Hope for Vanguard

The folks at Massively.com brought to my attention this interesting set of reports from VOIG. Now, these numbers are at least somewhat speculative. And even where there are hard numbers to go by, those are typically provided by the MMO publishers themselves, and we all know that some of them like to inflate their user numbers just a little bit.

However, if we take this data at face value, it provides some interesting fodder for discussion. Not at the top of the market share ladder, necessarily (because we all know who the big players are, and nothing much had changed,) but toward the bottom. The big second-tier success story is, of course, EVE Online, which appears to have overtaken an EverQuest II that has had a pretty stable subscription base for the last 18 months or so. EVE subscribed base has steadily increased since the game’s not-so-strong release, and the reasons why should be obvious; CCP’s ongoing, consistent drive to improve their game for everybody instead of only the top tier of players and the fact that EVE also happens to be a very different play experience than anything else on the MMO market top that list.

Vanguard’s numbers also contain something interesting – a 5K uptick between September and October. Of course, a subscribed base of 35K is anything but healthy – there just isn’t much room for the game to shrink any more. That number has to be barely viable – and yet it’s much more believable than the 180,000 that Wikipedia says the game has. And a lone uptick does not a trend make. But 5k more subscriptions for just three or four consecutive months would be a big surge for a game in Vanguard’s situation. This makes me wonder if what I’ve been waiting for hasn’t started to happen – maybe Vanguard is starting to turn the corner.

Certainly, there’s been substantial improvement in the game itself since early 2007. And the bad feelings around the launch have begun to dissipate – plus the hardcore haters have probably gotten bored and moved on to something they will be more entertained by pissing on. Of course, I started blogging about Vanguard at about the same time, so I’d like to take credit for it… and I know for certain that I drove at least a few people into (or back into) the game. More seriously, however, I suspect that a big influence has been the excellent and highly visible Voyages of Vanguard podcast over at VirginWorlds. In both cases, however, I think the same principle is at work: people talking positively about Vanguard. Between VoV, Journeys with Jaye, me and a few others, there’s actual optimism about the game in circulation, and it’s starting to counteract all the negativity that surrounded everybody involved during a flop of a launch and the collapse of the disaster that was Sigil.

Vanguard needs more, and more positive word of mouth, it needs more subscribers, and it needs improvements to the game itself. Each of these will feed the others, but all three need to see upticks similar to the one that Vanguard subscriptions seem to have had in September-October, or the cycle will be unsustainable. I have been saying (lo, these many months!) that Vanguard is a game to keep an eye on. It’s got some really great and appealing features, and I think it’ll ultimately turn out to be both viable and healthy in the care of a company that’s proven it can make problem games better. Vanguard (which, by the way, just added real migrating weather patterns,) is reasonably decent now, aside from some critical issues faced by some users. Here’s to hoping that in the next few months Vanguard will start to take shape as the kind of game I know it could be.

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