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Zugg
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Joined: 25 Sep 2000
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Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Thu Jul 19, 2007 3:55 am   

Zugg will be attending the SOE Fan Faire on Aug 2-5th
 
Both the SOE Fan Faire (for games like EQ, EQ2, Star Wars Galaxies, Vanguard, etc) and the BlizzCon (for World of Warcraft) are being held on the same weekend this year. The SOE Fan Faire will be in Las Vegas on August 2nd-5th, and BlizzCon will be in Los Angeles.

This year, I have decided to attend the SOE Fan Faire in Las Vegas. I'm looking forward to talking with the Vanguard developers to see what they have planned for the re-launch of this much-improving MMO. I'm also hoping to make some developer contacts that will help with issues surrounding a possible zExplorer for Vanguard (I've already supported SWG in the past, and Vanguard is more like the kind of large world zExplorer was designed for).

I'll also be promoting zMUD and CMUD at this faire. If you attend, keep an eye out for the guy dressed in the zMUD t-shirt. I'll be giving out some of the last remaining rare zMUD t-shirts, along with some other zMUD tokens. Sorry, but I haven't made any new stuff for CMUD yet.

If you see me wandering the halls, casinos, or bars, feel free to stop and say Hi. If it wasn't for MUDders, none of these MMOs would exist. So we are the *real* oldtimers in this crowd. We can sit in the bar and reminisce about the good 'ole days when all we had were text MUDs to kill monsters and level-grind. Of course, I'll still remind people that MUDs are alive and well, and in some cases can be just as much fun without the fancy graphics.
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Burtimus
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Joined: 13 Jul 2003
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2007 7:47 am   See you at the Faire!
 
Well, it doesn't seem to get any better than this. With news of zExplorer development in the works for Vanguard, there's a whole new world out there. I look forward to pestering... er, I mean visiting with you in Vegas!
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Zugg
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 06, 2007 7:26 pm   
 
We are back from the Sony Fan Faire and Chiara and I are catching up on our email and forum posts today.

The Faire was quite good. I'm certainly planning to attend again in the future. I met many people who were "old timer" zMUD users and had some wonderful and interesting discussions with some of the SOE developers. It was great to get information directly from the source, rather than listening to some of the popular "conspiracy theories" that tend to fill up the game forums.

I got the real story on the NGE "upgrade" to Star Wars Galaxies that upset me a couple of years ago. I confirmed that while SOE had their part in this, it really was LucasArts that was the driving force behind the changes. And from what I have seen myself and the people I have talked to directly, SOE really is trying their best to fix it again. Just goes to show the problems that having some external oversight can have. It will be interesting to see if this happens with Lord of the Rings Online and Tolkien Enterprises in the future.

I also spent some time with various Vanguard developers, and got their side of the story of Sigil and what happened with the release of Vanguard and the SOE buyout. I'm happy to confirm that SOE really did save this game and are providing as much support as possible to fix all of the problems and improve the game for a future re-launch. They are *not* going to make Vanguard into EQ2, and SOE really doesn't interfere with the actual gameplay decisions. SOE just handles the business, marketing, and support side so that the former Sigil people can focus on improving the game.

In fact, I was very surprised and gratified at the enthusiasm and passion that SOE employees have for all of their games. And I talked to more that just the developers. There are a lot of long-time zMUD users at SOE, even at top management positions. It's sad to see how much SOE gets beat up in various forums, but I guess it's the same as with Microsoft. It's always easy to blame, complain, and whine to the big companies in the top positions. And they really have no way to defend themselves except to try and ignore the negativity and concentrate on working as hard as they can to make great games.

As a software developer myself, I understand how frustrating bugs can be sometimes. It's not like we add these bugs on purpose to annoy people. And everything always takes longer than we plan. In a larger company with a team environment, things take even longer.

But when you actually get a chance to talk one-on-one with some of these people at a place like the Fan Faire, then you can really understand some of the issues that they face and see how passionate they are about their games. They really do try to do their best, and it's sad that they don't usually get treated like regular people when they get blasted on the Internet. I honestly don't know how some of the Vanguard developers have survived over the past year.

In any case, I didn't mean to sound like some Sony "fanboi" now. No, they didn't use any form of mass brainwashing, and no they didn't pay us anything to say good things about them. SOE really isn't the "evil empire" (nor is Microsoft, even though we all like to think that they are). I was just happy to talk with a lot of real people and fellow gamers that share many of the same values that I do, and to see that this really is a great community when you get people face to face and away from the anonymous forum posting.

