Friday, March 6, 2009
I am writing this article because a question was asked recently: “What will be the next great MMORPG?” Having over 6000 hours online playing MMO’s over the years, (1700+ in DAOC and 2400+ in WOW alone) I thought I would do a little research and spit out the correct answer. However, after quite a bit of looking around, I could not come up with an intelligent answer, which kind of aggravated me. So what is the problem with MMORPG development? The phrase “The subscription numbers have not reached what was anticipated” is becoming quite common, not to mention cancellations and titles that are currently in development being “indefinitely postponed”. IMO the problem is a simple misunderstanding about the wants and desires of the end customer, the MMO gamer.
There are really only two types of MMO gamers, casual players and power-gamers, if you only cater to one, you will lose them both. Create an MMO for the casual player, and power-gamers will burn through your content in the first 2-3 weeks of release and spread the “Doom and Gloom” of the title not having any “end game”. Create an MMO for the power-gamer alone, and your casual gamers will feel depressed and useless. Think of casual gamers and power-gamers as a husband and wife team, try to sell a house or a vehicle to only one, and you will offend the other. It is a little difficult to define what exactly a casual gamer is compared to a power gamer, many will tell you it is defined by how many hours a week a gamer plays a title, this works most of the time, but is not always the case. A power gamer can simply be defined as “a gamer that gives playing games a higher priority over other forms of entertainment”. Let us look at a few misconceptions about MMORPG’s that increase the “failure to communicate” in the current genre.
“Content is King” – This has to be the single most devastating thing that is commonly believed about MMO’s. Content will ALWAYS take a backseat to “gameplay”. Look at the game of Chess, although there are quite a few arguments about its origin date, Chess is easily over 1000 years old, yet how much “content” has been added? None, Chess still has 32 pieces and 64 squares, so why is it still played? After over 1000 years has it not become boring? Chess remains to be immensely popular because it has unparalleled GAMEPLAY. A very easy game to learn, yet nearly impossible to master, someone out there is always a little better then you, and if you cannot find anyone better, there is always “DEEP BLUE”. Don’t misunderstand, you need quite a bit of content, however the very core of your development must be gameplay.
“Only children play games” – A lot of MMO games today seemed to be geared towards the “younger” gamer, why? The average age of today’s gamer is 33 and has been playing games for 12 years! 93% of computer game buyers are over 18… If you want a real wake up call, look at a few facts here:
69% of American head of households play computer and video games, somehow I do not think a single one of those head of households is a child. The average age of the MMO gamer is 27. While it may seem a little unfair to figure in the age of “all” gamers when developing an MMO, just because a gamer does not play MMO’s now, does not mean they will not in the future, remember MMO’s are still new to the gaming scene.
“You don’t need PvP to make huge hit” – Name a huge hit since 1999(Everquest) that does not have PvP. You can only program so much AI into the mobs in your MMO without starting to tax resources. PvP gives players a way to match their skills up against other gamers, instead of whacking on NPC mobs that have limited AI. I will not say you “cannot” make a smash hit without PvP, but it has not been done yet, and I do not see it as being done anywhere in the foreseeable future.
So I will ask again, what is the problem with MMORPG development? The money is there, the customers are there, yet MMO’s seem to be stuck in the mud, and here recently the more you step on the gas pedal, the further down in the mud you are going. (4WD anyone?) Did WOW (World Of Warcraft) scare you? It seemed to put more then one MMO in development, right into the trashcan. But why? In the months leading up to WOW’s release (Without actual gameplay knowledge) I was right there hyping it up as much as everyone else and was even given the title of “Blizzards ass clown”. But hey, I knew Blizzards reputation of never making a “crappy” title, even today, gamers still scream for a Starcraft sequel, and there is a long time bere Diablo3 has finnished development. My original review of WOW, after actual putting some hours into the open beta was “An above average MMORPG, released in a very stale market”, and I stand by that review even after a year and a half and a subscription base of six million+. Why am I not screaming praises for the largest hit in the history of MMO’s? Well, there are quite a few reasons. In 2003 there was a little “incident” and Blizzard lost talent that money simply cannot buy, although I do not know the extent at which Bill Roper, Eric Schaefer, Max Schaefer, and David Brevik would play in the development of WOW, I knew that after leaving, they would not be a part of it at all. I also saw some promises that never happened, like where is the housing that was promised in closed beta? Where is the end game? Am I trashing WOW? Not at all, WOW deserves every dollar they make every month, they saw an opportunity, and seized it. WOW gave the entire MMO industry a huge wake up call and showed many people a tiny glimpse of the future attraction of MMO’s. WOW will also continue to dominate the MMO industry, simply due to the fact of no competition. At present, to the best of my knowledge, there are 102 active mainline MMO’s with another 94 in current production. Only three have one million+ subscription bases: Lineage, Lineage2 and WOW. With 94 in production, there is no lack of creativity, just a lack of understanding of what an MMO gamer truly desires.
