Thursday, January 03, 2008

2008: The Upcoming PvP Storm

After reviewing the games released last year it became apparent that new entries into the MMO market were going to have to bring more to the table then just "polish" if they wanted to compete with the current market leaders. This was proved true as Lord of the Rings lost a large amount of subscribers after its initial content was consumed by players. The polish attracted people to the game but it wasn't enough by itself to keep them there in the face of the current market leaders. Future games coming out are going to have focus on either a new genre or a new game mechanic if they want to make a name for themselves.

Whether by accident or by purposely copying each other it looks like the three big releases of 2008 are focusing on bringing a better PvP experience to the table. In the past most players agreed that the best avatar PvP combat has been in Dark Age of Camelot. Other games may have had a more innovative combat systems or a wider selection of skills but they suffered from elitist design flaws that made them unfriendly to new players. Dark Age of Camelot was the first game to come up with a cooperative PvP system that put less emphasis on individual gankage.

Its sort of surprising to see that games released after Dark Age of Camelot have mostly ignored the demand for cooperative PvP systems. World of Warcraft initially launched with very little "War" in their game but they have slowly filled it out by adding battlegrounds, arenas, and world objectives. This has given World of Warcraft a slight edge over other games that stuck mostly to raids for high level content. Unfortunately since these PvP systems were added into the game at a later date they aren't well integrated into the core game. This has made the PvP mechanic a tempting target for new games which are coming out this year.

Warhammer has the best advantage in 2008 to put a solid claim on the PvP market. A lot of developers in EA Mythic worked on the original Dark Age of Camelot and its almost guaranteed that the game will have several large scale PvP systems in place that are both fun and fair. Even better for Warhammer is that they have had time to analyze the major problems with the class system in World of Warcraft and how it prevents players from being good in combat against both computer and human controlled opponents.

Basic information from the game suggests long time PvE abilities such as taunt will also have applications in PvP combat. Another bone of contention that Warhammer is trying to fix is the classical usage of healers which keeps them from being in the middle of the action. Historically speaking the healing classes have suffered from the most burnout and been the least played class. Warhammer claims that their healing classes will have to be in the middle of the fray to be effective which if true would probably make it the first fantasy MMO without a healer shortage.

Age of Conan
The underdog of the major releases this year is definitely Age of Conan. Its being put together by a company with little MMO experience and has alienated some players with their overly machismo approach to advertising. However, despite these drawbacks the game has some really good ideas they are planning on implementing. Already I'm impressed with the descriptions of how they are doing player housing, mounted combat, and more realistic combat. While Warhammer and World of Warcraft are eventually planning on doing some of these you can tell they haven't put as much thought into it as the Age of Conan team.

The problem of course is that good ideas in game design are a dime a dozen. Since this MMO is coming from a new developer you never really know how much is brainstorming and how much will actually be in the core game. Most bloggers have written Age of Conan off because of this and their pursuit of the older male demographic. However, despite the number of articles claiming younger players are stereotyped there is still a huge perception that they are the ones responsible for horrible pugs, gross spam message, and a majority the asshat behavior in World of Warcraft. While this is probably not true its still going to make a more mature PvP game look enticing to some people.

Wraith of the Lich King
Ahh, the game that has probably gone through the most changes in its lifespan and its approaching its second expansion. While World of Warcraft has had some moderate sucess in their PvP additions they have been plagued by balance issues. PvP either gave really crappy rewards not worth the time investment or else very good rewards which made dungeons and low level raiding obsolete. Also over time to try to achieve class balance they started introducing crowd control abilities to every class. Now a lot of times people die without getting to use a single attack or ability.

What Wraith of the Lich King does have going for it is the introduction of a entire PvP zone that will have siege warfare. While they did steal the idea from Warhammer I have feeling they are going to better polish the experience then EA Mythic. Then again I expect Warhammer to have three or four of these zones all of which will be decent at the very least. Also you can expect Blizzard to reset the gear quality with the expansion which should take care of the balance problems between the raiding and arena rewards for a little bit.

