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Our niche of the universe

February 14, 2008 Comments off

Following the look at the NCSoft earnings and the Tabula Rasa results, I had a look at the analyst reports from earlier in 2007.

One of the analysts had forecasted that about 560K copies would be sold of the game in 2007 (roughly 29 million US dollars in sales) and another 63 million in 2008, assuming that the sequel was launched in late 2008. Another analyst had noted that NCSoft had said that Tabula Rasa should be considered a niche game and would likely not enjoy the sam popularity as World of Warcraft.

Maybe these analysts had different expectations, but selling 560K copies in the initial months is far from a niche game to me, in particular when talking about the Western market space.
The forecasted numbers were based on a 10% penetration of the MMOG player market space, which was estimated to 3.5 million players. That sounds pretty much like the amount of people playing World of Warcraft at the time in North America and Europe.

I do not think that just because people play World of Warcraft they are suddenly MMOG players that actually would consider playing other MMOGs. World of Warcraft shows there is a potential, but if we suddendly gained millions of more players, why have not other existing games picked up a decent amount as well? How many started to play World of Warcraft despite it being a subscription-based game and would prehaps never consider another one?

Another factor included was the sales numbers for City of Heroes at launch in 2004 and the total estimated US market then and the current estimated US market and the penetration of that game in the category of “niche” games. From that point of view the numbers make sense, assuming the estimated market size is valid. Again, does World of Warcraft throw these numbers off?

Sales of the Tabula Rasa pre-order pack had been quite good though according to reports, so it is understandable though that a positive forecast was maintained.

And with some of NCSofts other games – Lineage, Lineage 2 and Guild Wars all selling in multi-millions, it makes it easy to be led to believe anything less than a million to be “niche” from their point of view.

The analyst reports indicated a sequel (expansion?) in late 2008 and also that Tabula Rasa was one of the existing IPs to be considered for a console launch in 2009. Will that still happen? Would more people play Tabula Rasa on the PS3? Perhaps more MMOGs on console will impact more what would be considered niche rather than then influence of World of Warcraft?

Country of Warcraft

January 24, 2008 Comments off

World of warcraft is of course a large game worldwide, but how large is it in your country?

Today in a technology newspaper I subscribe to (Ny Teknik – translates to New Technology in English) I saw a small article saying that World of Warcraft was bigger than Uppsala. Uppsala is the 4th largest city in Sweden. Knowing that Blizzard just recently announced that 10 million subscribers, which is larger than the population of Sweden, I continued to read to see what they meant.

The article basically talked about the two best selling games in Sweden 2007 was World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade. There were no numbers for how many people in Sweden was playing the game, but a representative for Vivendi had said that the number of players in Sweden exceed the population of the city of Uppsala (population 128000) by a wide margin.

That may not sound that much. However, the population of Sweden is 9 million. Compare that to the population of United States, which according to CIA World Factbook has a population of 300 million. This is 33 1/3 times as many people.

Let’s assume the number of WoW players in Sweden are 130000. With a comparable density of players the number of players in the US would have been 33 1/3 * 130000, which us roughly 4.3 million. Add the Canadian population in the mix to get North American population size (334 million in total) and do the same type of calculation and the comparable player count would have been over 4.8 million.

The official Blizzard numbers say 2.5 million players in North America. So taking the population size into account, World of Warcraft is almost twice as popular in Sweden than in North America.

And then we have China, which weighs in with a population of 1322 million. Doing the same type of calculation a comparable player number would have been over 19 million players. So World of Warcraft is far less popular in China than in Sweden.

Compare the North American numbers and adjusting for Chinese population and one ends up with almost 10 million players in China if it would have had the same popularity in China. Which is quite far from actual numbers. Again, the game is less popular in China in comparision.

So what is the point here? Just that numbers for big regions may not say the whole truth and without trying put them in some comparable context they might no be so meaningful.

To be fair, I do not know if the Videndi representative referenced in the article used the same metric for number of active WoW players as the Blizzard press release. Number of sold units are far higher than these numbers through, so at least there was no Second Life type player count in this case.

