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metrics

Blaugust has shown me a lot of things, all of which I will ruminate upon at the close of the marathon along with, likely, every other person partaking.  The most immediate thing that is springing to mind right now is that little graph thing right there.

That is my views and visitors day-to-day, snapshotted from this morning.  I passively peer around in there from time to time just because I’m easily amused by the fact that I have a couple of clicks from people in the Philippines and Estonia.  But I have noticed a rather obvious downward slope in my viewership.  I attribute it to the fact that this Blaugust thing is perhaps beginning to erode on some people.

Does that make me a terrible writer or blogger though?  Why do metrics matter?  And, for that matter, why do we care so damned much about metrics in MMO’s?

“BECAUSE SOURCE YOUR FACTS!!”

I love hard data and sourcing material as much as the next person.  If you’re going to use numbers as a weapon in your argument, you’d damned well better provide a location where you got that data.  But at the same time, does having a high amount of subscribers or a high amount of anything make an MMO more worthy of existence?

Looking at MMO’s on a business standpoint, obviously numbers matter.  The game has to run at a profit.  A very healthy one, considering the upkeep of infrastructure and the need to continually develop content.  But at the same time, a community of players can keep a game running and enjoy themselves without having to have a legion.

I continue to use this example because it applies–The Secret World is running at a profit in spite of Funcom being in debt.  It, by all assumptions, is not a very large MMO either.  But that said, it is still profitable.  So looking at that alone, that is a successful game.  Yet many will gladly see it written off or not care one whit if the game is shuttered because it wasn’t big enough.

WildStar is another game that is trying to turn its fortunes around, and I don’t anticipate that the re-launch in F2P will see the game on a meteoric rise.  However, I feel that the excitement level is high and the implementation is on the right track to make its business model shift a highly successful and profitable one.  It won’t be a juggernaut, but it will do pretty well I think/hope.  Still, people will discredit it for myriad reasons, one of which being it isn’t a big enough game.

You must be this tall to be an MMO.

MMO’s are better with people.  They are social games by their design.  Lots of people milling about makes the world feel alive and full.  But at the same time, we don’t all have to have games that are enjoyed by millions and millions and millions.  They need to operate at a profit and they need to have lots of eager and willing players.  That’s…kind of all that’s required.

A small playerbase or a small fanbase is a lot like an elite squadron, so to speak.  You can throw gobs and gobs and gobs of pawns or lesser soldiers at a base in a game of Warcraft, but that group could be quite easily slaughtered by a smaller bundle of elite troops.  I feel the same way about MMO communities as well.  i’ll take an empassioned yet more compact mass of players over a seething legion any day of the week.

Obviously, I’m generalizing here–there are exceptions to this feeling.  It’s not a hard and fast rule.  But I find an MMO enjoyable with others who are enjoying it instead of being lost in a crowd of folks who maybe are being dragged in because they have friends there, but they’re not really having a good time.  MMO wallflowering, if you will.

image from The Good Men Project

“Eh…I guess I can DPS that with you.” 

In the interest of fairness, it’s not entirely the playerbase’s fault.  MMO devs are just as guilty of perpetrating this assumption as we are.  How many times have you seen an MMO company release numbers about registered accounts?  How hard did that make your eyes roll?

PR loves the chance to cook the books in order to make their game look like the happening hangout.  The place where everyone’s shoulder-to-shoulder and having a freaking amazing time.  Whatever metric is the biggest and most impressive is the one they’ll wave about, hoping you’ll marvel at its girth and weight.  “Look upon this pulsing number!”, they’ll exclaim.  “Look upon it!  WORSHIP IT!”

Image from margauxville.com

Obviously I’m referring to sausage.

Either they’re stoking flames that were already set or they’re building the fire, but in either case the continued feeding of this idea that huge numbers equals quality game is fallacy.  The oft-used example of fast food vs. restaurant food is swung around, and it most definitely is a worthy one.  Just because McDonald’s is the biggest place to get a burger doesn’t also make it the best.  It just means that lots of people go to it because there’s myriad reasons–they can’t afford high quality, or they’re not good at cooking their own, or they’re busy or any number of reasons.  The small corner pub can make significantly better burgers but only sell 1/12th the amount of McDonald’s.  Doesn’t mean their burger is worse.

And it also doesn’t mean that pub isn’t making money.

Lots of us want to be savvy consumers.  We all want to be justified in our purchases and not consider that spending hundreds of dollars on goofy-ass entertainment is money wasted or time wasted.  We want to be assured that purchasing decisions are the right ones.  But that doesn’t make the biggest the best by default.  That’s not how quality control works.

Ultimately, what makes an MMO great is not its size, but how it’s built.  The gameplay.  The world.  The cadence of update and the quality of update.  People will pay for something they enjoy, not because thousands upon thousands do the same thing.

It’s past time that everyone–both players and devs–realize that.  We need to all stop caring about metrics.

“You’re still a bad writer, though.”

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