 50k or 100k, you should have no problems capturing a least a portion of the 500k+ people that seem to appear on MMO release days and leave a month later. Now more than any other time, you need to start small and work your way up.

¹ Which is more historical fact than current event. As far as I’m aware, EVE has lost subs at this point like all mortal MMO endeavors.

Player Churn

It’s been about two weeks since this Gamasutra interview with Jeremy Gaffney, but I think it’s still worth a read. Or just have your mind blown with this thought experiment:

“Even a good game churns 5 percent of its users out every month,” says Gaffney. “That means every 20 months you’ve churned out your whole user base.” If you have one friend who still plays an MMO, that means you might have 10 friends who used to play that MMO.

That 5% monthly figure has been pretty consistent over the years, as WoW had an apparent 4-5% churn rate even during the heights of vanilla/TBC. That means each expansion could basically have an entirely new playerbase. Obviously, some stick around for the long-haul, so there’s some continuity.

Nevertheless, I feel like this more succinctly highlights the design pressures on MMO developers. Does an MMO ever get more hardcore over time? It’s hard to see how it could, given how one needs to entertain an entirely new audience every (at best!) two years.

Wildstar AMA

There was an AMA by Jeremy Gaffney (Executive Producer) regarding Wildstar on Friday. Here were some of the interesting notes:

As someone who has left the MMO scene for quite some time now, do you think WildStar could pull me back in? (ex WoW player)

Our #1 market is probably ex-MMO players, truth be told. That’s many of us as well :) (source)

Subtle and straight-forward. I like it.

Your stand on “catch-up gear” content? Like if I want to get into raiding say about year after release and I of course need to get proper gear to get into raiding. So are you planning to do 5man dungeons with some godly gear or other catch-up mechanics?

We’ll want some catch-up mechanics that are also fair to the long-term raiders; I know the econ guys have thought but thank heavens that’s a ways out yet. (source)

Given the Wildstar team’s commitment to to anachronisms like attunements, I have to wonder about how exactly “catch-up gear mechanics” would even work. Blizzard is heading towards making all of Warlord’s LFR gear be non-tier, so I could see “ghetto-tier” gear as a means to help newer players catch up… but what about those attunements? Is it “fair to long-term raiders” for attunements to be relaxed after the content is no longer current? How is that any different than the traditional cry that content is being obsoleted?

By the way, attunements were dumb, are dumb, and will always be dumb.

Will it be possible to purchase high end gear or tier equivalent gear via the Auction House? In other words, given the existence of the CREDD system, will it be possible to buy power in this game with cash?

In general, nope. In practice, there may be a few BOE pieces of appropriate rarity/difficulty to acquire that spice up the mix, but buying power is a dangerous thing to systemize. (source)

 Fair enough.

The questing experience levels 1-6 is terrible (especially on Dominion side), why do your tutorials areas have so many quests that are not interactive for the player?

Mostly through focus testing with players of a variety of experience levels; you’ve probably played too many MMOs to want your hand held for long and don’t value the world and character introductions we do there (and why should you? You don’t know if those will pay off later and just want to check out the gameplay, which is rational).

We will likely add an option down the road for you to opt out. (source)

This is a subject that could almost be an entire series of blog posts by itself. Namely, the tension between clearly going after competitor’s subscribers (e.g. “Not in Azeroth anymore!”) and needing to be accessible for first-time MMO players. Because let’s be honest, the only real way you’re going to build word-of-mouth is by exciting the already-existing base, unless your base is already established via IP. Quite frankly, I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen more MMO companies come out with mid-range or even end-game gameplay in their beta right from the start. I mean, I guess even veterans will need a little bit of time to acclimate to the new environment, but you need them to be excited about the long-term future, not forcing them to spam-run tutorials every beta weekend.

Many people have had a really bad first impression of the game (usually first few hours of play), what would you say to these people to sway them into trying the game again?

