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Chapter 16. Case Study: Online Game Lifecycles

Chapter 16. Case Study: Online Game Lifecycles

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[ Team LiB ]

Achieving Mass Market Status

The Holy Grail for subscription games is to create similarly compelling games that can crack the mass-market niche, which contains the

bulk of the potential customers with about 70% of the total market. Examples of mass-market brands as MMORPGS include Star Trek

(rumored to be in development by Activision), Harry Potter (rumored to be in development at EA in 2000, but now rumored to be dropped

from the development list), Star Wars (in development by Verant/Sony), Barbie (Mattel is rumored to be searching for a developer), and

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) (purchased from Hasbro by Infogrames).

The first one to three months of an MMORPG's lifecycle see a tremendous rush of customer subscriptions. This rush then levels out and

stabilizes at a predictable rate, marked by growth spikes when a retail add-on pack is released to refresh the game. Figure 16.1 charts the

growth line for three popular US PWs, showing the variation between the initial launches and subsequent growth periods.

Figure 16.1. Subscription growth for three US MMORPGs.

Note that EQ was released initially in North America alone, andEQ is now available in Europe and Korea. Versions for China, Taiwan, and

Japan are planned for the first quarter of 2003. The Asian market makes up approximately 30–40% of the world MMORPG market; if EQ

were more available in that market today, the game's monthly subscriber base would likely be between 520,000 and 560,000. If Far East

versions had been ready at launch in March 1999, at the end of the game's first year of life, it would have had between 325,000 and

350,000 monthly subscribers.

[ Team LiB ]

[ Team LiB ]

The Current Top Four MMOGs Worldwide as of December 2002

Important facts about the top four MMOGs are presented in the following sections.

Lineage: The Blood Pledge


NCSoft in Korea

Type: Fantasy/Medieval

Style: Isolinear ("bird's-eye view")

Released: September 1998

Territory: Korea and Taiwan; opened in US in the fourth quarter of 2001

Subscribers: Four million registered subscribers at various price plans, with the bulk of

revenue coming from PC gaming clubs in Korea, known as "PC baangs"

Total revenue from release to this date: Estimated at approximately $140 to 170 million

USD. Current revenue flow is approximately $10 million in monthly revenues as of late 2002.

Fiscal year 2000 sales were 58.2 billion won, or $44,838,212 US. Sales for 2001 were

approximately $96 million USD (see www.ncsoft.co.kr/eng/ir/financial.asp for details). It is

commonly believed in the industry that over 90% of NCSoft's revenues are derived from

Lineage, due to statements by Jake Song, NCSoft's US representative.Lineage currently owns

well over 40% of the Korean market.


Lineage is the current big success story in non-US MMP games. South Korea is probably the most "wired" nation in the

world, not excluding the US. This game went from $6 million in revenue in 1999 to the current levels, mainly by cutting

deals with Internet cafés in South Korea. Internet cafés are a huge industry in South Korea, with over 200,000 seatings

in play at peak hours (think 200,000 simultaneous players). The Internet cafés pay NCSoft per seat for access; each

café usually buys between 16 and 64 seats for Lineage play.

Notably, Lineage has seen far less success in US subscription rates, even with the venerable Lord British (Richard

Garriott of Ultima fame) at the helm.

Figure 16.2. Lineage: The Bloodpledge.



Verant Interactive/Sony Online Entertainment

Type: Fantasy/Medieval

Style: 3D, first-person

Released: March 1999

Territory: Mostly in English-speaking countries; accessible worldwide by any

English-speaking player. Recently available in Korea via an agreement with NCSoft and in

European countries via an agreement with UbiSoft. EQ expects to open in China, Taiwan, and

Japan early in 2003.

Subscribers: 430,000 monthly subscribers at $12.95 each

Total revenue from release to this date: Estimated at approximately $100–130 million USD,

including monthly subscriptions and retail sales of the boxed game. Retail sales figures are

estimated at about 900,000 units, totaling about $27 million in revenue for Sony.

This document was created by an unregistered ChmMagic, please go to http://www.bisenter.com to register

. it. Thanks


The most high-profile success in MMORPGs; this one gets quite a bit of press. This game sold about 30,000 units the

first day of availability in 1999 and garnered almost 250,000 subscribers in the first year from launch. It passed the

400,000-subscriber mark 24 months after release.

EQ is now the "gold standard" for US

MMP games.

Figure 16.3. EverQuest.

Ultima Online


Origin Systems/EA

Type: Fantasy/Medieval

Style: Isolinear ("bird's-eye view")

Released: September 1997

Territory: Available worldwide in several languages, including English, Spanish, Korean,

Chinese, German, French, and Japanese

Subscribers: 208,000 monthly subscribers at $9.95 each

Total revenue from release to this date: Estimated at approximately $120 million USD,

including monthly subscriptions and retail sales of the boxed game


UO is widely considered the game that broke open the Internet for subscription gaming in 1997. For the first six months,

UO was the fastest-selling product in parent corporation EA's history. The fact that it has fewer subscribers thanEQ, even

though it has been out 18 months longer than EQ, is due to the sheer complexity of the game and the technical and

gameplay problems the game experienced from launch in 1997 until major changes were made in the game.

