Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why I hope the melting iceberg will hold a bit longer

We’re living in the age of branding, where we not only build the brands of products, organizations or ideas, but also ourselves. Quite a creepy thought, but a fact, like it or not.

Now building a brand isn’t just something you do once for all, to live happily the rest of your life, harvesting the result of your investments. All brands and products have a lifecycle, even though non-marketing people don’t pay much attention to it.

According to a famous chart, used by market economists, The Boston Matrix, there is a certain pattern in how they go from upcoming stars to “milk cows”, which eventually will face an inevitable death and destruction. That will say: unless you put considerable effort into keeping them alive – through re-investment, re-positioning and tons of advertising.

How quickly a brand will go through all the stages in this lifcycle vary of course, depending on the market and the product category. Mind you, I’m not an economist myself, so this explanation of the matrix is probably questionable, this is not the whole truth, just the way I had it explained to me.

Counting the minutes
I’m bringing this up because I, with the rest of the WoW community, eagerly is waiting for the BlizzCon circus to break out. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend it, not even by the Internet broadcast. So I’ll have to do with whatever information is reported by WoW.com and other news sites. I’m sure they’ll do a great job, so I’m not worried that I’ll miss something.

I’m counting the minutes, because I have the feeling that Blizzard is facing a moment of truth. Will they once again be able to dominate the MMO-market, will they do the trick and not only deliver what we thought they would, but even more than that in the upcoming expansion, which is expected to be announced? Will they be able to amaze us and one more time revitalize the WoW concept, defying the fact that it – in a gaming context – is a very old and rapidly aging brand?

A melting iceberg?
A couple of years ago there was no question about it. Blizzard’s WoW concept was The Star on the MMO sky. They managed not only to gain the likening and respect from a somewhat picky core of the gaming community, but also to make it work commercially Even though they weren’t exactly in the frontline, even though they weren’t pushing the edges, they were unquestionably masters in combining things, picking the best ideas from other games and putting it together in a tasteful, easy-to-love and broad-approach combination. Perhaps you could call that inventive as well, it its own way.

But the world has changed and I’ve got a strong feeling that WoW isn’t quite the fix star as it used to be. The very thing that they feel a sudden urge to bring in Ozzy Osbourne ads, is a certain sign that the former cash cow needs some extra oxygen to keep breathing.

With the official movement of the leading creative staff from WoW to the future, secret MMO project, the community couldn’t draw any other conclusion but that it was the B-squad that remained in the building, with the instructions to keep the boat afloat as long as possible.

WoW vs Aion
There has been “Doom and gloom” prophecies about the upcoming mass Exodus of players more than once before. But now I think the arguing makes more sense than it did a year ago.

Spooner at Spooncraft wrote a post where he compared WoW and Aion, arguing that Aion is a part of the next generation of MMOs and that it’s probably about time to take the step over now. He bunches up WoW, EVE, LOTRO, AoC, War and City of Heroes, resembling them to a melting iceberg.

“These games have been around for a while, and they’re showing their age either through obsolete gameplay or graphics or just terrible management and community.
And he suggests us to jump over to the new beautiful, solid and fresh looking iceberg which will last us at least 5 years before it starts to wear off. There you’ll find games like Aion, Champions Online, Final Fantasy XIV, SWTOR and the next generation MMO from Blizzard.

His concluding words probably express pretty well the views from players who are done with WoW:

“Remember in December of 2004 when you first installed the World of Warcraft and you felt like you were looking at the most beautiful and amazing game to date?
Addictive and exciting and full of mysteries you were yearning to uncover? Zones yet to explore, epic weapons and armor and vicious monsters and evil that had to be fought? It’s like that all over again. Aion feels like WoW used to.”

Why I hope for success
The funny thing is that all the ongoing picking at the current development team, all the moaning from the community and the general assumption that WoW is a dying game, has the reversed effect on me. Even though I don’t consider myself a “Blizzard fan boy” (I have no history with them whatsoever and have never touched any of their other games), I find myself sympathizing with the staff, wanting them to proof the critics wrong, showing the gaming world that they’re well prepared for another round in the match about the MMO-audience.

