Thursday, March 26, 2009

50 million dollars are bad for you

Syncaine has an interesting theory about "WoW tourists": They ruin other games. Me, being a capitalist, I was under the impression that if 1 million WoW tourists buy your PvP game for $50 each, and then notice that your game isn't for them, you'll be left $50 million richer, which probably pays for most of your development cost. If you then have 300,000 dedicated "core" players left, you can afford to keep your servers running. Because with your development cost already paid, you just need to make more money than it costs to run the servers to be profitable. Even if you game is then a total flop, you can still take that money and use it to develop the next game, hopefully with better success.

But Syncaine says that those 50 million dollars are bad for you. Because the tourists cause login queues. Because after the tourists leave, you have to merge servers. Because the tourists complain on the game message boards that the new game isn't WoW. But most importantly because "the tourists interfere with the core player base, and that core is weakened because of them". He claims WAR would have had more core players, if they hadn't quit over tourist-caused issues.

Darkfall certainly tried to keep the tourists out. You needed to be pretty hardcore to even get into the game, first camping the website for days to get a copy of the game, then enduring login queues that last several hours. But Darkfall players are *still* complaining about tourists. Apparently if somebody tries out Darkfall and doesn't like it, it is WoW's fault. The possibility that somebody quits Darkfall for reasons that are not at all related to World of Warcraft isn't recognized by the fans. I think that one can like or dislike Darkfall completely independant of having played WoW. And I think that one can like or dislike Warhammer Online completely independant of having played WoW.

Yes, World of Warcraft might hurt other games, because it simply sets some industry standards for production quality. If you can get a Mercedes for the same price, why drive a Tato Nano? That does make life difficult for smaller companies, because they either need to make their games cheaper, or better, or so innovative that players are willing to overlook some flaws. Fortunately MMORPG players are good at overlooking flaws, as long as they are having fun.

So ultimately the WoW tourists are a great opportunity for other games. Not only because they bring in an initial big boatload of cash, which any company can certainly use in times like these. But because they give the game the *opportunity* to present itself to a larger audience, and maybe persuade some of them that a different style of gameplay could be fun too. Syncaine thinks that without WoW, WAR would have more than 300,000 subscribers now. I think that WoW increased the total overall market for MMORPG games, and in a world without WoW WAR wouldn't even have sold 300,000 copies, and would have less subscribers than it currently has. And I'm pretty sure that EA and Mythic aren't all that unhappy about those $50 million.

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