Specifically, I wanted to say "Hi" and "Thanks" again to all of the former Simutronics people that I met who now work at SOE (or Blizzard) (Bruce, Tracy, Kat, Melissa). Also thanks for the great discussion to William at Sigil/SOE (Vanguard developer)...hang in there with Vanguard, it's really a great game. And to Bruce: good luck with Free Realms, it looks great! And Burtimus: it was great talking with you throughout the Faire...we'll definitely stay in touch.

We saw some great demos from the upcoming Pirates of the Burning Sea, Gods and Heroes, The Agency, Free Realms, and the new Legends of Norrath card game that was announced for EQ/EQ2. I'll be participating in the beta of a couple of these games. There is a lot of great variety here...something for everyone. By growing the MMO market, Blizzard has really helped SOE. SOE can now product a bunch of different games in all sorts of different genres without worrying about being number one, or worrying about just stealing players from EQ (now they steal players from WoW :). It's a nice position to be in, and it's great for gamers since it provides a lot of fun and exciting games to play.

Regarding zExplorer for Vanguard: I met with several Vanguard developers, as well as several customer relations people at SOE, including Alan, the director of community relations. I will be in contact with them and some of their legal people regarding zExplorer. I have confidence that there won't be any problems that we can't solve. Hopefully you'll see something before SOE does the Vanguard re-launch.

Las Vegas was hot (as expected), and we didn't have the time or money to stay any extra days. So we never did any gambling and didn't see any shows. The Rio was a good location...rooms were good, food was good. They had an attendance of about 1600, apparently quite an increase over last year. We are exhausted and our feet are tired from all of the walking that we did (we certainly got our exercise!) But I'm still looking forward to the next Faire!
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Dumas
Enchanter


Joined: 11 Feb 2003
Posts: 511
Location: USA

PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2008 1:21 am   
 
Have you heard anything new about being able to use zExplorer for Vanguard? I know they haven't quite reached re-launch (and I'm worrying because there has been less and less talk lately of Trial Island which is supposed to be the key content added for relaunch), but still am wondering. Of course, I know you got other items on the table right now (and believe me the new mapper is on the top of my "can't wait" list).
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Zugg
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Joined: 25 Sep 2000
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2008 5:56 pm   
 
Nope, nothing new for Vanguard. Like many people, I've been basically watching and waiting to see what SOE is going to do with this game. They are well past their discussed relaunch dates, and as you mentioned, they aren't talking about trial island any more. Since it is a pretty large effort to put together the map, I really need to wait to see if SOE is really going to support this game, or just let it die. Honestly, I haven't even been playing much lately. And given all of the other projects I have lined up, this is at a pretty low priority right now. Also, I never did get any replies from the SOE legal people.
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Rainchild
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Joined: 10 Oct 2000
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Location: Australia

PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2008 6:21 am   
 
The whole MMO landscape suddenly changed when EQ2 and WOW came out. Back then, it was ok to have a "beta" quality game and expect people to pay for said "beta". It wasn't until about a year later that both games really became somewhat more stable and fuller in content. Then you watch all these new MMO's hit the market and die because people don't care to play beta anymore! Why bother playing a buggy, half-finished, content-lacking game when you could just go back to your high level toon on one of the established games.

I've watched a number of games with interest - D&DO, Vanguard, Fury, Dark And Light, etc and they've all tried to cut corners to release the game before it was ready, and suffered immensely because of it. I think game companies are just getting lazy, because they can release patches via the web they think it's ok to release buggy half-finished games. This is especially true for MMORPG's, but a lot of single player games have been doing the same too, it's quite disappointing that management pressure is forcing the games out the door well before the QC team says they're ready.
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Rorso
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Joined: 14 Oct 2000
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2008 10:28 am   
 
Rainchild wrote:

I've watched a number of games with interest - D&DO, Vanguard, Fury, Dark And Light, etc and they've all tried to cut corners to release the game before it was ready, and suffered immensely because of it. I think game companies are just getting lazy, because they can release patches via the web they think it's ok to release buggy half-finished games. This is especially true for MMORPG's, but a lot of single player games have been doing the same too, it's quite disappointing that management pressure is forcing the games out the door well before the QC team says they're ready.