It’s just like watching an old athlete, making his last Olympics, defending his title one more time against the 15-year old upcoming stars. My heart bleeds for the old, scarred fighter.

How discouraging mustn’t it be to belong to a team that the community has classed as secondary? You’re one of the people left behind, with a game engine that is running obsolete according to the experts. (Not that I notice it at all, I have no idea what a game engine is. To me the game is as beautiful and stunning as ever. But what do I know?) Whatever they make up for the next expansion, they can expect a ton of criticism from those players who never seem to be content, no matter what they do.

I certainly don’t awe them. It is hard and unrewarding work to manage a brand which has been so strong, that you can’t possibly make it any stronger, trying to prevent it from getting weaker too quickly and too badly. I know, because I’ve done it myself in real life.

The countdown is on. In a few hours we may – or may not, if the speculations turn out to be wrong – get some official announcements about the next expansion.

My heart is with the B-squad, who in the current situation come out as underdogs, no matter of the glorious past of WoW. I hope you’ll step out from the shadows and show us that the lifespan of an MMO not necessarily is limited to five years. I want you to show that even if the iceberg slowly is melting, this brand is strong enough to float for at least another expansion and that we who decide to stay around will have quite a ride to look forward to.

Go, Blizzard, Go!

27 comments:

Klepsacovic said...

For a secondary team they seem to do pretty well. If GC is really the secondary dev, well then I must have a very backwards perspective, because he seems a lot better, what with all the telling us what he's thinking.

For completely different reasons, I do think the next Blizzard MMO will kill WoW. It's not that it will have a better dev team, but that it will have had so much more to have learned; just as WoW is better than EQ because it had all those mistakes to learn from. Other games have learned as well, but I think the next Blizzard game will have an easier time getting players.

I can easily imagine current players going over to try the new MMO, and most importantly, going in large enough numbers that they bring with a community and friends which they know. When I tried EQ2 I thought it was fun, I liked WoW more, but the biggest turn off was that I knew only a couple people (and they didn't play much).

B_Dragon said...

Almost certainly the next-gen MMOs will have learned a lot from what WoW has introduced. No doubt that if the upcoming MMOs have integrated all the nifty features and successfully improved on them we will see the next WoW-killer.

But there is one small thing that's yet to be answered: What does a player really seek by playing these MMO? For me, it's the fun factor. Some people might get bored after running a daily for a week. Some may get disillusioned with an instance after his second run. So even if the next big MMO is as polished as a 10-inch white pearl, if it does appeal to what players want, then they'll be disappointed and go back to the game that can cater to their needs.

Elnia said...

I do wonder how much of the drumbeat for Aion is real vs paid. There are a lot of paid bloggers out there and even entire networks set up for paying bloggers to write "positive editorial content," and this payment is not revealed to the readers.

These companies also pay people to make comments on popular web sites to drum up "buzz" as well.

Aion may be the real deal, I don't know. But I'll believe in the WoW killer when WoW dies. I've heard of so many games that were supposed to kill WoW fram WAR to LOTRO and WoW is still going strong.

Dechion said...

well said as always.

I am another that is rooting for the backup squad to step up and really show us what they are made of.

I just hope they manage to iron out the bugs that are driving me away.

Typhoonandrew said...

There is no real reason that the next expansion could not be bigger, better and more attractive than the two previous expansions put together. If Blizzard have the true will to wow us, they will.

Content will bring the community, and an expansion is a perfect way to add huge areas of lore, gameplay, and innovation to a game.

As you said - being it on. I'm looking forward to this, and hoping that they add so much content that we're swimming in a vast sea of new material.

Dw-redux said...

Another reason why I would be hardpressed to ever think of you as a Blizzard fan boy, is the 'boy' part :)
Erhem..

