Jeremy Gaffney is executive producer on Carbine and NCsoft’s sci-fi MMO Wildstar - and no, he won’t tell us whether it’s free-to-play or not. Get him talking about business models, though, and he’ll declare his admiration for the three-week update cycle that keeps League of Legends players keen.
But there’s a reason, he says, that developers haven’t sought to emulate LoL’s model. It’s simply too much to ask, too often.
“I think [Valve’s Dota team] would be wise to learn from what League of Legends has been doing,” he told us. “I’ve heard numbers which are a billion dollars plus from League of Legends, which for free-to-play is impressive, and I think that’s because their business model makes so much sense for their game. “
Why do three-week updates make so much sense? “Retention,” says Gaffney. Riot retain their hold on their players by incrementally deepening their game, ensuring there’s always something new to play with.
“Their entire company is built around how frequently they can get these updates out and users respond really well to it,” he said. “It’s retention in the sense that if you’re getting bored and there’s a cool new thing coming out, maybe it’s a little OP, you’re like ‘Ooh, I want to try that out!’ and you’re there for another three weeks.”
Even better, says Gaffney, the updates are strong enough that they bring old players back to the game: “Your friends might be like, ‘Come check this new character out, he’s right in your style of play’,” he explains. “The business model has worked so well.”
But the Wildstar producer is sceptical about other developers’ chance of duplicating it - even as ArenaNet adopt a faster release pattern for Guild Wars 2.
“I don’t think anybody has been anybody to duplicate that because it’s so hard to do those updates so quickly,” he said. “So right now you’re seeing a lot of the industry move over to that, like Guild Wars moving over to updates every two or three weeks - it’s because users respond so well to it.”
Blizzard pledged a move to bite-sized updates for World of Warcraft at the beginning of this year, but it seems they've failed to stymy declining subs as Mists of Pandaria recedes into the past. Is Gaffney onto something?