I don’t really MMO any more. I used to with alarming frequency, and at one point had been able to call myself primarily an “MMO blogger”, but over time I’ve lost interest in the genre. I have a partial ear to the ground by virtue of the fact that a lot of people I follow on social media are still interested in MMOs, which is how I learned recently about New World’s somewhat unique situation with streamers.
Nimgimli posted this in the middle of a gentle current of murmuring about New World going on in my feed, which after some investigation (no one ever links anything anymore!) I learned that there’s a website out there, StreamersOnNew.World, that is tracking popular broadcasters who are planning on playing New World, how popular they are, and which server they claim to have decided on (server names were recently released to the public). The “disruptive force” that Nimgimli mentions is that streamers tend to bring a crowd with them, and the more popular they are, the larger the crowd. Depending on where you stand, this is either very good, good, bad, or horrible.
For New World specifically, it’s good for Amazon who, coincidentally, owns Twitch. It’s generally considered good by a developer or publisher for a streamer to play and enjoy a game, because it’s assumed that the streamer’s fans will run out and also pick up the game in the hopes of getting to play a match with their favorite “celebrity’. Some of the more popular lobby shooters like Apex Legends, Fortnite, or whatever other games exist in this genre have limited capacity-per-round, so not all stream-watchers can touch the hems of their video gods and goddesses at the same time; with MMOs it’s different. An online guild can offer concurrent capacity, so there’s a better chance that a viewer’s investment in the game will result in some kind of interaction.
The good and bad opinions require a person to be generally ambivalent about the presence of streamers or streaming culture in general. On one hand, it’s good that so few people have the cachet to pull in a healthy amount of players. MMOs live and die by the active player count in so many ways that any time the body count rises, all boats are lifted (or something to that effect). But it also brings in people who are probably there more for the chance of interacting with the streamer than they are for the game.
That leads us to the very bad aspects. For one, the concern voiced about New World’s streamer situation is that once the streamer moves on to the next game — and they must, as chasing the Next Big Thing is literally a requirement of the job — then their communities will move with them. Another concern is that massive groups of streamer-fans could cause server crashes, long queue times, and general unbalance, especially in games where PvP is supposedly a very big part. I recently learned this morning that there’s a rumor that one streamer has affected a change in how New World handles PvP, and that hardcore PvP fans are livid and have already started boycotting the game. I cannot find a source, but have heard some folks in my stream speaking about PvP unrest recently, so I am guessing there’s some truth in some of that. For those who might play and enjoy games like New World, an exodus of thousands of players could be a death blow; we are in the post-World of Warcraft era. Although no game has ever seen the numbers that WoW enjoyed at its pinnacle, I feel that MMOs are far more likely to be crap-shoots in terms of success these days than they have ever been, and we’ll talk about that in another post.
What’s the bottom line here? Amazon apparently put a lot of streamer-friendly features into New World, and it stands to reason that they’d not just enjoy the position of being a “first major MMO to launch since streamers have become a disruptive force” as Nimgimli said, but would actively link their game development efforts to their free advertisement department, knowing that good word of mouth from their highest earning streamers on Twitch would sell thousands of copies of the game. The bothersome part is that if the community has realized that streamers are fickle, and what Twitch givith, Twitch can taketh away, then someone at Amazon has to have realized the same thing, and been OK with hinging New World’s success on this gamble.
Relying on “influencer” power has been a blight on the games industry since it became a thing. Its a symbiotic relationship that sees devs/pubs gaining free advertising in exchange for being a stepping-stone in the streamers brand-growth. One side moves units, the other side moves closer and closer to being a “household name” in circles where streaming celebrity is important. Nowhere in this “scratch my back, I scratch yours” does the average player factor in any more.
As someone who doesn’t put stock in the “streamer culture”, then, feeling that a product is so intricately linked through a “cult of personality” as opposed to the community directly is like being told that our worth as natural fans of the genre matters less than whose limo we arrived in. If we suspect that a group of players are apt to pull up stakes and leave when their favorite streamer moves on to another game, why is courting a streamer so damn important in the first place? If the idea was to achieve free advertising through this person, was the advertising effective when those the advertising had hoped to reach simply…move on? Granted, it would never be a universal exodus, as many players in a streamer’s entourage would probably have picked up the game anyway, but for those who are more fickle, or for those who are otherwise on the fence about the experience, creating a literal single point of failure by relying on “influencers” seems like a gamble on a short-term strategy that could either pay off if the audience finds a product to be enjoyable enough to get them to buck the crowd and stay on, or could spectacularly blow up in the operators face if the audience decides that there’s nothing in the game worth sticking around for.
And on that note, join us for our next post, “What the Hell Happened to Crowfall?”