Gamers are a fickle lot – especially those of us who enjoy massively multiplayer online games (MMO) . Every time a new MMO hits the virtual shelves the internet landscape is full of excited gamers, waiting to trod the virtual shores of the most recent mmo that is all the rage. The last place all the cool gamers went to hang out was Star Wars the Old Republic Online (Swtor). In the month approaching the release of the game excited gamers clamored for their time in the virtual sun. The usual viral Youtube videos surfaced, including the ever present Hitler in his bunker, bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t in the early start of the game.
Yet without fail, withing 30 to 60 days after the start of the mmo gamers start leaving for other virtual shores…even if their aren’t any new ones. We have all seen the multiple factors involved – players who rush to the level cap, games like Vanguard that had no end game to speak of when it launched, and just plain old virtual tourism. It reminds me of my days in the theater when the director of the show would place someone in the lobby just flashing pictures for no reason at all to generate an air of excitement; just like all the lights and bells in a casino. And for 30 free days the game is the place to be – where everyone who is anyone hangs out. What is more, it always seems that the more the hype/publicity is heaped on trying to generate interest, the more likely the MMO is to fail if it doesn’t deliver. The troubles of the MMO or single player game like RAGE above are multiplied if the publisher pushes the developer to get the game out the door before it is ready. A game with a problem ridden launch is like a friend who betrays a trust…once it is gone it is nearly impossible to get back.
The company that owns the game can take it free to play in hopes that will draw back players, but this has reached the point where it is seen as a last ditch effort of a dieing game. Single player games like Rage will sometimes find new players with deep discounts on digital distribution networks like Steam (that is what drew me in to play Rage). But more often then not, the corporate of publishers simply fails to understand the market. The push for faster return of investment usually has the opposite effect.
So it is that I find myself playing Rage and see in my mind a steady stream of names from the past come and go like a flash in the pan…Age of Conan, Fallen Earth, Warhammer, Aion Online, Vanguard, Hellgate London, Champions Online, Rift, Star Trek Online, and now maybe even Star Wars the Old Republic. Each name began with fanfare that quickly faded. And now I wonder if Funcom’s newest game The Secret World will go the same way, even if it is through no fault of it’s own. What does it take for a game to “have legs?” What will grab and hold a players interest? Will it reach a point where investors will no longer put up money for MMOs?
See you online,