Expand Or Die

I hope this screenshot isn't too... boaring

I hope this screenshot isn't too... boaring

After having signed up for the endless trial, I was a little bit shocked when I logged into Warhammer yesterday for the first time in 18 months to discover that were only 2 English EU servers. It was quite a sorry sight as I remember there being dozens of servers when the game was first released, most of them so popular that sometimes Destruction players had to queue over an hour before logging in. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Obviously the unsuccess of WAR was due to a lot of factors and no doubt the subscription numbers after the first initial free month somewhat resembled swarms of rats escaping a sinking ship but I just can’t but wonder if Mythic’s lack of any sort of expansion was a contributing cause.

Back in my school days I remember being taught about the life cycle of products and how, no matter what, demand and consumer interest will start to waiver and dip over time and the way to counter this is by releasing “new” products every so often. This is why you constantly see silly new flavours of coke and things like wasabi and soy sauce flavoured Kit-Kats (they exist, I kid you not). New products not only provide consumers something new to rejuvenate their interest but also come with their own natural hype and marketing.

The MMORPG genre is no different from any other type of product and combats declining demand in their own way by using expansions. Although perhaps never achieving insane stellar success, Everquest, Everquest 2, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Anarchy Online, Dark Age of Camelot and Star Wars Galaxies (plus no doubt there are others) all used frequent expansions to maintain or increase their subscription numbers successfully.

Even Blizzard have admitted that World of Warcraft suffers a substantial subscription loss in between expansions and patches (which are sold almost like mini-expansions) and there’s no surprise when their player numbers soar after each one is released. I’m sure they’re under a lot of pressure by the money men to churn out those expansions a lot more frequently… but that’s a different topic all together.

Unfortunately we then have games like Vanguard which, even after having been out for over 3 years, never managed to eke out even a single small expansion and is now on the verge of total shutdown. It’s a shame too because I really feel that if some more resources had been poured into the game and a proper expansion released and marketed, VG would’ve been able to resurrect itself a little.

So naturally I’m more than a little worried about the future of Warhammer Online. To drop down from over 50 servers to just 5 in 18 months is quite, well, astonishing really and with no expansion in the works (or at least that’s been announced) I have to seriously wonder how long WAR can hold out.

-Gordon

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27 Comments

  1. I hope it holds out for a while, but you’re right. Expansions really drum up interest in games, even from players who aren’t really following the title.

    When I restarted last week, I had a choice of only 4 servers, and none of them were the Open RvR ruleset I love. Such is life and non-A-list MMOs.

    • Gordon says:

      Expansions seem to be key to the long term success of a game. I know EQ used to get stick for producing them too frequently but I think it was definitely a contributing factor to why it’s still going after 11 years.

  2. Akely says:

    I totally agree with the Vanguard point. I’ve been on the verge of trying it several times, but I’ve felt that SOE do not support the game enough to make me feel it is a game that will have a future. Perhaps one should try it a little to see it, before it is gone for ever. :-(

  3. Gazimoff says:

    I think you make a great point, but I think that there’s also another balancing act to play.

    Looking at two ends of the spectrum, Blizzard habitually announces their planned expansions very early, releasing information in a continual stream even though it can be a year or more away from release. It means that almost all MMO players become aware of the expansion, but it can also mean that players suspend their accounts daying that they’ll be back when the expansion comes.

    By contrast, it feels like the Age of Conan expansion was only really announced shortly before it’s release – I know I only just heard about it, and I’m contemplating giving the game another shot as a result. But by the same token, it may be that announcing it earlier would have allowed more buzz to build up and encourage more players to take another look.

    I think that gamers like to feel part of a changing and evolving game world, and content patches and expansions are part of that. Just like you said, they’re needed to keep the game fresh and maintain our interest. I just think that handled badly you end up in a “jam tomorrow” scenario, where you start to wonder if tomorrow will ever come. For the players of Hellgate:London I don’t think it ever did.

    • Gordon says:

      Absolutely, Blizzard has a great marketing machine behind their expansions and a rabid community to help hype them. AoC did announce their expansion quite a long time ago actually it’s just that they haven’t released much info about it which is a little worrying. I hope it does renew a lot of interest in the game though.