What is key to note is that, despite the complexity of the game, UO has grown steadily over the years until recently. It

has had more subscribers every quarter than the last quarter until about June 2001; since then, the game has slowly

been losing subscribers, but the rate of churn is low compared to the total subscriber base, which is about 5% annually.

The recent release of the Lord Blackthorne's Revenge expansion pack has probably caused a temporary spike in



Figure 16.4. Ultima Online.

Dark Age of Camelot


Mythic Entertainment/Vivendi Universal

Type: Fantasy/Medieval

Style: 3D, first-person

Released: October 2001

Territory: US and Canada; European launches in Germany and France expected in late 2002

and in Asia in early 2003

Subscribers: Approximately 250,000 monthly subscribers at $12.95 per month, as of

December 2002

Total revenue from release to this date: Approximately $25 million, including monthly

subscriptions and retail sales of the boxed game


Camelot is considered to have had the smoothest launch of any of the big MMORPGs; it premiered virtually without a

hitch. It is also the current fastest-growing MMORPG, with 200,000 subscribers in the first six months post-launch and

approximately 250,000 as of December, 2002. The European and Asian launches of the game will add another 100,000

subscribers to the growth. If Mythic can sustain its US growth gracefully, it is estimated that will have well over 350,000

subscribers by October 2003.

Figure 16.5. Dark Age of Camelot.

[ Team LiB ]

[ Team LiB ]

Chapter 17. Fighting Player Burnout in Massively

Multiplayer Games

by Damion Schubert, Founder, Ninjaneering.com (damion@ninjaneering.com)


The Exponential Curve of Death

More Content?

Play Less, Please



This is another article that was originally published online and which we asked the author to revisit. You can read

Damion's biography Appendix B, "Bios of Interviewees"; he's "been there and done that." What he writes about here is

crucial to the long-term survival of any persistent world (PW).

When creating a role-playing game, most design teams try to aim toward providing 40 hours of gameplay. More expansive visions, such

as Ultima Ascension or Baldur's Gate, easily surpass that, offering 80, 120, or even 200 hours of gameplay, depending on who you ask.

The costs of providing this additional content are substantial—both games cost millions of dollars and had schedules that surpassed two

years—and in the end, all but the most hard-core fans had a hard time completing every quest and exploring every area in these two


However, in the arena of massively multiplayer (MMP) games, 200 hours can be one-tenth of the time that a player spends online.

Indeed, there have been numerous reports of players who surpass the 200-hour mark in a month—every month. And as a result, MMP

designers feel compelled to extend the playability of the game well beyond what is healthy for either the game or the player.

[ Team LiB ]

[ Team LiB ]

The Exponential Curve of Death

The designer's first impulse is to create long-term play with extreme exponential character progression—one where it gets harder to

advance as the game progresses. This is nothing new to gaming, but we MMP designers often take this to an absurd level, sometimes

going so far as to double the number of experience points needed to advance to each level. Given that the actual work that a player has

to do to gain experience hasn't changed much, this can get real old real fast.

Typically, when designing the curve, designers say something like, "It's so steep that I guarantee it will take 6 months to reach level 100!"

Also typically, this is often initially compounded by extreme penalties for failure, such as steep death penalties that can undo hours or

even days of work.

The problem then, of course, is that your game starts to feel a lot more like work than fun. The results of this are stark:

Players come to resent your game and your staff— The tedium of doing the same action over and over again eventually

wears on the players. It doesn't matter how fun that particular activity is either—once you've done it eight hours a day for a

week to get to your next milestone, it's just not that thrilling anymore.

Hard-core gamers devour your game faster and demand more— To your hard-core gamers, the whole concept of

needing six months to get to your highest level is a joke—they figured out how to get there in three months with their first

character, and can now do it in one month with their new characters.

Casual gamers feel they cannot compete— Seeing another player display remarkable power can actually inspire you to try

to reach that plateau yourself—unless, of course, you realize that it would take you six months to get halfway there. At that

point, casual gamers and weekend warriors decide whether or not it's worth it to even try.

Your game narrows— Because it takes so much time and effort to make a tiny gain, it begins to feel as if every moment of

your life where you are not doing that activity is wasted time. As a result, other features of your game fall away. These

features typically offer no reward or aren't very efficient ways of reaching that reward. The best example is when players say

that they "can't role-play" in your game space. You can role-play anywhere, even in a parking lot with a broken broom handle.

What players are saying is that role-playing takes too much time away from the daily grind, which they feel compelled to do

every moment online.

Bandwidth costs go through the roof— Finally, this us the reason your bosses will care. Bandwidth is one of the largest

costs of running an online game. If your gameplay is encouraging players to log on for eight hours at a time, you are reducing

the amount of money you can spend on other things, including additional content, better support, or even development on

other games.

The end result of this is player fatigue, a situation where the player is sick to death of the game but unwilling to leave. And why

shouldn't they be sick of the game? After all, he or she has played the game 5 to 10 times as much as we would expect anyone to enjoy

a single-player game. However, the connections the player has to other friends, and the blood, sweat, and tears that the player has

devoted to building online characters at that point prevents him or her from leaving. Yes, you then have a whole bunch of paying

subscribers, but are they happy? Are they having fun? Or have they become poisonous enemies of the state?

[ Team LiB ]

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Chapter 16. Case Study: Online Game Lifecycles

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