Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Has Cryptic Doomed Us To Another Decade of WoW?

Syp is concerned that Cryptic's various issues may have done irreparable damage to the studio's reputation among some gamers. This particular blogger pleads guilty as charged.

I'm very protective of my time and money against substandard games that would waste either. Fair or unfair, the appearance is that Cryptic charged the full price for its games, followed by the full price monthly subscription, and then piled on additional fees to cover things like respecs, races that were ready on launch day, and new content within four months of release (a decision that had to be reversed due to uproar). All of these things feel like they should have been included with the game.

The result leaves the cynically inclined wondering whether Cryptic concluded that they couldn't afford to develop STO properly, but that people would buy a sub-standard version on the strength of the Trek name alone and they could make up the revenue gap by selling tribbles or whatnot in the item shop. (Ironically, to the best of my knowledge, Tribbles are one of the few things that they AREN'T planning on charging extra for yet.)

Financing The Next Great MMO
The problem, as Tobold points out today, is that many of the costs of making and maintaining an MMORPG do not scale down based on the number of subscribers who sign up. (The two of us have actually been kicking this particular idea football back and forth for a few months now.)

This puts developers in a bind because they're competing against what's already on the market. You can't compromise on quality, or players won't play your game. You can't compromise on quantity, or half the players will rage!cancel when they run out of stuff to do, the other half will declare plans to wait a year for you to finish the game, and the revenue you were counting on to finish development will never materialize.

The next thing you know, you're just over a month post-launch and Amazon has your game at 40% off just to clear inventory. (I see no reason to pounce on that deal, since prices will only drop further before I actually have time to play the thing, but at some point STO might be worth a one-month-and-done novelty purchase.)

What the market will bear
The new Star Wars game is supposedly the most expensive production EA has ever financed, but even that budget is sounding like it will produce a Dragon Age style series of disconnected maps rather than an open world like Azeroth, Norrath, or Middle Earth. There's always Blizzard's mystery fourth project somewhere on the horizon (2012?), but will even that be ready on day one to compete with year 8 of WoW?

For all the talk of how a small minority of players will spend ruinous amounts of money if offered an item shop, it appears that the subscription MMORPG market literally will not tolerate fees higher than $15/month, whether that comes via a hard increase (which no one has even dared to try) or a soft increase (i.e. $15 + some number in item store purchases). But what's the alternative? If the market won't pay what it costs to develop a comparable game, and won't tolerate anything less, that sounds like a recipe for WoW to still be the top MMORPG in 2020. I like WoW as well as the next guy, but that would be a pretty sad outcome.


  1. I think what people forget is that people get very bored of just playing the one game.

    I'm an ex-WoW player and there really wasn't anything fun left to do when I stopped for me.

    Love the game, admire its craft but you reach a point where you need to move on.

    Looking around the blogs it seems most people are a bit bored. 3.3 got bloggers excited about WoW for a pretty brief time. Now they've ODed on LFD, they've hit a wall in ICC and they've done every class as an alt already.

    The WoW tourist phenomenon shows that there is a huge market of former and current WoW players looking for a new MMO, one that gets people to stick better than AoC, War, Aion or CO.

    I think Cataclysm will be the beginning of the end. Going back to Stranglethorn is the best way to sell copies of the new expansion but the worst possible thing for the longevity of the franchise.

  2. Every time a new WoW patch comes out, it feels like the bar has been raised a bit more for every upcoming MMO out there. I'm not entirely sure a new MMO can ever have enough funding and developers to have the variety/quantity of content (PvE, PvP, raiding, crafting, social, etc.) necessary to compete with WoW.

    Is WoW the best game out there? I don't know. I do know that each time I've tried out a new MMO, I find one or two features that make me go, "oooh, that's really cool!" That tells me there's room for a competitor. The fact that it's usually only one or two items tells me that, for whatever reason, game studios aren't willing to suck it up the extra 1, 2, 3 years necessary to fill a game with enough of those omigod features to tempt me away from WoW.

  3. The new Star Wars game is supposedly the most expensive production EA has ever financed, but even that budget is sounding like it will produce a Dragon Age style series of disconnected maps rather than an open world like Azeroth, Norrath, or Middle Earth.

    I think this is where new developers are going wrong. The reason people love the other games is the big open living world. While breaking the game up may make it easier for the developer it is killing any chance of competing with WoW.

  4. Doomed to another decade of WOW? No thanks, I've got EQ2 :)

    Your description of the upcoming Star wars game, along with Jims comments sum up though what I believe is wrong with new games, and also these days WoW.

    They aren't immersive, they sacrifice their worlds just for ease of game play features, in the short term it sounds right (just like the cross server LFG), or the ability in STO to just zoom from small instanced planet to small instanced planet.

    They talk of appealing to casual gamers but I have to question who really wants to play STO? Yet another heavily instanced theme park world with the dangerous bits dialed right down.

    But long term it sucks, if you strip away the world, story and all the characters in it the gameplay of EQ2 isn't that special.

    Add back in the world, lore/storyline, and characters and its the most enthralling online experience I can recommend. I think that goes for a lot of the big long term MMO's, Eve shows where STO should have gone, but d fell flat for me.

  5. I have a feeling that sub based MMOs are on the way out. The ones we have right now aren't going to go anywhere, but FtP seems like a much easier business model to get off the ground for a number of reasons. LoTRO may very well be the most successful sub based MMO since WoW launched, and even in that game there wasn't enough content for a lot of players at launch (e.g., the dead zone in the mid 30s that Evindim plugged).

    I suspect that Bioware's SW mmo, and/ or possibly whatever Blizzard is working on are going to be among the last truly big budget sub based MMOs we'll see, for better or worse.

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  7. Very interesting point. I for one would be willing to pay a little more for something that was better than WoW. I love the game but after all this time (and I tend to think a lot of players feel this way) I am ready for something new and not just another expansion. We are playing it because its consistently satisfactory. Ive had a lot of fun over the years, but nothing content wise has been as fun as the years in vanilla. Id hope people would realize that a few dollars more could bring us something that makes the phrase "Whats WoW?" a little more of a reality.


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