Thursday, December 13, 2007

Did WoW's success cause MMO's to become Mainstream?

I've recently mentioned in a couple of my posts that the MMO market was in its infancy and a lot of design elements have been reused from earlier iterations of role playing games. Multi User Dungeons, Console RPGs, and D&D have all had major design elements used as building blocks to fast track the development of MMOs. As time goes forward though we are starting to see developers replace major parts of the standard MMORPG design. What used to be a niche market is expanding and flawed design elements are being reworked to appeal to more people.

World of Warcraft is probably the MMO out at the moment with the broadest sense of appeal and has the subscription numbers to prove it. While there are many casual MMOs out there with larger followings, their numbers don't reflect a large monetary value like the subscription base for the AAA games. Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, and other ammunition in the casual MMOs are more popular argument only have monetary values in viral and web marketing. While these areas have grown in popularity and will probably replace traditional media advertisement in the future they are still a long way from beating the value of a large subscription base.

This is good in the current market since casual games just don't produce large enough revenue to justify mainstream advertising to investors. In the past, hardcore MMO's were limited to numbers in the low 100,000's which restricted traditional advertising to only well targeted avenues. Thus before World of Warcraft you were only ever likely to see a MMO advertised on Comedy Central, Adult Swim, or G4TV. Nowadays we have commercials where a warlock kills a dragon using a Tacoma truck coming on during prime time football.

Also important to note is that references to MMOs have started to creep into prime time television shows. This is a result of the broader appeal of modern MMORPGs working their way through the population and eventually reaching a writer here and there. Within the past year I've spotted references to MMORPGs in How I Met your Mother, Chuck, South Park, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, and Stargate. In the days of classic Everquest/Ultima Online such references would get a blank look from most t.v. viewers. Nowadays though most people who follow pop culture or the news know what a online game looks like and that its somehow connected to the acronym MMO.

Its important to note that MMOs with players in the millions did happen before World of Warcraft. Games like Runescape and Lineage have long had a multi-million player base. Runescape did this by being playable over a web browser while Lineage was created in the most game crazy country in the world. Neither's success did much to push MMOs into mainstream awareness though. It was World of Warcraft hitting the 1 million subscriber mark in North America and then again in Europe that gained the attention of investors.

They approved the budget to improve the game and eventually to advertise it like a modern product. Mainstream awareness is a result of two things; media coverage and advertising. While corporations can run advertising until they dry up the budget it takes the other side of the coin to make a name on the tips of every one's tongue. Unfortunately for MMO's most media coverage has been negative news stories but times are a changing.

Positive stories about MMO's improving leadership skills, online friendships, and business acumen have started to emerge. Also despite being consider a "free votes" issue by most politicians some presidential candidates like Fred Thompson, Barac Obama, and John Edwards recently made it clear to Common Sense Media that they don't support legislating game content. We might be seeing a turning point where all video games stop being the easy to hit pinata for politicians. A lot of this has to do with high profile games becoming more mainstream and less scary to the older generation. After all its a lot harder for someone to be fooled into thinking a game is a murder simulator when they see footage of it advertised during the latest Patriots game.


Viet said...

WoW itself as become mainstream, but have MMO's as a whole become mainstream? Advertising-wise, WoW is still the only notable MMO having broad advertisements in the media. The average person may have heard of WoW, but I do not think the know what an MMO is.

WoW has opened up gaming moreso to the public in both lights. We still have stories of people dying playing WoW, but there are also articles on the community atmosphere. Other games like Second Life are getting some press to, but mainstream, I don't know.

Relmstein said...

When I talk to non gamers and mention the acronym MMO most of the time they seem to know its connected to some form of online game but they have no idea what the letters stand for.

I guess the major way WoW has brought MMOs into the mainstream has been encouraging other venture capitalist to risk money on developing them. Maybe when Warhammer comes out we'll see them advertise during primetime also.

I can just envision 6 months from now when WOW and WAR start running commericials against one another. It'll be like the standard Coke and Pepsi ad warfare, now thats mainstream.

Galoheart said...

I kinda agree with the first poster above. The success of WoW is easing the tide for every one else potential success. However for now its pretty much just WoW as the mainstream MMO. I personally find if you as most people what's a MMO? They have no idea what us is, only some slight idea of a game at best. I find in the people I'm around and at work if you ask them what World of Warcraft is they kinda heard of it through some means and know its a online game. They also have no idea just what its about, just the only knowing its a computer online game. So the people I know are not really in the know what a MMO is. Maybe in time it will change with greater success of WoW or some other game not made by Blizzard that gives them a run for their money.