Posts Tagged ‘Business’

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The Great PvP Debate

March 8, 2008

The PvP debate is not by any stretch a new phenomenon in World of Warcraft, but some of the recent announcements made by Blizzard concerning the rewards that will come with the next patch and an e-sports dedicated server suggest that PvP will play a bigger part in WoW’s future. If players had a sneaking suspicion this was the case, the evidence becomes even stronger following last week’s report on Activision on Gamasutra. At the Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium 2008 Conference (sounds like fun, eh) Bobby Kotick, Activision’s CE, bragged about the future success of his company following on from their merger with Vivendi. Of particular interest to this debate is this quote “They [Blizzard] have a model that is very well developed, they have a very keen understanding of their audiences, and they’re just scratching the surface of opportunity in a lot of areas” and “The business has grown so much… that [Blizzard], like us, have tried to prioritize opportunity, and that probably has been at the expense of expanding [average revenue per user] to the few million hardcore, rabid hobbyist enthusiast World of Warcraft fans who would pay substantially more than probably what they’re paying today for enhanced services like character transfers.”

There have been some pretty shocked reactions at Kotick’s assertions about WoW and the MMO industry, particularly his statement that it would cost anywhere between $500million and a $1billion to successfully compete with WoW which has been derided on almost every blog I’ve read on the subject. So what is Kotick on about in the quotes above? The bit where he says ‘they’re (Blizzard) just scratching the surface of opportunity in a lot of areas’ sounds very much like a nod to the continued emphasis on PvP. The second quote however seems to suggest that Blizzard are realising that they’re pissing off some hardcore players by making rewards (which let’s face it are the heart of the game for most players) easier for less hardcore players to get their hands on, leading WoW Insider to ask the question: are raiders obsolete?

There are counter arguments of course (here and here) and Blizzard *are* gradually making raiding easier by removing attunements, improving badge rewards and even nerfing some raid bosses like Magtheridonut but there is no doubt that PvP rewards are getting better, and it’s easier to do battlegrounds and join an arena team than it is to get a 25 man or even a 10 man raid together. Raiding is costly (potions and repairs), requires dedicated blocks of time, a lot of setup time and organisation and requires success on the part of players, very little is gained for ‘losing’ to a raid boss, other than experience.

As Tobold rightly points out, there is no fundamental reason there are a lot of WoW players doing PvP, it’s just that it’s easier to get better items because you odn’t need to go through the hell of trying to organise raiding parties week in and week out and pay the earth in gold for potions and repairs. Tobold sees the root of the problem as the difficulty players have in getting committed groups together, which is undoubtedly an issue, but only the start of the solution. Sure you’d quickly find 10 or 25 or even 5 players do tackle some group content, but what if you wipe seven times on the raid/instance boss (or even worse, the trash)? Cameron on Random Battle thinks an entirely seperate WoW PvP game is the answer.

For me it isn’t so much about the rewards that players get, but the ease with which they can get them, this is the beauty of PvP, you win even if you lose. Blizzard would do well to design raid rewards so that they players get something worthwhile even if they only take out the trash. Take Gruul’s Lair for example a small pots Karazhan and Zul’aman 25-man raid. The trash should drop enough gold to cover wipe repairs, say 250 gold between the first three trash ogres and should also drop a selection of potions and flasks (or maybe just the ingredients required for them) that could either be sold on the Auction House or kept in the guild bank for future raids, this might annoy alchemists a little, but I know for a fact there is often a shortage of flasks and pots on the AH, at least there is on my server. If this continues to be a problem, make the pots/flasks specific to an instance (like the Ogri’la reputation rewards). My first rule would be: make sure trash covers the basic costs of raiding. Even if the raid group doesn’t down a boss, they shouldn’t feel as though they’ve actually lost anything. Raid bosses should give staggered rewards, so if the party manage to take out Kiggler the Crazed and Blindeye the Seer then wipe they should get gold to cover most of the cost of the wipeand maybe a BoE blue or two (for less advanced players or for disenchanting), if on the second attempt they manage to take out all of Maulgar’s Council but wipe on Maulgar himself, the gold rewards should be significantly higher as should the potions or ingredients, maybe another half decent blue as well. Taking out Maulgar would of course drop the desired epics. With a raid boss like Gruul, the party should be rewarded even if they wipe based on the percentage of hit points he has remaining. For example, at 25% 125gold and 2 pots/flasks, at 50% 200 gold, 3 pots/flasks a blue BoE item, at 75% 250 gold, 4 pots/flasks, two blue BoE items etc. So my second rule would be: reward improvements against raid bosses even if they are not defeated.