I greatly dislike to bring up a problem without providing an adequate solution, so here is my “Hints and Tips” on how to create an MMORPG, that will stand above and beyond anything that is currently on the market.(Or even in development, that I know of) Keep in mind I am trying to keep this as short as possible.
Don’t bite off more then you can chew – If you want that big subscription base it is going to cost you time, money, AND talent. Time - While in development, you really need to do everything possible NOT to set a release date. This does nothing more then set up a situation where you announce to the gaming community a release date, and more often then not, that first date comes and goes before your title goes gold. Now you have a fanbase that is already disappointed before the game is even released. Now you feel rushed to release the title and this is usually where things start to go wrong. Money – Being undercapitalized will almost always end in disaster, while I could elaborate on this, I just wanted to make that quick point. Talent – To make the best, you “usually” need the best. This can cause many problems as the genre, as a whole, is still quite young. The developers of past titles that were successful when the industry was first born, may not exactly be in touch with what is expected today, be aware of the current/future trend and how the industry has evolved. While there is simply no substitute for experience, from what I have seen in these last couple years, something is definitely “lacking”. You also really need to keep in mind that gamers have already seen and played what is out there today, so you need to bring something new to the industry, because by the time your MMO is complete, the current MMO features will already be digested by gamers and considered an expectation.
Beta – While your product is in Beta make sure you listen to your testers. The vast majority of gamers today do not believe that developers even listen to gamers, and from what I have seen, they don’t. You are creating a world for them to play in, not a world for your enjoyment. I know this may sound extremely difficult, because you do not know who to listen too, that suggestion you see on your forum could have been posted by a 12 year old that has never even played an MMO before, or it may be someone that has even more experience then myself. This is why a firm comprehension of what an MMO gamer wants and what an MMO gamer does not want needs to be realized BEFORE you even start developing your MMO.
Distribution - While the classic store shelf is normally the way to distribute the game, gamers have recently fell in love with digital downloads. I myself find it much more convenient to simply pay the cost and download the game from a service such as Direct2Drive.com. This method really removes the stress of having to worry about being able to play the game in the first week of release, stores being out of stock, etc… MMO’s are now starting to figure out the advantages of setting up accounts for “preplaying”, this basically gives those that have preordered your title a few days to play before the initial release. This feature can help especially if you are going to have a huge number of accounts created on the day of release, as your servers are going to get slammed hard, and the last thing you want to do is have a rough release, gamers buying your title and then cussing when they are unable to actually play the game is not a good thing. A good idea (If you have an open beta) is to allow your beta testers to have the full client on their computer before the day of release and simply have them purchase a serial key to activate the game. Of course this is even better if you have some kind of pre-play program in line. Just remember not to allow too much of a pre-play time, 7-10 days is about as much of a jump start as you want to allow.
Patching - Regardless how well you design your title, you will still have patches. These need to be delivered to your customer base WITHOUT a huge disruption of service. Although I am not a fan of torrent distribution for patches, (Too slow) there are other methods, either separate patch servers or mass distribution through services such as Fileplanet.
Character Creation – When a gamer first starts out in your MMO, he or she is looking to have at least some kind of basic way to customize their characters strengths and/or weaknesses. Be very wary of giving the players the ability of min-maxing their stats/skills as this can cause unbalance in general gameplay. It is awesome to give beginning characters the ability to add/subtract from some stats/abilities at the point of creation, as long as this does not allow the character to actually get a huge advantage, or a huge gimp when compared to other players.