Like you im Wishing and hoping and thinking and praying (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAn3uQX7AGk) That Blizz will battle all the naysayers (..like me?) and give us an expansion that will get us excited, and if mmo-champions leaks are correct, they just might.... If done right

So go go go Blizz ;)

Anonymous said...

Quote. "Remember in December of 2004 when you first installed the World of Warcraft and you felt like you were looking at the most beautiful and amazing game to date?"

LOL. WoW graphics were already bad and outdated when it started 5 years ago.

Chris said...

Is Aion the 'next big thing' or just the current destination for WoW tourists?

The answers seems to be the latter.

I've followed the hype behind LOTRO, AoC, WAR... We always hear how these will be the WoW-beaters, but it always ends in the same way.

It's not the big changes that make people go back to WoW, it's the little ones... The idea of losing 5 years of improvements (life without dual-spec? the inability to trade badly looted gear in instances?) and the fact that there is always something to chase will mean that WoW will retain the title until something truly revolutionary comes along.

For some reason, UO felt like a living breathing world whereas parts of WoW feel like I'm the only person on the server.

Phasing + player housing would do nicely.

Anonymous said...

I think WoW started out with with a set "group" of gamers in mind. Those ppl who wished to fight in a fantasy world, explore new locations and boldly go where no one has gone before (...star trek...) it was a small tight knit group. i hate the word "hardcore" as the meaning has changed some what, but you get my meaning.

Now Wow is a main stream game, with all the bonuses and faults being main stream brings. I wont list them ( its too long and would start an arguement :P )but im sure we can all see at least some by ourselves.

I believe wow has a few years left in it, mainly because of the size, you dont go dumping 12 million players quickly!! BUT....ppl will get frustrated, bored, angry, disillusioned and move on.

As to the "second" team taking over WoW, lets face it, to even be on the "second" team at Activision/Blizzard you have to be damn good.

As to Aion being a Wow killer, no it isnt, not yet. SW:TOR might be if they dont screw it up!!

Cacknoob (Aion player)

Larísa said...

@Klepsacovic:
I’m a big GC fan! From a PR perspective he’s absolutely brilliant. He’s reaching out and discussing with the community in a manner that goes well with most players. Surely he can be a little snarky from time to time, but who isn’t that? He’s really good at giving Blizzard a face, thus knitting the community tighter to the brand. So yeah, in some ways maybe even the B-squad is an improvement to the so called A-team! You can excel in many different ways.

Yeah, I’m no expert in the MMO market, but I definitely agree that the upcoming new Blizzard MMO will have a very strong position to start from. Provided that they’ve managed to keep the WoW audience in the meantime, they’ll have a big advantage when they’ll launch their new baby. Probably they’ll give the loyal WoW subscribers a good deal if they move over to the new one…. And yes, as you say, when you pick an MMO it isn’t only about the game as such. It’s as much about “what does everyone else play? Do I like the kind of people who play this game, can I feel at home in it?” And that is a slightly different issue than just the latest announcments from the dev team. It’s about building brands, community, loyalty in the long run…

@B Dragon: There are a lot of reasons why we play and I never get tired of analysing it. And nor do the other bloggers! Tobold has just run an interesting series on this for example. The fun factor is there, but there’s definitely a lot of other aspects as well.

@Elnia:
Paid bloggers, paid commenters… Sigh. I’m afraid you’re right. I should know, writing about the blurry WoW journalism the other day. I tend to try not to think about it, the thought is quite sickening to me. And yes, there have been many suggested WoW killers during the 2.5 years I have played. And so far non of them have delivered what people thought. However, I’m starting to notice a difference, seeing people around me, on my server, actually leaving, trying out other games etc, hearing how they reason. That is not some planted buzz talk. That is real stuff going on. But I hope that the expansion announcement, if it will come, may change the trend in a different direction.

@Dechion: oh, I read about your annoyances with lack of instances. :( I guess it has to do with what hours you play and what it’s like at your server. But still it’s absolutely unacceptable. Making basic things like that work is a hygiene factor, that you have to deal with before creating new content.