Categories: World of Warcraft

Blizzard reached 10

January 23, 2008 Comments off

Blizzard made a press release where they announced more than 10 million players for World of Warcraft. Almost half of those are in North America and Europe (2.5 million and 2 million).

While I have not played this game for along time now and have no intention to start again, it is still impressive to see that they what a phenomenon the game has become. It seems also that the numbers fo Europe and North America has grown a bit also if memory serves me right.

Categories: World of Warcraft

Another top 10 MMOG comment

December 23, 2007 2 comments

As a lot of other bloggers have added their take on top 10 MMOGs inspired from the thread at F13.net, I decided I’d put in some comments in the same spirit here. I don’t read those forums normally, so I did not jump in and register. I found the different motivations people wrote more interesting than the actual order and who put in their votes – I am sure there are a couple of celebrities in the game world there judging by interest sparked for this particular list, but I did not notice.

The motivations are interesting since it shows in my opinion it is a bit difficult to get some coherent criteria that everyone would agree with, making such list pretty much useless (as it also says in the original post) for anyone outside to get a good view of what game is better than another.

Worth noting is that the only game in the top 10 that is actually reasonably new is Lord of the Ring Online and 7 of 10 are fantasy MMOGs.

My own top 10, which is pretty much all MMOGs I have played for at least 2 months:

  1. City of Villains/Heroes
    This is the game I played played actively the longest (almost 19 months and counting), mostly on villain side. It is not the most feature rich game, but what has been implemented usually works well. Best character creator I have seen so far, separation of looks and character abilities, good variety in powerset selection, great mechanics to enable people to team with each other and good fun fast-paced combat in groups.
    It gets a bit grindy at times (big hurdle around level 30) and there is a lot of similar content. Good content updates that comes at regular intervals without extra cost. I have loads of characters in this game and enjoy most of them. Played witha good group of people here which definitely contributed to the enjoyment of this game.
  2. World of Warcraft
    Second longest game I have played, spent around 11 months, got 1 character to top level, which was 60 at the time and a bunch of alts in 30-50 range. Fun to explore, solid content. Main reason for staying that long was the guild I was in and when that fell apart my interest in the game pretty much vanished. Among the least amount of annoyment factors in a game that I have played, which is one reason it is high up in list. Decent mixture of skills in the different classes.
  3. Final Fantasy XI
    Spent around 8 months in this game. Loved the concept of jobs and subjobs, did not like that some combinations there where pretty much forced in practice. Hated the camping. Loved the cutscenes, some of the story line and the general feeling of a dangerous world. Fighting my first dragon there was a rush like I barely had in any other game. I loved the beastmaster job. Did not really like the forced grouping in certain areas at certain levels, which which was abonus for the beastmaster – that did not really apply in that case. Had good fun with the BCNM fights (Burning Circle Notorious Monster) I was in. The linkshell I was in was good at the beginning, but after the general maturity and common ground with the other members faded, the interest in the game also faded.
  4. Everquest 2
    Lots of features, some nice storylines and mixed graphics – some great some so-and-so. Loved Brigand and Coercer and had some decent fun with some other classes also, highest got to mid 40s (brigand). Have played the game in 4-5 periods, total time perhaps 8-9 months. Too much master spell farming and grouping for XP for my liking.
  5. Star Wars Galaxies
    Mainly for the game as it was during the first 5-6 months, to a bit after player cities was introduced. This was a time where many higher level creatures could be considered dangerous. Loved the skill-based structure, hated the grinding necessary for some of these skill trees. Hated the one character per server restriction. Loved the versality in classes, crafting mechanics although did not like htat you pretty much had to be a master crafter to make any money on your work (and the grind to get there). Ended up as a ranger/creature handler eventually and I loved the pet handling, collecting pets and raising them and go hunting for material that I sold later. Player cities was an intersting concept, but I thought it actually destroyed a bit of the game and later changes destroyed it more. Never was interested in getting into Jedi.
  6. Anarchy Online
    My first MMOG. Spent perhaps 10-11 months in total there over multiple periods. Have all the expansions, but has not really touched much beyond the original game content. Had plenty of alts, only a few got above level 50. Due to real life circumstances (i.e. work), my first 10 months in the game was mainly a couple of hours each weekend, the only time I was home in Sweden. Great mood setting in some areas and good fun back then. Cannot really back into the game nowadays though.
  7. Tabula Rasa
    The game has not been out after release for 2 months yet, but I also played some in beta. Great combat and immersive environment, good storyline. Crafting is a bit crappy at the moment and some of the mission bugs gets annoying. Playing it with a good bunch of people, which adds to the fun. If I make this list again in a couple of months I suspect this game will be ranked higher. I just need to put some of the games I played for a longer time ahead of it, the postion is rather low due to the short time it has been around. A couple of months from now it may be in top 3.
  8. Earth & Beyond
    My second MMOG and the first game in space, played for maybe 9-10 months. I loved the concept of a changing world and the grand story arc and the first 30-40 levels had some nice missions and story lines in addition to the story arc. Combat with space creatures was fun. Crafting was ok, trading part (a chat channel) was horrendous. A lot of the time towards level 150 was one of the worst grinds I have had in an MMOG, which lowers its position.
  9. EVE Online
    Wanted to really like this game and have a complement to Earth&Beyond initially. Played in two periods, totalling maybe 2-3 months. Never got into a company I liked and after a while space felt a bit empty. I like a number of the game mechanics and it is a bit stimulating, but not so much fun after a while. Probably would have worked out better with a good company.
  10. Lord Of the Ring Online
    Pretty game environment, some of the start quests and the main story arc was good. After a while it felt really uninspiring and grindy, quests, combat and pretty much everything except the environment itself. Highest character got to mid/high 20s, loremaster. left after about 2 months, even though I had bought a pre-order with 6 months subscription.