Character looks - Going out into the world of a new MMO and running into someone that looks just like you, is simply unacceptable. The best example of how varied character looks can be is probably COH/COV. Although the character creation in those two titles might seem a bit much, you do not hear gamers complaining about running into other players that look just like them.
Scalability - Don’t get “stuck” with characters that cannot advance past a given point or level. If you do this, then what are you going to add in your first few expansions? Always have the option open to raise the level/stat/ability cap past the cap that is set on initial release.
Gameplay – The most important part of your title. It seems that developers try to make gameplay a “lowest common denominator”, whereas all players must be at least “this smart”. Obviously for the masses this is set way too low. Do not be afraid to give your players challenging gameplay, and I do not mean simply making mobs of a higher level, I mean a challenge from the first time they play the game. The gameplay must be fun AND challenging, without being too repetitive. The easier you make your gameplay, the faster content is burned through, and the less entertaining it truly is. Of course on the other hand if you make the game too hard, then you will have players quit out of sheer frustration. There is a happy medium, but the challenge level in today’s MMO’s is set ridiculously low.
Housing – This feature is so overlooked and when it is not, it is usually abused to the point of being worthless. If you want an example of awesome player housing, look at DAOC. Their housing is set in its own area, (which can be quickly ported to from a major town close by) has a method of giving other players access, has a place for additional storage, helps a little as a coin sink, has a couple slots for merchants, as well as a store for player sales. (On a porch outside) I could even port to my basement from anywhere. You could also change the outside/inside looks and mount trophies and such. I would not have newbie’s be able to buy houses right on the first day of release, but more of a “mid-game” option.
Crafting - This is an area of MMO’s that you either get it right or you totally fail at it, there is no middle ground here. There are so many options here, I will just list a few ideas that do work. DAOC has a crafting system where you can buy the materials from merchants, (Higher level materials are purchased in PvP) and the crafting was worthwhile, but not forced upon the player. Shadowbane had a crafting system that you would actually have NPC’s “roll” the items for you with random stats, then you could take or trash the items as you wished. Rolling items was timed based and took from a few minutes to hours. SWG had a crafting system that was liked by quite a few gamers, you could set up harvesters to get the materials and then set up a shop with your finished wares for sale. Probably the most innovated crafting system is Auto Assault, where you can “break” almost any item and then build it, adding materials to get additional stats. The chance to memorize the item is a percentage based upon skill level and the level of the item, of course even if you memorized the item you can only make so many before the design “wears out”, I assume this is done so that uber items do not flood the economy. Any of these crafting systems can work properly, as long as they are executed correctly. Crafting not only contributes to gameplay, but it also extends the life of your title. A common debate about crafting is what items should be the best in the game, crafted items or dropped items? The easy solution is to make dropped items able to be improved upon by crafting.
Levels? – Not needed. Having character “levels” really does nothing more then separate the player base and community, which IS NOT desired. Eve Online does not have any levels at all, instead character strength is based upon skills, stats, as well as gear. (Ships/Weapons) Players still progress through the game but are not limited to their perceived worth based upon a number. The stronger your community is, the more players you will have and the longer they will stay with that title.
Death Penalties - This is another area that is hotly debated. Although players do not like death penalties, it has spiraled down into a system that death is now almost meaningless in most MMO’s. Players can be very opinionated when it comes to what is acceptable when their character dies. There are plenty of ways that a death is dealt with such as: EXP penalties, corpse retrieval, respawns etc… It would be hard to give you an idea of what would be appropriate for your MMO without knowing the basis or theme of your title. Basically you should install some kind of penalty that does not over burden the player, I mean come on, he/she just croaked. However you simply cannot make it a meaningless event.