Getting people back into the game is tricky (you form an impression and stick with it) – we change so much month to month that I don’t expect to re-earn the eyeballs of many folks who played in the past and left (even if we fixed some of what bothered them).

My plan personally is that you play what your friends are playing; the one thing more than any other email/ad/PR campaign we can do is get people liking the game itself and convincing their friends to come back in – thus Friend Passes, etc. (source)

That… is astonishingly honest and straight-forward. I have a few friends that pre-ordered Wildstar already, and they will pretty much be the only reason I purchase the game given my previous beta impressions.

Class balance is on going but their seems to be a mostly agreed tier list, with Spellslingers and Medics at the bottom in terms of DPS, and by a fair margin. What approach are you taking to get classes more in line with each other? Nerfing the top classes, or buffing the lower ones?

We err on the side of buffing rather than nerfing, but not to the point of insane mudflation. We’ll pretty regularly rebalance classes so that none is too gimped or OP (some drops are slated around this directly, while some will happen in each drop for higher priority stuff). (source)

I would say that erring on the side of buffing is the opposite of the WoW approach, but I don’t think classes ever got OP when someone else got nerfed, so… yeah.

Currently WildStars PVE Group Content ins linear, like in vanilla wow or tbc (the good times). With Wotlk and multilayer-content, problems like content skipping occured. Are you aware of that and are your gonna stick with the linear system? How will you ensure, that the linear system will work successfull on longterm for all different kind of raidguilds (casual, average, hardcore).

Adventures are intended to be heavily NON-linear, and raids are intended to have a fair amount of weekly variation (room ordering, sub-bosses, etc.) for just such reasons – if what we have is well received at launch, we’ll add more. (source)

I’m pretty sure they were talking about two different things here. I’m not sure about anyone else’s guild, but I absolutely hated the random variables in boss ordering (e.g. which drakes were in the cage, which bosses activated first, etc) as it required explaining the entire fight and every variation every time to everyone.

Q: In most MMO’s the crafted gear/items don’t have any real impact on endgame… What’s WildStar’s stance on this?

Our goal is that crafted items are competitive with the best items, but usually need to be earned through those same activities (either by the wearer or by the crafter) to keep things balanced. (source)

I have a difficult time trying to determine if this sort of thing would work for me. If I can’t craft the epic sword before being able to kill the guy who drops an epic sword, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to crafting (beyond playing the AH). On the other hand, I could sorta see this working if the raid boss had a much higher chance to drop the crafting component necessary to craft the epic sword, such that my profession had value in reducing the randomness of drops. This would require the crafting component to be personal loot though, I think.

I currently play GW2. what’s one good reason I should stop and start playing your game?

Don’t! Guild Wars 2 is an excellent game as well; respect to MO and the other arena.net devs. (source)

If I was less of a cynical bastard, I would be pretty impressed with this response. Alas, both MMOs are from NCSoft, so…

Anti-Patch Notes

I didn’t think it was possible to get excited for an expansion of a game I haven’t played in over a year, but damn. I got to about here:

Druid

  • Innervate has been removed. Mana costs for Druids have been adjusted accordingly.

…before I realized the devs were serious about the pruning of cooldowns thing. I mean, Jesus, they even removed Mana Gem.

Blink and you'd miss it. Wait... Blink is still around, right?

Blink and you’d miss it. Wait… Blink is still around, right?

Paladins were about the one class that seemed to come out ahead after the ability decimation; losing Wings on non-Ret specs makes me shed a nostalgic tear, but in return no more Divine Plea or Inquisition? That’s practically a bonus! Plus, Lay on Hands and Divine Shield survived. Blinding Light didn’t, but we only had that for what, one expansion? It looks like Seal Twisting is making a come-back, but hopefully it won’t be powerful enough to be mandatory.