Sure, this idea could be exploited by players who have the instance on farm, but limiting the number of times you can get these rewards would go someway to solving this problem and yes there would be more gold floating round the WoW economy but I’m sure Blizzard could think of a new time/gold sync to soak it up (player/guild housing anybody?).

The other point I wanted to make was what the hell was Kotick on about when he talks about “the few million hardcore, rabid hobbyist enthusiast World of Warcraft fans who would pay substantially more than probably what they’re paying today for enhanced services like character transfers.” Does he seriously think anyone would pay a higher subscription fee for this kind of ‘service’? A one off payment, sure, but $20 instead of $15 – no way. What hardcore players would like is to have their dedication recognised, not get taken advantage of for their loyalty.

I can almost picture the scene:

WoW player 1: ‘See that Tauren in the T6 with the legedary weapon’

WoW player 2: ‘Yeah, what about him?’

WoW player 1: ‘Total noob’

WoW player 2: looks confused

WoW player 1: ‘hasn’t got an enhanced services premium account, see?’

WoW player 2: looks confused

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Virtual Worlds Forum 07: an overview

October 28, 2007

So the first Virtual Worlds Forum has come and gone and overall I’m happy to say I thought it went very well, even if I did have to get up at 7.30 in the morning to make it on time. One of the most surprising things about the conference was the sheer number of ‘suited’ men present, easily more than 50%, maybe as much as 80%. I guess some of the suited men could be counted as suited geeks, but I assume it represents the degree to which the business world is taking virtual worlds seriously.

Given that I keep a very sharp eye on what’s going on in the world of virtual worlds I still managed to come across ‘new news’ and there were some very good debates that I wish had gone on longer than they did. By far the best of these panels was the last one on Wednesday afternoon: ‘The future is blurred: social networking meets virtual worlds’ that featured notable personalities like Cory Doctorow and Aleks Krotoski, to name but two, during which the differences, similarities and possibilities for crossover were thrashed out in an entertaining manner, thanks largely to Cory Doctorow’s witty metaphors. I was happy to note that Corey Bridges, co-founder of the Multiverse Network, refused to make a distinction between virtual worlds and MMORPGs, instead putting ‘game worlds’ and ‘social worlds’ under the umbrella term ‘virtual worlds’. What wasn’t really debated was the degree to which most so-called ‘social virtual worlds’ rely on games as a core way for players to generate currency with which to participate in the virtual world economy and the social play this entails. The real difference between a World of Warcraft and a Club Penguin (apart from the demographic) is the existence of a pre-determined narrative, but more on that in a future post. I was also very pleased to see Corey repeatedly state that, thus far, World of Warcraft is the most successful virtual world, in business terms and by and large player numbers.

There were also some interesting new virtual worlds on show, the two that caught my eye in particular were MoiPal, from Ironstar Helsinki, and Papermint from Avaloop. The former is a web and mobile phone virtual world, with the usual avatar creation and personalisation process, the difference being that your avatar, or ‘Pal’ as Joachim Achren described it, has some agency of its own so when you’re not in world it wanders off to new places and makes new friends along the way. Upon return to MoiPal’s world you’ll find messages and pictures from your Pal about his or her adventures and a list of new friends. Papermint, a very stylish 2D/3D virtual world, was described as a ‘social gaming’ world by Barbara Lippe. I’m not quite sure what the range of games available are, but Barbara told me there was a game where you could ‘have sex’ and ‘give birth’ although I’m not sure whether she was winding me up a little on that one.

