Tuesday, March 31

Blizzard taking cues from SOE, again?

Is Blizzard taking its cues from SOE, again?
Yesterday, I speculated that the new unnamed MMO project that Blizzard is working on will be a kiddie MMO. This makes a certain kind of sense. Blizzard really doesn't want to compete with its own product WOW. On the other hand when WOW inevitably declines, Blizzard prefer to scoop up the leavers with another MMO. Then there's the resurrected Diablo and Starcraft franchises

As The Cesspit points out, Blizzard is dividing its focus. Which is quite risky for a company who managed to excel at doing one thing very, very well. At one time. Of course the current Blizzard isn't anything like the pre-WOW wizard. Most of the people who stood at the crib of that monolith have long since left the company to try things on their own. Much like everyone has been doing ever since WOW gobbled up 80% of the western MMO market.
Cause that's how it is. Out of every 10 players of MMO's, for 8 of them WOW was their first and often only MMO so far. Maybe that's another part of why post-WOW MMO's don't do so well.

Lets face it, the existing market is pretty much filled up, mostly with/by WOW.

That's part of whywhy we've seen so many hybrid games dubbed MMO. Some of which in all conciousness couldn't get the RPG suffix attached. Basically the big houses have been aiming for other markets as Blizzard kinda got all of the classic MMORPG market now. Hence the rise and fall hybrid games like Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, The Chronicles of Spellborn and even WAR and AoC tried to appeal to outside the regular box customers . Anything different enough to appeal to a different type of player (i.e. not already WOWified) that you can still slap a recurring revenue stream on.
SOE took the lead on this with Planetfall, which is a Mecha/FPS/MMORPG crossover.

Trying to gather customers into the MMO fold (and thereby either the monthly subscription or micropayment revenues) from outside the classic demographics has met with greater and lesser success. Casual, often browserbased "mmo-ish" games have done well. There's 5 of them in Europe that already have more active gamers than WOW has. The hybrids and more classic MMO's have done less well, mostly because they're too close to WOW and suffer from that nearness in several ways. WOW tourists, competing with a polished 4-year old smooth ride, e.t.c.

SOE has been looking for new markets and alternative revenue streams more aggresively than any of the big MMO names. The Station Access, their somewhat clumsy G.I.R.L. programme, the equally clumsy but working Station Exchange and Livegamer RMT schemes, e.t.c. Whatever you feel about SOE, they are still pioneering 10 years after EverQuest came out.
While Blizzard perfected customer satisfaction and retention, areas SOE has a blindspot for, SOE has been looking onwards, also towards the next generation. For once I do not mean Next Gen Games in the sense of bigger, better engines e.t.c. but kiddies.

Free Realms, Free 2 Play but with both Station Access (buy stuff from SOE) and LiveGame (buy stuff from other gamers) firmly entrenched as core features, is firmly aimed at the younger players. Early teens. As every marketeer can tell you, teens have the most money to burn. Late teens are more liable to throw their allowances at clothes, dates, drugs and (in Europe) alcohol. In the US they get to throw money at cars/gasoline first. So it's better to get the early teens first. SOE isn't the first to come up with this, just as EverQuest wasn't exactly the first MMO, there's things like Hello Kitty Online, Lego World and others. Some of the already existing Fluff games target anyone with a penchant for furry, cuddly pink and pastels. If that doesn't raise a 6-12 year old girl in your mind there's something wrong with you.

Anyway, SOE's strategy has always been to get you in the fold with any one of their games and keep you there by getting you to go for Station Access and play their other games too. Free Realms is the next step. Catch you as young as possible, and try to hold on to you as you mature. Either staying in Free Realms, though I suspect there'll be an age gap so that young people and mature people will enjoy it. Much like certain books and movies are enjoyed by children and people of parent age, but generally scoffed at by people in their early twenties / late teens.

People tend to wonder what Blizzard's next MMO will be. Starcraft IP? Diablo IP. More Warcraft is unlikely as WOW was to be the 'end of the story'. Will it be Fantasy or Sci-fi? A new IP is also possible, maybe even most likely. But Blizzard isn't privately owned anymore, as they were when they put in that superlative (at the time) investment for World of Warcraft. So they are beholden to shareholders who've been shouting for #3 of Everything for years now. In order to be able to risk a new IP they may need to be gunning for something different.
Therefore, I think the more pertinent question is, what agegroup will Blizzard be gunning for?

I say Age 8-14, just like SOE is targetting with FreeRealms.
And it's likely they'll be pulling another World of Warcraft on SOE, with Free Realms the new EverQuest that gets eclipsed by a smoother Blizzard's product.

It makes sense. They already pwn 16-35 and most of the people beyond that age aren't (yet) a really interesting demographic. Besides, Blizzard's never been a pioneer at anything. They're pretty much been mimicking Microsoft's business strategies in being the last into the market, but with a better polished product and a bigger marketing budget, with which they then dominate the market. So I really, really doubt they'll be pioneering making games for the aging first generation of gamers. those will have to make do with IP But the pioneers have already hit the kiddie market, so the time might be right for Blizz to do their thing.


  1. I don't know if it smart to target the 8-12 market. They are not really the crowd for a long lasting attention span. A 30+ player is happy to play the same game for 3 years. You will be lucky if they stick around for 3 months. And those three months? Jump to WOW? That boring game their parents have been playing? I don't think so.

    It might not be a complete waste of money to make an MMO for kids, but I don't see it being the next big thing.

  2. It is a gamble. They'll be forced to keep expanding / adding /switching content within Free Realms a lot as a result to keep the kiddie crowd happy. SOE targetted it at 5-12 even I read the other day. The idea is to keep them running after the next 'Blue' within the Realms though and to be honest I think SOE is aiming at having the kids that outgrow it go to their own MMO's, not Blizzard's :-)