Monthly Archives: May 2017

Heroes of the Storm 2.0 Isn’t that Different

If there’s one thing Blizzard seems to love, it’s revamping games. They never seem to be able to go very long without some sort of major overhaul to one of their titles. The most recent game to get this treatment is Heroes of the Storm, having recently been given a quasi-relaunch as “Heroes of the Storm 2.0.”

Opening a loot box in Heroes of the Storm

I used to be a big-time Heroes player, having been invited to the technical alpha and playing regularly up to the official launch and for some time after. However, I had started to lose interest in recent months.

2.0 seemed like a good opportunity to revisit the game, but would it reignite my love for Heroes of the Storm or drive me farther away?

What’s in the Box?

Most of the 2.0 changes focus on revamping the game’s progression and rewards systems. These changes are too complex to be declared entirely good or bad; it really depends on who you are and what you want.

2.0 is clearly taking a lot of cues from Overwatch, and while the two systems are not necessarily identical, you’ll definitely see a lot that’s familiar in Heroes if you’ve played Blizzard’s shooter.

Firstly, leveling has been redesigned. Account level is no longer its own thing but is simply the sum of your total hero levels across all characters. Whenever a hero levels up, you earn a loot box full of random cosmetic rewards, with certain level milestones offering boxes of a higher quality. And of course you can also buy boxes for real money if you so desire.

I may have argued in the past that the furor over lockbox mechanics has gotten a little out of hand, but I’m still not a particular fan of the idea, and it’s hard to celebrate when a game suddenly embraces them with open arms.

Tracer's Spectre skin in Heroes of the Storm

That said, for at least some people, this system can be seen as an improvement. Before, if you didn’t want to pay cash for cosmetics in Heroes of the Storm, you were simply out of luck. There were very few mounts or skins available for in-game currency, and they required a lot of grind to acquire.

Now, you can earn every cosmetic in the game without spending a dime. At least in theory. If you’re unwilling or unable to pay real world money, this update is bound to be a huge boon to you.

On the other hand, if you can pay, the news is much less positive. Whereas before you could get whatever skin or mount you wanted whenever you wanted (more or less — mounts tended to cycle in and out of the store, but they always came back eventually), now only a very small selection of cosmetics will be available for direct sale each week. If what you want isn’t available right now, your only choice is to gamble.

And while you can potentially get everything from loot boxes, the odds of actually getting what you want are not great. In a rather transparent attempt to keep people chasing the good stuff, Blizzard has clogged the game with reams of new items that I can’t imagine anyone really wants.

There are banners that only deploy under certain “blink and you’ll miss it” circumstances. There are announcers that are barely heard since they don’t cover map-specific call-outs. There are voice lines that are mostly just copies of the dialogue your characters are always saying anyway. There are tiny sprays no one really uses. And there’s a dizzying variety of emojis, for those who want to add a personal touch to the all-caps bile that is the chat in any MOBA.

Through various veteran reward systems, I received over fifty loot boxes when I first logged in after the update, and out of the all that, I got nothing that I actually wanted.

Purchasing a skin with shards in Heroes of the Storm

The new pyrotechnics for making a purchase are a tad… over-zealous.

Now, to be fair, there are some systems in place to limit the negative effects of RNG. As in Overwatch, if a duplicate of something you already own drops, it’s converted to a special currency (called shards in this case) that can then be used to unlock items directly, even if they’re not part of the current sales.

So while I didn’t get any drops I wanted, I did get enough shards to buy several several skins and a mount. It wasn’t everything I’d hoped to get, but it was something.

Progressing Progression

The loot boxes can be a positive or a negative depending on your perspective, but the other changes to progression skew more heavily toward the negative.

The leveling curve has been rebalanced to provide a much steadier curve. This means that higher levels are now earned much more quickly, which is a necessary change given we are now expected to keep leveling heroes indefinitely, but it also means that the lower levels go by much slower.