The news earlier this year that Mindark, makers of Entropia Universe, had licensed their software to CRD (Cyber Recreational District) funded by the Chinese government was big, and at the conference we got the chance to hear a little more about it. Although I’m still not 100% certain of all the details as Robert Lai’s presentation was rather rushed, I spoke to Robert and Frank Campbell and Christian Bjorkman from Mindark and they explained that the Chinese virtual world will be part of the Entropia Universe in the form of different planets (hence the ‘universe’ moniker) and that the business model will be built on both virtual and real world goods, although again I’m not certain exactly how this will operate. Being a large state sponsored organisation I asked abou the size of the Chinese MMO market, which I was told stood at about 9 million (a large market, but a small percentage of the population) so I was interested to know if there was a large marketing budget which I was assured that there definitely was. Frank also noted that as the virtual world market expands marketing budgets would have to grow across the industry.

As an industry and business event the outlook was as you’d expect very positive and a bright future was envisioned by all. Well almost all. The second of the opening keynotes speeches on Wednesday by Lord Triesman of Tottenham, on the subject of IP rights was perhaps a little on the conservative side for many in the room, the whole issue being something of a grey area for the virtual worlds industry. His assumption that it was business that needed protecting from IP abuses was rather naive given the ambiguous nature of property in this context. Richard Bartle also brought things down to earth in the closing panel debate on the future of virtual worlds. His concerns included the dilution of virtual worlds through an overcrowded market, the loss of virtual world building skills and the many misunderstandings about what virtual worlds are by newcomers to the industry. As co-inventor of virtual worlds back in the late 70s, I can’t imagine what it must be like for him to see what his playful and experimental creation has evolved into.

The final thing I want to mention was the presence of the Electric Sheep Company, who were unsurprisingly keen to promote the CSI:NY – Second Life crossover project they continue to work on. The first episode of the tie-in aired on Wednesday night, unfortunately over in the UK we won’t see this for some time, but according to the ESC staff  present the opening night had gone very well. Grace McDunnough of Phasing Grace blog notes two reports on new sign-ups – 200 every five minutes and 13,000 per hour, which sounds fairly significant, although if you read the comments in Grace’s post that is purportedly somewhat less than was expected. It would be interesting to know how many people downloaded the OnRez viewer to support these figures. Incidentally, for some in depth info on this collaboration go to Henry Jenkins’ blog where you’ll find a detailed two-part interview with ESC (part 1 and part 2). The transmedia angle was also one that was little discussed at the conference, although, again, I’m sure this will be a big topic of debate at future Virtual World Forums.

For more detailed write-ups of the Virtual Worlds Forum, check out the Techdigest blog, they were blogging as the talks/panels/showcases were happening. There are also podcasts from some of the talks on the Virtual Worlds Forum website (day 1 and day 2).

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Putting the Transmedia in Virtual Worlds

October 17, 2007

The only reason I use the word ‘transmedia’ without flinching is because Henry Jenkins bandies the word around as though it never was in fashion. And also because no-one has thought up a less crap alternative, so I will proceed to use it without shame.

I was aware that there was some kind of CSI-virtual world crossover event, but the details announced at last week’s Virtual Worlds conference in San Jose sound even more interesting than I expected. Anthony Zuiker’s (CSI’s creator) ambitious and ARG-like approach to Second Life is extremely refreshing, he seems to have grapsed how 3D interactive spaces can be used to augment stories and therefore take their audience with them. This is something I’ve been excited about seeing attempted for some time as I’m sure is the case for many others. One of Second Life’s biggest failings for me has been its lack of ‘narative’, for want of a better word. The roleplaying sims tend to be fairly exclusive and even adventures/quests, like IBM’s black box feel low key because there seem to be no buzz surrounding it, taking away the feeling that as a participator you’re part of something big.