@Typhoonandrew. I too hope they have a “true will to wow us”! What a lovely expression. :)

@Dw-redux: aww… I know I’m not a boy, but sometimes I get tired of making female versions of fixed expressions. A female ombudsman shouldn’t be called an ombudswoman. In my opinion.

@Anonymous: actually I think many of us have tendencies to glorify the past, remembering it not quite truthfully. As time goes by we tend to just forget the nice things, while the ordinary, mediocre stuff will fade away.

@Chris: the loneliness is very real indeed and it’s saddening. I don’t play an MMO to wander around in an empty, silent desert, soloing pathetic mobs, inferior by maths, and looting them for a few silver and a q item, over and over again. Many of the vanilla and TBC parts are pretty much dead. And I for one think that it would be great if the leak is correct and they could be brought back to life.

@Cacknoob: I don’t believe it! Cacknoob doesn’t want to start an argument? What has Aion done to you, Cack?
But I agree with what you say anyway, can’t help wishing that I had been with pioneer team, not just being a main stream player who joined later…. I don’t know anything about SWTOR to be honest. Being an old trek fan, I can’t help being a little curios about what a star trek game could offer. But the most likely thing is that when I’m done with WoW, I’m done with MMO-gaming. Time will show though.

jeffo said...

'The very thing that they feel a sudden urge to bring in Ozzy Osbourne ads, is a certain sign that the former cash cow needs some extra oxygen to keep breathing.'

Possible -- or it could be a clever marketing department trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Bri said...

All these other games, Aion, LOTRO, the F2P offerings .. I play them, and just feel like I've done it all before I've even gotten started.

So I sigh, and go back to my friends in WoW.

Joanna said...

I agree with Bri.

I've tried Aion, and while beautiful it's not extraordinary. The quests are the same as WoW's but in a different setting. It's not as engaging as WoW was when I first started. And then there's leaving your friends behind.

If all my friends and my guild up and switched to Aion, then I'd go. If they don't (and they won't) I'll keep coming back to WoW. I think a lot of people have that feeling.

I would need something truely amazing and revolutionary in order to abandon WoW for a new game. And Aion, while a fun diversion, isn't it.

firespirit said...

Larisa: Look for a post about this on friday at my site :)

I would post a comment here, but it started to get a bit too long for a comment.

Dàchéng said...

If you want to see the old world populated, just log onto a server that is recommended for new players. There, the old world is full of enthusiastic new players, playing all the game rather than just the end-game and there's none of the negativity I hear from "old hands". Just change your server.

And don't fall for the story that WoW is dying just because you keep hearing that repeated over and over on the blogosphere as if it were a fact. Sometimes one starts to believe old wives' tales just because one hears them often enough.

A quick look at the census figures on WarcraftRealms.com shows that most WoW characters have not reached the end-game. The figures are not in dispute. (I list them at the bottom). Now while there may be many interpretations of these figures, the fact is that most characters haven't hit level 80. In fact, there are about as many characters below level 70 as there are at level 80.

Level KChars
10-19 592
20-29 503
30-39 351
40-49 295
50-59 451
60-69 561
70-79 847
80-80 2796

*Figures collected on 2009-08-20

River said...

I agree with Jeffo, I think it's more of a marketing scheme. If you lose 200k subcribers it's still money out of your pocket.

I think the only WoW killer there can be is when Blizzard makes it. They won't kill it until there is profit to be had.

As for WoW killers the only one I see a chance to coming close is The Old Republic. You have an awesome IP, the hype machine is already rolling. If Bioware delivers WoW might be in real trouble,

Tesh said...

I can't help but think that Ozzy Osbourne isn't the poster child for the people they really should be marketing the game to. Then again, maybe I have a misconception of who the target audience is, or should be.

I'm hoping they can manage to keep WoW relevant and interesting, but I think they will need to make some significant changes to the game to accomplish that. We'll see if they pull it off.

