The Escapist has an interesting read on Star Wars Galaxies “New Game Experience”, which were of course the changes designed to make the game more mass market. A quote:
“Don’t change the game after launch.” After Sony Online released its NGE, Star Wars players dramatically confirmed Mulligan’s lesson, much as the Hindenburg conveyed an important message about hydrogen. Yet like “Never fight a land war in Asia,” this lesson cannot be taught, only learned. Each generation, and publisher, must learn it anew.
More commentary is elsewhere, with some of the best being Brandon and Calandryll’s commentary in Scott’s thread. Most of the rest of the commentary trends towards the old rule – you only get one launch. And that is indeed the conventional wisdom. As a general rule, after 2-3 months live, you can expect your ceiling to be about 2-4 times what your numbers are there. UO quickly hit 100K, and settled in around 250K. EQ quickly hit 200K, and got around twice that. WoW bolted to 2M, and then settled in at 6-8M. An exact science? No, not at all. But one thing that seems constant for traditional box product MMOs – they don’t seem to escape their initial order of magnitude.
There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry decides that he doesn’t like the girlfriend he has, but really likes her roommate. George responds that it’s not possible:
“Do you realize in the entire history of western civilization no one has successfully accomplished the roommate switch. In the middle ages you could get locked up for even suggesting it.”
In some respects, this is what the NGE was. The powers that be apparently decided they weren’t happy with the audience they had, and decided they wanted the two birds in the bush. In doing so, they seemed to do everything in their power to alienate the bird in hand. Unfortunately, the hardcore audience they had built up of dedicated craftsmen and dancers took their betrayal very seriously, and their stories started showing up in Wired, Slashdot and eventually, even the New York Times and Washington Post. The most audacious attempt for a box product to escape its launch velocity and graduate to a new order of magnitude, by most reports, ended up resulting in a downgrade of subscribers.
Of course, this has all been said before, and some are sick of hearing it. I’ve only brought it up because I’ve concluded that the maxim “You only get one launch” isn’t always true, though, and it’s clear that there are some situations where games have ’slow burned’ to long term success. The two examples that come to mind are, of course, Second Life and Eve Online, both of which has small, mild launches but now have strong momentum, devoted fanbases and relatively good buzz – and are among the more successful gamer-oriented MMOs in the WoW age that aren’t WoW. What do these games have in common?
- Small launches. Because both games launched relatively below radar, they could reshape their identities and refine their major selling points after launch.
- Unique niches. No men in tights here. Both games had core visions that were very different from the Diku reality, and both are unflinching towards serving the design towards that vision.
- Sink or swim situations. Both companies had no other games in the pipeline other than the one they were shipping. Both depended on that game succeeding for their survival, and can throw all men on deck at a game that’s having troubles. By comparison, a troubled game in NCSoft, Sony or a larger studio is going to find it’s resources moved to one with greater odds of success.
The one that stands out to me the most – Second Life and Eve are, unflinchingly and without reservations, true to themselves. Second Life occasionally takes crap from curmudgeons like me for it. Still, the people who love Second Life and Eve really do, and are vocal proponents of their favorite virtual worlds. In a wired world (and especially in a genre where every fan is guarunteed to have a net connection), appreciating, and then building upon the central promise of your game which your existing audience is there for appears to be the only way to truly take your virtual world to the next level.
Original comments thread is here.