Man, look at this:

Priest

  •     Binding Heal is no longer available to Shadow Priests.
  •     Hymn of Hope has been removed.
  •     Heal has been removed.
  •     Greater Heal has been renamed Heal.
  •     Inner Focus no longer provides any mana cost reduction.
  •     Rapture has been removed.
  •     Renew is now available only to Holy Priests.
  •     Shadow Word: Death is now available only to Shadow Priests.
  •     Void Shift has been removed.
  •     Inner Fire has been removed.
  •     Inner Will has been removed.

That’s all of the Priest notes. Well, more or less, there’s some additional explanation at the bottom. Still, there is 109 instances of the word “removed” across 34 pages of notes. The end result will likely be a tighter game experience, but damn, all these simultaneous band-aid removals took some hair with them.

As for the new level 100 Talents, some of them are jokes that won’t pass the AV test. What’s that? It’s simple: just imagine someone (or 40 someones) using the ability in an AV match. Seriously, they’re giving Death Knights Defile. Defile. I hope your CPU is water-cooled next time you’re slumming it up in Drek/Vann’s room because otherwise your machine might well burst into flame. Necrotic Plague alone will pad all the meters, and combined with Chilblains? You can single-handedly stop an entire mounted charge.

That’s basically what I’ll be doing in BGs all expansion long: being annoying. Did it when Death Knights first came out with Death Grip and/or Chains of Ice; did it when Paladins could Seal of Justice mounted players from 40 yards away; did it with portal shenanigans via the Warlock; did it old-school just Sapping people and watching their reactions from stealth as the Rogue. If your goal is to be annoying, it’s damn hard to lose in WoW. And now it’ll be 100% easier in the next expansion!

Them Blizzard April Fools

I despise April Fools, but I will admit that a surprising number of chuckles (and groans) were had over the fake WoW patch notes posted on Tuesday. Some of the highlights:

  • Dogecoin is now accepted as a form of payment, but no one really knows how it works.
  • [Hunter]: For safety, all Hunters must now wear bright orange vests at all times.
  • [Monk]: Blackout Kick now causes the victim to wake up the next day and question their life choices.
  • [Paladin]: New Ability: Renounce. When cast, Renounce permanently changes the Paladin into a Warrior.
  • [Shaman]: Rockbiter Totem now transforms the Shaman into a large stone elemental that cannot save their friends, despite having such big, strong hands.
  • [Warlock]: All spells and abilities have been significantly revamped. Again. You’ll figure it out.
  • [Warlock]: Warlocks are now overpowered. This will be addressed in a future expansion.
  • [Warrior]: Warriors have been nerfed because reasons.
  • [Raids, Dungeons, Scenarios]: Due to recent acquisitions, The Oculus is temporarily inaccessible.

You should probably just give the whole thing a once-over. The Warrior one concerning Charge in particular was extra amusing if you have been following patch notes for the last, oh, several years.

I’m pretty far removed from the game at this point, but I’ll also admit that my eye started twitching a bit at the female draenei joke revamp.

Wut

Wut

“What have they done… oh, right. Ha. Ha.” Some might say that it was too obvious, but after seeing what Michael Bay is doing in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, I don’t know what to believe anymore. I mean, have you seen this:

I need an adult.

I need an adult.

While pretty much everyone else have been riding the nostalgia train with reboots this past decade, TMNT is pretty much my only non-Toonami stop. Well, them and ExoSquad. And maybe Gargoyles.

Beta Impressions: Wildstar, Part 1

So I have been “in” the Wildstar beta for a while now. My motivation to play it has been pretty low though, for a few reasons. First, the strong NDA meant that really even hinting that I was playing it could revoke not only my own beta pass, but also that of the person who gifted a pass to me. Second, I find myself growing increasingly stubborn when it comes to overcoming (or even learning) game mechanics/designs that I find annoying.

Almost like Wind Waker...

Almost like Wind Waker…

Before I get into that though, let me frame my experiences. On the whole, I fully expect Wildstar to be a great themepark MMO. The art style is bold and gamey, but also fun in a well-made way. Wildstar sort of doubled-down on the whole “floor AoE effects,” but it works on an intuitive level pretty quickly. Games like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 had the same floor effects thing, but the relative rarity meant it always felt gimmicky rather than integrated. When you’re applying Expose Weakness from Stealth to every enemy in a long column and your other three attacks all have cone targeting however, you get into the positional mindset pretty quickly.

