Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Letting Things Settle

As the absence of posts about the game suggests, of late I haven't been playing New World much. Or at all. 

I didn't stop enjoying it or anything like that. I was having a fine old time. I had plenty of ideas about what to do next, like levelling to sixty (Only a handful of levels to go.) and getting my lovely, new Mourningdale home into shape.

All that happened was that EverQuest II's Visions of Vetrovia arrived and I started playing it right away. I always knew it would bump New World down the daily log-on list but I wasn't quite prepared for how hard the bump would be.

Most years, around this time, I find myself playing a lot more EQII than I have for a few months but usually I manage to keep up with at least one other mmorpg at the same time. This year I've really not done much else besides my dailies in Guild Wars 2 (Never miss those.) 

I've not only been playing EQII consistently but my sessions have been significantly longer than usual. You don't get a handy timer like you do when you play games through Steam (That would be one good reason to use Steam as a portal even for games that have their own launchers, I guess. EQII is on Steam after all...) so I can't say for sure exactly how long I've put in but it feels like some days I might have played for six hours or more. That's a lot for me, these days.

It doesn't look as though that's going to change this side of Christmas and maybe not until the New Year. I have a lot I want to do. I haven't even finished the Adventure Signature questline on a single character yet. I do want to get back to New World at some point, though, if only to see how things are now.

Wilhelm has a very interesting post up about the state of play on his server. I contributed a lengthy comment to the thread that follows the post. I won't rehash all of it here but I would like to add just a couple of points.

My take on New World three months or so from launch is that Amazon have the foundations of a very solid, enjoyable, interesting mmorpg but that there's still a great deal more work for them to do. It does seem that every new studio has to rediscover the same things all the others learned years ago, even when, as in this case, most of the people making the game actually came from some of those studios and must surely  have been involved in very similar situations before.

Live game players never behave like alpha or beta players so things that worked well in testing end up having to be revised or even scrapped altogether. No matter whether the game sets out to cater for raiders, PvPers, crafters or soloists, you can pretty much bet all the special interest groups will be unhappy with what they're given.

No matter how well or badly a game seems to be doing at the start, there are always more people willing to buy it than there are willing to go on playing it for weeks or months. There's always some  congestion at launch followed by attrition a few weeks later. As soon as population declines, everyone will claim the game is dead or dying, despite the life-expectancy of most mmorpgs being measured in years not weeks. The bigger the initial rush, the more doom-laden the prophecies as things shake out.

If an mmorpg ever does manage to grab and hold the attention of a large audience, that very stabilty itself will be seen as stasis and stagnation. Games like that just disappear from the public discourse even though they may go on serving a satisfied core for years. Games that trundle along, giving players what they want, don't make good news stories.

New World is already suffering from all of these problems and more. 

The current word coming out of the studio is that solo players aren't being sufficiently catered for. More content is coming their way, just as soon as someone can make it. I don't remember there being much talk in beta about solo content at all so that's presumably in reaction to feedback from the Live game.

The endgame, such as it is, in turmoil. The developers' vision seems somewhat at odds with the players' and in a tussle like that there's only ever one winner. Players play the game how they want to play it, not how they're told they should. If they can't, they leave.

Server merges are already beginning, which is a good thing. It used to be thought a bad look but these days I believe most players prefer quick merges to face-saving attempts to pretend every server is viable, when it clearly isn't

As Wilhelm points out in the post, New World has more of an issue with falling populations than most mmorpgs due to the inherant reliance of the game on a critical mass of active players to do a lot of the heavy lifting normally done by NPCs and general infrastructure. If you make a game where everything from crafting stations to trade relies one hundred per cent on players to sustain itself then you can't really expect anything to function without them.

All of this is fixable. It's been done before. We know Amazon factored in server merges from the get-go. They tested the system in beta. As for the unsustainable crafting system, that's easily solved.

EQII had a crafting system at launch that relied almost entirely on crafters making items for other crafters to use in their crafting. Even today, a decade and a half or more later, you can find people who'll tell you it was amazing and it should come back.

The reason that's never going to happen is that most players hated it, making crafting just one item on a long list of things players hated about the game in its first year. They showed their displeasure by leaving, mostly to go and play World of Warcraft, which inconveniently launched at the same time.

Despite that stumbling start, EQII did not close down. It changed. So did Elder Scrolls Online, which was poorly-received at first. Final Fantasy XIV famously closed just long enough for a total re-write, then re-opened to begin the long, slow climb to the pre-eminent status it enjoys today. 

There are lots more similar, if not always as spectacular, examples. Most of the mmorpgs I've played have gone through many changes, often most notably in their first year or two. Perhaps the hardest thing to fix are player expectations, something that's rarely if ever satisfied, but the willingness to throw bones to special interest groups as soon as they begin to complain suggests this team might be better-placed to manage it than some we've seen. If anything kills an mmorpg it's stubborness, as Wildstar could tell you, if it was still around.

New World has plenty of time to get things right and it's in a much better position than most. For one thing, Amazon has the deepest of all pockets. Also, as Wilhelm observes, Steam still shows the game with a concurrency above 100,000 even after the arrival of Endwalker and as Kiantremayne says in the comments, it needs to be stressed that that's the concurrent number of players, not everyone who's still playing. That's an extremely solid set of numbers for an mmorpg.

Yes, it's not ideal that ten weeks or so after launch New World has shed the great majority of its active players but it's not a subscription game. It's buy-to-play and a million people bought it. They can all play whenever the mood takes them. That's the point of buy-to-play. Many of those players will be back if Amazon offers them the right encouragement. 

I will. I'm very curious to see what the new solo content's going to be and I'm not going to miss the first annual Winter Convergence festival, although they'd better hurry up with that or it's going to need a new name (As if it doesn't already.). I'd also like to find out who owns what in the ever-shifting territorial land-grab that passes for PvP on my server.

So, yes, I'll definitely be back but I'm not in any particular hurry. I'm confident the game will still be there when I have time for it. It's going to be very interesting to watch how it develops over the months and years to come. That's the thing about mmorpgs, after all. They change.

It's when they stop changing you need to start worrying.


  1. New World is interesting because, unlike some other MMOs on Steam, it is 100% on that platform, so we get a constant update on concurrent players. The only other title we get that for is EVE Online, and it barely passes 30K on a good day, so if New World is topping 100K on a Tuesday, their player numbers are respectable. We'll just have to see what is next on their plan. I think I have an idea into that, something for my 2022 predictions.

    1. It is interesting to have an mmorpg where we can see the population numbers pretty clearly for once. I've been used to guesswork and handwaving for so long I'm not quite sure what to do with all these facts.

    2. @Bhagpuss - we'll do what people usually do with facts. Misinterpret them to support the conclusions we've already leapt to!

  2. The biggest danger for New World is that if they take much of the player feedback (at least as determined by the most energetic threads on the forums and Reddit) at face value, they'll get the impression that what players want is "more like WoW" - or at least "more like WoW When It Was Good". There's definitely work to be done addressing pain points and fleshing out the game, but I hope it remains its own creature.

    1. I sometimes get the feeling that what all players in every mmorpg want is "WoW, when it was good". Either that or, if they're really old, "EQ when i t was good" or "UO when it was good". Those three games pretty much dominate the concept of what a "good" mmorpg ought to be, even now. Even mush of the praise for FFXIV, which is setting the current standard, often gives the impression of the subtext "It's WoW done properly". I'm not sure any of those models is entirely appropriate for New World, although I have said a number of times that it reminds me a lot of EQ.


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