One of the best ways to earn gold in Heroes of the Storm has traditionally been to level as many characters as possible to level five, due to the 500 gold reward for doing so. The reward is still there, but it’s now much more of a time investment to achieve, so it feels much less worth it. This doesn’t seem like a good move for a game that derives so much of its appeal from constantly trying new characters.

Also, while high levels are earned more quickly, “quickly” is definitely a relative term here. Getting new loot boxes is going to become quite a grind after a while.

The new combined account/hero level in Heroes of the Storm

I’m also a little torn on what’s been done with master skins. Instead of being a mark of progression, they’ve now been thrown into loot boxes alongside all the other skins. Used to be if you saw someone with a master skin it meant something, especially if it was for a difficult or unusual hero like Abathur or Cho’Gall. Now it doesn’t mean anything.

That said, a hypocritical part of me is happy to be able to get master skins for characters I don’t play as much. I always loved Sonya’s master skin, but I don’t play her enough to justify the grind it would have required under the old system. Now I’ve just bought it with shards, which is simultaneously gratifying and demoralizing.

A Trying Challenge

Something else that deserves a mention is the recent Nexus Challenge 2.0 event. Like the previous Nexus Challenge, it sought to woo Overwatch players by offering rewards in both games for those who play a certain number of Heroes matches while grouped with a friend.

This event was a bit more rewarding than its predecessor, with four tiers unlocked over four weeks, each of which offered significant rewards for just five matches. However, the final three tiers all required that you play in PvP modes, whereas the previous Challenge only required versus AI games.

It’s a nice idea, but it didn’t work out so well in practice. The queues swarmed with inexperienced players, but what’s worse is that many of them weren’t interesting in learning how to play Heroes of the Storm and simply sought to throw games as quickly as possible. This was a miserable experience for veterans, and I can’t imagine it was a good introduction to the game for new players who are genuinely trying, either.

I don’t begrudge Blizzard’s desire for cross-promotion, but I have to believe they could have come up with a better system than this.

Status Quo 2.0

The Thunder-Guard Zarya skin in Heroes of the Storm

In the end, though, the bottom line is that Heroes of the Storm 2.0 isn’t as radical a change as Blizzard’s marketing department would like you to believe. When you get past all the pomp and pageantry of the new progression mechanics, the actual game isn’t much changed.

That can be good, and it can be bad. If you liked Heroes before, you’ll like it now. If you didn’t, I doubt lockboxes are going to bring you back.

I’m not really sure where I stand with the game. I’ve had a lot of fun with it in the past, and there’s still much about it I appreciate, but after so much time spent with it, I am a bit burnt out, and there are some things that have been driving me away.

All of my favorite heroes have been nerfed into uselessness or revamped into something unrecognizable. I swear the game was more stable back in alpha; now that it’s launched, I ought to be able to trust that my characters will maintain some kind of singular identity.

I’m also not thrilled with the direction the meta-game has been taking. Right now it seems dominated by increasing power creep, especially around burst damage. Heroes used to be a more laid-back take on the MOBA, but increasingly it seems to be the sort of game where a split second’s mistake will spell total doom.

I may find my passion reignites at some future date, but I don’t think the 2.0 update will be the cause.


Ragequitting an MMO: Does it Work?

Perhaps you’ve done it yourself: ragequitting an MMO. After all, falling in love with an online game is something that happens to many of us. As you spend many hours in the MMO of your choice and the years progress, things will inevitably change, and not always in a direction you like. Where did the magic go? You may have written several threads with your concerns on the official forum. You may have included suggestions that would fix the game for you, but it all falls on deaf ears.

The changes you dread so much are still happening and suddenly you realise that logging in makes you feel frustrated rather than happy. This may be the time to “hit them where it hurts”, unsub and logout of the game for the last time. You write a final angry note on the forum and never look back. But did your actions indeed have any effect on the direction of your MMO? This is the question I want to tackle in this article.

