Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The end of the World (of Warcraft)

My last post provoked a few comments about WoW vs. Warhammer Online (WAR). A lot of people are looking at WAR as some type of “WoW Killer” and are predicting the end of the World of Warcraft. First, this presumes that WAR will be a good game in the first place. I hope that it is, but if it’s not… well, this whole discussion is a moot point anyway.

We already KNOW that WoW is a good game and that the Wrath of the Lich King expansion will be a success as a result. I will buy the expansion, I will level to 80, I will play a Death Knight, I will try Lake Winterspring and I will try my hand at the 10-man raiding. AND – I’m not alone. Most current WoW subscribers will do this as well. So at a bare minimum, WoTLK buys WoW three to four months of my time with or without Warhammer Online being a success on it’s own.

The bigger question for WoW is what happens after everyone spends that three to four months playing Wrath and reaches that plateau where Blizzard expect players to grind things out. I wrote a month or so back that the real WoW Killer is not another game, but stagnation. One expansion every 2+ years is going to slowly strangle out the love people have for this game. We get focused on the competition for WoW being another game when in reality it is competing with all forms of alternate entertainment. How many people will leave WoW simply to spend more time with the family? Or to watch TV or read books instead?

In the MMO world, many people like me, will turn to WAR as an alternative and give it a chance to win them over. As a marketer, that is a BAD thing. A really BAD thing. You simply never want to give your competition the opportunity to take and hold market share. If WAR releases before WoW, then that opportunity is HUGE. I realize that this is stating the obvious, but getting Wrath released before WAR is absolutely essential for Blizzard in continuing to secure market share. If I am a Blizzard executive, I am telling my staff that it is simply unacceptable to allow this to happen. If it does happen, and WAR is a good game, I expect WAR to capture quite a bit of the WoW audience.

As Hudson points out in my comments, the segment most at risk of turning to WAR is the PvP demographic. Now I am defining PvPers here as people who play first and foremost because they like PvP. It remains to be seen whether or not WAR will actually be able to convert entire guilds or any of the PvE crowd. To me, I think that’s the big unanswered question. I personally think we will end up with WAR as the MMO PvP choice and WoW as the MMO PvE choice. If that PvP segment makes up only make up 30% of WoW’s player base, then that number could very well be incredibly staggering.

In response to Hudson, Kirk commented that “ Warhammer Online has computer requirements that are too high for a large number of current WoW players to meet. They may WANT to go to WH, but they are stuck playing WoW.” I would agree with Kirk if he were talking about Age of Conan. However, my understanding is that WAR will actually have fairly reasonable system requirements. There will certainly be a % of players unable to migrate, but I don’t believe that the technical limitations will be so high that it will exclude the greater majority of the WoW community. I would also argue that PvPers as a demographic are more bleeding edge than the average WoW player. That’s just a theory, but I base it on the fact that for years the most competitive PvP games (largely in the FPS genre) have always had incredibly demanding system requirements. The unspoken doctrine is that the better your computer, the more competitive advantage you have against other players.

One other thing to consider is that a game based on PvP as it’s central core does not face the same types of issues as a PvE centric game like WoW. For a PvE game, the game content is the game. Run out of content, and you run out of game. As a result, you need to have long boring grinds to pace your community through the content. In a PvP centric game, the content is the conflict with the other players. As long as that conflict exists and there are players to fight and things to fight over, then the game never really ends. In other words, the people generate the content simply by virtue of competing against one another in a competition that has no end.

Now compare that vision of PvP to the one depicted by Blizzard with Lake Winterspring and I think you’ll see what I am so disappointed in it. From all I have read on the subject, WAR appears to be the PvP game I want to play. The game that makes PvP meaningful and long lasting. That doesn’t mean that it WILL be a good game, but if it is… well, that’s definitely going to be a big chip out of the MMO rock that is World of Warcraft.


Chappo said...

A great post. Though I do not think that it is essential for WoTLK to come out before WAR. I think WAR could still benefit very well for it to come out second as the three or four months gives them some time to get the economy running, the community settled, parts of the games adjusted so that when the WoW players are beginning to look at WAR it will be even more polished, complete, and inviting then at release.

Anonymous said...

re the specs... I know ten people playing (now or recently, counting myself) WoW. Of those, five could play War given the minimum specs.

Two are on Macs. The others are a wee bit short somewhere in the spec sheet - "dead" video (website rating); insufficient memory; slightly too slow processor.

Aaand, a point. Dead crawl on War, or decent performance with WoW? More relevant (and back to subjective perception), if a player is used to PVP with WoW at, oh, say 25 fps nominal, and jumps into WAR only to see 10 fps nominal, that is a HANDICAP for WAR.

PVP does not reward the "barely moving" computer.


sid67 said...

@Chappo: There are definitely pros and cons for EA Mythic if WAR beats WoTLK to market. However, from a Blizzard perspective, an early WAR release is a horrible thing simply from the perspective that it provides opportunity to your competitor. It’s like leaving the door open to your chicken coop at night when you know there are coyotes in the area. A coyote might not come in, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to leave the door open.

@Kirk: Those are great examples on falling a wee bit short on the minimum specs. As you say, 5 can play and three would need modest (but affordable) upgrades. That’s in stark contrast to Age of Conan which practically requires you to take out a home equity loan.

Anonymous said...

no, that's one cheap, one moderate, and one significant upgrade. (cpu's are not cheap, nor easy for most people.)

And that's for minimum. Again I keep wondering if minimum is going to be acceptable for a strongly PVP-driven game.


sid67 said...

For the sake of argument, let’s continue to use your numbers. Out of the 10 people, 50% can play WAR with no upgrades and an additional 20% will be capable of running WAR with at most a video card upgrade. Also consider that the remaining 30% could all play if they chose to purchase a moderately priced new computer (whereas with AoC you would need to purchase an expensive computer). I would say that making your product easily available to 70%+ of your market is pretty reasonable considering that the competition (Warcraft) is four years old.

One thing to keep in mind about the minimum system requirements I linked is that they are “unofficial” based on observations from the alpha. My thought is that these “minimum” requirements from users are closer to the truth than what might appear on the actual WAR box top. Alpha users simply aren’t going to consider 10-15 FPS as an acceptable “minimum” to play the game, so I expect they would provide something closer to 25-30 FPS as a minimum. PvP is best when you can get upwards of 60 FPS, but 25-30 is certainly still in a range that would allow you to compete.

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