Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My game can beat up your game

Sometimes it seems our discussion of online games hasn't evolved much from the schoolyard days of "my dad can beat up your dad". The idea that one MMORPG can "beat up" another is quite common, a Google search on the term "WoW killer" gets you over 200,000 hits. That is based on the completely wrong assumption that there is only a limited and fixed number of MMORPG players in any given market, so that the success of one game comes at the loss of another. Small anecdote to show how wrong that assumption is: In 2004, a few months before World of Warcraft was released, a financial analyst determined that the size of the European MMORPG market was 280,000 players. Then WoW came and sold 380,000 copies on it's first weekend.

So I'm not all that happy that Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings ponders whether World of Tanks is to blame for EVE's item shop problems. While it is true that measured for example by number of concurrent users World of Tanks already passed EVE, growing faster per month than EVE per year, I don't really see how you can compare these two games directly. Yes, they are both "PvP games", but that is pretty much where their similarities end. EVE is a SciFi sandbox MMORPG in which PvP is actually a minority activity among many other possible activities, including a huge political game of grand strategy. World of Tanks is a series of WW2-themed PvP battles lasting no longer than 15 minutes, with a kind of Risk board game added as endgame.

It is pretty ridiculous to believe that the success of World of Tanks comes to the detriment of EVE Online. The majority of World of Tanks players are people like me, who love the idea of a game where they can log in, fight a few battles, and log out again, without any long-term committment. That is exactly the type of player who would hate EVE. The PvP isn't the same, I'd even say it is diametrically opposed: World of Tanks has instanced random battles between two equal forces, with players complaining about minor differences in the weight given to tanks by the matchmaker algorithm. EVE Online has open-world organized battles where the goal is to have them *not* balanced at all, but each side trying by all means fair or foul to get an overwhelming advantage. World of Tanks has positive sum PvP, there are more rewards handed out than lost in battle, and even the losing side will at least gain xp, and might even make money out of the battle. In EVE the PvP is negative sum, battles are a costly affair which serves as a money sink for the game economy.

Yes, World of Tanks has an extremely successful item shop, and EVE's current troubles are all about the introduction of an item shop. But there are lots of other games with item shops, and the EVE version is obviously very different from the World of Tanks version. You can't buy monocles or other fluff in WoT. In fact WoT doesn't even have "an RMT item shop" per se, the gold items simply appear in the same in-game menu where you'd buy the regular items, just for a different currency.

Fact is that constant change is one of the defining features of online games. We are the first to complain if a game doesn't change frequently enough. And all these ideas for changes come out of wider pool of game design trends and market trends. Any successful game influences that pool of ideas and trends, but that doesn't mean that game A is responsible for the changes to game B. No developer deliberately changes his game to the worse just because some other game was successful with some idea. You don't see WoW introducing Farmville style farms. If developers make major changes, it is to solve some problem.

I am convinced that Rift had problems with player retention at the level cap before they decided to nerf the dungeons, they didn't just do it because that is "what WoW would have done". And I do think that EVE had problems of their own, more likely with new player retention and a growing gap between new players and veteran ISK billionaires. Adding an item shop which can serve as a money sink for the ISK billions and later help the new players to advance faster and close that gap sounds like something any game company CEO could come up with. I don't think one can blame World of Tanks for that. World of Tanks did not beat up EVE, CCP just made a reasonable business decision which isn't all that popular with the veterans.

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