  4. Sark says:

    two english servers left? thats harsh! i remember they launched with like 5-6 english servers for the headstart and then expanded to over 50 servers which after 4 weeks were mostly deserted.

  5. Amuntoth says:

    First off I almost pee’d myself after reading your boar pun.

    Second, I think Warhammer not releasing an expansion could be because they are trying to fix all the broken things with the base game before they put out an expansion. Then again I haven’t seen too many fixes for the main problems people had, so we’ll see.

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe, glad you liked it ;)

      I think it’s admirable Mythic are trying to fix everything but they still need a team producing new content as that’s what gets the punters back through the doors. I really hope it’s not too late for them…

  6. Carson says:

    I thought most of WAR’s subscription loss happened in the first month or two after release? And then, once they’d lost maybe 75% of their subscribers, it slowed from a flood to a trickle. It’s a bit hard to see how an expansion announcement could have helped that.

  7. Krosuss says:

    Welcome back to WAR!

    Rumor has it we may hear something about an expansion this summer. Rumor. With the next patch (1.3.5) the game should be where it should’ve been at launch. It’s a totally different experience. Definitely time for something new to entice the current players and lure in the new.

    • Gordon says:

      I’ve got my fingers crossed for the Skaven and/or Lizardmen races :)

      • prenden2 says:

        Oh Lord, I’ve spent a grand total of 15 minutes in a non-WoW MMO but if Skaven became a playable race in WAR, I’d sign up at the drop of a hat. And don’t get me started on Tomb Kings – Nagash was Sauron to me years before I’d even heard of LoTR. They’re probably the reason that Nyarlathotep is my favourite short story. Well, that and The Masque of the Red Death.

        Come to think of it, why haven’t I tried out WAR yet?

  8. kaozz says:

    Lol what a boaring screenshot! Cute ;)

  9. openedge1 says:

    As @Krosuss said, patch 1.3.5 is actually a HUGE patch in the works adding full city sieges, changes to the UI, additional changes to dyes, new weapon looks and quite a bit more.

    But, of note is the discussion of the “Red Plague” in the current notes. The rumors have been rampant about the fact of how the “Red Plague” is coming, thus certain trainers and merchants are being moved.

    According to WAR lore…

    “The Red Plague is most famous for being inflicted by the Skaven upon Bretonnia, which involved both the Bretonnians and Wood Elves.”

    So, talk is either a new race appearing (Skaven) or talk of a 3rd Faction, or even Bretons and Wood Elves…the list goes on.

    But, as a final note, I really think that if WAR does not do something big this year (2 year anniversary in September)…then they might as well say goodbye.

  10. Nelson says:

    Yeah, WAR is not a growing game. They’re down to 4 US servers: you can see the PVP status of them at my site http://www.pvphistory.com. They’re all active and reasonably balanced, although the graph suggests more activity than there is (even a few players can swing the lower tiers in an hour). The free-to-level-10 offer has helped some, but ultimately the game is not going well. My guess is they never release an expansion, at least not a grand one like MMO subscribers expect. BioWare pulled most of the team off Warhammer last year, they’ve got new MMO fish to fry.

    It’s a shame that MMOs either have to be enormous or else be considered failures. I’d rather have a bunch of 100,000 subscriber games than just a few 5,000,000 games. Warhammer did themselves no favours positioning very publically and loudly as a WoW killer. The money quote is former VP Mark Jacobs: “Look at us six months out. Look at us six weeks out. If we’re not adding servers, we’re not doing well.”

  11. Tesh says:

    “Expand or die” is uncomfortably close to the mantra of cancer cells and the stock market, both of which are inherently mathematically unstable. I’d rather a company look to be sustainable, especially in the MMO space, since they are generally about playing for the long run, not being a six-month flash and crash.

    • Gordon says:

      I think expansions can definitely help a game be sustainable as they produce a constant and reliable interest and bump in revenue. Some of the best MMOs I’ve played (from EQ to DAOC to EQ2) never had the huge subscription base of WoW but used frequent expansions to help cultivate their universe and keep the player base entertained. If anything, it’s the games without expansions, such as WAR, that are proving to be the six month flash and crashes.

  12. Chris says:

    Hey Gordon,

    Great article, as usual. My thoughts have already been echoed in the other comments but I’ll add this:

    I once got yelled at for using puns like that on my own podcast. Just saying… ;-)

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