Some of the positions here is pretty much impossible for me even to agree with myself and if I am asked again in a short while some of the positions may change. And if I was asked about a list of games I would like to play now and order them, it would be a quite different list. It is a rather futile attempt at comparing my enjoyment and frustration at different periods in time when it comes to MMOGs.

The sense of humor

November 24, 2007 1 comment

How important is humor in the MMOGs you play and what kind of humor should that be? Often we divide MMOGs into areas such as fantasy, SciFi and other themes, or perhaps if the experience is somewhat directed or more of a pure sandbox style.

But would not also how serious the game and its theme take itself or allows people to see the funny side of some thing be an important factor as well? After all, it is entertainment, so humor should be a relevant factor.
For me humor is an important factor, perhaps not for choosing to start play a game, but a contributing factor to why I might stay with a game. It can be what NPCs say, humorous things in the environment or situations occuring. And of course funny things caused by players.

Humor is a difficult thing; it should be delivered in the right context, with good timing and in reasonable amounts. It still will work differently for different people. And talking about it like this in a bit of analytical way for sure does not bring out the funny side…

I am not sure how much consideration is going into MMOGs when it comes to delivering humor in the games. World of Warcraft has some quite nice situational elements with the school class in Stormwind and the Dwarf shooting range in the dwarf/gnome newbie zone. And some of the characteristics of the races there might be funny initially, such as the troll Jamaican accent. That game is a good example I think where there is a decent amount of humor delivered well – it does try to take its story and environment too seriously and be that realistic, so it probably works well with most of the audience, I think.

In Everquest 2 humor was a main contributing factor for me when choosing to play on the good or the evil side (and that ratongas were evil only). The rude and sometimes sarcastic comments made by the NPCs in Freeport was a great benefit over the quite annoying and a bit cutesy comments of many of the Qeynos NPCs. Of course, humor is easier if you can be a bit evil and that shows in the Quenos/Freeport case. Comments were also adapted to the race you played, if you for example played the cat-like race some NPCs would comment on how wonderful I looked and if they could have my pelt..

The ratonga chef in the Temple Street zone in Freeport is also my favourite NPC in that game, with his constant hunt on the street for food sources to kill on the street, as well as being chased himself by street cats (he is a rat after all…)

Everquest 2 was also the first game I heard a mob ask for a heal (Cleric, heal me!) which was good fun the first time I heard that and smiled a number of times after that when it has popped up. Other games have also included that now, the latest I heard that in in Tabula Rasa, when a Thrax soldier called for a Caretaker to heal him. Short one-liners like that work great when delivered with voice, as has been the case in both Everquest 2 and Tabula Rasa.

