Prognostimarfication Is Hard

A yearly tradition I have is making wild predictions, and then noting how badly a job I did of it a year ago so that you can feel free to ignore what I did. Far be it for me to mess with success and/or failure!

Here’s last year’s predictions, hosted elsewhere as I was writing for money due to sudden unemployment at the time (something 10% of you are familiar with).

PREDICTION 1: BLIZZARD SELLS LOTS OF THINGS

November saw the release of World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Cataclysm. Complaints about the low number of high-end raids released with this expansion paled next to the roar of millions of new goblins and worgen rushing through the revamped introductory zones as swiftly as they can, so that they could get to the endgame of high-end raids that they could complain about. The huge lines at Cataclysm release date parties attract a great deal of media attention (especially the scantily clad female goblin cosplayers), but the total revenue for the weekend of $275 million globally, while record setting for an MMO release, fails to dent Modern Warfare 2’s record of $310 million sales on its first day. Some industry analysts begin to wonder if the MMO market in general has peaked, thanks in large part to some industry analysts confusing the words “MMO market” and “World of Warcraft.”

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

Total revenue for Cataclysm’s first day: $130 million (based on 3.3 million box sales at $40), which is record-setting not only for MMOs, but for a PC game in general. But still not in console-record territory:

But while ‘Cataclysm’ may be the fastest-selling PC game, it did not topple the record for fastest-selling video game overall. “Call of Duty: Black Ops” — launched just last month — still holds that title. The first-person shooter for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and PC sold 5.5 million copies in its first 24 hours on sale.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

Pretty much, though my wild huge guess at sales figure the first weekend was off, and there wasn’t that much doomcasting over Blizzard not actually outselling every other game ever made in 3 hours. It’s a bad idea to bet against Blizzard.

PREDICTION 2: OLD REPUBLIC ENTERS BETA, INTERWEB EXPLODES

Bioware finally lifts the veil on The Old Republic with a “limited open beta” in October. (Some wags speculate that EA forces Bioware’s hand to steal some of Blizzard’s thunder as Cataclysm’s impending launch begins a media feeding frenzy.)

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

It didn’t.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

Nope. It’s still scheduled to ship in 2011. Note the word “scheduled”.

PREDICTION 3: LINDEN LAB SELLS SECOND LIFE

Virtual worlds receive a shock as Linden Lab, bleeding cash, announces a sale of Second Life to Sony Online Entertainment in August so that a (much smaller) Linden studio can fund a newer VW in development.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

Despite many rumors of buyout offers and talks, and Linden Labs indeed becoming much smaller, the former bete-noire of the mass media continues to lurch forward, with seemingly little planning for the future save very surreal Facebook ads.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

Nope, though to be fair this one was pretty intentionally a Hail Mary pass of a prediction. If you phrase it more generally as “Linden Lab has issues”, then definitely.

PREDICTION 4: FINAL FANTASY 14 SHIPS ON CONSOLES

Revisiting Final Fantasy 11’s trailblazing and somewhat difficult release on the PS2, Final Fantasy 14 comes out for the PS3 in September, causing Japan to basically shut down and roll Moogle Red Mages, er, I mean Lalafell Thaumaturges. The Windows release is “delayed”, and difficulties with integrating an MMO into the Playstation Network cause woes that last into the remainder of the year, putting a damper on worldwide sales.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

Instead of the PS3 release delaying the PC release, the PC release delayed the PS3 release, primarily due to the PC release being, by most reports, one of the worst MMOs ever to ship, in fact having so many ‘difficulties’ (including rumors of the entire thing being essentially farmed to China, rumors which Square themselves vehemently deny) that Square has effectively extended the “free trial period” that comes with the game indefinitely, amidst news of the management of the game commiting ritual suicide in the backdrop of an epic drop in Square’s revenue. The world is no longer Square, and my inner pixel-dragoon fanboy is sad for this.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

Nope. I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how badly Square mishandled the launch of their flagship product.

PREDICTION 5: DC ONLINE SHIPS

SOE causes a stir when it announces in early 2010 that DC Universe Online will be the second major SOE title (after Freerealms) to be free-to-play. When DCU launches in August for the PS3, it becomes of the flagship games of the platform (though it struggles in its Windows incarnation versus Champions and the still-market-leader in men-in-tights games, City of Heroes)

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

DC Online didn’t ship. It’s been postponed until early next year (though a beta just shipped for paying PSN members on the PS3 this week). Just for good measure to make sure I got everything wrong, they’ve also announced that the revenue model will be subscription-based.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

Nope, in fact this prediction shows you should probably ignore anything I ever say, ever.