Exploits/Bugs – Yes they are in your MMO, you just have not found them yet, but trust me your customers will. Although it is easy to get angry at a player for finding an exploit and using it over and over again, you must remember that the BEST thing you can do is simply patch it out immediately. If it cannot be patched out within a short time, then you must find a way to make the exploit unachievable, until you can patch it out. Do not run all out to discipline a player that uses an exploit, until it is obvious that the player is aware that they are exploiting. Let me give you an example of how you can really irritate your gaming community by wrongly dealing with what you perceive to be an exploit. In WOW there were a few treasure chests that a Rogue could get too and access that other players cannot, since the other classes do not have stealth. A Rogue can easily access the chest and then reset the instance, doing this over and over for hours, players made quite a bit of coin, let alone gaining some extremely high level crafting recipes. Were the players exploiting? No, this is not an exploit. Blizzard did the most intelligent thing they could, they MOVED the chest, the chests that could not be moved were given “guard dogs” that were put between the instance entrance and the chest, since the dogs could see stealth, and players could no longer get to the chest, without getting jumped by the dogs. Later on, timers were added to instance resets, thereby removing this strategy from the game entirely. Here is an example of an exploit: If your character is standing on a rock and can target and kill non-caster mobs that have no way of causing damage to you, then that is an exploit. What is the difference? In the case of the treasure chests, the player used initiative to overcome obstacles that prevented him/her from getting to the chest, never punish a player for using intelligence, skill, or personal ability. It was not fair to the other players or other classes that could not replicate this feat, so Blizzard changed it, which is perfectly acceptable. In the case of the character killing mobs from the rock, the character is using a flaw in the games design that is “not working as intended”.
Hacks – The more popular your MMO is, the more you will attract those that will do anything and everything to get an overwhelming, unfair advantage over other players. This includes those that will use third party programs, as well as read and manipulate packets sent and received from your servers. Theses should be immediately perma banned, as the longer this type of activity is allowed, the more customers you will lose. Hacks can come in many different forms, from outright player positioning, (Porting or teleporting) dupe or duping, (The ability to make copies of items) hastening (Moving/Fighting extremely fast) etc… There is a grey area here as you really need to be specific on what is and what is not allowed, quite a few modders today make UI mods that are usually preferred over the UI that is released with a title, and quite a few of these offer features that give a significant player advantage in certain situations.
Grinding – Do not let this happen in your MMO. Grinding is the act of repeating an action over and over again to the point of complete boredom. Usually this pertains to combat where a player will kill a mob and move on to another mob close by and repeat this for quite awhile, is this entertainment? Why this feature is even in current MMO’s is beyond my mental comprehension. Players have become so used to this, that many times it is actually expected and acceptable to a certain point. I would say that from character creation to the end game, if your players have to grind more then 10%-20% of their play time, you will have detrimental effects on general happiness. A decent MMO that actually has awesome gameplay will lower the negative effects of this activity, but you should do the best to avoid this type of activity at all costs.
Questing – Usually the desired alternative to grinding is doing quests that are given to the player via an NPC. Questing can be employed effectively “IF” you can install a wide variety of quests that can last from the beginning of the player’s experience, until they start to hit the end game. If you simply cannot come up with enough quest content, then at least have NPC’s that will give “Kill Tasks”.(In DAOC) These are basically mini quests that compromise of going to point X and killing Y number of Z creatures. Not quite as decent as an honest quest, it is far better to go on a kill task then to grind.
Forced gameplay – NEVER force your players into an activity or situation, instead always give them an option. In a current MMO there is a PvP system that FORCES it players to achieve so many points per week or their ranking drops, that is horrid! What if I am taking my family on a vacation for two weeks? What if I am in college and have exams that I must study for? I get penalized because I do not have time to log on this week and PvP?!? You cannot concern yourself with an individuals lifestyle, they are paying you a monthly fee for entertainment, why punish them if they are paying you, but they do not have time to play? As I mentioned above, you must cater both to the casual gamer and powergamer, but you must not punish either because they play too much or too little. In DAOC they have a static PvP ranking system, (When I played it had 100 levels, I have heard that it went to 130 over the years) that you progress through and if you do not play you will still have your ranking when you come back, yes other players may have passed you, but at least you were not punished for not playing.
TEG(Time to End Game) – You need to have a scale, while in development, of what kind of time frame you want the character to progress through your content. The average is between 220 and 240 hours from character creation to the end game. I was the first player in WOW to have all the classes in the MMO hit the level cap. (60) The fastest was a little under 7 /played days and the slowest was a little over 10 /played days, this is exactly how a progression should be. Although I did not race through the levels as I was writing articles on gameplay during this time, since I had previous MMO experience as well as open beta experience, I went through the levels rather quickly. Unless you have an amazing amount of gameplay and content, I would try to keep the time between 200-240 hours.