Release Schedule
I expect Warhammer to release first around early summer which would give it a decent amount of time to make improvements from their latest round of beta testing. World of Warcraft knows its in the weaker position here and will move up on developing Wraith of the Lich King. I expect them to release about a month after Warhammer with maybe a couple dungeons to be patched in at a later date. I expect Funcom to release Age of Conan competitively which means letting Warhammer and WoW duke it out. I think an early spring release would give Age of Conan the best chance of building up support but Funcom will probably wait for the others to release first.

Subscriber Predictions for end of 2008
aka: Why no one is giving players a release date.

WotLK will shoot the numbers up to 10 million the first month of release.
WotLK will be down to 5 million three months after release.
Warhammer will match WotLK numbers if they release afterwards
Warhammer will only have 2/3 of WotLK numbers if they release first.
Age of Conan won't pull in 50,000 if they release within 1 month of War or WoW.
Age of Conan could pull in much higher numbers if they release early before Wow or War


Kaziel said...

WotLK will shoot the numbers up to 10 million the first month of release.


WotLK will be down to 5 million three months after release.

This point I really have to disagree with. If WAR drops it's release around the 2 month mark after WotLK, this could very well come true. People are either mid-way through WotLK or already at the end, and for those who aren't raiders, WAR will offer something new and tasty.

On the other hand, if WAR drops significantly after WotLK or too close to it, then I think WotLK's bleed-out might be much less strong. Assuming that WAR does not affect the 3-4 month period after WotLK is released, I see WoW falling to, maybe, 7 million players worldwide. If Blizzard is smart, about that time they will drop WotLK in China causing an upsurge in the worldwide playerbase, meaning they can keep the numbers over 5 million, thus keeping the reputation looking good.

Warhammer will match WotLK numbers if they release afterwards
Warhammer will only have 2/3 of WotLK numbers if they release first.

Somewhat agree and disagree. I'm with Tobold in thinking that if WAR is released far enough in advance of WotLK (one month or more) it will pull a sizable portion of players from WoW and enough will like to be able to stand on it's own two feet. Some will go back to WoW when Wrath comes out, but after they see that it's just more of the same, they will go back to WAR.

The portion I agree with is that if it comes out after WotLK, then it will definitely win a much larger following than before. If they time it perfectly (around three months after WotLK), they will pull a lot of players from WoW, along with those from other sources like DAoC and other MMOs, possibly even matching those that remain in Azeroth.

Of course the idea that WAR will do well compared to WoW is all dependent on the theory that WAR won't flop. WoW is established so you know WotLK will do well, even if it is just more of the same. WAR hasn't been tested yet and could very well fall on it's face.

Age of Conan won't pull in 50,000 if they release within 1 month of War or WoW.
Age of Conan could pull in much higher numbers if they release early before Wow or War

I completely agree with this. AoC has to be the first out the door otherwise they will be completely overshadowed by WAR and WotLK. Of course the question then becomes "What happens when WAR or WotLK comes out?" Unless AoC makes a much stronger splash with the initial release than they've made so far, it could be a very short life for this game.

Anonymous said...

RE: Funcom and Age of Conan:

"Since this MMO is coming from a new developer..."

While they certainly don't have alot of titles under their belt, Funcom is not a new developer.

Anarchy Online anyone? Compliments of Funcom. Plus they have several other non-MMO titles that were succesful and critically acclaimed.

Yes I know the initial release of AO was an absolute horror show. But they eventually cleaned it up, and it's still running strong to this day.

Even with all of it's initial flaws, it had some great ideas in it, it had character, as well as some atmosphere. And Sci-fi! Awesome. It's one of the games that I'm most nostalgic about.

The potential for Funcom to screw up Conan is certainly there, especially since they've never had a smooth launch, but you'd think that would make them try that much harder.



Stropp said...

It's certainly possible Funcom could screw up the launch, but I don't think they will. Not having had a smooth launch doesnt matter that much , as I recall Turbine didn't exactly have a great time with the launch of Asheron
s Call (1 & 2) but LotRO was silky.

North said...

I've heard some talk about the "free" Wow - Talisman Online. Have you any experience with this game? I gave up WoW eight months ago and wouldn't mind having a free replacement for my missing vice.

Charles said...

World of Warcraft has already hit 10 million subscribers, according to a recent report. (Google it yourself, I don't have the link handy.)