Ooke said...

from what I've seen the Aion end game is PvP related. For that fact alone it won't kill WoW and unless they infuse a lot of end game crap it'll putter out and die.

The thing that WoW does that no other game has ever done is have a massive breadth and depth of content. All that shit for people to do. I've never seen a game that doesn't fall flat after a while even WoW but I'll be damned if the average gamer hasn't gotten 2-5 years playtime out of WoW.

For some PvP can replace developer created content but PvP is not everybody's focus. A large portion of the WoW community loathes it (just look at how people are bitching about the third Colosseum boss) so a large contingent of casual and hard core stuff must be created. That is how you get 12 million people playing a game. In fact I'd almost say that those 12 million people aren't playing the same game, or at least not the same part.

Also being casual friendly is a must for success. I know a lot of people harp on how Blizzard is dumbing down WoW, but it's to a point I could probably get anyone other than my parents to pick it up and be moderately successful.


The only game that has a chance in hell of "beating" or even competing with WoW is SWTOR and that's still a long shot. Notice how it's stylized like WoW is with similar trappings? That's not by mistake.


In a couple years Aion will be seen as ugly and outdated while the "plain cartoony" look of WoW will keep on chugging. They steered clear of the uncanny valley on purpose. It also helps that little brother johnny can play it on the family's 5 year old machine with an integrated Intel video card however much I loathe them. Maybe not well, but well enough. Most of the "new" games coming out won't even run on 95% of the world's computers. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Azryu said...

Well, I think most people could believe me when I say I am not a paid blogger, and by no means do I get an audience that would warrant it either.

But as far as Aion goes, I personally love the game. I really do. I also like WoW- but it's starting to loose it's flavor. It's like a piece of chewing gum that I've been chewing slowly, which looses and gains flavor depending on where I'm chewing (or rather, what part of the game I'm focusing on). For me, I know a part of me likes Aion because it's different, and in that way it's like trying a different flavor.

I do think I will play WoW occasionally still once Aion comes out, but I believe I will be focusing on the depths of it's lands for awhile. It's landscape is beautiful, it's quest lines are (truely, no sugar coating) never boring. Even the simple collection quests seem to give meaning to collecting X and Y items.

It's still in speculation, but I believe they will be having an open beta of Aion. For anyone interested, it's a great way to try something different. It may have been here at the PPI that I read a post on this, but somewhere I read that it is nice sometimes to revisit old games or to try new things just to see how good you really have it. And if you find the pastures greener in these new lands, then by god you've found just one more thing that you enjoy doing and one more thing to be happy about.

A lot of people really don't want to try other games because they've played WoW for so long, and to me it's really sad because when it comes down to it all things will come to a pass. Aion will one day, hopefully one day in the far and distant future.

It anyone has questions about Aion or anything, I do exist, and I don't mind a good chatter about WoW or Aion alike.

This said, I do hope the next expansion of WoW is truly epic, and that I can add one more thing onto my list of things to look forward too.

Azryu said...

By the way, I don't think any game can be a "WoW-Killer"

In my mind, the only thing that can kill a game is itself.

Larísa said...

@Jeffo: well, it’s hard to say exactly where on the curve they think they are. But if this still was a rising star, they definitely wouldn’t have to take that kind of measures.

@Bri&Joanna: I’m glad I’m not missing to much then by not trying it out!

@Firespirit: Looking forward to read that!

@Dàchéng: Well, as you say, those figures can be interpreted many ways as you say. How many of these are alts? How many new players are there now that are levelling their first char and haven’t reached endgame? Blizzard will never tell us. But it would be interesting to know. Of course it must affect the decisions they make about the expansion.

I’m afraid my gaming time doesn’t suffice for levelling alts at new servers, even though it certainly could be an interesting and rewarding experience. My raiding eats up most of my online time.