If you look at the commercial mmrpgs there's all kinds of problems with them. A few of them:
1) The subscription cost. You essentially pay for the same game every month. If you look at some bargain bins you can get a new game for that same price every month, and it doesn't need to be a bad game either.
2) Extreme time wasters. You have to put a lot of effort into the game to get anywhere. I think I read about some WoW raid guilds that required their members to be online atleast 8 hours/day Rolling Eyes.
3) Community fragmentation. Due to content expansions these games tend to release it seem to fragment the community and force people to upgrade if they want to properly play with their friends. This is a huge scam from the mmrpg developers. Why? Because say the monthly cost for e.g WoW is $19 and a shop here in Sweden sell the expansion for $19... One could conclude that the players has already paid for the expansion using the monthly subscription fee.
4) Ban of 3rd party tools. Some of the games seem to want to ban almost any tool imaginable that could be used with the game ;). It's like MUDs banning zMUD.
5) Unethical licenses. Some of the games have extremely unethical licenses. For example they might say that you automatically license whatever you write/create in the game to the game developers Shocked. E.g your 'private' ingame chats could be displayed by the developers on their website for everyone to see without your consent. So you better use a 3rd party chat application and play in windowed mode.
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Fang Xianfu
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Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 5155
Location: United Kingdom

PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2008 11:21 am   
 
1) You don't pay for the same game every month. You pay for the continued upkeep of the servers and for new hardware (imagine WoW's server load given that it has 9 million subscribers), for the GMs who provide live 24hr customer support (email, in-game and telephone) and for the developers' time. There are normally many, many content upgrades, bugfixes and balance changes between the release of expansions. Compare the content of vanilla WoW (patch 1.1) with WoW just before the expansion (patch 2.0) or just after the expansion (2.1) and just before the next expansion (2.3) and you'll see what I mean.

2) Those guilds are stupid - they like to call themselves "hardcore" but really, they're just stupid. You don't need to do that. But even if you did, it's a staple of the MMORPG genre. The point, I think, is that your progress isn't measured by your numbers (stats from items, level, whatever) but by meeting whatever goals you set yourself. That's true of most MUDs as well.

3) Not really. If you consider that the money from your monthly fee goes on servers and on staffing, the extra money for the developers of the expansion (who are totally separate, normally, from the live-team developers that publish content patches) has to come from somewhere. Normally these expansions add enough additional content to warrant the price - if people didn't feel that they did, they wouldn't buy them.

4) These are called "stupid games". People don't play them :P

5) The point, though, is that they don't do this. While the EULA may give them permission to publish your private chats or to ban you for no particular reason, this is the internet age - news of this sort of thing travels fast and people won't play games that do this when there are games that don't.

You're right on many of these points about some MMORPGs, but those MMORPGs stay small or die quickly. WoW has certainly given Blizzard a license to print money, and the reason for that is that they have a good balance of all these things. Presumably the other MMORPG companies will attempt to emulate Blizzard's success in the future. My point, really, is not to generalise about "the commercial MMORPGs" - many of them are bad, but many of them are not. Choose a good one.
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Dumas
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2008 12:07 am   
 
Not to get too much into it, but I agree more with Rorso on #1 than with you Fang. Yes, of course it goes towards paying for employees and the such. It's a business. But just remember that WoW, for example, with its 9 million subscribers takes in roughly $126 million a month. A MONTH! And yet they still want you to pay $40 for an expansion. And many games don't have true 24-hour support. Most of them provide guaranteed service during their normal business hours, and they pay some people to do some after-hours support. But, if you look at those jobs when they get posted, they typically start at low salaries and have the requirement to live in a specific area (like San Diego, where the $30-40k that some new GMs get isn't enough to live). Part of the reason I didn't attempt to even start a career in that business.
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Fang Xianfu
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:53 am   
 
It's a matter of degrees, you're right. I don't deny that the games might be overpriced - my point was that Rorso was exaggerating when he claimed that you pay for the exact same game every month.

As for the pay of GMs, people seem to get the wrong impression from the word "Master" in the title. All they are is customer support staff, exactly the same as the people in call centres who you phone when your boiler blows up or your broadband fails. In the UK phone support market, at least, 15-20k ($30-40k) is very reasonable.
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Rorso
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2008 8:50 am   
 
Fang Xianfu wrote:
It's a matter of degrees, you're right. I don't deny that the games might be overpriced - my point was that Rorso was exaggerating when he claimed that you pay for the exact same game every month.

As for the pay of GMs, people seem to get the wrong impression from the word "Master" in the title. All they are is customer support staff, exactly the same as the people in call centres who you phone when your boiler blows up or your broadband fails. In the UK phone support market, at least, 15-20k ($30-40k) is very reasonable.

