It was a classic example of learning the wrong lesson. EverQuest was huge — HUGE! While Asheron’s Call was small. EQ was all about forced grouping, while AC was all about soloing. It is easy, therefore, to see what our conclusion was. When it came time to make AC2, obviously it needed to be a grouping game!
Even as I speak, developers are making retarded mistakes just like this. They look at what WoW did and make leaps of logic. Correlation is not causation, but we developers fall for this rookie mistake over and over.
World of Warcraft has shown us that we were wrong about grouping: MMO players do not need to be pressured into grouping in order for an MMO to be successful. But on the other hand, when you reach WoW’s level cap, you are almost forced to be a grouper (and a raider, to boot) if you want to do fun things. Now, this approach doesn’t seem to be particularly successful if we look at how many players leave the game when they hit the level cap. The players don’t want to switch from soloing to grouping, so they go away.
So what’s a useful lesson to learn here, if you’re trying to make a new game? Is it “our game should start out as a soloing game and then graduate to a grouping game?” Personally, I think WoW succeeded in spite of that, not because of it. The current wisdom is that you can’t possibly provide enough solo content to keep everyone happy, so you shouldn’t try … but keeping everyone happy isn’t the point. The point is keeping the most people possible happy. Would WoW retain more people if they added new solo content instead of new raid content? We can only guess at that.
Asheron’s Call puts out monthly solo content and has always had extremely high player retention. Would Asheron’s Call have even better retention if it had high level raiding instead? With the tiny number of data points we have, any conclusion like this is just a guess. Nevertheless, we’ve already created “conventional wisdom” about the topic!
Here’s a better lesson to learn from WoW: they did all kinds of things that went completely against the conventional wisdom of the time, and yet they succeeded. You know, stuff like having a clean launch (their post-launch stability was terrible for the first six months), offering fast transportation (WoW has more travel time than EQ2 by almost an order of magnitude), or forcing people to group. Does that mean your game needs to do these things exactly like WoW? That would be a pretty naive interpretation of the known facts, wouldn’t it?
Wouldn’t a better conclusion be “the conventional wisdom we have right now might actually be wrong, or overblown, or irrelevant?”