The MMO Turing Test: Five Years

Crafting Crime...

I came upon this decision months ago, but I’ve been sitting on it until someone pointed out my hint, and they did in an email I received:

I see you updated your calendar showing MMO birthdays, but only titles that are five years old and older are displayed. Is there a reason for this? Or do you consider five years to be the point of “success” and none of the others are worth mentioning.

Borderline obsessive-compulsive grammar notations aside, what the reader pointed out is not correct at all. Those of you who have stuck with MMO Fallout since our earlier days are well aware that I refuse to stick labels on to MMOs, and have maintained that what makes up a “successful” title or a “failed” title really depends on what goals the developer set out and what they accomplished in that time frame. As no MMO will live forever, to put an arbitrary time on how long of a lifespan makes up success would be meaningless.

So what is this Turing test, you ask? My test bases itself on population, place, self-awareness, and perception. The date is five years after release. By the time an MMO passes the Turing test, the following has been in stone:

  • Population: By the time an MMO hits five years old, the stream of incoming players is more akin to a slow drip, and five years is enough to keep the veteran players entrapped with new content, as well as not wanting to leave behind their high level, high-time-invested characters. The company is well in-tune with the size and needs of their player base, and can plan accordingly.
  • Self-Awareness: The developer knows the limits of their engine, and has likely hit those limits by now. Using this knowledge, they set reasonable goals that are met in a timely fashion, due to decreased time debugging software and experimenting with previously unused techniques.
  • Place: This is where the developer knows exactly what spot they fill on the MMO spectrum. For example, Dark Age of Camelot is a Realm V Realm game and thus needs more concentrated servers for player vs player. Runescape is more solo-oriented and players spread out to maximize their resource intake. Darkfall is a niche PvP game that focuses on freedom over babying its players.
  • Perception: By the time an MMO hits five years, they know where they are going. For games like City of Heroes and Lineage, where the population is still thriving, this means regular updates, expansion packs, and major continued support into its old age. For games like Planetside, that face continuing server mergers, slow death. By the time five years comes around, any MMO that can die via short-term mass-exodus already has, such as FURY, or Tabula Rasa.

The important part of my Turing test is that although I call it a test, it is not my judgement of success. Rather, something to be viewed as closer to one’s employment in a business. After you have worked for a single company for so many years, you likely know exactly where your place is, strengths and weaknesses, relations to those around you, and whether you are seeking a promotion, to stay at your current position, or find a new job entirely.

The Turing test is also not exact. “Five years” is not some magical line, and many companies hit their pass/fail on the Turing test over a year earlier than the five-year mark. I decided upon Five years after looking at the MMOs on the market, those that are long gone, with an extra focus on those that are getting along in years. What I found was that most MMOs that are going to “crash and burn” as some put it, do so within three years of release. Asheron’s Call 2 was 3 years, Tabula Rasa was 2 years, Auto Assault was 1 year, FURY was 10 months, and the list goes on. You’ll notice that even World of Warcraft is not immune to the Turing test, as the title has peaked and is now on a downward slope. The more observant of you will note the date of stagnation at around 11.5 million subscribers: 2009, five years after launch.

So if anything, 3 years is around the “do or die” timeline, whereby 5 years the future of the game should be laid out quite plainly.

My interpretation of the Turing test for MMOs is over a year in the making, and doesn’t draw a fine line as much as it does paint a trend. There are still many MMOs that are in their testing phase, and may shape the Turing test in years to come, so expect several followups over the next couple of years.

To those of you who disagree with my perception, I would love to hear your thoughts on a more finely tuned Turing Test.

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  • Anonymous

    Why are you calling this”The MMO Turing Test”? How does a successful MMO have anything to do with the Turing Test? Better to call it the Omali Test.

    • A standard “Turing test” is a test of a machine’s ability to demonstrate intelligence and its ability to fool a human into thinking it is itself human.

      The MMO Turing test, as I conceived it, is essentially a five year test of a developer’s ability to prove longevity, reliability, and stability. It isn’t a measure of success or failure, as I said, but it gives a reliable point where you can say “my favorite MMO just hit five years, and this is its status. It’s not going anywhere for a long long time.” As I pointed out, I see five years as the point where almost any MMO that does not have a plan or know its place has long since shut down, and those that are still running have a fairly clear path ahead of them (even if it is slow death with minimal support).

      I understand the underlying goals are swapped between the Turing test and its MMO variation, and I’m guessing my training in robotics is probably what pushed the term into my head. I tried to find a term that would not lean towards success/failure, as that is not what this is about, but at the same time would not tell people “don’t play this game until it is at least five years old, otherwise you may be wasting your money,” as that is also not the point.

      Also: Calling it the Omali Test might have been a little big headed of me. At least that is what the man I hired to say good things about me said.

      Hope that answered your question.