Gamer DNA: Plenty of market opportunity in MMOs

G. |05.05.09

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Gamer DNA: Plenty of market opportunity in MMOs
Today, we have another in a continuing series of articles written by the highly talented Sanya Weathers for GamerDNA. In this, her latest column, Sanya looks into the numbers and just what the breakdown for MMO players means.

When you compare groups of MMO consumers, grouped by game title, it's easy to be overwhelmed by World of Warcraft's market dominance. Indeed, many developers have learned the wrong lessons from Blizzard's success, and copied/are copying WoW features – without copying WoW's reasoning, methodology, or execution. The results are products that feel derivative and incomplete, with features that the consumers identify as being less than organically developed. Furthermore, WoW's market reach is so extensive that the most influential players in a social network sense will identify a borrowed feature as being WoW's (even if WoW itself borrowed the feature), and cost the new product credibility as innovators.

Still, when you just look at the data, it's hard to avoid the desire to copy WoW. As we saw last week, WoW players log in more often, and play for longer sessions.

[Click images for larger versions of charts]

And when World of Warcraft consumers play other games, they turn first to titles that don't compete with WoW.

That means their players aren't seeing what they might be missing in other MMOs, allowing WoW to maintain total control over the massively multiplayer mindshare.

It's a tempting target for people developing new products. Who wouldn't want to be the Tyrannosaurus Rex who dominates the jungle? The mammals who cowered in the underbrush during the age of dinosaurs might have wanted to be big honking lizards that dominated every "conversation" about resources. They didn't know they were destined to take over the world. In fact, they didn't realize that their success was ensured by NOT trying to elbow their way into an occupied evolutionary niche.

Let's look at our data again, and identify some unoccupied niches.

From left to right, the games are in order of their GamerDNA populations, which is not necessarily the same as their real populations. (Games such as EVE Online can't make the same use of our hosting tools as other MMOs, for example.) But it's probably not too far off.

The number of times a user feels compelled to log in is a pretty good measure of his engagement with the product. As you can see, WoW is doing very well by that measurement. But logging in an average of once every four days is still a very strong level of engagement, and both Lord of the Rings Online and EVE Online are getting that kind of response from their users.

What niche are those products sitting in? Not WoW's, even if all MMOs look alike to outsiders. WoW offers a tremendous amount of smooth, easy content for users to enjoy solo, while being part of a busy world with high level cooperative content. The game closest to WoW by that definition is EverQuest II – the two games even launched around the same time. EverQuest II is a success by any rational standard, but by virtue of occupying the same niche as WoW, it doesn't look as impressive.

The value of a unique niche is big. Lord of the Rings Online is a very specific, lore-driven world, where the purpose of the game is to make the user feel as though he were part of the story. Not the primary hero – there can be only one Frodo – but certainly as someone integral to the story in his own right. And EVE is far more than a simple combat game. In fact, I'd say EVE is enjoying the benefit of two unique niches – one, its epic space setting, and two, its unique political structure. There is simply no other mainstream subscription MMO that offers its users the volatile political structure of EVE, with the way the shifting alliances and intrigues alter access to resources and affect the actual game.

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