A ‘success story’: Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR)

The direct inspiration for this topic is a recent case in Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR). Ragequitting players seem to have played a vital role in the 180 degree change of course in its reward system this spring. Although SWTOR’s last two expansions have been somewhat of a unique case, focusing on cinematic storytelling exclusively, the game as a whole is an MMO with a traditional setup: a core game with leveling content and expansions that raise the level cap and add new endgame group content.

Historically, SWTOR has been surprisingly gear and alt friendly compared to some of the other titles out there. In the past, I’ve recommended the MMO to friends that were looking for a new raiding experience, because it was quick to get to level cap and easy to gear up with the help of knowledgeable guild members. This all was about to change with the introduction of a game changing feature: SWTOR’s Galactic Command system.

In the autumn of 2016, SWTOR rolled out this system as part of their expansion Knights of the Eternal Throne (KOTET). Players were wary and critical from the start. Galactic Command introduced three tiers of gear, divided over 300 ranks, available to level capped (70) players with an active subscription only. Participating in activities would grant command experience (CXP) that would allow players to increase in rank. Each rank, a command crate was earned that had a low chance to drop a piece of random gear. Traditional sources of gear, such as raid bosses, did no longer drop any.

Lightsaber fight in SWTOR

Bioware’s argument for Galactic Command was that it would streamline the gearing process and would allow players that do not participate in group content to gain gear. However, the SWTOR community recognised the system as an enormous gear treadmill that was more frustrating than fun because of the random nature of its rewards. The outcry was enormous, and several things happened at once.

First off, the new reward system seemed to radically steer player behaviour in the game. Rather than participate in traditional content such as flashpoints (small group content) and operations (raids), players resorted to slaughtering great numbers of gold star mobs because they awarded more CXP per minute. Players were constantly looking for the fastest way to gain CXP and the developers could only wait for a new way to game the system to pop up before plugging the leaks, much like a futile game of whack-a-mole.

Secondly, the introduction of a huge gear treadmill in an otherwise respected MMO did not go unnoticed in the MMO scape. Massively OP awarded SWTOR with the not too prestigious “worst business model of 2016” title. Galactic Command completely overshadowed the main content of the expansion: the cinematic conclusion of the story that had started with the previous expansion in 2015. And finally, there were the rage quitters: great masses of players, some loyal fans from the first hour, emptied their hearts on the forum and ended their subscriptions.

The trouble with numbers

I want to briefly pause my account to acknowledge the thing that makes judging these cases tricky. I write “masses of players”, but a problematic factor is that we generally don’t know how many exactly, as that’s information game designers are not willing to make public. Obviously, numbers do matter. If one player ragequits, it won’t have much effect at all. It is something that happens every day. But if many players leave the game at the same time, it sends a message.

In the case of SWTOR, I can only go by my gut feeling and what I hear from other players around me. My impression is that never before in the history of SWTOR have so many people unsubbed at once, except for in the months after its launch in 2012. Most people would know at least one player personally that quit because of galactic command. Also interesting is that people would quit all over the casual-hardcore spectrum, so it wasn’t just one specific type of player that threw in the towel. Galactic Command was universally disliked.

So what happened then? Over the course of half a year, SWTOR’s developers made small tweaks and changes to Galactic Command that made gear more accessible. For most people that quit, this wasn’t enough, as it didn’t change anything to the core system of getting gear at level cap: through RNG only. In February 2017, a particularly out of touch tweet enthusiastically announced 100 more command ranks to grind. The announcement invoked a second huge outrage among SWTOR players.

In the end of that same week, far reaching changes were announced to gearing that effectively rolled back time. Gear would drop from raid bosses again; the last boss would even drop two. Raid gear was buffed to drop a higher tier and would always be ‘gold’ (the rare version that could drop from command crates). On top of this, Galactic Command still rewarded players with crates that were buffed to drop more useful gear more frequently. Overall, gearing in SWTOR has never been as easy as of today.

