Saturday, September 8, 2018

End of the Road for another MMO -- With Updates

Age of Conan has outlasted another MMO.

After multiple years worth of speculation, Wildstar is shutting down.

When I tried the game in Beta I never thought I'd say this, but I'm gonna miss the storyline. Unfortunately for Wildstar, the subscription model coupled to a truly hardcore Vanilla WoW-esque experience wasn't a model for success in today's market.

The past 2+ years I played Wildstar I thought that Carbine had corrected their launch problems and had pivoted to growth in the future, but by then the MMO market had passed them by.

To be honest, I have no idea how Age of Conan is still going after all this time while Wildstar and Marvel Heroes are on the dustbins of history, but I do have some ideas why Wildstar and Marvel Heroes failed.

I don't believe it's an accident that both games were the only games from a development studio. There was no other source of income, and failure of any sort was catastrophic. Even back in 2004, if WoW failed after launch Blizzard had quite a few games/properties that they could use to survive and give WoW a chance to find its feet. Likewise, SWTOR and Elder Scrolls Online have well established and diversified development houses behind those games and can weather the capricious nature of the video game market. Wildstar had a good launch but then discovered that items such as truly nasty attunement turned people off, which led to people dropping subs almost immediately.*

Judging by this info alone, that would likely peg LOTRO as the next MMOs to potentially shut down. LOTRO keeps chugging along, however, and they have more items in the development pipeline, but we'll see how things look in a year from now.

Right now, I don't see the MMO market as a growth area; the MOBA and eSports movement has sucked the hardcore PvPers away, and WoW still takes up most of the oxygen even in a reduced MMO space. A game company that develops an MMO would have to recognize that WoW will be the only sub (or the primary sub) of almost all MMO gamers**, and at the same time a F2P MMO carries with it tremendous risks or being accused of monetizing the game or creating a P2W environment. B2P, like GW2 or ESO or FFXIV, is likely the best option. But even then, a development house shouldn't put all of its eggs in one basket but instead create some other games or software products first. That way, a game company doesn't have to fret quite so much if it takes a while for an MMO to find its feet.

I do have to wonder whether an MMO based in a classic style isometric RPG format might succeed where others failed, given all of the good CRPGs that have come out in that space recently.

But I'm not one for reading the tea leaves, because I'm lousy at prediction. (And I drink coffee anyway.)

I hope the people at Carbine Studios land on their feet. It's never fun to lose your job.

Thanks for the memories, Wildstar.

EtA: There is a post in the comment section of the Kotaku article by an ex-Carbine dev who worked on Wildstar, and this dev has some really cogent points about the Wildstar debacle. It's a fascinating read, and while it doesn't completely eliminate my point of having only one game being very risky for a software studio, it does highlight the extreme mismanagement at Carbine Studios itself. (And also Paragon Studios, whose title City of Heroes was shut down by NCSoft a few years ago.) Yeah, while I'd like to think mismanagement doesn't happen, I know from experience in years past that it does in software companies. And that mismanagement finally did Wildstar in.

*Blizzard has no such illusions about WoW Classic, which is why they're taking it slow and not trying to keep people's hopes up.

**I realize I'm the exception in that my sub is SWTOR, but numbers wise I think I'm pretty accurate in that statement.

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