It will be interesting to see just how successful something as mainstream and old media as CSI will be in the virtual world context. I have my fingers crossed though, because should it work it will undoubtedly open the gates for many other fiction driven IPs to try similar things. As Reuben Steiger CEO of Millions of US stated “What doesn’t really exist are case studies that we can point to … and say,’ Look, here’s a hit that was produced out of this fledgling media’… There are ideas out there that are really, really exciting, but they’re going to require risk taking. The more hits we have, the less risky it will seem.” Naturally, not every TV show will necessarily be able to pull something this big off but there are plenty of alternatives, for example Kaneva have the rights to recreate the Family Guy house in in-world, where users can watch family guy epsiodes, for example.

A concern that crossed my mind was that the potentially mass audience that CSI migh introduce to Second Life would be lost once they tried to figure out the notoriusly difficult-to-use interface. Zuiker stressed that he intends to make it as easy for the Second Life virgin as possible through “shorter download times and an avatar of Zuiker to walk visitors through the virtual Manhattan” , but the big news is Electric Sheep Company’s OnRez viewer that claims to dramatically simplify the UI experience. This is significant , and long overdue, news in itself so it’s no surprise that it ‘s not the only web browser available, Japan’s 3Di recently announced the Alpha of their Movable Life viewer, albeit with mixed reception from users, InDuality’s web browser is also compatible with Club Penguin, Blink 3D and X3D, and back in July a UK student pulled together a Ajax Second Life browser.

Together with Metaplace, Whirled and the BB’s TV-virtual world crossover, 2008 promises to be a very interesting year for virtual worlds although not all agree that the encroachment of big, old media into previously ‘native’ communities is such a great thing, the former examples make it easy for users to make their own virtual worlds without necessarily giving access to large companies, so it sounds possible that there will be something for everybody.

In other Transmedia news, the first few pages of the World of Warcraft comic are on show at MTV’s Multi Player blog and Halo 3 scares the movie industry!

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The untimely death of ‘orcs and elves’

October 4, 2007

Virtual worlds news has an oddly titled article by the name of ‘virtual worlds are overtaking the games industry‘. Oddly titled because it rather falsely distinguishes between, ‘game’ MMOs and ‘social’ virtual worlds, a distinction I’m thoroughly opposed to and I’m glad to say Raph Koster agrees with me on this one. The biggest difference between World of Warcraft and MMOS like Barbiegirls, Habbo or Second Life is that the former requires a lot more space on your hard drive and is therefore a lot prettier. I would add that it requires a better specced computer but Second Life also requires a pretty good rig to run it with even a modicum of smoothness.

So the point of this article seems to be that ‘social’ virtual worlds will bring about the death of ‘game’ MMOs. Hmm. Yes, Habbo has 7.5 million users, but World of Warcraft has 9 million, Barbiegirls.com had 4 million sign-ups, how many of those that will stick with it is unknown especially with soon-to-be launched rival Be-bratz. The article also fails to mention Runescape which is a hugely popular browser MMO with something in the realm of 5 million users and is squarely set in the traditional ‘orcs and elves’ fantasy environs.

Quoted in the piece was Christopher Sherman, Executive director of the upcoming Virtual Worlds Fall Conference and Expo, who states that “The game industry may have created the idea of online entertainment, but the days of orcs and elves ruling the online space is drawing to a close. There will always be a place for platforms that just want to allow users to play a game together, but now interaction is key. Community is key. The content revolves around and facilitates the community. Treating the online environment like less of a game and more of community or virtual world is key. Major media companies are now looking at anything they do as online entertainment – with a virtual world tied to it.”

To be fair to the context of this quote, it all sounds like a PR blurb designed to make virtual worlds sound more mainstrea- friendly, but I think the marketing distinction between virtual worlds and MMOs is probably more damaging than helpful. Interestingly the first presentation at this months Virtual Worlds Forum conference in Europe asks ‘Virtual worlds, MMOs, ARGs – what’s the difference? ‘ so we’ll see if the speakers decide to tow the official line on this one.

