Locusts and Lemmings

Montana Sucks! Now go home and tell all your friends!

Recent discussion of WoW tourists brings to mind the problem of all tourists: “let’s go somewhere different and whine about how things are not like they were back home. The food here is funny. The toilets are weird. They act like they don’t even speak English.”

The tourists go looking for virgin wilderness, something pristine and untouched. Then they leave tire tracks, litter, and poo; they call for modern conveniences, ideally heated cabins with indoor plumbing and room service; they mock the locals as yokels and wonder why they are not friendlier.

Immigrants are worse. “California has become unlivable, what with the high taxes, intrusive government, high cost of living, and weird neighbors. Let’s move to Montana, where costs are lower, then vote for laws to make it more civilized like California.” Of course, California has its own immigrants who are fleeing the corrupt Mexican government and the economy it has despoiled; they can vote too.

Not that I know western politics, but I do know whiners. There are millions of WoW players who are looking for the next WoW. It will be just like WoW, only better. There will be new and exciting things to discover, but do not make them learn something new or harder. The game should be completely soloable with no downtime, with great group content and opportunities to form bonds in your guild, where guilds are vitally important to the world but in no way required for advancement, where all eleven million players can have a meaningful impact on the world but no one can negatively affect my experience. And it should be free to play.

They infest the forums during beta. They complain that they are not all in the beta, that too many people are let in, that any later tourists are not real fans. The game is a ripoff of WoW, the game is not enough like WoW, the game is missing the One Thing that made WoW a big success. Then they do not buy it.

Some do buy it. They play for a month and mostly complain. There are not enough servers for the game, everything is laggy, add more. Then they all quit, leaving half-empty servers. They mock the dying game, server merges lol. Every improvement shows how horrible the game was at release. Every problem shows how horrible the game still is.

In some ways, they bring the lowest common denominator. The game must satisfy all eleven million of us. If you do not get more than a million players, you are a failure. Make sure the game is fun for everyone, and if that middle mush is fun for no one, l2develop noob.

In some ways, they bring higher standards. You are being compared to Blizzard. Say what you want about how WoW was at release, you are being compared to how WoW is right now, because they could spend their $15 there right now. Let someone else pay for beta. You need a polished product with a large amount of fun content. If you fail to bring your A game, the flash in the pan will try to consume you.

That might not be bad. If A Tale in the Desert had 100,000 players subscribe for a month, that could pay for the rest of the game’s lifespan, assuming Teppy did not blow all the money on fine cigars. I do not think the game would be playable that month, but maybe they have really good server architecture. They could afford to rebuild afterwards.

Locusts and lemmings. They exhaust their food sources and swarm. They devour everything in their path and keep moving. Even if they wanted to stop and smell the roses, they would be trampled to death by the mass behind them. Press on, press on, in search of virgin lands to despoil. If they come to a cliff, the back of the swarm does not know it (press on!): you in the front, leap or get out of the way! Lemmings can swim, so they press on through the waters, hoping for better lands ahead.

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

: Zubon

16 thoughts on “Locusts and Lemmings”

  1. That first link is awesome. Get your MMO thinking out of my RL!

    Well written on the rest, you and your sane logic and coherency, gtfo of my blogosphere :)

  2. In the end it doesn’t really matter. Doesn’t matter if you sold 1.2M copies and 750k left because they were tourists or because they just didn’t like it; you’re still sitting back down at 300k, which is very respectable and a good number to have, but that’ll never be accepted for some reason.

    And since when games being entertaining (you know, entertainment… what we do this for) and accessible is a bad thing? You’d think more players is better than less players. “Go away we don’t want you” is the evolution of hardcore into stupid.

    Also, let’s not bring launches into it because I’m not entirely sure just how much it affects things, if it does at all. I don’t think it’s an indication of anything. WoW had an average launch and it persisted being iffy until they worked out all the kinks; millions of players. LOTRO had the absolute best lunch I have ever seen (and I’ll never get tired of commending Turbine for that) and they’re doing fine; far behind, but steadily chugging along. Warhammer had an average launch and lost 75% of its subs in months.

    A launch can help ease your people in and a good launch may lock your super critical very early stay/goers, but that’s about it. The game behind the launch locks your players way more strongly than the launch itself. Nobody says “I hate this game, it’s full of bugs, it’s boring, there’s no one on, it looks like crap… but I’m staying because it had a GREAT launch.”

    Hating on WoW because it’s accessible and popular is soooo 2006.

  3. To be fair (and I don’t want to keep focusing on this), but LotRO did launch without a game beyond level 30, which many noticed and cited as a reason for leaving. Many felt it was a bait/switch scenario, since beta was capped at level 20, and then the content all but ended at 30. Credit to Turbine for addressing the issue shortly after release of course.