Speaking of stealth, I picked the Stalker, aka Rogue, as my first class because stealth mechanics are one of those things that can inadvertently break games or otherwise indicate how serious the designers take mechanics. I can’t say much about long-term viability since I never got past level 10, but I can tell you that Stealth lasts indefinitely and has no cooldown outside of combat. Compare that to the Thief in GW2 and draw your own conclusions.

Overall, combat is fun and visceral in that ineffable WoW-like way. Attacks have punch. The world is pretty populated with things to click on and interact with. I chose the Scientist “path,” which means I need to have a camera bot go scan stuff in the environment occasionally. Worlds look like worlds, with hills, mountains, and secret paths. The general game attitude is WoW meets Borderlands, especially when it comes to the Level Up prompt. You can double-jump. And so on.

Good job on further minimizing quest text, Carbine UI Dept.

Good job on further minimizing quest text, Carbine UI Dept.

It’s the little things though, you know? It’s one thing to have a Twitter-length quest text, but it’s another to have that and make it hard to read the dialog boxes. Who the shit thought it’d be a good idea to put most of them at the top of the screen? Then, you’ll get ambushed with Challenges out questing, which have universally been “kill X mobs in Y amount of time.” Every time it has happened, I stopped looking around at anything else and tunneled my way to the finish line, only to forget what I was doing afterwards. Which isn’t a big loss given the lack of quest text, I suppose, but I sorta felt like the content was on a conveyer belt and I had to act on consuming it immediately. The fact that you can click on your quest list and get a directional arrow plus rangefinder means you don’t really need to even understand where you are or what you’re doing anyway.

Then I leveled up, unlocked a slew of new Skills, and have since leveled up twice more without having encountered a Skill Trainer to actually unlock said Skills. “Ah. This is still a thing, then?” Hell, I don’t even know how I would go about looking for a Skill Trainer. My Stalker is currently logged off in what I assume to be a quest-hub city, and my cursory tour of the place has not revealed a Skill Trainer. Do I spend 30% of my meager wealth taking a taxi to the capital (last known location of a trainer)? Or do I continue leveling and hope that I’ll eventually run across a trainer in the next half-dozen levels? And who the hell thought this arbitrary bullshit was worth fishing out of the garbage can of bad MMO design?

Seriously, if your Trainers are glorified Skill vendors, it’s not worth implementing them. Maybe if each Skill required you to practice on a training dummy or otherwise integrated into your game’s fiction somehow, then it would be worth it.

I understand such complaints might seem pretty weak and hyper-specific, but that’s where my head is when it comes to MMOs these days. I have abandoned all pretenses that any specific MMO is ever going to be the MMO, or that I even want one to be, so it’s getting difficult to muster up enough cares to dance around their various idiosyncrasies. Given how the beta is getting turned off this week though, I’ll put some more time into it and see what develops.

Warlords of Draenor BlizzCon Recap

Things can end up changing radically between BlizzCon and this new expansion’s release date (remember Path of the Titans?), but here are a bunch of random things that caught my eye:

  • Few to no daily quests at max level (source). While MoP ended up giving us hundreds of daily quests and triple-gating gear, it bears reminding that daily quests have been a Big Deal since Burning Crusade. Perhaps not on exactly the same scale, but still. I am not exactly sure what non-instanced endgame activities Blizzard plans on replacing dailies with, although I haven’t heard much grumbling about the Timeless Isle so maybe that will suffice.
  • Garrison as player housing (source). Personally, this sort of came across as more of a gimmick to me, but I became more intrigued when they mentioned that there will be multiple locations in which to place your Garrison. I enjoyed the farm quite a bit in MoP, so this will probably be fine. I like that you can invite people into your party so they can see your configuration/interact with your NPCs, but if you can’t show off a trophy collection of some sort then it’s kinda pointless IMO.
  • Itemization revamp (source). This is huge to me and will have wide-reaching ramifications across the whole of the game. Hit, Expertise, Dodge, Parry, and Reforging all gone. More limited Enchanting and Gemming. Dynamically changing gear stats (!!). Just think about that for a second. One suit of gear will cover all of your paladin/shaman/druid/etc specs. Enchanting/Gemming will likely mess with things a bit, which is sad, but still that is a game-changing amount of gear reduction. The only question mark here is whether Spirit is going to be considered a primary stat for spec purposes. I imagine it’d have to be, because otherwise you would still need plate with Spirit on it.
  • Free level 90 (source). I know a lot of MMO vets don’t like this, but the grumbling is pretty silly at this point. Recruit-A-Friend gives a 300% bonus to XP gain and gives the referral toon free levels to hand out to alts. I used a Scroll of Resurrection to get a free level 80 almost two years ago. By the end of each expansion, the leveling curve is reduced by 30%. Heirlooms exist. I have heard people suggest Blizzard could have introduced a sidekicking system or dynamic leveling ala Guild Wars 2, but I never quite caught the explanation for why the hell it’s better for a veteran to run through Stranglethorn Vale for the 10th time with his buddy instead of both of them having fun in current content. That new player can see as much old content as he/she wants on an alt. So… how is this not a win-win? Or would you have preferred Blizzard speeding up leveling even further in a way that cannot be avoided? Because that was the other real alternative here.
  • Heroic raiding = Mythic raiding with 20 people only (source). This move actually makes a lot of sense on paper, and undoubtedly makes things easier for Blizzard’s raid design team. The big downside, of course, is how it screws over every heroic 10m raiding guild in existence. While you could theoretically talk to other heroic 10m raiding guilds and buddy-up that way, I feel like heroic raiding likely takes more than just a little group chemistry to make happen. Then again, I suppose it’s fair to ask how many guilds this would actually impact that weren’t already downsizing from 25m mode for Ranking/Realm First purposes. Regardless, I think you should start selling your stock in 25m raids generally, if you have not yet done so.

There are also some other random quality of life-esque improvements like how heirlooms will be Account-wide (a clever solution to cross-realm mail), max-level normal dungeons will be making a return, and BGs will be getting a new scoreboard that highlights actual contribution to the fight rather than damage/healing whoring. Obviously a lot of this will be subject to change and refinement, but I am tentatively intrigued based on what we have seen thus far.

Well, let me specify that I am intrigued by the features and game changes, not this throwback to the most boring racial lore in the game. Oooo, orcs, doing tribal orcish things. We are supposedly going to be seeing “a lot” of paladin lore along with presumably some Naaru shenanigans, so I’m actually feeling pretty good about being Alliance for this upcoming expansion. So we’ll see how it goes.

The WoW 5.4 Roundtable Summary

(Edit: MMO-Champ basically just posted the same goddamn thing. For the record, I wrote the below first, but since I schedule posts to go live at 7am the next day… FML. I want those 28 minutes back.)

So there was a 5.4 Developer Roundtable released on Monday that I am going to sum up for you because, really, nobody should have to sit through those same 28 awkward minutes that I already threw in a hole. I mean, technically, it’s even longer than 28 minutes because I actually paused and rewound the video to take some notes inbetween the cringes. Whenever Ion Hazzikostas talks, I get flashbacks of that one guy in raids – you know the one – where when he speaks, you just want to punch him in the throat and/or yourself in the ears. “Just… fucking say it and stop filling up space with your rhetorical flourishes, Christ!” And he’s a raid leader. Those poor bastards.

Pay it forward, people, pay it forward.

0:00 – 12:25: Time in a hole.

12:26: Lead Encounter designs states that Wrath of the Lich King “arguably” had the best raiding environment at any point in the game. I concur.