PvP - Most likely this will be a critical part of your end game, needless to say this can make or break your MMO. The first thing that you need to stress is balance, class imbalance is common and widespread in MMO’s today, and is really frowned upon by the community as a whole. Another feature you must concentrate on is to make PvP consensual, this is easily done by zone management. Giving players a reason to PvP is also desirable, in real life human beings need no reason to kill each other, there are plenty of reasons: religion, possession of land, beliefs, freedom etc… In an MMO it is not enough to say “They are evil go kill them”, give players a goal to achieve or an item/area to defend with some kind of penalty for losing ground or an incentive for gaining ground. I will never forget the first time I heard players in DAOC screaming “RELIC RAID!” You would see masses of long lines of horses all headed out to RvR to defend our land, this was a reason to PvP as players felt threatened and although the bonus of the relic was small, that was not the point. The point was that we were being invaded, violated, and we would fight to the death to defend ourselves! Shadowbane had an open land area of PvP where players could build towns and other players could come and destroy them, this also was an acceptable reason for PvP.
PvP Rewards – Giving a player a reward for successful PvP is difficult to do in an effective manner. While having PvP ranks may give a player the ability to make themselves stronger or more effective, this must be a gradual process as you will take a huge risk of making the player too powerful too quickly, or making a player so strong that it gets to the point of being silly. A good rule of thumb is to insure that two players can kill a solo player of the same level regardless of skill/spec/ability/gear. Make sure that the rewards you do give are desirable by the player, giving meaningless rewards will not do anything for the enjoyment of the PvP. SWG had a PvP system in which you could hire NPC’s to run with you after a certain point, DAOC has abilities that could be gained after so many points were achieved, WOW rewards PvP with gear/epic mounts.
Soloing – A player should have the ability to go from character creation to the end game solo, if the player desires. While this sounds like it defeats the purpose of an MMO, there are players that play during non-peak hours as well as players that progress slower or faster then other players. Remember choice is freedom and forcing your players into groups will not work.
Grouping - There should be some kind of significant incentive to join a group, the common method is to give a bonus to experience gained or items dropped. An MMO that has a strong number of players in groups voluntarily will tend to increase the life of the MMO as the players feel part of a community. Also be sure to have some kind of system in place so that a solo player that is looking for a group has the ability to let others know that he/she desires to be in a group.
Guild support - When players meet and play online, friendships are usually created, and these friends usually like to play together. You need to have a guild system in your MMO that makes this as effortless as possible. Players should be able to communicate instantly, of course putting a voice communication in your MMO makes this extremely easy. A ranking and privilege system should also be implemented to allow guilds to see who has been in the guild for quite awhile and who has just joined yesterday, as well as, who is online and who is not. In Eve Online you can even set up permissions for who does and who does not have access to “guild property” such as items/gear/ships.
Setting – Although the fantasy setting is tried and true, do not be afraid to look elsewhere, gamers have expressed a desire for something else as the whole fantasy setting is really getting played out. How many different types of Elves, Orcs, Swords and Sorcery can there be? Sci-Fi is always there as well as others.
Black Market – If your MMO becomes popular enough you will eventually run into the problem of what to do about players that wish to buy/sell items/accounts/coin for real life money. I have seen both sides of this over the years and there is simply no way you can win this battle, you are more then welcome to ban it, hire staff to patrol Ebay, and take any action within the context of the law to try to stop it. But in the end you will have to face reality, and reality dictates if there is a demand, someone is going to create a supply. If you wish to minimize this type of activity in your MMO, you only have three options. You can ban any kind of player trading, (In game) which will doom your MMO before it is even released. You can do the best you can to build a solid economy where the buying of coin/items is not really needed since the player has easy access to coin and items. The problem here is if you make the economy too “loose” then you will have massive deflation and everyone will have the same type of items/gear, if you make the economy too “tight” then you will actually encourage players to go out of game and purchase the coin/items, because of inflation in the game will make these items unattainable by normal means. The third option is to do what SOE is doing with Station Exchange, simply give the players the option of taking part in this activity in a secure environment, buying/selling between themselves. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three solutions, which one is best for your MMO greatly depends on what you feel is acceptable.