I’ve put forward SWTOR here as an example of ‘ragequitting done right’: although grudgingly so, its developers eventually listened to its players. Many MMOs have experienced similarly defining moments in their life, moments in which its developers endeavoured to reinvent the wheel. The more I look for examples of successful ‘ragequitting campaigns’ by players, though, the more I find the opposite: MMOs that changed anyway, and suffered the consequences.

When developers don’t listen: Lord of the Rings Online

One such MMO is Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO). LOTRO celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and has experienced several defining moments throughout its lifespan: from its launch in 2007 and its re-release as a free-to-play game in 2010, to its far reaching class changes with the Helm’s Deep expansion in 2013. Both 2010 and 2013 turned out to be defining moments in the MMO’s player base.

The implementation of free-to-play LOTRO in 2010 made some old time players leave, but as it also brought a steady influx of new players to the game, so it is not surprising that this ragequit wave did not have much of an effect. In a way, the free-to-play system was also a reaction to ragequitters (although not quite the response leaving players had in mind): before its implementation, people had already begun unsubbing due to being disappointed with its previous expansion, Siege of Mirkwood.

Warsteed in LOTRO

Helm’s Deep was a different story, though. The 2013 expansion featured radical changes to long-established class mechanics. First off, skill trees were introduced, and designed in a way that heavily discouraged many classes’ formerly ubiquitous hybrid builds. Secondly, all nine classes were completely revamped, ‘dumbed down’, if you will. Tons of skills were removed in order to make the game more accessible to new players. As a result, many felt like completely different classes: a huge turnoff for old time players who had grown to love their class over the course of six years. Add the initial bugs and clunky combat and it will be no surprise many of these players ragequit.

In contrast to SWTOR’s Galactic Command uproar, however, this player reaction was completely ignored by the developers, who stood by their changes. Although no official subscriber numbers have been released, it does look like ragequitters have had a lasting effect on the health of the MMO: after 2013, no new expansions were released; instead, game development has focused on smaller landscape and quest updates and in 2015, the number of available game servers was reduced from 29 to 10. Although the MMO still holds a nostalgic spot in the hearts of many old time players, LOTRO is no longer regarded as the triple-A MMO it once was. Nowadays, it is mostly played by casual free-to-players and endgame revolves around a shallow grind for essence gear.

The ultimate sob story: Star Wars Galaxies

But if you think LOTRO’s story is sad, then I present to you: Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). Released in 2003, SWG initially launched with a lot of bugs, but nevertheless managed to attract a respectable (for its time) estimate of 300,000 subscribers. But then World of Warcraft (WoW) released in 2004 and dwarfed that number.

Behind the scenes, SWG’s developers worked on a completely revamped version of the game that would effectively simplify the MMO by reducing the amount of available classes from 34 to 9 and replace its turn based combat with fast paced action. These changes, referred to as New Game Enhancements, were meant to attract a different, larger player base; one more like WoW, one could say. But it completely disregarded its core population of gamers that enjoyed SWG’s original skill progression and complicated character builds. What didn’t help was that these far reaching changes were announced a mere two weeks before release, and were initially riddled with bugs.

The New Game Enhancements produced an unparalleled outcry among the player base. Many players experienced the updates as something that changed their characters’ identity and their surrounding virtual world to its core. The commotion over an online game even reached the ears of traditional offline media and, over time, became an example of how not to redesign MMOs.

A shot from Star Wars Galaxies

Letters by ragequitting SWG players addressed to George Lucas give a unique insight into how a change in game design emotionally affected players. “Ragequitting” might not even be the appropriate word: someone working in the health-care industry recognized the emotions displayed by SWG players as “death-in-the-family-type grieving”.

The New Game Enhancements did not bring the influx of players the game developers had hoped. In retrospect, this was often attributed to its loss of flavour: what made it so successful initially was its uniqueness in the MMO-scape. Instead, SWG silently sunk into oblivion, until officially closed in 2012 to make space for SWTOR.

It makes one wonder what would’ve happened to SWTOR if it would’ve clung to its Galactic Command system as originally implemented. Did, in a twisted turn of events, SWTOR only succeed because it learned from its predecessor’s mistakes?