    And I never did get that ‘lunch’ from Turbine :)

  4. All I could think of while reading your locust analogy was Agent Smith’s comparison of humans to a virus..

  5. Except, of course, we’re not talking about locust or lemmings or whatever derogatory term we’re using for WoW players this week, we’re talking about customers with money to spend coming to play a game to which they were invited.


    All those ads and events and such, those were invitations to come try out the game? Locusts don’t drop $50 to come savage your crop, nor do lemmings plunk down $80 for a collector’s edition just to go for a swim.

    Damning the mob for having high expectations, cursing them for buy so many boxes, seems like an empty complaint to me, an implied criticism of the game that was supposedly flooded by these customers.

    Games survive and thrive after horrible launches. EverQuest was hardly stable at all on day one, hardly accessible, and had high system requirements for the time. (A 3D graphics card?!?)

    It has been said that EQ was something new and different and that is why it thrived. True enough. And in that is a clue I am sure. Something like, if you’re going to bring the same old fantasy MMO to the table with some minor changes to game play, if you’ve punted on innovation, you’d better have some other ace up your sleeve.

  6. While the guy talking about paying locusts is somewhat correct, in my opinion so are you. The new generation of players are a swarm and CAN strip something worthy down to bones in just a few months. This post was a great reflection of what we see out there today and rather horrifying to read. Thank you!

  7. Today I ran into a Lore-Master in LOTRO with the name Medivh. I couldn’t help but think he was probably in the wrong game.

  8. “And I never did get that ‘lunch’ from Turbine :)”

    It was yummy. For about 30 levels or so, but it was yummy :)

  9. “Don’t come to Seattle… the sun don’t shine ’round here.
    It comes out accident’lly, maybe once or twice a year!
    It rains so hard, the moss grows on the southern side of the trees,
    And Summer feels like Winter in that clammy ocean breeze!”

    Sadly, the song didn’t do much good for the city the rest of the state now thinks of as “San Francisco North”. :P

    And release month look-i-loo’s are just something devs are going to have to start dealing with too.

    Maybe the next MMO would be wise to start off with two to three times the servers they think they’re going to need… with names like North Fennin Ro, South Fennin Ro, and East Fennin Ro… and with the stated intention that those servers WOULD be merged after the first month.

  10. There’s only one thing you forget when talking about dying servers. It was announced that people with pre-ordered games may have a headstart. This headstart was completely eaten up by incompetent management (on Europe servers at least). I didn’t even hand in the month I had bought with the game. I was gone after the 10 days pre-order time (plus the few “Sorry, we fucked up”-days). Had there been the real pre-order play time before launch, I would’ve be gone before the majority had hit the servers.
    On a very different note. It’s an excellent game, I loved it. But WoW was just better.

  11. The thing is, it’s not 1998, 2000, or even 2004 any more when there were maybe a million or two customers interested in MMO games. Things have changed, and yes WoW is responsible for that, and the game developers need to respond to the market of 2008.

    Before 2004 the MMORPG was a niche market of the bigger computer game market, which in itself was a niche of the much bigger entertainment market. The bulk of which was/is a mass market.

    For years MMORPG fans have been hoping for a wider acceptance of our favorite hobby. We’ve all secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, hoped that the next MMORPG to be released will be wildly successful, and will bring in a multitude of players new to the genre.

    WoW did that, and kicked the MMORPG market into the beginnings of a mass market, and the results are what we’re seeing now.

    Perhaps a case of be careful what you wish for. :-)

  12. Great post, Zubon. I think WoW tourists are a huge deal, which must be considered by all upcoming MMOs. Hopefully this might get MMOs off the horrible “shard” technology, and into something more fluid like a nieghborhood. I also hereby nominate Julian as the KTR ninja poster.

  13. Nice A Tale In The Desert shout-out. I don’t play ATITD anymore, but I am forever rooting for Teppy et al to keep on keeping it real.

  14. Agreeing with Wilhelm. Warhammer and AoC (the most known failures) didn’t fail because they were flooded with droves of unsatisfiable WoW players. They failed because they weren’t fun to play. Maybe four or five years ago you could get away with publishing something that wasn’t fun at release but now the market has grown and there are expectations. Functional chat, smooth combat, fundamentally sound gameplay, and most of all.. is it fun? Take the ‘I know it when I see it’ stance and play your own game or find somebody else to play it if you can’t objectively look at your own game and say ‘I could do this as a hobby’ then DON’T RELEASE IT.

  15. I am 100% with Ravious that this is yet another reason, and a serious economic reason, for the game companies to “solve” the discreet server architecture issue that causes players so many problems.

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