Game Settings that don't sell

I have been teaching a lot of students recently and one topic came up again which I think should be common knowledge, but unfortunately it isn't: Which themes or settings in games do not sell? Which settings do sell well?

I am a big fan of "CNN" compatible  settings, in other words all settings people are used to from watching big TV are fine for games usually, but remember that popularity varies from continent to continent. As settings are very broad it is easier to tell developers which do NOT sell. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule...

If you have access to sales data reaching back for years you can verify this easily:

Underwater doesn't sell
It is a common misconception that underwater sells. It usually doesn't with the exception of submarine simulations, and even the simulation genre is pretty dead (Flight sims aside). It is a sexy setting, feels like space sims but with more interesting possibilities. But somehow people do not feel well underwater. It is a surounding not many of us are comfortable or experienced with. If we dive we usually have our eyes closed or the view range is limited. We mostly know underwater from TV documentaries.
Not feeling comfortable is key here to the setting. People simply like their natural habitat more than underwater. So my recommendation is if you plan to place your game underwater: don't.

Wild West doesn't sell
The classic western theme either from hollywood or the european vision of it doesn't work. I don't know exactly why but somehow it seems the wild west is a part of american history the americans tend to forget as it wasn't very civilized during those times. The romantic view we europeans have due to books or movies is very misleading. Hint for germans: Karl May educated a whole generation about the Wild West which doesn't work for americans.
I think the setting is also pretty old. In my younger times Wild West was cool, as were pirate films. Nowadays a younger generation of  kids like the setting but pretty fast loose interest when Bruce Willis, Batman or Spiderman replaces their picture of heroes. 
Pirate settings did fall into the same category but the recent hits of pirate movies did push sales in this setting a bit. But putting the movie license aside a pure pirate settings is a bad idea if not taken into the correct historical setting.

Sci Fi usually doesn't work
Thats a suprise for many but hard core Sci Fi usually doesn't work. Strangely Sci Fi has many facettes where some of them work quite well. If your setting is close to current living but with a touch of future technology it works very well. If you reach far out into the future the likelyhood that your game works is lessened considerably.
Some years ago Fantasy would have been listed here as well, but Lord of the Rings educated a world what classic fantasy is all about followed by the recent hits of books like Harry Potter or Eragon did their job as  well. Even my mom now knows what an Elf is.
With Sci Fi there hasn't been a major hit recently to educate the masses. Star Wars is long time ago and Clone Wars is aimed at a young audience. But even Star Wars is merely a shakespeare story in another setting, so it works. 
This setting is the only one which you can use if you follow some rules that you aren't too far off from human experience. 

Many readers might not agree with Sci Fi being a bad choice but think about it: why does Call of Duty outsell Unreal or Prey?


Teut's Trivia

Teut Weidemann appears in a classic game of the 80's. Can you name it? Win a prize! (and no it's not MUDS, where is he appearing too)


In case you missed it ...

Some weeks ago I was invited to be interviewed by Chaos Radio Express, a podcast, to talk about the game industtry in general. So if you missed it here it is: (german language)


WAR Patch 1.01 - Fix and Break

If you ever wanted to know how complicated it is to operate a MMO you just touched the surface. Its a huge task to operate the servers, the customers, the billing, and the development.

The development has to service at least 3 versions of the game at once. The current live version might need emergency patches (exploits, crashes). The current patch you are working on is another and is very near the live version. And there is the future large patch you are working on, new features and expansions. Can you imagine how complex it is to merge those versions to make a stable patch? Its tough and to be honest if there wasn't Perforce I wouldn't know how this can be done.

But developing a new version is one side. The other side is worse: Testing is a nightmare. A MMO is a complex game, so if you change fundamental things how do you test the beast? It's nearly impossible to test all sides of a live MMO and it gets worse the older the game gets: complexity is added nearly every month.

So it is natural that bugs slip by, some hidden ones and some obvious ones where you ask yourself: why did they overlook this one?

A blog has some aspects listed of the recent Warhamemr Online Patch 1.01, and if you don't know this blog check it out, its pretty nifty: Keen & Graev's Gaming Blog

Holy Warriors Guild Meeting

Holy Warriors is my World of Warcraft guild. One of our members organized a guild meeting some time ago. I thought not many people would go but as it turned out over 40 people showed up. We definately want to repeat this! We had fun, lots of fun (and drinks ...)

If you look at the mix of members in our guild we have everything: Young, middle aged, short, tall, male, female.

Check some pictures of the meeting in my picasa album: Holy Warrios Guild Meeting

Before we met I had  predicted that a guild meeting usually causes "Guild Drama" and one or more members will quit shortly after it. At first it didn't look that way. Many online friends became real friends, it bonded us together. But shortly after that some people did leave the guild, for various reasons. Strangely enough most of the members who quit did NOT attend the guild meeting. Coincidence?

