What does WAR’s success or failure mean for the MMORPG market?


So, in an interview with MTV, I said that it was important for the MMORPG market for WAR to succeed. Of course, this point has been taken a bit out of context by a few people (no shock there) who seem to think I’m a bit full of myself or a way too proud of WAR. Actually, neither is true. My point regarding WAR’s importance to the MMORPG market is based on a number of things:

1) Since WoW’s launch, no new Western, subscription-based MMORPG has sustained a population of 500K subscribers. While their exact numbers aren’t known, both LoTRO and AoC have failed to hit that mark. And as anyone who knows anything about MMORPGs could tell you, the one thing you don’t keep secret if you are doing well is your monthly subscription numbers.

2) Since WoW’s initial launch the market has seen a number of high priced properties crater spectacularly as well a number of MMORPG studios shut their doors. While back in the day, 100K monthly subs would have been seen as quite a success, if you are spending 50M or more on a game all in, 100K doesn’t quite cut it. Even 250K subs (30M gross + box sales for let’s say 10M in profit pre-tax), doesn’t look great to investors when you are spending 50M or more on a game and have continued high expenditures for updates, xpacks, etc. and lots of new competitors coming online.

3) With the increased competition of free-to-do-almost-nothing-fun games and other models, there’s a lot of chatter in the investment community about whether high-end, subscription-based MMORPGs are a good investment. As I said during a panel at GDC, there was a lot of very dumb money in this space (Hey, let’s give 25M to guys who know nothing about MMORPGs and sometimes nothing about online games other than they played them. What could possibly go wrong with that?) and that I thought the money would start to leave this space once some of the games I expected to tank did just that. The money guys run very, very hot and cold and right now, they are getting on their winter coats.

4) AoC’s apparent rapid loss of subscribers is encouraging talk that today’s players won’t stick with new MMORPGs very long any more. Now, I think this is total b.s. as I think today’s players will happily stick with great games (WoW) but won’t stick with mediocre or poor games. Thanks to WoW though, the bar has been raised so that games that might have been considered good/great 5 years ago are not considered that way by the players any more. This is no different than in Hollywood when a breakthrough movie raises the bar for the competition (think about the race for the best special effects in Sci-fi films).

5) Mythic is being backed on WAR by EA’s money and distribution system on one hand and by a fantastic license on the other hand. This leads to increased expectations and demands from the players.

6) This is the 3rd MMORPG that Mythic has worked on. While we have lost some experienced people from our DAoC days, we are still one of, if not the, most experienced MMORPG teams, especially in dog years.

7) Since 1997, you can count on two hands the number of MMORPGs that have held on to more than 200K monthly paying subs for any substantial period of time. OTOH, you would need all the fingers and toes of a baseball team to keep track of the MMORPGS that have failed to maintain that number and/or even launch. C’mon kids, you can try this experiment at home, no plastic bag required! Count all the MMORPGS since 1997 that have had great numbers and then think of all the abysmal failures. Not only have we had lots of failures to launch, we’ve had failures that set a new bar for failures.

So, knowing all this, why do I think that WAR is so important to the MMORPG market? Well :

1) If WAR fails, we won’t have the excuse (as some devs have had) of not having the money or the license.

2) If WAR fails, investors will rapidly look to other business models for MMORPGs especially ones that require less of an investment and development cycle to bring to market. We may be coming very close to the tipping point where investors have seen far too many games fail on release and even more of them fail to even launch for them to be comfortable investing large sums in this market. They will prefer to invest in safer things, like large-scale, cold fusion reactors.

3) If WAR fails, players will see yet again another MMORPG fail to live up to its promise. Given the high expectations and tremendous pre-sales we are getting, the fall will be that much harder to take. One of the problems of having high expectations for a game is that if you fail, the fall will be much longer and will hurt that much more when you hit pavement.

4) If WAR fails, publishers will be even less inclined to take on Blizzard whether it’s WoW or their next MMO. This will drive more developers out of the market and fewer AAA, subscription-base MMORPGs will start. Just look at how few MMORPGs are in development at studios (as opposed to getting outside financing) today. Does anyone really think that if WAR is a failure that this will increase the number of MMORPGs in development? If you think so and you happen to have a few spare million, I’d love to sell you some oceanfront property I own in Idaho.

OTOH, if WAR succeeds:

1) Investors will flock back into the market. Investors don’t mind taking chances if there is a decent chance of success and if WAR can break the 1M barrier in terms of monthly subs, investors will get excited about making lots money in this space.

2) The whole “Only Blizzard can do it” mentality will go away. The deeply ironic thing about this is that after DAoC was a success publishers/investors said over and over again, “If Mythic can do it, anybody can!” Nothing but love right back at ya baby!

3) The subscription model will be validated (again) to be alive and well in North America and Europe. This model has been pronounced dead more times than Kenny has been killed in South Park (well, maybe not but I love to get a South Park reference in there, I loved that show).

4) Publishers will be willing to take more chances in this space again.

Now, the same would have held true for AoC or any other MMORPG that has come out in the last 3 years. Unfortunately, only LoTRO can be considered any sort of success and even then it didn’t come close to WoW’s numbers (despite a license which in the past has been referred to as a license to print money). I’ve been making online games forever and I want this space to be hugely successful and continue to expand. However, if we developers can’t create games that people not only want to play at launch but play and pay for at least six months, then we are failing at our jobs and we deserve whatever happens to us as do our games.

Ego talking? Nope, just cold hard facts.


So, what’s up with this blog’s name?


So, about 20 years ago, Jessica Mulligan and I met with the folks at AOL (back before they were incredibly successful) to talk about doing games for them.  After the meeting, we were told by one of the really forward-thinking guys there that (wait for it) “Online games are a niche market and that they didn’t believe in them”.  Well, obviously they were wrong, though in all fairness it took a while for online games to really take off.    So, I thought, what a perfect title for this blog.