City of Heroes/Villains have plenty of humorous one-liners and does not take itself and its environment too seriously, which I think works pretty good with a comic book inspiredĀ setting. There is also some good cut scenes, such as the one in Mercy Island, with the target of the mission, Dr Gerst, an evil genius wannabe being shown that he is just that, a wannabe…

Some of the one-liners in City of Heroes/Villains as well as in Everquest 2 is being delivered a bit too often, while others are seldom enough to work just great when they occur. If you see/hear a joke for the 100th time, it probably is not that funny anymore.

Another source of humor and fun is of course the emotes and how they are used by players. For me, City of Heroes/Villains is at the top there. I remember Anarchy Online having a decent amount of emotes here that were pretty good, useful. To be honest, I cannot remember what World of Warcraft had here besindes the dances (its been about 2 years since I played the game) and as I recall Everquest 2 emotes were a bit so-and-so. Tabula Rasa does not have many and do need to work a bit on that side.

So how is it for you, is humor important in the game? And what type of humor works for you? Any games that has too much humor, are lacking humor?

A seamless world or one world? Or a Google MMOG?

July 26, 2007 1 comment

Zones in MMOGs can be annoying – at least when passing from one zone to the other and the games shows some zone loading screen. Games like World of Warcraft has removed annoyance factor from the user experience and the world appears seamless, regardless of the actual structure beneath – the technological borders are more hidden and there are no zone loading screens.

The many worlds/realms/shards that exists for many of the popular MMOG titles can also be an annoyance factor. If you and your friends have not created your characters in the same world, you cannot play together. If people can all synchronize within their groups where to play, then it all works out. But often people may not be that synchronized – one may start to play at different times and perhaps not knowing about each others characters initially.

Some games provide a character transfer service for a fee, which at least partially can accomodate such issues. But if there are multiple friends spread out on a number of servers, chances are slim that all these people may synchronize their location, especially if they belong to different guilds and groups in each world. And with some people you might just want to play a bit every now and then, but might not be that frequent to movivate a transfer from one world to another.

Games like EVE Online and Guild Wars essentially provide one world experiences and basically everyone playing the game could hook up with each other. These games have lots of zones or instances of zones though, again technical borders showing themselves.

If you had a choice of a seamless world experience, but many isolated copies of that world, or a single world experience with many zones, what would you choose? All other things being equals.

Personally I think I would definitely go for the one world experience, unless the zoning was really annoying. The ability to hook up with anyone anywhere is worth more than a slightly better world immersion.

In practice all other things are not equal, so how important would these factors be – seamless world multiples copies, or one world with zones?Many MMOGs today does not provide either option – they have experienced zone borders and they have multiple isolated copies of their worlds.

One might also ask – why would I have to choose between them, why can’t I have the best of both worlds? So far, as with much else, the current technology sets limits and compromises will have to be made. But technology advances also and what was not possible a couple of years back or was not commercially viable then might be more viable today or in a near future.

When it comes to technological advances in massive scale distributed computing, a number of the MMOG companies like SOE, NCSoft and Blizzard have likely accumulated a fair share of experience in this area, running their games. Their server farms have likely 1000s of computers running their games, with at least a decent amount of uptime and tuned to keep operational costs low.

They are however dwarfed by giants like Google. The Google platform were at some point estimated by external sources to consist of over 450000 servers. Looking at the type of people working at Google, research papers they have published etc one might conclude they have a fair amount of smart people in the area of distributed computing. While initially being just a search engine, they are expanding in other areas and providing other services that takes advantage of their immense distributed platform.

I would not be surprised if Google at some point turns their eye towards online gaming and the MMOGsphere. If anyone has the means to set up a platform for hosting games on a really massive scale it is them. They probably do not have all the know-how of all the old players in the field, but what they don’t have they can probably buy.