Live by Subs, Die by Subs
Nov 3, 2009
~3 minute read

I was reading through Syncaine’s argument of why one MMO dying benefits players of another MMO, and realized that there was something that nagged me about the entire thing - and it wasn’t really what the majority of those commenting on the article were looking at. After all, I have to agree that Syncaine has built up a rather rock-solid position to debate from when you can boil it down to an empirical “if even a single person leaves Aion for Darkfall, then Darkfall benefits” observation. From a certain perspective, that’s entirely correct - after all, more subscribers = more money, period, end of story.

But is that really the end of the story? Or to go a step further, is that even where we should be looking for the story in the first place? Somehow or other, the gaming community as a whole seems to have gotten it into its heads that “more money” implies “better games” - yet recent trends in MMO success/failure seem to show not correlation whatsoever between those two items! After all, three of the largest-budget games to come out in the past couple of years have been those most highly under contention as “failures” (Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, and now Aion), and aside from the monolith of WoW, the most commonly referenced “success” is EVE, which started out as a very small-scale, low-budget game.

Why, then, are we so obsessed with subscriber numbers for games? Do subscriber numbers actually translate to more and higher-quality content? So far the empirical trends don’t seem to support this. Instead, it seems like the highest-quality games are the ones that have relied on the “if you build it, they will come” motto and just tried to make a good game (and in addition, a good community). The funny part? If you succeed in making a good game… the game is still good, regardless of other games on the market. Likewise, if you succeed in creating a good community for a game, that community is still good, even if it’s not 11 million players strong.

And thus I arrived at my realization about what I disliked about Syncaine’s argument: it’s too focused on subs, both from a business and a community standpoint. If a player from Darkfall is focused on Aion subs, instead of Darkfall gameplay, that makes me wonder if the gameplay of Darkfall can’t stand on its own either - regardless of how much I like or dislike Aion gameplay. I figure, if a game is truly good and well-designed, those who play it shouldn’t need to care about other games - they know that their own game can stand on its merits without having to resort to mud slinging… and they also have a good game to play.

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