Thursday, April 3, 2008

Number inflation

My blog had 1.5 million visitors. Warhammer Online is close to 750k beta applicants, and is shooting for 1 million. Thus I'm twice as popular as Warhammer Online. NOT. So why am I making this totally invalid comparison? To show up the totally invalid comparison implicitly made by EA Mythic talking about their huge number of beta applicants. There is no correlation whatsoever between number of beta applicants and subscriber numbers once the game comes out.

This is especially true for Warhammer Online, because they have gone to great lengths to inflate their beta application numbers. I don't know any other game where the ability to apply for the beta was so heavily advertised. And beta application is open for a year now, it started in April of last year for guilds, May for individuals. Afterwards the number of applicants was always used as marketing tool, which combined with the tiny number of people that were actually let into the beta only inflated the number even more, by people using their several e-mail addresses to apply several times for a beta spot to increase their chances.

People *applying* for a beta test obviously haven't seen the game yet. The only thing they know about Warhammer Online is what marketing told them. And kudos to EA Mythic: their marketing is top notch. If you make a direct comparison between, lets say, marketing for WAR and marketing for the next World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King, which will presumably be released around the same date, Blizzard can only hang their heads in shame. WAR has monthly newsletters, blogs, video podcasts, and their secret weapon of mass destruction: Paul Barnett. WotLK has a dinky website which manages to actually look less interesting than their April Fool's announcement for Molten Core. Nevertheless Wrath of the Lich King is certain to sell 10+ million copies. Whether Warhammer Online will get 1 million subscribers is still a big unknown. Because sooner or later EA Mythic will have to deliver more than marketing: a working and fun game. WoW pretty much got everyone who tried the beta so convinced that they ended up buying the game. WAR will first have to actually let in more people, and then still needs to do the same sort of convincing. And right now even the most neutral and balanced reporting I could find talks of combat feeling clunky and imprecise. People who actually are in the beta fully support the recently announced delay for another half year.

We all hope and pray that WAR will be so good that it gets a million subscribers. We could really use a strong competitor to WoW to shake the market up a bit, and to show investors that WoW isn't unique in its ability to make a profit. But if Ford would open a website where you could apply for a free car, the number of applicants wouldn't be a good indicator of future Ford sales. And even a million WAR beta applicants aren't a good indicator of future subscription numbers. Only a good game can produce those numbers, and we'll have to wait and see if EA Mythic delivers that.

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