Shutting down MMO's

Usually MMO's aren't shut down within the first years. I was surprised to see news about Codemasters shutting down one of theirs. Its all due to license problems. But how shortsighted is this to license a MMO for just a short period of time? Some business guy didn't pay attention and mixed up retail games with MMO's.

Note: Ultima Online is still running after 12 years of operation, with profits I might say. Sometimes if a game shows its age (like Meridian did) it might get shut down, but a game only online for two years? (RF Online was launched november 2007)


Western View on MMO Population

There are serveral statements from important people among the MMO creators that a launch of a new MMO doesn't hurt their player base. There is Age of Conan which didn't hurt World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings was unimpressed too. Now Warhammer Online shipped and neither games seem to be impressed or are loosing players, still WAR claims to have 500.000 players only weeks after launch.

Why are people worried about players moving? Because they see their own view playing their favourite MMO and maybe switching with their friends. What they seem to forget is how many MMO's are out there. We see our western created MMO's as the prime of the market, but to be honest they aren't. Measured on population there are MMO's in Asia which are far bigger than World of Warcaft. If you count non fantasy MMO's too the population of Warcraft seem to be small compared against the playerbase of for example Neopets Online.

There are many fantasy MMO's free to play out there too. And every week I am stumbling over more. Many of them are localised versions of Korean MMO's, some aren't. Still there are so many free massive online games out there that you might wonder why they didn't hurt the population of WoW, WAR or AoC. 

The answer is simple: target audience. Casual Gamers vs. Hardcore vs. "Hey I am new here, what is a MMO?". I heard once a statement from Blizzard that many of their WoW gamers claim that WoW is their first game they have played. Thats a big statement and worth considering why WoW attracts those people. Some hints: WoW runs on old machines, its very easy to use and explains everything you need to play it. At level 1 you need 3 buttons and a mouse, thats all. Compare that to the complexity in WAR or AoC.

Anyway, my summary is simple: no new MMO launch will hurt the player base of an existing MMO much. If a playerbase is diminishing look for other reasons.


WAR(hammer) Online, MMO in silence

As some of you know I am a WoW addict. Yes, I admit it. As my main character is level 70 with full T6 epic I got really nothing much to do in the current edition of WoW. You don't know what I am talking about? Then this article might be not for you.

Anyway, after having reached my goals of all important  items for my level 70 priest (healer)  I got interested for a while in my old character, a hunter. After some "twink runs" and other instances he got decent equip. My raid invited him once as we had too many healers and I reached top spots in the damage meter. So he isn't quite as bad as twinks used to be.

So its natural that I needed some small distraction from WoW. One weekend my girlfriend and I got bored from playing WoW  (yes she plays MMO's, what a woman! And yes she looks good :). So I rushed to a local game store before it closed and bought two copies or Warhammer Online (WAR for short) just to test the 30 day free trial.

Yes, WAR is good, but it is very different from WoW. The first thing you'll notice is that its not as deep as WoW. Less details, a lot of shortcuts. For example when you accept a quest your map will show you exactly where to go. You can even click on the quest marking of the map and a tome will open explaining you the quest. Its questing for noobs. In WoW there is always a lot of talk in the chat about "where can I find XYZ" or "Anyone want to help with quest ABC?". The intelligent map in WAR got rid of that. 

Result: Silence. Utter silence. No one talks. Its strange. 

Yes, if you group or raid there is talk but even then less than in WoW. As many things got "noobyfied" in WAR there isn't a lot to talk about, not even boss tactics. Tank and spank, thats it most of the time. No special talents needed, strategies etc.

Silence. Thats strange for a MMO isn't it. Don't get me wrong, WAR is a good game but appeals to a different crowd. If you like a complex MMO with deep story, tons of stuff and tactics to discover and lots of things to do go for WoW. If you love PvP, large scale castle sieges and tons of stuff to kill go for WAR. Its hard to compare these two but luckily WAR isn't competing with WoW.

The major concern I havewith WAR  is questing. Its boring as hell, all quests are identical: go A, kill B, collect C. Yes, in WoW many quests are like that but looking into the expansion Wrath of the Lich King the quality of questing has risen tenfold. Even compared to questing in Burning Crusade the WAR experience is lacking.

Additionally my major concern is that questing isn't necessary at ALL in WAR. You don't need to. Go PvP instead, you get more experience for loosing battlefields than for 3 quests! "But the drops and equipment ..." you say. Well, more PvP means more faction level which grants you access to equipment far superior to all quest items or drops. Believe me, don't quest, go PvP, its faster in levelling too.

So WAR is a PvP levelling experience and it does it well. Go for it if you love PvP and specially open PvP or castle sieges. They rock.

Want an experience like a single player RPG but the added social component and end game raids? Go for WoW.