I have been thinking more and more lately that part of the problem with some MMO’s flopping is that we have too many options to choose from. The market is flooded with MMOs, and there are many more currently on the way. Back in 2003, when WoW was released there were only a small number of MMOs on the market to choose from. None of them, singularly, might have been the end all and be all of an MMO to any one individual. But because options were limited, people played MMOs that were entertaining, and stayed longer generally than I think is the case today.
One big difference, that I think WoW showed us, is that the market is quite a bit larger than it was assumed to be in 2003. WoW, with it’s behemoth 11.5 mil plus accounts has certainly stretched the market. But in real terms, has it? No other MMO even comes remotely close to that level. Most games still fall in the 300,000 or less account range, which was considered quite good in 2003. Would some of those in the 300,000 range today be in the 500,000 or million account range if there were less options to choose from? Would more money availabililty to fewer developers lead to more highly polished MMOs?
Many problems with a slate of the current MMOs (WAR, AOC, AION, LotR, etc) is that core mechanics, or game play require a high population in order to keep things rolling along. Once a population falls below a certain level there simply aren’t enough players there to keep the play afloat. That is especially true of games that feature strong sand-box and PVP components. But it’s largely the same with other MMOs that are more PVE oriented. MMOs are by definition “multi-player” and it is intended that players will group play to some degree. If the population level is at such a level where content becomes inaccessible because other players can’t be found to assist, it becomes a grave problem. Typically players will hang on for a time, but there remains a tipping point where they will eventually move on to other games.
Every developer believes they are going to make a better mouse-trap, and that is itself part of the problem. For all the grandiose claims pre-beta, every one knows that a great many of them will simply never pan out. I think it would be far better if grizzled old developers were left in charge of things to slap some of the more idealistic and bombastic claims out of the park, instead of allowing them to mold community expectations like they currently are. Much is the case with SWTOR right now. Player expectations are extremely high, and I’m having trouble accepting that some of the ideals expressed by Bioware will work well on a grand scale. Those same old Grizzled developers should shut down efforts that clearly won’t be worth the effort. like about half of the MMOs listed at MMORPG.com. Playboy Manager much?
Why would I, as an interested player, want to invest myself in a game that might not be around in two years? Why put myself through a year of hell and boredom looking for people to complete some quest or dungeon with if it’s going to limp off into oblivion anyway? I’ve already skipped several other MMOs for exactly that reason, and likely to do so for many more in the coming years.
The question isn’t whether I’m willing or able to play other MMOs. Rather, the question is if developers will see the forest for the trees. They’re collectivly causing the problems they are experiencing individually. Competition is one thing, and understanding how you would (or should) be able to compete is another.