Well you could look at Guild Wars as an example. Their model is that you don't subscribe to play the game. Instead they sell campaigns and content to the game and somehow they still manage to run the servers. Guild Wars uses instancing a lot and very little bandwidth though but I heard the new Guild Wars 2 is going to be more like the classical mmrpg. That is less instancing and it will still not use the subscription model.

I just noticed the mmogchart has been updated, http://www.mmogchart.com/Chart1.html and I don't know what to say. World of Warcraft seem to fly like a rocket in the graph. So I doubt money would have been a huge issue to release the WoW expansion for free. The picture at http://www.mmogchart.com/Chart7.html is pretty scary. It seems WoW is dominating the mmrpg market :(.
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Fang Xianfu
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2008 11:42 am   
 
Guild Wars is an exception - you don't pay monthly, and you don't get "live team" content upgrades as you do in many other MMORPGs. Large content patches like WoW's 2.2 and 2.3 don't happen in Guild Wars, they happen as expansions, which you have to pay for. You'll notice that Guild Wars releases expansions much faster than the other games, and that's why.

WoW's costs aren't all fixed costs. Development is (and probably isn't an insignificant sum even spread over ten million customers), but server hardware, bandwidth, customer support and so on aren't. Having more subscribers doesn't necessarily mean that they make more money than their competitors. They probably do, but subscription numbers aren't enough evidence to support that.

Even assuming that that's true, you claim that money wouldn't have been a huge issue - so what lead them to choose that particular price point for the expansion, then? Something must've, and my guess would be the cost, which was likely very large indeed.

Lastly, I always get a bit confused when people call numbers like that scary. It's capitalism at work! Blizzard have an excellent product (they must do, or people would choose a different one - it's not like the MMORPG market is sparsely populated) and they're reaping their reward for that. It's not Blizzard's fault for making an appealing game, it's their competitors' fault for making less appealing ones.
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Rorso
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2008 6:15 pm   
 
Fang Xianfu wrote:

Even assuming that that's true, you claim that money wouldn't have been a huge issue - so what lead them to choose that particular price point for the expansion, then? Something must've, and my guess would be the cost, which was likely very large indeed.

It is possible but having the expansion box on shop shelves could also play part of it as it acts as advertisement. Obviously if they can find a way to get your money they will try as they're a business. If you look at how WoW is setup you notice they use e.g bittorrent for distributing updates to the players so they use very little bandwidth to distribute content.

Quote:

Lastly, I always get a bit confused when people call numbers like that scary. It's capitalism at work! Blizzard have an excellent product (they must do, or people would choose a different one - it's not like the MMORPG market is sparsely populated) and they're reaping their reward for that. It's not Blizzard's fault for making an appealing game, it's their competitors' fault for making less appealing ones.

The scary thing is that you are getting one big company that almost own the genre. Right now it doesn't seem like any other mmrpg is managing to compete with WoW. That's the reason it is scary. If noone manages to compete with them we might soon start see massive mmrpg shutdowns and WoW will be the "only" alternative. How is anyone going to be able to compete with WoW?
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Zugg
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2008 1:37 am   
 
I read an interesting stat about the WoW subscription numbers that I hadn't known before. Apparently, out of the 10 million subscribers, about 5 million are from Asia, with about 2.5 mil from US and 2 mil from Europe. I hadn't realized that there was such a huge percentage of Asian players, but that probably explains why traditionally big Asian MMOs such as Lineage have decreased subscriptions by so much.

Anyway, I agree that it *is* scary and I don't know how anyone is going to compete. If you remove WoW from the graph, then a lot of MMOs could look pretty good. But with WoW on the graph, everyone else looks like a failure. And I agree with Rorso that it would be a shame to see smaller games shutdown just because they can't compete. Hopefully publishers and providers will understand that most MMOs are *not* going to compete with WoW, and that doesn't necessarily mean the game is not successful.

I also think this is going to be a double-edged sword for Blizzard. With the massive success of WoW, I think Blizzard is now "stuck" with WoW. They'll need to keep supporting it, upgrading it, and running it "forever" or risk the wrath of a *lot* of people. If MMOs like Ultima Online are still running, imagine how long there will be people still playing WoW. It's not just the 10 million that is amazing, it is the fact that the increase in subscriptions seems to be linear and not tailing off, which means they are getting as many *new* players every month as ever before.

