Open Letter to Trion Worlds: Please Don’t Do What WAR Did!
By Nic van ‘t Schip, OnRPG Admin
On the day of the head start launch of RIFT I want to take a moment and reflect on something that has been bothering me about the last big MMO launch that I was really excited about: The Warhammer Online launch.
I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of what was and is wrong with that game and instead want to focus on one single phenomenon that has haunted many MMO launches in the past couple of years. The very quick rise of the game population just after launch, inevitably followed by a sharp decline. And how MMO companies react to this effect.
I think a lot of people confuse the drop of population in an MMO with that game being “bad” but this is simply not true. It is completely normal and utterly predictable that an MMO will spike in population right after launch. People have been eager to play it, sometimes for years, and now they finally can. It’s not unheard of for people to take time off so they can focus their full attention on it those first couple of days. Others may have just gotten swept up by the hype and started playing the game to be with their friends.
Some of these people will inevitably not continue playing after the first couple of weeks. Add to that the fact that people may settle into their normal routine of only playing a couple of hours per week and all of this results into what the community will perceive as a decline in the game’s population.
But let’s take a step back and look at what happened shortly after the launch of Warhammer Online. The game was extremely popular and sold a lot more boxes than anyone really expected. Queue times to get into the servers were long and the community demanded more servers.
Mythic and GOA listened to them and added a LOT of extra servers. Queue times went down and for a little while the situation was much improved. However shortly after that the population declined slightly because of the reasons mentioned above. As there were way now too many servers players were spread too thin. The result of this was that the game was doing great in terms of how many players were online at the same time, but because every server had about 90% of the population it needed to feel “healthy” people were complaining and started claiming the game was dying.
This is the single worst thing for an MMO to happen. People are flock animals and if they get the idea that an MMO is suffering they start looking for their next game. The painful thing was that at this stage WAR was doing fantastic. The number of concurrent users online as well as the number of people subscribing were nothing short of phenomenal. But none of this mattered to the community. When they queued for a battleground in-game it took a couple of minutes too long to find enough players and when they went roaming for RvR they found some of the zones weren’t packed with enemies to farm. As this was happening across 90% of the servers any players on those servers were having a bad experience. And this is where things started to go really wrong.
There was no plan in place for the merging of servers. In fact, because of a certain quote from a certain CEO of Mythic the merging and subsequent shutting down of servers was a big taboo and even suggesting it would cost someone some evil stares from management. (“If we are opening up new servers six months from now, I consider the game a success. If we are closing servers down, we have done something wrong “- Mark Jacobs)
If Mythic and GOA had swallowed their pride and admitted they were too aggressive in opening servers after launch, and if they would have been more on the ball with the merging of servers to give the players that remained in the game full servers to enjoy I believe WAR would have been in a much better state.
And this brings me back to RIFT. In some ways their situation is now comparable to that of Warhammer Online. They are enjoying some awesome momentum and this is bringing many players into the game that will quite likely not continue to play their game after the first month. A mere two hours after the head start of the game Trion has already added quite a large number of servers and queues on some servers are up to three (!) hours already. Not all of these servers may still be required in a couple of months.
As long as they realize that this is perfectly normal and act accordingly and work diligently on both adding but sometimes also closing servers, RIFT can become very, very successful. Because as we already discussed here, the game is just very very good.