October 18th, 2008.
That date marked the end of the free month of gameplay that came with Warhammer Online.
It also marked the time when a lot of Warhammer players decided to quit, including several prominent bloggers who had been posting regularly about their experiences.
“Too many bugs.” “Not exciting enough.” Whatever the reason, when renewal time came up, they voted with their feet — and their pens keyboards.
That they came to their decision pretty much exactly a month after the game was released should be no suprise to anyone.
Mythic also saw the end of free play as a big milestone in the minds of their players. The day before, on the 17th, Mark Jacobs wrote a long “State of the Game” post highlighting their ongoing work to improve the game and offering a look at significant changes right around the corner. It was essentially (and very appropriately) a carefully timed sales pitch to keep playing.
But still as soon as that 30 day buzzer went off, players were faced with a big psychological decision to either commit to the game or walk away.
And quite a few looked at what they were doing right then and decided to walk.
Personally, I think that’s a shame.
30 days is simply not enough time for a new MMO to settle in and for players to really get a sense of the game’s long term worth.
Even when a lauch goes well, you can depend on the game going through a lot of changes over the next several weeks. The underlying technology — the servers and clients — finally get tested under real-world loads and need to be tweaked. There will be bugs in the gameplay that have to be fixed and adjustments to players’ abilities made. Servers will be up and down a lot. Fundamental things about the game are going to change.
And then there’s the actual game content and how well you can understand and appreciate it in 30 days.
After my first month in WOW — pretty much considered the most popular MMO of all time — I think I was somewhere in Stranglethorn Vale, probably killing tigers or running away from pesky apes. I hadn’t seen half the zones in the game, done much with my tradeskills, wasn’t in a guild, and had only been in one instance. It is fair to say I had a limited sense of what the entire game was like. As it was, I decided to keep playing and have been happy with that decision. But I could as easily have been annoyed with where I was in the game at the time or with issues with the WOW servers (it’s easy to forget now but there were some serious issues back then) and quit.
Again, I just don’t see how it serves game companies’ interests to give players of a new MMO only 30 days to fall in love with their game.
Especially when they already know that those 30 days are going to be the least stable, least polished ones their game ever has.
When I purchased my copy of Warhammer, I also purchased a 60-day time card. (Yeah, there’s probably a psychological message in there somewhere about committment…)
Now I don’t feel any need to rush to judgement about Warhammer and am looking forward to a lot of changes coming soon.
I firmly believe companies like Mythic rolling out a new MMO would be better off raising the price of their product by $10 and throwing in 90 days of free play.
The revenue lost in monthly subscriptions would be offset by the higher initial cost of the product and I think by higher long term player retention. It would give the company more time to improve their product and let players make their first subscription decision at a time when the game was more solid and polished. I’d also expect that the more time players invested in their characters, the harder the decision to abandon them.
(The only time this wouldn’t be a good idea is if a game company knows their product is rubbish and just wants to cash in as quickly as possible before their customers start raising a stink.)