Even with all the money, I'd never want to be burdened with having to maintain such a huge beast forever. Sometimes, you have to be careful what you wish for ;)
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Fang Xianfu
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2008 1:36 pm   
 
Rorso wrote:
[using] bittorrent for distributing updates to the players so they use very little bandwidth

As an aside, this is an ingenious strategy - it's nice to see them using previously quite niche technologies to do things like this. If all ten million players needed the incremental patch last patch week, they'd've needed about 2.7PB of bandwidth over the week. Every player who'd fallen behind and needed the full patch would add an extra 500mb to the total - if just 1% of players needed it, they'd need over 3.5PB of bandwidth. I imagine more than that (because some sporadic subscribers probably aren't included in the numbers) actually downloaded the patch, too. Kudos to them for thinking that up.

Rorso wrote:
it doesn't seem like any other mmrpg is managing to compete with WoW. That's the reason it is scary. If noone manages to compete with them we miht soon start see massive mmrpg shutdowns. How is anyone going to be able to compete with WoW?

Zugg wrote:
Anyway, I agree that it *is* scary and I don't know how anyone is going to compete. If you remove WoW from the graph, then a lot of MMOs could look pretty good. But with WoW on the graph, everyone else looks like a failure. And I agree with Rorso that it would be a shame to see smaller games shutdown just because they can't compete.


I think it's a matter of expectations. Those games down at the bottom of the graph never expected in a million years to have as many players as WoW does - as such, the people in charge don't consider their game a failure. WoW isn't poaching players from the other MMORPGs outside the Asian market - if you look at the graph you'll see that interest in games like Runescape and Eve Online and Dofus (whatever that is) continue to grow despite WoW's success. WoW's only poached about 3M players from the Lineage games, too, so they're also pulling in people who didn't previously play MMORPGs in all markets. I guess this was because in the past, MMORPGs weren't mainstream. WoW's popularity has made it okay to like MMORPGs, so more and more people are doing so. And growing the MMORPG market like this benefits everyone, not just WoW itself.

Furthermore, I don't think your apocolyptic future with only one MMORPG could ever happen. As the number of competing MMORPGs falls, the incentive to join the market increases. You'll see this, in fact, because it's happening already. WoW's massive market share coupled with the frantic market growth is causing MMORPGs to pop up all over the place. You can't move for MMORPGs, especially free ones that hope to coax WoW's players away with a price incentive.

Zugg wrote:
They'll need to keep supporting it, upgrading it, and running it "forever" or risk the wrath of a *lot* of people.

Might as well say "they need to keep making money forever" - I'm sure that as long as they have enough players to overcome the fixed costs of developing, they'll keep going - and if need be, they can scale back the size of their development team (even to nothing) while leaving the servers open.

Zugg wrote:
the increase in subscriptions seems to be linear and not tailing off

An article on that site actually disputes this - WoW's growth seems to always include about 600k new customers at Christmas (which is mental in itself - the other games don't have that many full stop) but growth throughout the year is slowing. The old peak was just short of 10M, but the 600k this Christmas pushed them over. The new peak is around 12M. Which I wouldn't sniff about.
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Rorso
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2008 4:40 pm   
 
Fang Xianfu wrote:

Furthermore, I don't think your apocolyptic future with only one MMORPG could ever happen. As the number of competing MMORPGs falls, the incentive to join the market increases. You'll see this, in fact, because it's happening already. WoW's massive market share coupled with the frantic market growth is causing MMORPGs to pop up all over the place. You can't move for MMORPGs, especially free ones that hope to coax WoW's players away with a price incentive.

Yes but then you can also compare it to MUDs. We have some 1500 MUD games but most of them are quite empty. Only a very few have above 200 players online average. As the amount of mmrpgs go up the risk is the players will still stay in their current game. WoW might have increased the amount of people in mmrpgs but the question is if those people would move to other mmrpgs, or even play other mmrpgs alongside WoW.
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Fang Xianfu
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2008 6:15 pm   
 
Of course they would, if they thought that the potential competitor was better in some way. The only barrier to exit I can think of is the cost of leaving your current community and joining another, but online communities are very flexible and MMORPGs normally include lots of tools for meeting people - I don't think it'll be a massive problem.

MUDs are a bad comparison - the MUD market is vastly different to the graphical MMORPG market. The MUD market has relatively few consumers, many providers (most of whom aren't profit-seeking) and little product differentiation (especially given that lots of them use the same codebase and some stock areas). The graphical MMORPG market is huge, but with few competitors (though this is changing, as I said), and massively differentiated products. MUDs have extremely low variable costs compared to graphical MMORPGs and the initial investment required in a graphical MMORPG is enormous. In short, the two markets will behave very, very differently.
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