@River: Yeah, I bet they’ve made a ROI calculation on Ozzy…

@Tesh: it’s fun that you say it. I wonder what the target audience for him really is. He was popular when I was young. I never fancied him at all. To me those trailers have rather the opposite effect. I feel a bit ashamed, distanced from it. This doesn’t represent the feeling I have for the game and the brand the slightest. So I frankly look away if they’re played. That’s a bad sign, isn’t it? But then, I’m probably not the target audience. But who is? Hm… I might write a rant about it one day.

@Ooke: I’m a little bit surprised that so many of the WoW competitors that seem to be focused on PvP. Is that really the most selling argument to get a big subscriber stock? I for one get really put off when I hear that a new game is mostly PvP. Then I think: oh, well, I’ll stick to WoW.

Your point about being able to play on an older computer is definitely very relevant. People who crave for very advanced, demanding games tend to forget how few people there are – even among gamers – who want or can invest in the machines it will require.

@Azryu:
Well, I’ll be honest with you. It’s quite unlikely that I’ll try out Aion. I don’t say never, but probably not.
WoW is very much entertainment for me, but it takes a ton of time and effort and it doesn’t come without conflicts with other interests I have. If my passion for it will wear off I would probably be much better off staying away from online gaming for a while at least, not getting sucked into another one.
And besides I’m probably a little bit lazy. The learning curve for me has been very steep. I’m not sure I’m prepared to start all over again getting to know another huge and very complex game… Not right now anyway.

Carra said...

It might be an old game by now but there's no competition in sight. Maybe SW:TOR will do it. But that game is years off. And the other games who have tried, Age of Conan and WAR come to mind have failed. WoW is far from dead.

I'd love to see a new mmorpg which gets me like WoW did the first few months. So I hope that a game like Aion would be just that. But from what I've read, it's not the case. So I'll just wait until WoWs next expansion and enjoy that game. And one day that magical, new game will arrive.

As to Blizzard not offering a lot of new ideas. That's true. But all their games are polished to perfection. Diablo 2, starcraft, warcraft 3, WoW. They're all amongst my favorite games. And they're three seperate genres. Blizzard are masters at taking something that exists and making it ten times better then the competition.

@Dacheng. Those numbers don't mean a lot. I've got 1 level 80, 3 level 70s, 1 level 50, one level 20, multiple level 10s and a level 1 bank alt. By these numbers only 10% of all characters have reached level 80. It would be more interesting to see the percentage of mains being level 80.

Dàchéng said...

@ Larísa
@Carra

I understand that the figures I published are open to interpretation and that other figures might help in understanding them. My hope was that somebody else might know where to find those figures!

candy said...

And until another game publisher sees the Mac gaming community and recognizes the benefit of bring in Mac users at the outset, Blizzard has a pretty enviable perch.

Bringing out a Mac version after the initial launch of a game fizzles out doesn't quite cut it. *cough* And so far that's the best we've seen, outside of the non-MMO Sims franchise.

Birdfall said...

On Aion:

From what I've seen and heard (from a friend who's all about it), it's for PVPers.

If you don't like PVP, you most likely won't enjoy Aion. You lose experience when you die. Yes, ganking actually sets back your leveling.

The only real draw for me would be the character customization, but I'm really not going to buy it just so I can play around with hair color.

I'm also not sure how advanced Aion really is. You can't swim, the starting areas are the same for everyone, the lore is simplistic, the cut scenes aren't original for anyone... I'd have to say that WoW blows them out of the water so far for story, depth, individuality, and creativity.

But PVP is what's drawing my friend. He's pretty hardcore.

Azryu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Azryu said...

@Birdfall

I really don't agree with almost anything in your last post-

But the one thing I did want to touch on is that you will not loose experience from PvP deaths.

Only deaths due to you, and you alone, will cause a loss in experience. And just like in WoW, you get a short-term debuff when you first ressurect (res sickness).

But that's the thing, you talk to an NPC named a Soul Healer who (for a fee) restores lost XP and rids you of your debuff. The game does not have a durability feature, and this would be more or less taking it's place.