Underestimating your own product

With their digital sales “embargo” recently lifted and a somewhat bizarre, misbegotten trailer airing two weeks into official launch, ArenaNet have inspired a great deal of raised eyebrows in the community lately, and many sarcastic comments along the line of Syncaine’s –

“Since they sold more boxes ‘than expected’, I’m guessing someone lost a bet at Anet and their kid’s art project was made the release trailer, in the hopes of curing some of the overflow issues and reducing WvW queues. I think the trailer will prove most effective in this goal.”

While you can argue how smart a move a temporary stop of sales is, or guess at all motivations involved, I have to say I am a little puzzled by the way ANet prepared for this launch and their very obvious underestimation and miscalculation when it comes to GW2 sales and the impact of their game in general. Have ANet, used to their own faithful “cult” following for years, been somewhat out of touch with the greater MMO playerbase out there during development? Considering the latest trailer, a cynic might suggest a certain lack of relation might be involved….

In any case, it’s all a little surprising to me given the high anticipation for GW2 well before its launch. I’m not talking about die-hard GW fans here but a much wider audience that has been intrigued at the very least for about two years now, being vocal on forums and blogs. During that time ANet gave me the impression of following things closely, with a clear focus on target audience and market share: when the development progress of GW2 finally became more public (which was not the case for at least the first half of the development process), they got out there and communicated in no uncertain fashion what (or rather: whom) they were after and where they were going with GW2. In case you’ve never seen the humorous comic strips released on their official site in 2010, I suggest you have a look sometime.

ANet went for a bigger fish with GW2 and it’s always been clear that this MMO was going to target a much wider, more mainstream MMO audience than GW did. It’s obvious too where ANet expected a good chunk of that target audience to migrate over from. Unlike Bioware or Funcom, they were wise enough to stick to a business model that allows for a more seamless and unproblematic integration of a new player in today’s much-contested MMO market – “Buy-to-Play? Wait….you mean I get to play the rest of the game for free? Sure, why not!”

Smart move. Mission accomplished. Apparently more than expected.

Which only leaves me with the initial question of this topic: how come? Did they not actually anticipate this game to break 1 million sales so early on? And what do we do with this information – make happy toasts to over-achievement or brood over all the implications and potential capacity issues yet to come? You tell me.

13 comments

  1. Aside from being bad at math and statistics, I can see only one thing: they don’t want to invest to heavily into infrastructure for the release bubble. And in this case, it not only means hardware, it also means support personnel.

    Every game nowadays has to deal with it, some more, some less. A game like GW2 with a lot of anticipation going in will disappoint more. Add the troubles they are having with hacked accounts right now and you are looking at a customer service department under stress.

    Either they build up more resources, which will take somewhere between 2-4 weeks, or they just start chipping away from the mountain of CSR tickets. In both cases, it looks like a good idea not to increase the flood by adding more users.

    Mind you, I have no idea what effect this has on their sales projections when compared to an utter chaos, had they kept selling more downloads.

    1. I think it’s commendable that rather than just selling and making a situation worse, they admit to troubles on their side and want to fix them first. it’s also a good point about the ‘release bubble’ – however, this becomes a double-edged sword if the issues you create by under-staffing directly impact on more customers leaving. it’s like fulfilling your own prophecy.

  2. I think part of the problem for ANet was that the number of concurrent players online was higher than expected. They didn’t just sell a lot of boxes – a lot of players were spending more time playing the game than expected as well.
    You don’t size the hardware for a service based on how many customers you have total, you size it based on how many you expect to all be online at the same time… which for MMOs is typically 10-20% of the number of subscribers. So if you have a million players, you buy enough hardware to support two hundred thousand online all at the same time. It’s a balancing act – you don’t want to overstock on expensive hardware and then end up with empty worlds and merged servers after the initial rush (I’m looking at YOU, SWTOR)but you also don’t want overloaded servers or queues either. You have to base your initial capacity on a load of assumptions about how many players you’ll have and how much each one will play, and it looks like ArenaNet underestimated one or both of those.
    Having said that, this is no bad thing for ANet, a bit of scarcity whets people’s appetite to get hold of the game and provides some “look how popular our game is” press.

