I read an article a little while ago about the “Blizzard Trickle-Down Effect”. The idea is that World of Warcraft has done a huge service to the MMOG industry in that people stop playing an MMOG after ten months and move on. With eight million subscribers, the other multiplayer game companies are hoping to cash in on those that leave looking for a new experience. Apparently it’s not going so well. The article I read didn’t give a really good explanation why, but it looks like people play WoW for ten months, then quit playing MMO’s entirely. They didn’t know why.
I think I do.
As a long time MMO player I think it’s fairly obvious why people do this. See I played Gemstone IV back when it was Gemstone III and did so for quite a long time, about eight years. I tried other MMO’s but ultimately always came back to Gemstone. Gemstone was my home online, that was my game. Eventually I got sick of the drama that exists in Elanthia and quit altogether, thinking I wouldn’t find an experience even remotely like it. Nothing else took the place of Gemstone. Great role-playing, tolerable game mechanics and it’s a lot of fun and has a very loyal fan base. Impressive for a text based game.
Then I tried World of Warcraft. Now while there is no online role-playing experience that I’ve found that even comes close to Gemstone, WoW filled a gap, and while I don’t play it much anymore, I do like it. I doubt I’d find another experience quite like it, and if I quit it I’d probably stop MMO’s altogether for a while, or gravitate back to my old stomping grounds in Gemstone.
Point is, online games are vastly different from regular video games. They have to grab you more, keep you hooked and constantly offer new things to do and make it hard to quit to be successful. That’s what WoW does. People tend to like one as opposed to all others. When you log into other MMO’s, with the exceptions of possibly Everquest (the original), Final Fantasy XII and Lord of the Rings Online, the whole thing just feels cheap by comparison. I honestly didn’t feel I was getting my money’s worth with them. Asheron’s Call was the only other MMO that really had a shot at keeping me, and it was the crappiest looking graphical game I’ve ever played.
Customer loyalty I think is the biggest factor. Most people I know who are really into online games tend to pick one and stick with it, possibly trying several before choosing as they can’t afford more then one a month. You find what you like, you keep playing, when you get tired of it you probably just quit altogether and wait on something new to grab your attention, not go back and play something else.
I honestly can’t even fathom playing more then one MMO at a time unless I’m just looking at a free trial. Generally by the time I decide on an MMO I’ve already tried basically everything else, or my friends tell me how much something sucks and I don’t even bother.
To compete with WoW you have to be big. You have to deliver something exciting, creative, well produced and ‘new’, yet simple, familiar, and comfortable.
That’s exactly what Blizzard did.