At least three antagonists – Do not doom your MMO by only having two sides! If you do this you run the risk of one side becoming too strong, overwhelming the other side. This ruins the game for everyone involved, you will also have one side being labeled as “good” and the other side being “evil”, generally whatever side has the race of “Human” and/or “Elf” will be considered "good". In DAOC you have the Albs, Hibs, and Mids.(Albions, Tree Huggers, and Trashcans, sorry could not resist, LOL) If one side gets to be too strong the other two can always gang up and work together against the stronger opponent. Remember you are aiming for balance here, and you cannot have balance if you only have two sides. Think of the U.S. governments system of checks and balances, it only works with three sides. If the U.S. President ever gets “out of hand” the Supreme Court and the House/Senate always have the power to remove him. I don’t like crossing politics with gaming, but in this example it works, so go with it.
User Interface – Having an interface that gives precise, clear control over what the player would like to accomplish is a necessity. Having tons of spells and skills on hot bars, scattered all over the screen is not going to help. Skill/abilities that are not combat related to PvE or PvP should not be on the UI when the player is in the middle of combat, as this does not add to a player’s control. Also be wary of players creating their own UI mods, some may be better for the actual game that what you created, however others can enter that grey area, on the verge of giving players an unfair advantage over someone that does not have that particular UI mod installed.
Community – The vast majority of MMO gamers want a community that they can feel a part of, this is another reason why you should offer decent incentives for grouping together. You can build a great MMO, but if have a horrid community, players will leave rather quickly. When you are developing your MMO, keep in mind that anything that allows a player to grief another player detracts from the community experience, also pushing solo gameplay will leave a player asking themselves “Why is this a multiplayer game?” Grouping or soloing must be the player option, with grouping being the better choice. (When other players are available)
In Game Humor – Although this is not a necessity in MMO’s, it does add enjoyment. No gamer is going to complain about having a smile on his/her face while they are playing your MMO. The hard part here is putting humor in your game that someone does not find offending, it is a big world and if your MMO is a big hit then different people from all over the world will be playing it. Poking fun at a religion, greed, color sex, sexual preference etc… will not help your game.
Constant Progression – This importance of this cannot be overstated. Eve Online has a system where you character is constantly progressing whether the player is in the game or offline. The constant progression should be small but noticeable, if the player cannot play for a week or a few weeks due to issues in real life, and they come back to the game and their character has at least progressed in some way, this immensely adds to the players desire to keep playing the game, as they will not feel punished for “having a life”. The very opposite of this is devastating to a game, where you force your players to play so many hours a week to achieve a goal. As I have said before you will have casual gamers and powergamers playing your title, and you must cater to both. A powergamer should be able to progress through the game at an accelerated pace, but not so much that a casual gamer feels that it is useless to play.
Secure trading – This should be considered a “gimme”, you cannot allow a player trading system that allows one player to scam or rip-off another player while trading. A situation where a player can quickly remove an item from a trading screen and insert another, less worthy item, that looks the same cannot be allowed. The best way to implement this is simply to put in a timed delay, for example if both players have items on a trade screen and one of the players removes an item, the other player will be notified that an item was changed and there is a 3 second delay before the trade can be executed.
Purpose of being rich – In the end game when the player starts to amass wealth, there needs to be something constructive to spend it on, otherwise the value of the coin will start to lose its meaning. There is a huge variety of things you can implement in your MMO to solve this problem, creativity would come into play here.
Player Economy – This is another area where you can build a decent MMO, however if your economy sucks then you will lose players. Players should have the ability to have an auction house, vendor, or other form of trading where they can display the items they do not want and the price at which they are willing to sell them for. The best way to implement this is to allow new players to buy useful items from an NPC merchant, up to a certain point in the game. After the player gets about 25% through the game, the player should be directed to buy player made items or items that other players are willing to sell.