My main problem with this distinction is that the virtual worlds Christopher namechecks aren’t simply socialising spaces. The main public spaces in Barbiegirls, Habbo and others like Gaia and Club Penguin are socially oriented and often consumer oriented, but games make up a significant proportion of the activities users can engage in, and it is these games that give users points/virtual currency with which they can buy virtual items. These games may be tailored to younger or female audiences but they are nonetheless games and are crucial to the virtual world economies and the status of players therewithin. One of the failings of Second Life, often quoted as the exemplary social virtual world, to increase its user base is that newcomers often quicjly tire of the world because there is nothing there to engage them. Anyone who’s spent any time in the orientation areas will be used to hearing/seeing new users asking ‘what can I do? where are the games?’.

Secondly, as Alice Taylor points out on her blog, players of World of Warcraft spend a great deal of their time shopping and socialising and some of the most prized objects are pets that are obtained through TCG cards not through completing quests or ‘fighting monsters’. The whole point of MMOs is to bring together social and gaming features as the two combined encourage greater engagement and longer playing hours, particularly when there are goals to be acheived, items to be won or purchased and social spaces in which to show them off. Of course ‘Community is key’ but I see little in the way of the organised guild structures you see in World of Warcraft emerging in Habbo or Club Penguin because these facilities currently don’t exist. MMOs There has more of these options available as users can organise their own events. Which isn’t to say that the social and community functions in MMOs like World of Warcraft are perfect, Tobold points out just some of the improvements that could be made, and new and upcoming features such as voice chat and guild banks seem to suggest that Blizzard are taking note.

If anything the community aspect of all MMOs needs to be considered in more depth. Kaneva CEO Christopher Klaus laments the lack of successful official MMO/game sites and suggests that the “overall community (should be built) into the game site itself” an idea that seems to run contrary to the web 2.0 UCG ethic that Christopher Sherman proposes. Maybe Klaus envisons something along the lines of the Halo 3 community features that allow players to send recorded game clips to one another for example. The point is that both gaming companies and virtual world companies need to look at the social engineering and community features they provide if they want users to stick with them, although it is improbable that this would stop users making their own websites and certainly shouldn’t be perceived as a ‘problem’.

By emphasising the social and the community aspects of virtual worlds/MMOs I get the feeling industry figures like Sherman and Klaus are trying to present them as graphic versions of social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, a sound stategy given their overwhelming success and value, but if they’re not careful the less well informed marketers will assume that games = bad, when the contrary is in fact true.

I have no doubt that open virtual world platforms like Metaplace and Whirled will successfully bring MMOs to the massess, but I also think games and gaming and the elements that make them so compelling such as competition, collaboration and status will be a crucial part of their success. Socialising is a compelling pull for todays’ huge web audience and has a proven track record, but I doubt that the engagement factor of socialising is as intense as it is when gaming. The much quoted avergae of 20 hours a week play time in World of Warcraft surely outnumber the time spent on Facebook by the most avid user. As Amy Jo Kim puts it: internet applications should follow game mechanics in order to be successful. Does anyone doubt that the success of Facebook is at least in part the numerous game-like apps that allow users to interact with each other in multiple ways?

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Web 3.0: a reality??

September 26, 2007

As if last week’s big reveal – Metaplace – wasn’t enough, this week rumours circulated that Google themselves were working on a virtual world/avatar program to be released later this year. Ars Technica probably has the most detailed account of what might be going on (remember nothing has been confirmed yet, other than that a ‘major internet company’ is beta tesing a new product that is in some way related to ‘3D modelling, videogaming’ and ‘virtual avatars’). Admittedly all the evidence points to the major internet company being Google, primarily the ASU connection and the gmail account question. But what form will this virtual world take? Metaversed states that ASU students have been testing a virtual world by the bame of ‘My World’ since last year, but don’t give any more details than that. The article emphasises the fact that Google Earth CTO Michel Jones stated that GE “would always remain true to the real world and not dive into the type of fantasy world that Second Life has become” leading to the question – so what’s the point?

