The Mordred Problem

So, a more serious look at Darkfall’s incipient release.

Most of the traffic on the boards and blogs recently seems to be doomcasting Darkfall pretty harshly. It’s not a AAA MMO, its ruleset is ridiculously hardcore, and it is doing its level best to minimize the number of people that actually *can* log in (no NA release, limited number of boxes sold, etc).

I actually disagree. I think it will have a groundswell of excitement, some people will be pumped about “a hardcore game not for carebears!!1!”, and we’ll see some ridiculous eBay auctions of Darkfall boxes.

For three months. Then… it will collapse upon itself.

Why this curve? Because every PvP-centric MMO released to date has seen this. Even PvP-specific servers, released to great fanfare with their users, see this curve. And the reason is pretty simple – because people enjoy hardcore PvP in the abstract. Or, to put another way, many more people believe they are ‘hardc0re’ than actually are. And they dislike being proved wrong pretty powerfully.

The best example of this in my experience were the free-for-all PvP servers in Dark Age of Camelot. They were eagerly anticipated. When the first one, “Mordred”, came out, it was the most popular server in the game. A second PvP server, “Andred”, was quickly pressed into service, which also was popular.

Then… they weren’t. Andred in particular became a ghost town and after a decent interval was merged back into Mordred. Mordred still exists, but only has a vestigal population at best.

Of course, if you talk to the players themselves, there were other issues. PvP in DAOC was an afterthought, levelling was too difficult, there were too many exploits, there were bugs, etc. etc. Much as in Shadowbane, one of the most highly anticipated MMOs ever judging from message board buzz – bugs, bad design, exploits, etc. etc.

All of which is true. But they are not unique to PvP servers, or PvP games. What *is* unique is the PvP ruleset – the sense of the hardcore. The Mordred problem is simply that a great majority of the people who believe they are hardcore are not, and after being violently disabused of the notion, will leave.

Thus, the curve. Servers that will be massively overpopulated one month, ghost towns the next.

Perhaps Darkfall’s developers are well aware of the Mordred problem, and are enforcing a rigid scarcity of availability to try to counter this. Personally I’m dubious of this, based on the PR coming from some of their spokespersons that would have made Todd Coleman in a GOD stripper booth blush. But in the end, it will definitely work in their favor. If they can ride that curve, they may find the true level of their niche.

And those people outside the niche will complain about bugs. And poor design. And poor polish. And a community of rabid weasels. And and and. All of which will probably be true. But very few will admit to a Mordred problem. And addressing that problem will be a key dilemma for any PvP-centric game.