Mounts/Travel – It is common in MMO’s today to have large travel times to from point A to point B, this is usually due to the MMO having inferior gameplay or inferior content and is intended as a time sink. At the lower levels of an MMO, travel time should be expected, however when you start to hit the end game players should have the ability to travel long distances rather quickly, of course this would be a good place for a coin sink.
Instances – Even though these have been around for a little while they are still hotly debated as being a drain on the community, since instances are said to push for solo gameplay or small groups. Soloing and only being involved in small groups tends to lessen the feeling of a player being involved in, or a part of, a large community. My advice would make it a communication option, have the player be able to limit incoming messages and requests at the player’s choice. Also some end game instances may take 8-12 hours to complete, this really limits how a casual player can take part in the instance.
Storyline Appeal – A decent believable storyline can also add to a player’s positive experience while playing your title. A lot of players today find the storyline so completely boring that they simply click through content whether it is accepting a quest or listening to an NPC. Try to incorporate hints or tips in a quest description that would help the player if he/she actually reads it, without making it impossible for a player to complete, which does not read it.
Server Populations – Server Maintenance Options - Another big disappointment for a player is to log on a server that has either too many or too few players on it. Of course when starting out you must consider the fact that guilds/clans from other titles will be joining your MMO. You must be able to give these groups of players the option to all join on the same server. This can lead to problems if the server they wish to join, already has a large population. You can easily remedy this problem by giving players and guilds an incentive to start on a different server, such as an initial coin or exp bonus. The bonus should be small enough not to jeopardize game balance on the server, but it should be large enough to convince the player/guild to join the other server. When having to shut your server down for maintenance (Or a crash/problem) try to give players an option of playing on another server, if only for a temporary amount of time, until you can get the other server up and running. Of course for “Patch Day” you should do everything possible to make the patch implemented in an expedient fashion as to not interrupt the player base on that server for too long.
Public Relations – Always be upfront and honest on your boards while in development and after your title goes gold. Giving bad release dates, misleading gameplay features, and generally being seen as “unfriendly” will be devastating to your effort. Always be positive in your attitude and if gamers have questions, then answer them, if you do not know the answer to the question then find the answer, do not take a guess or make something up.
Endgame – This is where every MMO to date as failed. (For the most part) This, IMO, is simply due to a failure of creativity. When you are creating your MMO, there has to be some purpose to progress to the endgame, there has to be something to do after the character has progressed through the majority of your content. This is the reason I have stressed so much the importance of gameplay over content, because in the endgame your gameplay will be the only thing that will stop your customer from going elsewhere. Yeah, you can always add more content through expansions, (The first expansion should be started on even before the initial release of your title) however it is the gameplay that will keep your customers happy between injections of content.
In Conclusion - Well there you go, if you implement every feature listed above, in an intelligent manner, you will have an MMO that will be far ahead of what is in today’s market. The MMO genre as a whole desperately needs to evolve. Of course this is just the beginning as I have thought of numerous features (Besides the implementation of the above mentioned) to add to an MMO that are not in any of today’s MMO’s, whether already released or in development. So it is very much possible to create a “near perfect” MMO, that does not have a “failure of communication”. The basic concept to remember is to know your customer before trying to market a product to them. Do not try to advertise something (Features/Gamplay/Content) you do not have, because in the MMO industry, word of mouth far exceeds anything you can say or advertise. The MMO community is extremely close, and a few negative comments by people that are greatly respected in the MMO community will overrule any time or money that you have invested in advertising. I will apologize for the comments being so short as I was trying to keep this under 3500 words, which obviously did not happen anyway.
In article references:
DAOC: “Dark Age Of Camelot” http://www.darkageofcamelot.com/
WOW: “World Of Warcraft” http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/
Warhammer Online: http://www.warhammeronline.com/english/home/index.php
DEEP BLUE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Blue
COH: “City Of Heroes” http://www.cityofheroes.com/
COV: “City Of Villains” http://www.cityofvillains.com/
SWG: “Star Wars Galaxies” http://starwarsgalaxies.station.sony.com/
Auto Assault: http://www.autoassault.com/index.html
Eve Online: http://www.eve-online.com/
SOE: “Sony Online Entertainment” http://www.station.sony.com/en/
Station Exchange: http://stationexchange.station.sony.com/
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