However, ‘My World’ is not the same as Google Earth even if it makes use of it in some way. Everyone with any experience of virtual worlds knows that avatars, no matter how closely they are based on ‘real life’ selves will incorprate a degree of ‘fantasy’ even if it’s simply because of the stylistic limitations of the software used. More important then the form the virtual world will take, however is the relationship it will have to the broader online world. Metaplace will quite literally break boundaries by making all in-world objects and characters compatible with the web and vice versa (another great video here) making virtual worlds as portable and accessible as the web is now. Vastpark, which is just about to go into beta, is doing something very similar, although it is less apparent what degree of interoperability it will have with the rest of the web.

Google has always made it clear that its services are interoperable so I think it’s reasonable to expect a ‘My World’ link above the search box on your iGoogle page. The question will be: how far will Google take the interoperability? Will Google searches now come up with matches in ‘My World’ or at least give you the option to include or exclude this option? Will My World be a collaborativevirtual world allowing users to give access to world building tools to friends and colleagues? Will Chat be operable with Gmail and across virtual worlds (if it isn’t one huge virtual world)? If any of these feartures turn out to be available then the whole web 3.0 concept that once threatened to be no more than a parody might actually be a credible proposition.

New World Notes asks if MMOs will swallow the web or the web will swallow MMOs? To me it looks more like a Yin Yang with the boundaries between them being grey at best. If a virtual world is part of your Facebook page and your Facebook feeds part of your virtual world then whos’ to say what’s swallowed what?

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MMOSpace or virtual worlds 2.0: my thoughts on Metaplace

September 20, 2007

I wasn’t going to write about this week’s breaking news, Raph Koster’s Metaplace, but having seen this Youtube video I feel in a slightly better position to comment.

It’s only a short video, but if the tools are as easy to use as Raph implies then MMOs really could become the next phase of the socialnetworking trend, following in the footsteps of Myspace, Facebook etc. One of the examples Raph shows is an ‘apartment’ where “you can have friends over to chat” which immediately reminded me of the ‘miniroom’ in Cyworld, which, let’s remember, has 20 million users over in South Korea. This link is to the US version so you can see the similarity more clearly.

The language Raph uses to describe some of the features is intentionally lifted from web 2.0 lingo; when he demonstrates how to set up a virtual world he uses the term ‘style sheet’ “it’s a lot like a theme for a blog” he explains then he goes on to describe how you can import photos, music, video etc. Although the term UGC has been used to describe Metaplace, this is not the free form and slightly intimidating UGC of Second Life where items and environments are generated from scratch, but has more in common with the ‘bricolage’ of a Myspace page.

Admittedly if you look at the video carefully you can see that the page with the ‘stylesheets’ on is tabbed and the tab Raph focuses on is entitled ‘noob’, the next tab up is called ‘bring it!’ and the last tab ‘hardcore’. So we can surmise that Raph is showing us the ‘easy’ option, and the ‘hardcore’ option may be closer to the Second Life UGC model, if you check the Alpha sign up application form it does ask if you have any programming skills and if so what they are.

Clearly the real clincher in terms of web 2.0 similarities is the web-like capacity to build feeds through in-game items and link in-game items/spaces to the web through widgets and the like (not to mention the free movement of items between the virtual worlds in Metaplace itself). While Raph suggests that users can build their own ‘World of Warcraft’ if they wish, the obvious benefit is the simplicity of the platform which sounds no more difficult then setting up your own Facebook or Myspace page. As you may have noticed many brands/companies have their own Myspace/Facebook profiles not just because they’re seen to be an essential online presence but because they are cheap and easy to set-up and maintain, something that can’t be said for a Second Life presence, for example. Together with the web compatibility of Metaspace’s virtual worlds with the rest of the web, meaning that companies could have their users embed widgets into other personal web spaces, it seems like a done deal.

