Craig Morrison Talks About The Launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic and the “Success Anomaly”

on September 25, 2011 5:00 PM

Craig Morrison is the Game Director of Age of Conan and a veteran of the industry. He’s also an avid MMORPG gamer himself, as I recently discovered during a quick  twitter chat: for instance he plays Eve Online quite regularly.

As opposed to many developers I’ve talked to, he’s definitely outspoken on his views on the Industry, and doesn’t pull punches, especially in his personal blog: Feeling Strangely Fine…usually.

This time around he wrote about the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic and what he calls “the Success Anomaly“, a definition that I find masterfully appropriate to the current MMORPG market. 

Here are a few quick excerpts to wet your appetite, but I’d strongly encourage you to read the original post, as it’s an extremely interesting read by someone that knows definitely well what he’s talking about.

The game will most likely sell extremely well out of the gate, almost certainly the most successful first month sales of any MMO ever, and probably by a wide margin…it will then possibly even retain over a million subscription customers (something it should be remembered no game other than World of Warcraft has managed)…truly massive numbers…unless the game somehow collapses it is going to post seriously impressive numbers…yet…you can already read many comments across the net which indicate that there is a sizable number of people who are referring to that as a potential ‘failure’.
Suddenly being the second most successful MMO of all time, would not be enough for some folk to a call a game a success. For some it seems to boil down to a simple formula, where they believe the only success factor is ongoing and consistent growth, and any significant drop after your launch month is banded about as a sign of failure”
This is absolutely true and undeniable. It’s completely endemic of today’s MMORPG market that a percentage of those that will join the bandwagon of a new launch will leave shortly afterwards. Why? Simply because no MMORPG will ever be for everyone, No new game clicks with every  customer that buys it, and for pay to play MMORPGs this means that a part of those that subscribed will rescind that subscription.
The fact that EA will initially distribute a limited number of copies of SWTOR may mitigate the problem, as not everyone will possibly be able to join at launch and some will do so afterwards, helping that rare-if-not-impossible growing trend that many see as the only acceptable sign of success, but we’ll have to see about that.
Games that launched five or more years ago simply didn’t have the profile to attract that kind of a starting audience, and neither did they have to deal with an ever more crowded market with dozens of competing games. This growth was much easier to achieve since your starting numbers were not as large, and most of the games grew organically as word of mouth spread. “
Bingo. World of Warcraft didn’t start out as a massive success with 10 million subscribes. It started out smaller than most MMORPGs nowadays, and with a lot less competition. The market was a different place, but, if i can add something myself, we were also different gamers back then,  and a lot less demanding, especially in the realm of polish and bugs. Five years ago, we walked through near-gamebreaking bugs like they were nothing (in WoW like in other games). Today the same problems would cause an instant mass-ragequit. I dare say that if WoW launched today, it would probably still be successful, but it would struggle a lot more.
 I also think that those advances the veterans yearn for will come, and the genre will become more dynamic and community focused again, but maybe not in the near future (and almost certainly not with the upcoming generation of games), and maybe not in the way we think it will…but in the mean time, we are in these changing times, and games will be successful despite not reaching World of Warcraft numbers. We should embrace and applaud the successful games, because in the big picture, they will all contribute to the growth of the genre. If theses games become too risky to make, then you won’t be able to blame the investors and publishers from being afraid of the investment. “
This is the gist of it. A game doesn’t need to reach WoW-like numbers to be defined a “success”. Nor it needs to grow constantly, especially not out of the box, as the initial wave of new entrants in a new world will almost inevitably be followed by an opposite migration, hopefully small.  A game is a “success” when it turns a profit, and to turn a profit 10 million players aren’t needed. It’s about time for gamers to start to recognize success for what it is, and not in the light of their wishful thinking about being part of the new WoW-killing biggest thing in the MMORPG market, crying foul and waving the flag of hopeless negativity whenever a developer that steps on the ring doesn’t come back with Blizzard’s head on a plate.
 /  Executive News Editor
Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.