Conclusion: ragequitting as a strategy to steer MMO game design

I obviously haven’t been able to revisit every case of players ragequitting all MMOs out there. However, from what we’ve seen, historical cases do not exactly give off positive vibes for ragequitting as a viable strategy to influence MMO game design. When game developers want to implement far reaching changes that affect the core experience of the MMO, they generally seem stand by their decisions. Whether they listen to the playerbase seems rather arbitrary from a gamer’s perspective.

Cases that had real impact always included players of all types (casual – endgame) being outraged over a change. If only one type of player dislikes a change, developers seem eager to dismiss this type of player and cater to an audience that does like, or is indifferent to, the new style instead. Naturally, ragequitting only has an effect when done in great numbers at a time. Finally, it also matters whether developers have learned from historical examples, such as SWG.

This does not mean that it’s a bad idea to ragequit a game, per se. When an MMO affects you negatively to a point beyond repair, it may be healthiest for you, as a person, to let go. If you are very attached to this hypothetical MMO, you may have to suffer through various stages of grief, but eventually you can find peace in that things are as they are. We have seen that forming social connections and memories in a virtual world can create a strong attachment that is not unlike the loss of a friend or family member when taken away. In this respect, it is not surprising that ragequitting players often leave an angry note behind when unsubbing: anger is one of the emotions in the stages of grief and it is considered a healthy thing to express it rather than bottle it up.

So does ragequitting an MMO work? It is effective for the person who does it, on an individual level, to deal with the emotions that come out when experiencing loss. Whether it will influence the course of the game’s design, however, remains to be seen.


Enjoy MMORPGs More By Playing Non-MMORPGs

Variety is the spice of life. Developers of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Archeage would have you believe such variety could be sourced within their small corners of the world. Not so. One must look beyond the horizon to see the world in its entirety. No one game can do it all. While it’s easy to grow complacent playing the same game, it ultimately leads to malcontent. The social nature of MMORPGs can often keep us around well past its natural life. That’s not inherently bad – friends are good, after all. But it puts the gameplay on the back burner. For a video game, that seems like a big issue. The only way to regain clarity is to take a break. Play a single player game (or even a non-MMORPG multiplayer game) and see what you might be missing.

MMORPGs run a big copycat ring, where ideas are borrowed from one another and recycled heavily. Innovation falls by the wayside because funding an MMORPG is expensive. That means risks cannot be taken in the same way that they can for a small scoped indie game like Transistor. It’s possible a different type of MMORPG entirely would make for a better fit. Unfortunately that can be hard to realize without knowing what that better fit would be. Often times getting to the point where one experiences the full depth of an MMORPG’s gameplay takes several hours. By indulging in a non-MMORPG, one can more readily understand gameplay features that await them.

mmorpg routine dailies for non-mmorpg article

Nothing screams routine more than MMORPG dailies

There’s a lot to be said for taking a step back and gaining some perspective. MMORPGs tend to boil down to routines. We complete our daily quests, run a few dungeons hoping for some drops, and deal with some trolls in public chat.

Just another day at the office.

And if that phrase resonates with you, you really do need a break. Playing a video game should never be comparable to work (unless you’re a QA tester, I guess). Adventure is not meant to be a series of routines. Adventure should be a compelling series of events fraught with danger, mystery, and wonder. And maybe, just maybe, that adventure is waiting for you in the form of a non-MMORPG.

One of a few situations will arise from playing a non-MMORPG:

  1. You’ll decide your MMORPG isn’t really that fun or fulfilling and drop the game.
  2. You’ll miss your friends but not the gameplay leading to only playing with friend availability.
  3. You’ll miss the gameplay and your friends. Perfect! Nothing like a little perspective to show that you’re right where you belong.
  4. You’ll be thinking about all of the leveling and gear grinding you’re missing out on. If taking a break is really that hard, it’s possible you have an MMO addiction. I’d be happy to point you to some resources.

