PSA: Stop Trying to Be World of Warcraft

March 24, 2015

TESO Banner

Like, seriously.

I wrote a piece for another blog immediately after The Elder Scrolls Online‘s announcement wherein I wished the game the best but also expressed my doubts that yet another MMORPG could charge retail price for an account and then $15 a month for a subscription. I am a big fan of the Elder Scrolls series and almost as big of a fan of the MMORPG genre and I wanted TESO to succeed, but I played the Beta for a few weekends and just… wasn’t impressed. It was a big disappointment because I really wanted TESO to succeed, not only because I wanted to see what an Elder Scrolls multiplayer experience would be like, but because, as a WoW player, I wanted that game to actually have some competition for once. In January, Zenimax admitted that they did not succeed.

The AAA game industry has a weird ‘follow the leader’ thing going on. The Indie scene has the same thing (see: Slender and it’s hundreds of clones), but on a much lesser scale. And when you’re spending tens of millions on developing a game, it becomes a lot less acceptable to phone it in and just do what the guy who came before you did. World of Warcraft is the MMORPG. Before it came Everquest, which was more less killed in 2004 with WoW’s release. That, I’m assuming, is what these publishers are trying to go for by throwing MMO’s out there over and over again; an attempt to dethrone the king of the MMO’s, just as it dethroned the king that came before it.

But I don’t think that these publishers understand all that much about how WoW gained that title in the first place and why people play MMO’s to begin with. At the time that WoW was released Everquest had around 450,000 subscribers in its 5th year of release, which was unprecedented for the time. By the second month of WoW’s existence, it had garnered 1.5 million of them, and that number kept growing until it hit its peak of 12 million in 2010. It’s all in the early days when it comes to MMO’s. Games that have been released recently have not only struggled to get over the 1.5 mil number after a couple months of release, but also then struggle to retain what subscribers that they do have. And even once they inevitably go free to play, they still struggle to match even a fraction of WoW’s numbers despite no longer being stuck behind the same money-wall that WoW is.

Games that don’t eventually go free-to-play after failing to win at the subscription model just shutdown altogether instead. (See: Tabula Rasa)

If they’re really unlucky, f2p games will shut down altogether anyway, but this is so uncommon I actually had to look up to see whether there were any actual cases of this because I honestly couldn’t think of any off of the top of my head.

Now, releasing a bunch of MMORPG’s for $60+ retail plus $15 monthly just doesn’t seem like a good idea to a publisher that’s actually paying attention to what’s happening in the market and how many of their fellows are dying almost immediately out of the starting gate.

So stop doing it. 

Banner art copyright Zenimax Online 2015.