Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wanted: A Long Term Growth Plan

These are fun times for an MMO player.

Star Trek Online, LOTRO, SWTOR, WoW, GW2 and Neverwinter all have dropped major expacs (or continuing storylines) in the last few months.*

There were two major AAA releases this year: The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar.

But all I hear from my local friends is about League of Legends. Or Call of Duty. Or Dragon Age Inquisition. Or Assassin's Creed Unity**.

Of all my local friends and acquaintances, there's two people who are playing MMOs, and one is playing WoW while the other is playing Aion. In fact, I have more friends excited about the release of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition than anything MMO related.

This is a far cry from when I first took up WoW back in 2009, when I was occasionally surprised by who I knew who also played MMOs. The majority played WoW, to be sure, but some still liked EQ and other games. We didn't exactly swap war stories, but there was a shared experience that we could all comment on. It also confirmed the size of the playerbase that the WoW commercials of the era alluded to.

Now, it seems that the genre is more of a niche these days than before.

Sure, you've got WoW back to over 10 million subs (for the time being), but how much of that is cannibalization of other MMO player bases is an unknown.  I do know of several people who returned to WoW for Draenor (Deftig among them), but WoW doesn't seem to have quite the same mojo outside of the MMO niche than it once did.


I think it is telling that the television spots for Draenor are vastly different than what they were a few short expacs ago.

Hard to believe this is an oldie in YouTube years.

Fangs like that, and not one 
casting callback for True Blood.  Not one!

My wife, on seeing the Warlords trailer, asked me "Are they the good guys or the bad guys?"

I get her point. While both trailers emphasize ACTION!!, the more I watch the Warlords trailer***, the more I wonder whether the trailer is designed strictly for lapsed players as opposed to recruiting new ones.

Contrast these videos with tv spots for some other, newer games:

Didn't I see this during the Super Bowl?

Yes, that really is Kate Upton. Makes me wonder just how 
much she got paid to say "Come and play with me!"

Both of the newer games are for mobile devices, true, but both also are attempting to cast a wider net than the WoW commercials. They are aiming for growth and more players (and, in the case of Game of War: Fire Age, sex appeal so blatant that Evony would be jealous), and their tv spots have eschewed the serious grimdark in favor of whimsy.

They stole Blizzard's thunder by co-opting one of WoW's greatest strengths: its ability to not take itself seriously.

In 2007, WoW had ads with Ozzy, Verne Troyer, and William Shatner, full of sly humor and the "you can be anyone you want!" tagline. 2009 saw the WoW Mountain Dew tie-in with two women fighting it out in a grocery store.

Because you can't have enough William Shatner.

And really, you can't have enough Kaldorei 
and Orcs fighting it out in the local Mega Mart.

But now, there is no humor in Blizzard's WoW advertisements. It's all uber serious grimdark.

Last I checked, WoW itself still has plenty of humor in it. Why surrender your advantage to mobile games?


In the end, I guess you target your audience with what you think will work. Maximizing subscriptions is the game, and investors are a fickle "what have you done for me this quarter?" bunch. Blizzard wants their old subscribers back, and as far as I can tell they're succeeding.  But new blood in the MMO genre? Not so much.

I fear that we've reached a point where the MMO market isn't going to change much in size. MMOs will be marketed to those who already play or used to play extensively. New players aren't marketed to, and a lot of really good games will be overlooked because MMOs are no longer trendy.

This December should feel like Christmas morning with the abundance of really good games to choose from, so why does it feel like Jacob Marley needs to stop by?

*There's also a new release for Rift, but I don't play the game.

**I hear about Unity for all the wrong reasons, I might add. The bugginess of the Unity release is so bad it rivals the old Microprose Darklands game for buggy releases.

***You can't avoid the trailer right now on sports channels. It's about as ubiquitous as erectile dysfunction ads.

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