Blizzard and SOE Agree: Improving the Newbie Experience Equals Success and Growth

Last year I penned a few in-depth and apparently controversial articles that evaluated some of the EverQuest 2 starting areas from the perspective of a newbie. It has long been a reality that in the video game industry the average player will play and essentially audition your game for 15 minutes. If you don’t impress them within that short time period you will most likely lose that customer forever.

The video game developer has but one chance to knock it out of the park with concentrated awesomeness. Every aspect of your game has to be amazing, captivating, and compelling for those critical 15 minutes. It’s even tougher if you are making an MMO.

In both of my main articles, I urged SOE to focus on improving the newbie experience so that more people could experience the wonder and magic that is Norrath. Some complacent EQ2 veterans who shall remain nameless were not very impressed with what I had to say but there is some recent news that might make them reconsider their objections.

Today I read the February 14 pre-launch of Sentinel’s Fate producer’s letter from Alan “Brenlo” Crosby and I came upon some very interesting information that I believe has vindicated my series of articles. What did Alan Crosby say that impressed me so much?

SOE is Listening

Here’s a portion of Alan Crosby’s producer letter that shows that finally someone at SOE is listening:

As many have noticed, Halas is not going out with the expansion, many have asked why and the reasoning is twofold.  We have three pretty decent starting areas already.  Darklight, Greater Faydark and Timorous Deep.  We know they are not perfect and so the team has done considerable work in reworking those areas, streamlining the progress path to make for a better experience.  We believe that you will find the experience in those zones to be far better than it had been.

Alan Crosby and the team at SOE deserve my sincere congratulations for improving their existing newbie experience before releasing a new one. It’s nice to know that EQ2 has wisely decided to put the welcome mat out for potential new players. After all, what is the point of having an MMO full of amazing content if new players don’t stick around long enough to see it?

As a result of this positive news, I’m going to purchase Sentinel’s Fate and check out the new polished newbie experience. Believe me, I want to get hooked and fall in love all over again with Norrath. EverQuest has a special place in my heart as it was my first MMO.

Blizzard Reveals Their Newbie Friendly Strategy

On a related note, there was another news story last week that drives home the importance of a well-crafted newbie experience. Blizzard has at last publicly revealed that one of the keys to success in MMOs is the ability to consistently attract new players. Why? It’s because you need more new players subscribing than old players quitting for your MMO to keep growing.

This revelation was made by Blizzard President Mike Morhaime when spoke during last week’s Activision/Blizzard investors conference call about the completely revamped newbie experience that will be coming to WoW via their new Cataclysm expansion. He stated that the WoW newbie areas that have been untouched for 5 years will be infused with the improved level of craftsmanship and quest design that is currently evident in Wrath of the Lich King.

This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that used to be that once your MMO is established you have to cater exclusively to established subscribers with high-level content. Now we have clear evidence and not just conjecture that attaining a balance of attracting new subscribers and keeping existing subscribers happy is the proven recipe for success and growth.

If anyone doubts that creating a state-of-the-art, welcoming newbie experience is not as important as keeping content for your high-level players then the president of Blizzard’s comments to the investment community should diffuse that doubt entirely. This is precisely what I have been saying all along on this blog and it’s gratifying to see two major MMO news stories in the past week reaffirm that.


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