15:27: Flex raiding has exceeded Blizzard’s expectations. Out of the Flex raids, over 50% changed in raid size within the duration of the raid itself, e.g. people actually took advantage of the ability to gain/drop people on the fly. More interestingly, the devs stated that in the last week, more people did Flex raiding in NA/EU than did Scenarios. So either Scenarios aren’t as popular as I thought, or Flex raiding is bringing in a lot of new raiding blood.

16:28: “Will there be more zones like the Timeless Isle in the next expansion?” Yes. Timeless Isle will serve as a general template for endgame open-world zones from now on, although there might be a little more structure with goals that evolve over the course of weeks. “We are moving away from the dailies that we done in the past.” Also, more discoverable stuff as people level up.

17:40: “Can we expect any real solutions to (bag/bank) storage problems?” Inventory management is gameplay. But… possibly a toy closet. Also, heirlooms will be like pets/mounts somehow.

19:50: “Do you think you can do better to prevent stacking ranged damage in raiding?” Yes… but not really. The problem is fundamental design: all the fun raid mechanics like movement and target switching are naturally easier done at range. We are looking at ways to make melee more valuable and more fun to play.

21:16: “When will gnomes appear in cinematics?” Funny story: gnomes were not in the original WoW cinematic because they were not even in the game until the cinematic already had a storyboard and was in full production mode. Beyond that, there simply hasn’t been a particularly good time to show them off; all the subsequent cinematics have been to develop bosses of the expansion.

22:20: “5.4.1?” Yes. Major feature of the patch is a rework of the Recruit-A-Friend system. Supposedly more of it will be done in-game instead of game/email/web interface switching. Also, the reward will be a token you can use to choose from a menu of old/brand new mounts/pets.

23:37 – ????: Drink heavily.

Don’t say I never did anything for you.

More People Equals More Content

While I want to talk more about Hearthstone, I also did not want this particular tidbit about WoW proper to be consigned to Draft Hell:

The team size has increased 40% and another 40% increase is planned, which will hopefully allow for a new content patch every month, a new raid tier every three to five months, and an annual expansion.

Now, this was just unattributed MMO-Champ paraphrasing, coming from some Gamescom interview. I made an effort to try and see if this was an exact quote by watching a few of the Gamescom interviews myself, but didn’t see it anywhere. The statement was, however, “confirmed” in a roundabout way by Nethaera’s response to the thread asking the obvious question of “If more people = faster content now, why not back then?” Neth’s response was basically that circumstances changing doesn’t retroactively make older statements a lie.

That is all well and good, but I seem to distinctly remember Ghostcrawler or somebody saying that more people = more cooks in the kitchen, some problems can’t solved throwing more money at it for everything else there’s Mastercard, and so on. So, after some digging, I dusted off this interview with Ghostcrawler from October 2010, on the eve of Cataclysm’s release:

Slashdot: A lot of players, when they hear you talk about how you didn’t have time to make a feature good, their question is, “Well, why can’t you just go out and hire more people?”

Greg Street: Yeah. The mythical man-month.

Slashdot: Can you explain why you don’t find that to be a viable solution?

Greg Street: The other example that gets used a lot is: if it takes a woman nine months to have a baby, then if you have two women, it’d only take four and a half! Our development process is hugely based on iteration and communication. It’s more important — for, say, class design and item design — it’s more important for me to have a small team that’s totally in sync than to have a large team and have no idea what anyone else is working on. We would end up with Hunter talents working one way, the Priest would work a different way, and it wouldn’t feel polished. It wouldn’t feel good to players. Often, when we say, “We didn’t have time,” players say, “You shipped it before it was ready.” That’s not the way we look at it.

The way we look at it is: we are extremely critical of our own designs. We have very long lists of things we want to fix in the game. Some of these things have been around forever, and some of the things are new that we just added recently. If we waited until we addressed every single one of those things, we would never ship anything. It would be years and years before games came out, and that’s just not realistic. That’s not what players want; they’re not going to wait six years for a new expansion. So, instead, we do what we can and we keep other things on the back burner. We’ve got Paths — this great idea. A dance studio — we’re going to do it some day. Just not yet. We’re saving it for the right time.

