Back in January 2010, I predicted that Social Gaming may kill the traditional MMORPG industry. This was after the spectacular failures of two huge IPs that launched in late 2008:
- Warhammer Online (WAR)
- Age of Conan (AoC)
The developers for those games make the mistake of over-promising and under-delivering, a cardinal sin for any business.
EA Mythic set the expectation that WAR would launch with 24 classes and 6 capital cities, but shortly before launch they cut 4 classes and 4 cities. The game client was unstable (multiple CTDs a night for me even a year after launch) and the servers simply couldn’t handle mass RVR without crashing or lagging severely. The “lakes” RVR while leveling was one of the most enjoyable PVP experience I’ve ever had, but the game fell down at endgame in T4. A game that hyped RVR couldn’t handle it.
I didn’t play AoC, but I kept tabs on the community. Funcom set the expectation that AoC would ship with DirectX 10 support – it was written on the box – but DX 10 wasn’t there until 6 months post launch. The game in Beta had serious performance issues and bugs, and Funcom unwisely drew attention to a “miracle” patch right before launch. It’s like saying “we’ve done a crappy job but finally got our act together, really!” Gamers loved the leveling experience from 1-20, but unfortunately the content team did not maintain that standard of quality from 21 to endgame. Rumor was that the writers across leveling zones had little or no interaction.
After WAR, in 2009 and 2010 I played several other “new” games to the Western market: Aion and Allods Online (AO). Aion’s grindfest killed my interest before I even reached level cap. AO had a terrific Beta experience go into the toilet when the game developer implemented a Death Penalty mechanic that basically made the F2P game a P2P game. I stuck with AO as paying to play wasn’t an issue for me, but I eventually quit due to the lack of appealing endgame content.
The failures of these MMORPGs unfortunately coincided with the incredible surge in growth and popularity of Facebook and Social Gaming. Money was being funneled into Social Games for obvious reasons, as I wrote in that Jan 2010 article. I grew increasingly concerned that developers would lose the financial backing to publish new MMORPGs, which typically cost tens of millions of dollars to launch. All any executive or VC had to do was point at the high cost and high failure rate to say it wasn’t be worth the risk. The MMORPG market was facing a vicious cycle, whereas Social Gaming was in a virtuous cycle of wildfire growth.
I went back to the safe haven of WoW in May 2010 after hearing that much of the tedious grinding in WoW had been removed. I enjoyed the latter parts of WotLK and then Cataclysm, which finally brought back meaningful challenge in PVE. Although as Josh “Lore” Allen recently pointed out to me, I am in the 1% who wanted things to not be faceroll, and the other 99% of the population had gotten used to the faceroll joke that was WotLK Heroic content.
While Cataclysm was my favorite WoW expansion, by mid February I was restless / bored with it. A fellow gamer, Castorcato, sent me a link to the talent calculator for a game I hadn’t heard of. RIFT. Looking at the talent calculator for an hour sold me on trying the game. Castorcato said that RIFT in Beta felt like the good things from WAR again, and I got very excited.
RIFT’s launch was the smoothest that I’d ever seen for an MMORPG. It blew me away. The game had bugs of course, but the level of polish was phenomenal, so it was able to meet the “is this as polished as WoW” standard question from the gamer community.
At WonderCon 2011, I asked a panel with Scott Hartsman (Exec Producer, RIFT), Dirk Metzger (VP Publishing, Zentia), and Nick Huggett (Customer Experience Manager, Runes of Magic) about the viability of the MMORPG market given the past couple years and their responses were highly encouraging. I also spoke with Scott after the panel about how Trion was able to launch a AAA-quality MMORPG.
As you may know, I’ve been critical of RIFT’s 1.5 and 1.6 patches – IMO they’ve derailed the great progress being made for PVP from 1.0 -> 1.4. But there is no denying that Trion has shown that AAA-quality launches of new games are doable, with the right mindset and execution. Trion has also brought a healthy amount of innovation to the MMORPG market – in particular with RIFT’s superb spec system and the game’s integration with social media.
So we started 2011 with a bang with RIFT, but that isn’t the end of the story.
EA BioWare is launching SWTOR later this month. I started researching SWTOR once I saw what was coming in RIFT 1.5 to determine whether it was a viable option for me. Long story short, SWTOR has greatly exceeded my expectations in Beta and I am pumped to play it at launch.
My guess is that RIFT has been a significant financial success for Trion Worlds, and I expect that SWTOR will be the same for EA BioWare.
This is great news for fans of the MMORPG, regardless what game(s) you play. The more success stories in the industry, the greater the degree of financial investment into game developers, which means more new games for us.
Thank you Trion Worlds and BioWare for delivering!
GAMEBREAKER Host for “The Sanctum” RIFT show: http://www.gamebreaker.tv/category/the-sanctum/
GAMEBREAKER Host for “The Republic” SWTOR show: http://www.gamebreaker.tv/category/the-republic/