WoW-Killers or a little bit about the competition
About a month or two ago I came across an interesting article on the crisis. No, not that global honeycomb that covers the planet Earth, but a local one concerning the MMORPG genre. In particular it was about the fact that projects that were launched in 2008 for the most part failed to meet expectations, not to mention making any competition for WoW.
The bravura reports of a half a million sold Age of Conan boxes at the beginning of the summer of '08 were later replaced by the fan reports of half-empty servers. And Blizzard has launched RuVoW's servers, which in the first weeks were packed to capacity. Now one of the main contenders for the MMORPG throne is suffering a rather pitiful existence and developers have reduced the number of servers. Tabula Rasa, another project personally managed by Sir Richard Garriot, the founding father of the MMORPG genre, is closing down. Things have not gone better at Hellgate London.
Perhaps things are better at Warhammer Online, but half a million subscribers - this is the audience that Blizzard added to the 11 million, releasing Wrath of the Lich King. It's still a long way to catch up.
In other words at the beginning of 2009 we have the following situation in American and European MMORPG segment. More or less successful MMOs of the past years - Everquest, LotRO, Lineage 2, Guild Wars, EVE and others - hold their ground but do not pretend to catch up with WoW in fans' numbers. In principle, things are going well there. Servers do not close, additions come out, fans are happy. New projects like Warhammer Online gaining their target audience, and God willing, developers and continue to hold it. Half of the market takes mastodon WoW.
What good can we expect next? Of the announced projects perhaps only two can be regarded as candidates for the role of "killer WoW" and, perhaps, a new level of online games.
SWTOR - Star Wars: The Old Rebuplic - a project announced by Bioware last autumn, which many pinned great hopes on. Should it be worth it?
Yes, the game could potentially grab a decent chunk of the market. The mere fact that the game is based on the cult setting of Star Wars already speaks of the notorious popularity. The second factor is that Bioware, like Blizzard, does not make bad games. The Baldur's Gate series, Neverwinter Nights, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic are great. But there's a huge distance between an offline game and an online game. Off-line game is in principle a static product, designed for a single use. Bought it, played it, and put it on the shelf. Patches, if they do come out, are "patches" that fix bugs that weren't caught before release. The online universe is a dynamic product, changing and evolving all the time. A developer's goal is to keep a subscriber in the game not for a month, but for a couple of years. Dense work with the in-game community, regular distribution of new content and polishing of the game mechanics are indispensable here. A completely different philosophy.
Blizzard was once in a much more serious position in this regard than Bioware. A few years of Battle.net guidance has played a role in the success of WoW. Bioware doesn't have that experience and how its absence will affect the end result - god knows. Fancom have their own story, both parts of The Longest Journey were hits in their time, but Age of Conan was a flop.
Of course, the Star Wars setting is a trump card, but you have to know how to play it. In short, we'll see. In any case, before a couple of years before the release do not have to wait, and during this time WoW will have time to release another add-on and get their hands on a couple of million more subscribers.
Who else can pretend to be the "WoW-killer"?
It's an old gaming industry rule that only Blizzard can "kill" a Blizzard game. The fact that the developers are working on a certain MMORPG project is already known. And the fact that it's not going to be WoW-2 or Starcraft Online (and not even Diablo Online) is also not known. It will be a completely new setting. Let's hope that the gameplay will be the same situation. I mean - it will be something new. Dramatically. But... again we will have to wait a long time for the new release. Knowing the policy of twins to release new games from the time of the announcement and before the release passes 3-4 years.
The conclusion from all this is simple. Over the next couple of years to continue the situation where half of the MMORPG market occupies WoW, "old guys" like Everquest and Lineage peacefully content with its share of the market, and the emergence of new projects that can move WoWic is not expected. Given that the world is raging financial crisis, surprises in this regard are unlikely to happen - to develop a game the level of WoW you need hundreds of millions of conventional units, a strong development team and the original setting.
Personally, I'm staying in Azeroth for a couple more years, but will definitely try what Bioware will do. What will the blizs give out - we'll see. Maybe only after that I'll change my residency.