&t Phil on Games: May 2007 <$BlogMetaData$;

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"First you get the money, then you get the power."

Yes, I admit it! I play World of Warcraft. I’m a woman named Punkybrewstr (spelling is weird due to character name length restrictions). I throw fireballs at goblins and orcs. I create portals and teleport instantly around the world. I tailor articles of clothing and sell them at the auction house for virtual cash. I enchant items for my friends to make them more powerful. I… am a nerd.

Apparently, I’m not alone in the world though. Over 8 million people play World of Warcraft, and everyone has to pay to do so. This is loose math, since not all pay to play models are the same worldwide, but figure this:

- Average cost of game out of the box (10 days free to play) = $39.99
- Average cost of expansion pack out of the box (which almost everyone has or will purchase) = $39.99
- Average monthly subscription cost = $14.99 ($179.88 per year)

This means that Blizzard, which is owned by Vivendi Universal, has potentially sold:
- $639,840,000 worth of boxed or download copies of the game (counting expansion pack)
- $119,920,000 per month on subscriptions alone ($1,439,040,000… that’s BILLION… per year)

The numbers probably come in somewhere under that, but relatively, I doubt by much. The success of this game boggles the mind, and has propelled the profit potential perceived for video games through the roof. If you figure the cost of a bleeding edge next-generation Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or PC game can cost an average of $20 to $30 million to develop, this means Warcraft can finance the development and marketing for multiple AAA quality titles for Vivendi, all of which could fail miserably at retail, and Vivendi could still safely churn out a profit at the end of each year.

Now, not all things last forever. Obviously people will grow tired of venturing through the world of Azeroth, and move on to fresh Massive Multiplayer experiences. Let’s assume that 3 years from now, World of Warcraft subscriptions really start to slide. Blizzard/Vivendi release another expansion pack (for another $39.99), and most likely update the graphics engine to make the game look even better/stay competitive with newer titles. The game now has at least another 3 years of solid subscriptions because of these two things alone (retaining a higher percentage of older players, attracting back players who left, and even attracting a handful of new people).

What does life look like after World of Warcraft? Blizzard pulls out the often rumored World of Starcraft.. Crazy you say? Get this: Warcraft III, a smash success, came out 2 years and some months before World of Warcraft. Starcraft II was just announced, with a potential release date of sometime in 2008. Blizzard announced a month or two ago it is hiring for an unannounced next-generation MMO development project. It takes about 2 to 4 years to create a MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game to the point where it can be released to the public, which puts the potential release for World of Starcraft around 2010-2011, 2 to 3 years after Starcraft II, and about 7 years after World of Warcraft launched. Around that time the subscription base for World of Warcraft will have begun to drop off in comparison to the huge numbers they are doing now, which is the same year I predict Warcraft will get another expansion and a graphical upgrade in an effort to retain existing subscribers. They are then operating two of the most successful and profitable games in history.

Here are some quick numbers on the Starcraft franchise (which is the sci-fi brother to the fantasy based Warcraft):
- Over 9 million copies of Starcraft and it’s expansion (Brood War) have been sold worldwide, making it the second best selling computer game in history (behind Electronic Art’s “The Sims”). *Note: I’m not sure if it’s still #2 or not.
- 13% of South Korea owns a copy of Starcraft (it’s been rumored that 90% of the South Korean population has actually attempted to play the game at one point or another).

The future is bright for Blizzard and Vivendi if they play their cards right, and I’m going to need a second job to pay for my subscriptions.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy 30th Star Wars!

Happy 30th anniversary Star Wars! It's been a wild ride, and I will forever love your merchandising and re-edits (though I'll never forgive the replacing of the band in Jabba's palace... that musical number was LAME!). Now where are those 3D re-mastered versions of IV, V, and VI?

Ten things Star Wars has taught me about life:
1. The only difference between making a pebble or a sunken X-Wing float is in my mind.
2. If you're caught outside in a blizzard, slice open the nearest animal and crawl inside it to stay warm until you are rescued.
3. ALWAYS let the Wookie win.
4. Some things in the universe are best left a mystery (*cough* midiclorians *cough*).
5. Always bring a lightsaber to a bar, and leave your droids outside... they simply aren't welcome.
6. Don't ever show a lack of faith in front of a Sith Lord. They find it disturbing and will probably force choke you.
7. R2 units are man's true best friend.
8. If you're overwhelmed by the enemy while fighting in the forest, gain the trust of the woodland creatures and have them do the fighting for you. (Too bad there are no Ewoks in Iraq.)
9. If you build a planet crushing, moon sized space station, make sure it isn't vulnerable to small, one-manned fighters.
10. Always slice off your enemy's right hand.

Monday, May 21, 2007

...it's how you play the game.

By no means am I the world’s best game producer. If there is one thing I learned very quickly in life, is that no matter what you do and how good you think you are, there will always be someone better than you. You could be the best athlete, the most successful business man, or even the most influential world leader, but inevitably someone will come along that is undeniably more successful.

Some people find this discouraging and think, “Well if I have no chance at being the best, what’s the point?” They move on to something else, usually selling themselves short. Other people think, “GREAT! I have a chance to be the best, if only for a while.” They run themselves ragged trying to achieve something that is nearly impossible and set themselves up for disappointment (though at least they try). Then there is a third school of thought, where one thinks, “I’m just happy to be able to do what I do, and will do the best I can.” I consider myself in this third tier.

I feel so lucky to be a game producer, the feeling is indescribable. Of course I have lofty dreams of my name becoming a known force within the industry, but this dream of vanity stems from what really matters to me, and the satisfaction I get from my job: I just want people to enjoy the games I make. I want them to have fun! I go to sleep at night a happy man when just a small group of people say they enjoyed playing one of my games; to hell with review scores and naysayer’s.

Take Sigma Star Saga, for example. This was a fairly low-budget Game Boy Advance game that I created the initial concept for and worked with an amazing developer to flesh out and get created. It didn’t sell particularly well, and the review scores were all over the board for it. I’ll never forget the feeling I had reading the first good review (excitement), the first bad review (dismay), and the first forum post by fans exchanging tips and tricks and chatting about their love of the game (elation). I surprised myself, really. I didn’t realize how that small group of tweenies who kept posting on the forum in support of the game could make me feel 1000 times better than the best review score. I’ve said many times I make games that I personally think are fun so I can play them myself (hence the shooter/RPG combo of Sigma Star Saga), but I knew right then it was the gamers that would drive me for the rest of my days in the industry.

As I continue with my career, which I consider to be just starting up, the most I can do, as with anything in life, is the best I can do. Developing a career is much like growing up all over again. You have to pay attention and learn from those around you, as well as pay attention to your own decisions and actions, and LEARN from them, if you are to mature.

It’s very easy to look at someone who’s established within the industry and feel an entire range of emotion, from awe of those that consistently create amazing product, to jealously of those who are horrible at making games yet somehow continue to get funding to poop out more waste. Part of doing the best job I can is to recognize these “irrational human emotions” and where they stem from, pay attention to what these folks are doing with their career and games, and continue to analyze myself from project to project, and make sure I learn from my own success and mistakes.

So, as a summary of my first game blog, I don’t think I’m the best there is, and that’s okay. I continue to learn from my experiences, and those of others. I’ll continue to make games that I enjoy and, hopefully, other people enjoy. That’s really all that matters.