Either way, reassessing from time to time provides a realistic perspective on your priorities. These priorities can be hard to see when they’re obfuscated by routine. You might even discover something that would fit really well within your active MMORPG. OK, great! Let the game developers know. They may not get around to addressing the idea for several months, if ever. But they might listen. Or it might spark another developer’s creativity. No one has time to experience everything that’s out there, so it’s important we share those experiences. This leads to ideas in summation that are greater than what one can imagine by their lonesome.

MMORPGs by their very nature offer greater potential than any other genre of gaming. There’s no reason why features typically reserved for non-MMORPGs can’t be found within the massively multiplayer arena. Yet we get stuck in this rut that leads to expectations of more of the same. Break out of that rut and play something different, if only for a little bit. You won’t regret it.


Checking up on the WoW Clones of Yesteryear

When World of Warcraft achieved a heretofore unknown level of success for an MMORPG, everyone and their monkey wanted a piece of the action. As a result, the MMO industry experienced a long stretch where nearly every big name release sought to copy most of the core mechanics of Blizzard’s juggernaut.

An Elf character in Lord of the Rings Online

“WoW clones,” they were dubbed, and while fans often rankle when the term is applied to their favorite game, more often than not the shoe fits. Sure, most of them had some special twist to the formula that they shouted from the rooftops in an attempt to stand out, but at their core they embodied the same core formula. Tab target combat, copious but simple quests, and an endgame focused on instanced PvE.

The years passed, and eventually the procession of new WoW clones slowed down. Nowadays MMOs aren’t as afraid to forge their own paths. But most of the bigger WoW clones are still chugging along. Now that the fad is passed, it may be interesting to look at how these games have fared over the years, and whether they’ve stuck to their WoW clone guns or started to establish identities of their own.

Rift

I don’t know about you, but personally, when I hear “WoW clone,” Rift is always the first game that comes to mind.

Nearly everything about Rift, from its game mechanics to its setting, seemed copied directly from World of Warcraft, and all this was thrown into a starker light by the masterfully if unintentionally ironic “We’re not in Azeroth anymore” marketing campaign.

Its soul system, which allows you to essentially build your own class, and dynamic events gave it a bit of a twist, but in the end it still looked like a game that had been separated from WoW at birth.

But I should not be too harsh to Rift. What it lacks in originality it usually makes up for with polish. I have always found Rift to have incredibly solid mechanics and an almost overwhelming amount of content. If you’re going to do a WoW clone, this is the way to do it.

A landscape in Rift

And for quite a while Rift’s reputation in the community reflected this. I remember a long period of time during which Rift seemed to be something of a golden child in the MMORPG community, earning acclaim even from those who did not play it.

These days opinion has soured somewhat, but I suspect this probably has as much to do with the lingering fallout over ArcheAge as anything Rift has done. It’s had some stumbles — notably the most recent expansion, Starfall Prophecy, has had some uncharacteristic issues with quality control — but for the most part it still seems to be the same game it’s always been.

Indeed, Rift has been nothing if not consistent over the years. Like most WoW clones, it had to undergo a free to play transition, but for the most part it’s stuck to its guns.

Aion

Aion has always been a little more creative than some other WoW clones. Its surreal setting is a refreshing change of pace from the standard Tolkien-inspired high fantasy, its endgame places a much greater emphasis on factional PvP, and it integrates flight directly into its combat… at least in some parts of the game.

However, it’s not done much to shake up its original formula or further differentiate itself from the pack since its launch. Its added plenty of new content, but it hasn’t done much to change the core of the game experience.

Like most WoW clones, it eventually dropped its mandatory subscription in favor of a free to play model, but that’s probably the biggest change it’s undergone.

Fighting mobs as a gunslinger in Aion

Aion is one of those strange games that never seems to get much attention within the community and yet seems to be quite successful all the same. It’s still getting significant updates on a fairly regular basis despite being relatively long in the teeth these days.