PREDICTION 6: STAR TREK ONLINE SHIPS, IS BIG HIT

Star Trek Online becomes Cryptic’s second huge hit (remember, they originally developed City of Heroes before selling it to NCsoft) with subscriber numbers stabilizing in the 500,000 range.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

While Cryptic’s never released subscriber numbers, it’s safe to say that STO wasn’t a huge hit – despite over a million in initial accounts, Cryptic’s Jack Emmert later stated in a podcast that the game had “well over 100,000 subscribers”. Many players, at least anecdotally, ran up against a lack of content fairly quickly and promptly left.

DID I GET IT RIGHT?

Who knows. They could have 500,000 subscribers. YOU’LL NEVER KNOW! (I would hazard a guess not, though.)

PREDICTION ZED: TINY LITTLE PREDICTIONS

All Points Bulletin, a technologically innovative open-world modern crime MMO which would ordinarily be much higher profile a release, but had the misfortune of releasing into the teeth of Catacylsm in December.

Did not get delayed to December. Probably should have.

Jumpgate: Evolution, which released in June to little fanfare and about 100,000 subscribers

Nope. Still not out.

Mortal Online, a hardcore PvP game released in March which attracted the roving attention of hardcore PvP guilds for about three months, who all proclaim it the next big thing in message boards before leaving complaining about a patch in May.

Mortal Online DID actually ship! Did you know that? Yeah, me either.

Predictions of Warhammer Online’s demise were exaggerated, for example (though not greatly so, as the game finally shrinks to a single server)

Warhammer is still alive, and still has 9 servers, at least according to their somewhat broken server status page.

Most MMOs not named World of Warcraft, from Aion to Everquest, to EVE to Darkfall, remain essentially static; holding on to a core of fans who have found communities that won’t go away any time soon despite the storm and thunder of The Next Big Thing

This is true – there’s been no real high profile implosions, and if you played a MMO not called World of Warcraft, you probably still do at some point.

And for those of us odd folk who actually try to make a living in this crazy industry, 2010 was something of a relief after 2009’s serial executions. A great many startups started to get funding again (Richard Garriott and Mark Jacobs in particular both attracting much attention, if not a lot of actual news) as investors started to realize that (a) MMOs do make a lot of money! Really! and (b) 2010 was a good year to hire a good deal of out-of-work people to make those. By the time 2010 closed out, the health of the MMO market, at least employment-wise, had started to return to where it was in 2008. (And yes, someday I’ll be able to tell you what I’m working on. Again.)

Eh. Mark Jacobs still hasn’t gone public with his plans, and Richard Garriott hasn’t gotten much traction with his save suing his former (and my current) employer. And while the economy is rebounding some, it’s still not to where it should be.

I can tell you what I work on though! Though I doubt you’d be interested in patcher technologies and authentication log queries.

Blizzard Would Like It Very Much If You Read This Post And Not The One Below This One, Thank You

Bringing Barrens chat back, uh huh

Blizzard’s “WoW Chief Project Manager” (which I presume is like a producer, except with more words) J. Allen Brack is interviewed by the Guardian regarding some game release or another set to happen next week.

And how was the notorious channel Barrens chat?

You know what, it was pretty funny. There were people trying to start it back up. The funniest thing was something along the lines of: “How do I know this is the real Barrens chat?” The instant response was “Because you’re talking in it, dude.”

Blizzard Production Schedule Leaked, World Unsurprised To Learn Of 12 More Expansion Packs For WoW

Every time you ask Blizzard community reps about this leak, God kills a murloc baby.

MMO Champion has what is probably the best analysis of this. Unsurprisingly, Activision Blizzard is in full license molestation mode.

Note no sign of the long rumored “new next-gen MMO property” Blizzard has been hiring for for a while now, unless it’s the “Titan” entry at the bottom – and a Q4 2013 release for a WoW-scale MMO is, to put it mildly, unlikely.

Other then that, no real surprises: Blizzard is preparing to turn Battle.net into a digital DLC distribution portal and eventual Steam competitor (apparently the whole turning it into Facebook thing didn’t quite work out), Diablo 3 and the first Starcraft 2 expansion pack are both due out late next year, and World of Warcraft will have expansion packs slammed into it, starting in 2012, on a yearly basis.

Still, this chart is very handy for every other gaming company on the planet to schedule when NOT to plan their MMO releases.