Don’t be fooled.
If we stopped listening to our community intently, even though they’re not convinced we do, we’d cease to exist. So yeah, it’s beyond important for us. We’ve been doing it since day 1. It’s guided our game design all the way. It kept us from flopping at launch.
But, incase you haven’t noticed, our community is not exactly … large.
If Brad McQuaid wants to build the next big thing in MMOs, Brad McQuaid should build the next big thing in MMOs, not gather around the WoW disenchanted to discuss how to build a better game, because 6 million people don’t think WoW is all that bad.
WWII Online’s original community were dedicated, hardcore WWII simmers and recreators. They were the anti-bf1942 audience. This made them seem ballsy and gutsy. In reality, we were just unsatisfied. Specifically – we didn’t like the other games on the market. But when we looked around and took head counts, there were quite a lot of us. And the game wasn’t even released!
We were entirely the wrong group of people to tell Cornered Rat Software what would make a great game, except for in terms of our own small community. What we had in common was dislike for everything that makes Bf1942, Counterstrike, etc, highly popular.
That made a basis for a very strong community (which in turn creates a false perception of how big the community must be). But not the kind of strength that nurtures good product development, because it was overlooked that we didn’t really share a lot in common in what we did like.
So just like any other game, WWIIOL is a hodge-podge of compromises to the original concepts, although it initially always tried to compromise away from mainstream. Aim & fire? Not good enough. One key for each of ready, aim and fire!
In 6 months, 736 people voted on SoH’s forums for death to have an XP Debt which can cost you levels. 171 people against. There is no count of people who voted with their feet.
But this is a loaded question – the answers do little more than verify that the community is who you might think it is.
In WWII Online there are no hit bubbles. There are components with damage thresholds. Just last night I was called down by a player for our “wonderful realism” when he was able to fire rounds into a tank only 8ft from him and have nothing happen.
Infact it was great realism. His rounds had a timed fuze, the armor he was hitting was very thin (so didn’t slow the rounds very much), and they exited the muzzle at an insane velocity. These coupled together to result in his round penetrating both sides of the enemy vehicle before the fuze triggered and caused the round to explode. He would have had to put the round through a thicker part of the armor or into something solid like the engine to ensure the round detonated inside the tank.
The pre-release WWIIOL community would probably have voted 81:19 for this kind of realism back then too, because that’s who our community was.
Most people think that having to precisely hit accurately modelled, unscaled, specific individual components in a moving vehicle at 1000m with all the minuatae of angles, trajectories, armor thicknesses, round shapes, charge types, fuzes, spalling, penetration physics and etc is college class material and not entertainment.
But our community was a community of people that wanted ultra-realism. So it is an excellent design decision. Our community loves it. (Some of the time) And by the same measure exp loss in SoH is an excellent design decision because the existing community of players love it.
But CRS were aiming big with their target audience, and by failing to realize that the warm reception was a facet of asking an audience-subset an essentially loaded question, they failed to hear the slashing sound of statistics lopping off a good 90% of the intended target audience.
In short, CRS estimated market adoption on community reception.
And while he might just be hyping his product up in the way you would expect any good dev to do, I see Brad saying things that make me think he may be – to some degree – making the same oversight in some areas, as to who is going to buy the resulting product.
This is not about changing what game SoH will be. But SoH isn’t going to be the “next big thing”. It may well be ground breaking, it may very well be the next great MMORPG, but I very much doubt it will be “big”. I would be surprized if it ships less boxes than EQ1 original/RoK did, but I would be very surprized if maintains more than 100k active, paying subscriptions for more than 3 continuous months, and startled if it manages to retain more than 60k subscribers for more than 9 continuous months.
As long as it has enough people to pay the costs, and as long as the game is actually the game the devs want to make – how many it has doesn’t matter, and it makes for an even better game experience for those who do subscribe and play, which is excellent, fantastic!
But I’m afraid you really can’t call yourself the “big thing” when you have less customers than Asheron’s Call. I guess it all boils down to really knowing how representative of your target audience your pre-launch community is. Don’t just assume they are contiguous.