MMOs and Popularity

I know I’ll probably never get that MMORTS off the ground, but I still do research. One part of that research is trying to figure out what makes MMOs succeed. Now Andrew spotted something that gave me one piece of that puzzle – MMO Data’s Subsription Numbers of MMOs. First let me say MMO Data did a very nice job to include acknowledging and presenting alternative estimates for uncertain data. Few of the MMOs out there give detail. But that’s all a bit of digression.

Last time I discussed this the issue was whether the MMORTS would be “fun”. After thought I realized that “fun” is subjective. All you need is ENOUGH people who think it would be fun and that takes care of that part of the puzzle. I also realized that everyone strives for good or interesting graphics and game engines and… I got seriously curious why World of Warcraft is so much more popular than any of its competitors, many of which solve problems WoW players claim exist. I have a tentative answer:

Accessibility.

No, I don’t mean ability to get the game. I mean ability to play the game. Take a look at the chart Andrew copies. Notice something about the top five. Either they’re new (Aion and Lineage II) or they can be played on computers that were starters three to five years ago. When WoW came out in 2004, in fact, it could be played on a Best Buy Starter from 1999. Barely, I admit, but it could still do that. In comparison, Everquest II (which was supposed to BURY WoW) couldn’t be played on a Best Buy Starter purchased the same time as the game. You had to get a bit more RAM and a bit more Video Card. It wasn’t cutting edge, but it automatically went for a smaller slice of the audience.

It appears a lot of games are built to push the bounds of the computer. It also appears that a lot of Very Popular games have, in addition to that spark that makes them fun, the ability to be played by a wider audience.

As a consequence I’ve got an underlying rule for the MMO. It runs on the starter box (not necessarily the cheapest thing in the store but not too far past it) of the time. Sure, it would be nice to push graphics and processor further, but if you want the world to buy your better mousetrap it’d better be usable by the world.

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