Betting on Failure Cascades

Tobold's been talking about how Age of Conan and Warhammer have been busy imitating World of Warcraft. He thinks that the developers are shooting themselves in the foot by providing a too similar experience to WoW. He's probably right, since the network effect is currently working in WoW's favor. However, there may be more to it than meets the eye. I think that FunCom and Mythic are betting that Wrath of the Lich King flops.

People do play WoW because their friends/family/coworkers play it. Breaking the network effect is hard, but it's not impossible. At some level, Blizzard does realize this. The old model was to funnel the whole player base towards high-end raid content. Homogenizing the player base is not unlike putting all your eggs in one basket. If you make old PvE content obsolete and your new PvE content is a major disappointment, your risk alienating a large percentage of your player base. If there's a viable alternative available that's praised by early adopters, the network effect could remanifest as a failure cascade, where the exodus grows exponentially. WoW doomsayers have been summoning this exodus for quite some time now, but so far it has not reached critical mass. This is why Blizzard has been promoting PvP more and more, because this reduces the overall risk. If your PvErs jump ship, the PvPers could stay put.

If AoC or WAR were only seen as good PvP games, many disillusioned WoW PvErs would not see them as viable alternatives. But if they provide incentives in the form of decent PvE games, they could attract both PvErs and PvPers and thus increase the chance that WotLK's failure cascade would direct all of those potential customers to them.

It's a risky bet, though. Like Tobold points out, there is a real danger that AoC and WAR will be simply seen as cheap copies of WoW. And even if Tycho threatens to sing if people point that out, it's still a valid point.

1 comment:

Gwaendar said...

I think that FunCom and Mythic are betting that Wrath of the Lich King flops.

If you wager several millions in development money on the hope that your competitor might screw up, you deserve to go out of business.