It is not quite the smoking gun that I remembered in my head, although perhaps I had a different interview in mind. Or maybe it never existed. Regardless, I still think it is a legitimate question to ask “what exactly changed here?” Are the Blizzard devs less concerned about additional people and faster content leading to less polish? Did Titan getting scrapped free up some additional talent? Or is it simply the case that losing 4.4 million subscribers between October 2010 and today puts things like polish vs actual content into prospective? Given how the status quo a year ago was 8 months without a content patch, I am assuming it’s the latter.

The interesting thing will be to see how “monthly content updates” are integrated with the game overall. Guild Wars 2 has their events every 2 weeks, for example, but I believe GW2 has a much lower emphasis on gear, story, and… well, things one might traditionally associate with RPGs in general. I feel like the dozens of daily quest hubs thing isn’t going to work a second time around for WoW, but neither can Blizzard really afford to hand out gear upgrades mid-tier. Or maybe they will, and simply de-emphasize the sort of full tier/BiS gear game they have crafted all these years.

Either way, WoW is definitely veering off into some uncharted territory here – at least, uncharted for as large an MMO as it still is. I am much more interested in how this particular change with shake out, as opposed to the much more mundane F2P possibility.

Guild Wars 2 is Fastest Selling Western MMO

During my futile hunt for Hearthstone Beta keys (c’mon Press™, don’t fail me now), I stumbled upon this GameBreaker.tv article about Guild Wars 2 sales:

With over 3 million units sold in the first nine months of availability, Guild Wars 2 is the fastest selling MMO ever in the western market.

That’s no small feat right there. Riding a wave of acclaim and accolades, Guild Wars 2 has set a high bar for quality, and it has earned them a spot in MMORPG history according to an official ArenaNet press release. 3 million units sold in the game’s first nine months of availability puts it at the top of the record books in Europe and North America according to DFC Intelligence, a strategic market research and consulting firm focused on interactive entertainment.

Technically, it may have been 3 million by January 2013. Either way, this news was mildly intriguing, considering how distant from GW2’s actual release it came.

Still, it got me curious about some other numbers and figures. For example, here is an article from VG247 parsing the latest financials that indicate GW2 box sales are down. Which… shouldn’t exactly be surprising given that that is exactly what happens with any box game, right? Then there is the admittedly anecdotal Digital Dozen feature that NoizyGamer puts out every Tuesday, measuring the Xfire hours logged. The latest pretty much show a 50% decline from December, but it’s still roughly half that of WoW today, hour-wise. So, it is probably safe to say that the game’s population is doing alright and ArenaNet deserves the accolades for its legitimate record-breaking, even if the timing is a bit PR-ish.

I was trying to find numbers on how WoW did by comparison back in the day, but it turns out Blizzard doesn’t like giving out those numbers. The best I could find was this old article from 2009, which stated Blizzard sold 8.9 million retail boxes to date in the US alone. As point of reference, MMOData.net (thank god they’re back) shows that halfway through 2009 the Western numbers were steady at ~5.25 million subscribers. There is no way to know the breakdown between US vs Europe, or even whether the numbers are even intelligible given how it counts both box and expansion sales, but there it is.

Just for giggles though: the 2010 census states there were 205,794,364 Americans aged 18-64. A Pew article says 62% of American adults aged 18+ owned a desktop circa mid-2009. If we do a bit of rounding (a couple ten thousand) and assume that every desktop computer could run WoW (no possible way that’s remotely accurate), we have a pool of 127.6 million potential MMOers of which WoW reached… 6.98% of. Back in 2009.

Take away the people whose computers couldn’t handle WoW and then further reduce by those who have no interest in RPGs (let alone online ones) and then the people with PCs but no broadband and… well, you can start to see why market saturation is/was a legitimate concern.