The Endless Spiral of MMO Self-Destruction
I believe in an effect called critical mass, particularly in social dynamics, especially when applied online. The more momentum something gains, the more likely is it to succeed and the more likely it is to generate it’s own self-momentum and perpetual growth. There comes a special point though, a moment in time when a certain number or percentage or stage is reached when this snow ball effect actually kicks in and the appropriate critical mass required has been achieved.
Usually the expression critical mass is expressed in a positive way (except of course when you’re talking about meteors plummeting towards the Earth and what not) and it can applied to a whole variety of situations. Web sites, for instance, have a critical mass and when a certain number of visitors have taken notice of a particular site, it becomes somewhat easier for that site to get noticed. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, one that makes perfect logical sense – the more people tweeting, liking, +1′ing, commenting and generally discussing something, the more people will sit up and take a peak. It’s exponential growth.
Of course, MMOs are no different and we only need to look at the success of games like WoW (or even EVE Online) to see it in action. So many people started playing WoW that, at some point, it hit critical mass and started self-growing at a massive rate, sucking in people who had never played video games before let alone a subscription MMORPG. This was the true secret to WoW’s success. Let’s not be quick to underplay Blizzard’s skill and talent though as creating this rolling boulder of addictive death is no easy feat – if it were, every MMO would be doing it.
However critical mass can also act in a negative way and, unfortunately enough, we tend to see this side of it happen the most in the MMO industry. Instead of hitting a point of popularity that causes a fantastic snow balling of success, we often see a lot of MMO spiral into their own self-destruction. Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, Vanguard, Tabula Rasa, to name a few, are all examples of this. As it’s bringing out a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) spin-off and just celebrated its third birthday though, let’s pick in Warhammer for the remainder of the article.
WAR was a game that no only failed to hit any sort of positive critical mass, it actually hit a negative one and, within a very short period of time, had doomed itself to its own destruction. Make no mistake about it, Warhammer Online is lurching along, a half dead MMO zombie that – out of either blind hope or naivety - just plain refuses to die. In my mind, the issue for failure was twofold: it released when it wasn’t ready and then soon afterwards most of its development support was pulled out from under it. It always truly amazes me how companies think their MMO will continue to become a success if they lay off two thirds of the development team who are desperately trying to fix and improve it.
But then we see this sort of thing all the time in other aspects of life. I’m no clever economics or political wiz like Mr Nils but I do know that the stock market, just like MMOs, is based on confidence and that when people get spooked and start pulling out instead of holding tight, an inevitable spiral of negativity and implosion occurs. In many ways (maybe in all ways) its really these MMOs that end up killing themselves, nothing to do with the consumer.
I’d also encourage floundering MMOs to stop trying to cut their losses but instead perhaps push a little further and invest a little more to try and get their game back on track. Warhammer, not to mention poor ol’ Vanguard, never did have a chance for those exact same reasons and it’s a real shame. All I wanted for Christmas 2008 was a Warhammer MMO that didn’t suck ass.