    1. “You don’t size the hardware for a service based on how many customers you have total, you size it based on how many you expect to all be online at the same time”

      That’s a good point but as you said too, in the end it comes down to the same thing – miscalculation. you’re making estimates based on a total of players. I understand not wanting to overstock, it just seems overall they were overwhelmed by the run and nowhere close to a balance.

      I agree it must not be a bad thing at all; temporarily at least it can serve to prolong some hype for the game.

  3. Well, when studios go the other way, everyone jumps on them for being too confident. The Secret World is a perfect current example.

    Better to underestimate demand than overestimate it and have to fire people, I think.

    1. Yeah, if you have to choose. in TSW’s case there’s other factors to consider though, like the niche theme (a big reason in my eyes), overall gameplay or the sub model. maybe TSW would’ve done better had they chosen F2P/B2P from the start? hard to say.

      the question that intrigues me mostly about GW2’s case is if ANet really misjudged their own game and what they based their calculations on.

  4. I always imagined their strategy would be based on perpetual box/digital sales. I would guess they both expect and want people to but the box, play for a while and then stop, then return each time there’s an expansion. Between expansions they’ll expect to keep selling boxes to new players joining the market.

    If people don’t stop playing fast enough or in sufficient numbers they’d need more infrastructure in the short term, which they may not want to invest in. Better to restrict access until interest from those playing begins to die off and replace them with new entrants. Nothing creates more demand for an already-popular product than adding an “exclusive” tag.

    Also no doubt they are expecting space on the servers to open up fast when MoP launches and TOR goes F2P. Don’t want to end up with a bunch of empty servers then.

    1. This has been my posture on it as well. I don’t think they miscalculated sales on the front end, nor do I think the suspension of online sales was an uncalculated knee-jerk reaction.

      The player curve on a new game is bound to resemble less of a bell, and more the profile of a pregnant woman – an initial bump followed by a more traditional bell curve. Anets strategy was to weather the bump, and plan for the traditional curve – a sound strategy.

    2. Hmm that sounds sensible. it is an entirely different beast to market a B2P MMO for sure, than a sub game and ANet have plenty of experience with it. GW has had its share of expansions too and no doubt that’s where GW2 is going. To me that’s a perfectly fine system, especially since it is realistic nowadays that MMO players fluctuate back and forth. I just find it a tad risky to start off with the kind of launch they had, but maybe I’m all wrong there.

      As for MoP, heh….I didn’t even think of it. the possibility that anybody would still want to play WoW instead of GW2 is so unthinkable to me personally that it slipped my mind entirely!! :D

      @Anon
      That analogy is….interesting ;)

  5. I don’t how much of it is just marketing actually. Is there a best way to portray your company as successful than saying “okay, we need to stop selling because there’s just too many people in love with our product, and we can’t handle this demand!”.

    Not that the problems they faced were not real. The servers did face problems due to excessive crowds, but I’m sure they could have kept selling more units while working on those; it’s not like closing shop for a few days made things visibly any better for players. But you think from the CEO’s point-of-view, he probably thought “you know, if we stop selling the game it would alleviate our servers a little bit, and it would make it seems like we have more interest on the game than we could ever predict, which will make people more curious about it”.

    So my guess is it was just for show.

    1. I don’t know if I buy into all of this being a market stunt, but in terms of making a ‘virtue out of necessity’ they surely have done a fine job.

  6. I think it could well be a controlled way of ensuring server stability in the first 3 months. If you control the demand, you get a very good idea of potential hardware issues that your infrastructure may have by way of controlled useage. Those of us that were around in the first 2 years of WoW understand all too well how painful it was with constant hardware issues, queues, massive throughput issues and so on. I’m fairly sure that the big-wigs at ANet said “we don’t want that”

    But as has already been pointed out – you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t

    I would rather the cautious approach and let the community steadily grow then the opposite which would be constant down time, queues for servers and over-crowdedness

    But that’s just me

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