Of course, Metaspace isn’t unique in this capacity, as Alice Taylor points out there are other companies planning similar services, and there are companies like Koinup who are building social networking tools based on existing virtual worlds/MMOs, but Raph Koster’s ‘celebrity’ will certianly carry a lot of weight in bringing virtual worlds to the masses. We’ll just have to wait and see if these metaverse ideas bear the fruit they promise.

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For Love or Money? Making MMOs pay

September 18, 2007

Glad to be back after a very busy month. So what’s new…?

Virtual Worlds News has a whole series of blog entrieswith transcripts/notes from the Austin Game Developers Conference (AGDC) which are very interesting to read. This discussion of MMO subscription models managed to cover a whole host of other fascinating subjects so I recommend reading the whole thing. Personally, I feel that there are plenty of opportunities to do MMOs without the monthly subscription fee and the monthly subscription model it seems is becoming less of a norm. For example the up and coming online FPS Kwari will be buit around micropayments for guns, equipment and ammo, in return players receive money for succesful hits, the discovery of special items, and the completion of quests. Hellgate: London has opted for a standard free play option and a ‘premium’ option that requires a monthly subscription fee that gives better customer service and access to ‘elite’ items, new quests, monsters, areas etc. Both these approaches are very interesting, but clearly are as yet unproven (both games are in beta, I believe). The ‘success story’ for the conventional MMO is Guild Wars, which offers a free to play service following purchase of the initial game, with revenue built from the purchase of expansion packs. Although Guild Wars is rarely included in discussions of ‘successful MMOs’, Xfire’s recent data publication put it at the number 2 spot for MMOs, compared to Eve Online and Lord of the Rings Online at number 6 and number 8 respectively.

Raph Koster’s list of successful non-subscription based MMOs unsurprisingly focused on the less graphically superior examples, aimed at children, tweens and teens – Barbiegirls.com, Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel. All three have been very successful, with Barbiegirls.com registering over 4 million sign-ups in just a few months, Club Penguin being snapped up by Disney for $350 million and Habbo Hotel claims to have 7.5 million users. However, all bar Habbo Hotel are relatively new and their subscription models are in the long run unproven.

Beyond revenue, what is it that players of these games are actually getting out of them, are we seeing similar levels of blogging, forum chatting and machinima that are associated with an MMO like World of Warcraft? One thing I feel that Raph overlooks is that to engage with the most interesting features of many of these MMOs players need to pay a subscription fee or make some other kind of payment. A $6 subscription fee in Club Penguin will allow you to buy clothes for your penguin, and according to this article from 2006, 850,000 of Runescape’s 5 million user base pay the £3.20 for access to new areas, monsters, skills etc. that non-paying accounts don’t get.

If I understand this article correctly, Barbiegirls.com requires users to have purchased the MP3 player to access most of the important content which at approximately $75 (Canadian), the price of a boxed retail game, and with the promise of $9.99 accessory packs ‘free’ goes out of the window really.

While I appreciate Raph’s insistence that the typical computer game developer isn’t really clued in to ‘web 2.0’ themes, so far the players seem to have made up for that gap in the business model through UGC mediums, especially machinima. It might be fair to say that the models used by Barbiegirls.com and Habbo Hotel have more in common with web 2.0 practices but that may be out of a necessity to develop a business model that depends on players who, in the majority of cases, don’t own credit cards.

The big question concerning the success of these MMOs will be their response to the use of their IP outside the game environment. Runescape RMT abounds and there is plenty of Runescape machinima on Youtube, and Club Penguin seems to have a strong tradition of machinima that doesn’t seem to have slowed down following its purchase by Disney, but how will a home-grown IP like Barbie work in this kind’ve context. I found only one or two examples of Barbiegirls UGC on Youtube, which used stills rather than ‘action’ footage, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves and what Mattel’s response will be should any video cross into ‘unsuitable’ territory.