Post Script

Can a big-budget sub­scrip­tion MMOG sur­vive in 2014?


The key to un­der­stand­ing the chal­lenge fac­ing a new sub­scrip­tion MMOG is the dif­fer­ence in size be­tween a game’s ef­fec­tive au­di­ence and the crowd it will at­tract at launch. There are long­time MMOG play­ers who ac­cept a sub­scrip­tion fee as part of their hobby, and who are for­giv­ing, even ex­pec­tant, of lengthy lev­el­ling curves. This au­di­ence is sen­si­tive enough to the va­garies of the genre that even small in­no­va­tions can feel like sub­stan­tial new fea­tures that jus­tify the ask­ing price. These are the play­ers who will get the most out of The El­der Scrolls On­line at launch, and who will form the foun­da­tion of the game’s sub­scriber base for as long as it up­holds the monthly pay­ment model.

It’s un­fair to sec­ond-guess these fans’ enthusiasm for the genre, but the prob­lem is that play­ers like this do not ex­ist in suf­fi­cient num­bers to yield the kind of money the pro­duc­ers of li­cence-driven MMOGs are look­ing for. More so than any other type of game, the qual­ity of an MMOG is di­rectly af­fected by its fi­nan­cial suc­cess.

The ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing for The El­der Scrolls On­line is aimed at hard­ened MMOG play­ers, se­ries fans, and – in the case of the con­sole ver­sions – play­ers who may not have played an MMOG be­fore. Many are play­ers who do not have the req­ui­site ex­pe­ri­ence to un­der­stand why TESO is limited in the ways it is, why it looks worse than its pre­de­ces­sor, and why it de­mands so much time and money. They’re the play­ers who will be the least for­giv­ing of the fact that those ex­pen­sivelook­ing CGI trail­ers have very lit­tle to do with the playable game, and yet they’re be­ing leaned on to en­sure that TESO is suc­cess­ful in the longterm.

It’s a re­mark­ably sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to the one faced by BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Repub­lic in 2011. When that game started to bleed sub­scribers in the first few months, it was the MMOG hard­core who were left be­hind – those who were at­tracted by the idea of a new Star Wars game were the first in and the first out. It seems log­i­cal to ex­pect the same of TESO, a game whose ru­moured budget far ex­ceeds that of the fa­mously ex­pen­sive Star Wars: The Old Repub­lic.

The first an­nounced up­date for TESO paints a wor­ry­ing pic­ture. A new zone called Cra­glorn prom­ises new dun­geons, larger raids – here called Tri­als – as well as daily quests and new ar­mour sets to col­lect. All of this should be fa­mil­iar to MMOG vet­er­ans: it’s hold­ing-pat­tern con­tent, the main­te­nance of a sta­tus quo tuned to pro­long sub­scrip­tions.

When the hon­ey­moon pe­riod ends for that ini­tial rush of early adopters, it’s the MMOG faith­ful who will suf­fer. If the game tran­si­tions to a free model, then these are the play­ers who will be pay­ing a pre­mium for it in the in­terim. If up­date plans are di­alled back to ac­count for a shrink­ing au­di­ence, it’s them who will see a di­min­ish­ing re­turn on their in­vest­ment. If the game isn’t built to scale with the size of the au­di­ence that it’s likely to get, then it’s dif­fi­cult to paint an op­ti­mistic pic­ture of its fu­ture, just as it’s un­fair to ex­pect the most ded­i­cated fans of a genre to shoul­der the con­se­quences of a busi­ness plan that hasn’t yielded suc­cess of any great mag­ni­tude for al­most a decade.

The monthly sub­scrip­tion is dead. It was ar­guably anachro­nis­tic ten years ago, when World Of Warcraft proved that MMOG con­tent could be pro­duced in a way that didn’t re­quire con­stant main­te­nance by a team of de­vel­op­ers. The next big suc­cess in this genre will not have a sub­scrip­tion fee, and the games most likely to achieve that suc­cess are the ones that are lib­er­at­ing their de­sign­ers from the task of con­stantly serv­ing con­tent to an au­di­ence that is as likely as not to move on to the next game within a few months. MMOGs of TESO’s ilk will con­tinue to ex­ist for the play­ers that want them, but the fu­ture is player-gen­er­ated con­tent, not player-sub­sidised con­tent farms.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.