Much of this can probably be attributed to its popularity in South Korea, where it has long been one of the more popular MMOs on the market. But it must also have a decent number of fans in the West, or it wouldn’t still be running over here. You may not hear much from Aion players, but clearly they exist.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

SW:TOR has had a more turbulent lifespan than most WoW clones, and that makes it perhaps the most interesting case to study.

Despite or perhaps because of massive pre-launch hype, Bioware’s first and only entry into the MMO field had a pretty rough reception post-launch. The phrase “TORtanic” became a favorite of the ever-hyperbolic comment section. Lack of endgame content and oppressively generic gameplay significantly damaged the game.

This eventually led to a conversion toward one of the industry’s more restrictive free to play models. It proved economically successful but severely damaged SW:TOR’s reputation within the community, a stain that lingers to this day.

SW:TOR continued to struggle with direction for a time. It had sold itself on a greater commitment to story than any other MMO, but it had never achieved the level of success necessary to fund continued development of unique story for all eight classes. It tried to strike the balance between an endgame-driven WoW clone and a story-driven RPG and never entirely satisfied either side of the equation.

Emperor Arcann in Star Wars: The Old Republic

This changed with the game-changing Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion in late 2015. KotFE redesigned much of the core game systems, implementing global level-scaling and greatly streamlining the leveling process. The net result of these changes was an experience with a much greater emphasis on story. While Bioware still couldn’t manage to continue the unique class stories, KotFE’s new content did feature more and better story content than previous expansions.

This makes SW:TOR arguably the only WoW clone to shake off its lineage of aping Blizzard and establish a clear identity of its own. It’s now less of an MMO and much closer to Bioware’s single-player titles, but there is something to be said for focusing on what you’re good at.

And the gamble seems to have paid off. Knights of the Fallen Empire seems to have heralded something of a renaissance for the game, and by all reports SW:TOR is doing very well. It is a bit hard to say how much of this is due to how the game has changed and how much is simply due to the greater hype around Star Wars in general caused by the new films, but at the very least, KotFE’s changes don’t appear to have hurt it any.

Lord of the Rings Online

In contrast to SW:TOR, LotRO has been pretty consistent in sticking to traditional designs. Its one major change came when it joined the ranks of free to play MMOs in late 2010. For a time, it seemed to be giving up on raiding, but now raids are once again on the menu.

LotRO’s popularity has dwindled somewhat over the years, but it maintains a very devoted core playerbase, and most would highlight its community as one of the more tight-knit in the MMO space, with a strong role-playing contingent and frequent player-run events.

Until recently, Lord of the Rings Online seemed to be heading down a dark road, coming to a head with its developer, Turbine, giving up on MMOs altogether, but the development team has now struck out on their own as Standing Stone Games, and the future for LotRO now seems cautiously optimistic, with a new expansion centered around Mordor on the way.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Confronting a large mob in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

I was hesitant to include FFXIV in this list. Not because it’s not a WoW clone — it absolutely is — but because it’s a more recent game and thus doesn’t quite fit in with the explosion of WoW clones that produced many of the above titles.

Interestingly, though, it’s probably one of the most successful WoW clones to date. By all reports it’s one of the more successful MMOs period, with a strong playerbase and an incredible frequency of content updates. It’s even managed to hang onto its subscription-based business model so far.

This despite the fact it’s no more original than Rift or any number of others. One could attribute FFXIV’s success to its obvious polish and quality, but even then it’s not so far ahead of the competition. Perhaps it’s simply the strength of the Final Fantasy brand, but it’s an interesting aberration all the same.

Conclusions

Unfortunately it’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions from all this. There aren’t a lot of clear patterns to be seen.

The one thing that can be said with certainty is that none of these games have matched World of Warcraft’s success, but given that many of them rival WoW in quality (and may even surpass it in some specific areas), it’s hard to say that’s the result of any failing on their part. Perhaps WoW was simply a fluke of timing that cannot ever be replicated.

As a gamer, I wish that more games had taken SW:TOR’s path and established firm identities for themselves, but I can’t know whether or not they would have been more successful if they had.