First, a question: what do the following games have in common? Two of the titles we’re thinking of were based on the biggest names in fantasy fiction; another was licensed from a legendary tabletop RPG; one was designed by the man behind Ultima, another by the brains behind EverQuest; one is an innovative adventure on the high seas; and finally, a post-apocalyptic hybrid of Doom and Diablo.
Answer: They’re all massively multiplayer online games, and they have all, at some point in the last two years, been hyped as games that would help redefine a genre and topple World of Warcraft. Today, however, they’re widely seen as failures, disasters or at best, underachievers.
It’s still a good time to be in the business of massive multiplayer online games – provided your company is Blizzard. World of Warcraft (WoW) has just under 12 million subscribers, and its two expansions have each sold more than four million copies. Compare that to Funcom’s Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, which sold over one million copies at launch, yet now has fewer than 100,000 active subscribers and half of its original servers in use.
Warhammer: Age of Reckoning got off to a strong start, selling over a million copies. 300,000 players currently subscribe
Warhammer: Age of Reckoning has sold more than 1.2 million copies, yet less than a third of these buyers continue to subscribe. The failures of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and Hellgate: London also killed their developers, and the former, like Pirates of the Burning Seas, has only survived thanks to the patience of Sony Online Entertainment. Richard Garriot’s much-hyped Tabula Rasa was supposed to be a ‘clean slate’ for MMOs; instead, it was wiped less than 14 months after launch. Even Turbine’s critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings: Online has met with more modest success than many feel the game deserves.
So where did these games go wrong and what did WoW do right? Can these games fight back, or is there only room for one game in this business? That’s what we’re here to discover.
WoW might not be perfect, but it’s a game that was built with a vision: to make the world of the Warcraft RTS games comes to life in a vivid, fully 3D manner, and to create a game that the widest possible audience could enjoy. MMOs take a long time to build – you’re not making eight to ten hours’ worth of play, but a world that can be explored for months on end. If you don’t start a game with a strong vision, you might as well give up.