What Do MMO Fans Really Want?
RIFT launched in the US a couple of days ago and, although I’m sure a huge proportion of British purchasers are already getting stuck in with the head start, it officially launches in the UK tomorrow. It’s a good game. It’s a fun game. It’s a bloody solid MMO. But is it just history repeating itself? By all accounts it’s looking like RIFT is set to kick off with aplomb, huge interest and, if the server populations are anything to go by, lots and lots of box sales. That by itself isn’t a huge rarity though. Warhammer Online sold well, Aion sold well, Age of Conan sold very very well, but where are they now in the MMO food chain? Somewhere in-between castrated steers and battery farmed chickens, that’s where.
As all known, retention is the name of success in MMOs not box sales and there has been a huge precedent of games launching to much furor and demand but then suffering the dreaded mass exodus after the initial first free month of play, leaving the game to limp by until eventually it gets shot in the face by some publisher with a free-2-play gun. March is going to be a tremendously important month for RIFT and I’ll be watching server population levels in April with great interest.
Of course, I don’t really care if RIFT retains a lot of subscribers or not. It is irrelevant to my wants as I’m sure, no matter what, it will be around for a long enough time for me to enjoy thoroughly. I’m also not going to make any cynical comments about its chances at success either (shocker, I know). All I am interested in, from a completely neutral scientific point of view, is whether or not RIFT manages to achieve a decent retention rate and claw away at the subscriber pool of WoW (the other MMOs just don’t have a big enough pool to matter).
Why? Because this simple fact is going to tell us a heck of a lot about what MMO fans are really looking for. Obviously we don’t want WoW because otherwise we wouldn’t be flocking away from it at every given opportunity when a new MMO comes out. We’re definitely looking for – and totally open to – new MMOs to occupy us yet no one seems to have managed to get the formula quite right.
On that note, I honestly don’t believe in the concept of “WoW Tourists”, players who purposefully buy a new MMO and play for the first month with no true intention of ever subscribing. Rather, I think the analogy is more akin to people who are in a long term but boring relationship and are keeping their eyes open for a better partner coming along. Less of the tourist concept, more of the sleeping around concept I guess. Put it another way: we’re all on the look out for something better to play and until we find it, we’ll stick to what we’re familiar with.
So if RIFT does succeed and somehow rack up a million plus subscribers, what will it mean? Well, it will prove that all we’re actually looking for in a MMO is something similar yet “better” to what we already have. We don’t want drastic change, we don’t want huge innovation, we just want slick and easy gameplay. More to point, all of these developers like Trion and BioWare will be right in the gamble they are taking by sticking to the familiar formula but just tweaking it and polishing it a little.
And if RIFT doesn’t succeed? Then, to me, it proves that what MMO fans really want is something very different to what’s already being offered by the mainstream. A fairly interesting and excited prospect, for sure, but will any of the Triple-A MMO developers and publishers take notice of it? I guess that’s the next big question.