Now, I’m late to the party, as the original post is from almost a year ago… but there are a few things that caught my eye.
…Some view it as ‘Bean Counting’. Players are little more than walking wallets to these groups. “Let’s pick up and shake our customers and see if they drop any loose change!”…
I couldn’t help but laugh at that. I have a long-standing annoyance with bean counters, though, so it’s no surprise.
These approaches miss the point: MMOG design is about making fun. Massive games compete with movies, bars, television; you have to remember that you need to make a fun place to escape. In order to do that, it’s imperative that you understand how players are approaching your product.
…You have to design a product from the customer’s point of view.
MMOs do more than compete with these passive forms of entertainment, they compete with real life, considering the massive time commitment that’s almost assumed these days. I think this is one of the huge problems with the “subscription” business model, but perhaps that deserves a separate writeup.
Speaking of commitment:
The concept of long-term relationships is key. … People approach a MMOG as the place where they’ll be spending tens or hundreds of hours in a world. This is very unlike standalone, play-once games. … you’re looking for a lot of potential. You want to see bigger and better things coming down the line, where the game will go.
I can’t help but think there’s a bit of cart-before-the-horse syndrome going on here. As I see it, this is the business model dictating game design. I’m not totally convinced, but I suspect that the Guild Wars model is important to the future of the genre. Players don’t want to make five year commitments, especially casual players. They want to play game for a while, and not feel like they are required to play to get their subscription money’s worth. Sure, from a hardcore point of view (games as a part-time job, or more), the old “sub price is cheaper than dinner and a movie” holds water, but when the game moves into the huge casual market (and the thirty-somethings who start having families and other time commitments), that $15/month starts looking a bit more onerous. That’s especially true as the economy tanks, gas prices explode, and food gets expensive.
…Damion asked the crowd, “What’s the first thing you do when you get into a game?” The answer, of course, is: walk, and then jump. If you walk and jump – and it doesn’t feel right – you’re already put off. “They can’t even get the first thing I do right?”…
Chicken and egg? Would a player whose first MMO was Guild Wars even notice this? This certainly makes sense from a WoW-killer design perspective, but if your game design doesn’t use jumping, why bother? This goes back to “know your audience”, rather than a hard and fast rule about jumping.
The concept of “exit points” is interesting. Since it’s a favorite bugaboo of mine, I’d suggest that there are also “barriers to entry” which include the time commitment, subscription costs, perceived time/payoff ratio, and even tech constraints (including hardware and internet connectivity). If it’s hard for people to play (or justify playing) your game, those “exit points” are preempted by people never joining.
The three Rs, then, are required to keep the game moving forward. Recruitment, means new people into the game. Retaining, means keeping them there once they’re in the game. And Reduction of costs and services. Of these, retention is the most cost-effective of the three.
I like this breakdown. I’d point out, though, that while Retention may be the most cost effective, Reduction and Recruitment are more important for the long term viability of a game, both as a game world and even as a revenue stream.
Hardcore is not a binary thing. It’s a sliding scale, and the goal of designers should be to nudge players down that path.
This makes a lot of sense. The concept of edging down the path makes sense, and should help, at least conceptually, to diffuse the sometimes partisan comments that come from each end of the spectrum. That said, I think there’s a bit of “horse before the cart” here as well. The assumption is that “hooking” customers into hardcore relationships is the best design goal. Or, rather, that hooking customers to a single game is the best goal.
Square hooked people very thoroughly with the Final Fantasy series, creating “brand loyalty”. This was largely before MMOs were huge, but if you have a stable of players who love what you make, even if it’s in discrete chunks rather than an organic MMO world, that’s just as valuable to your company’s viability. Blizzard also has huge brand loyalty, and did long before WoW. Looking again at Guild Wars, it’s possible to take that sort of “discrete chunk” mentality and translate it to a persistent online world.
More to the point, given Moore’s Law (tech advancement) and the generally ADHD attention span of the American consumer (especially casual players), is it really smart to plan for an online world to require a long-term commitment? WoW players are generally disaffected with the “old world”, and play mostly out of inertia, waiting for the next expansion. The play mentality is just as chunked into segments as GW’s expansions, but for some reason, WoW players keep paying the subscription costs despite not really liking the game at times, and can wind up resenting the cost/payout imbalance. That sort of player burnout is not good for the long-term viability of a game world or a company. The revenue generated from habitual subscribers is very much like a home equity loan against the equity in the brand loyalty. It’s playing with fire.
Again, I glare at the sub model; the presumption of justifying the costs is for maintenance (understandable) and for expansion. If expansions come too slow or too weakly, too many players start to question their subscriptions as the “old world” and endgame raiding stagnate. The GW model (and Final Fantasy model, in a way) lets people play for a long time with what they buy without further obligation, giving increased value as time goes on, rather than decreased value as play becomes rote. Note that actual game play doesn’t really change; both can get boring as the players spend more time with the game, but in a sub model, the perceived benefit of paying to play decreases as time goes on, since the costs mount despite the content remaining static.
Hardcore player are the rockstars. People know who are in the top three guilds on their WoW server. These players provide aspirational models for more casual players. Seeing fully decked out players is not daunting, it’s uplifting. It motivates you for future successes.
I call horsepucky on this. Certainly some hardcore Socializers/Achievers fall into this camp, but game design should be concerned with giving any player a good experience, independent of other players. Social aspects are important, but if the game design leans too heavily on the S/A model, it may as well be a glorified chat room. I’m obviously biased by my heavy Explorer bent, but not all players need heroes to be worshipped. Many just need a good game to play.
Damion paused before going on to a topic he obviously felt very strongly about: As a game designer of a massively multiplayer game, you MUST control your game’s culture. It’s important to try to keep the culture of your game as clean as possible.
This is important. I’m probably a bit more puritanical than most denizens of the web, but I have a very low tolerance for stupidity, profanity, jerkiness, and crudeness. Again, if the casual market is to be given any credence whatsoever, the much-maligned “family friendly” is a deep concern. The weird culture of “mature” entertainment *a huge rant for another time* ignores or openly mocks the idea that people want good, clean fun. Buying into that “we’re grown up now, so we can play GTA” mentality is short sighted, puerile, immature and ignorant.
Damion then went on to his answer to the great game/world debate. The answer is something that’s been in his head for 10 years. It’s not new, but it’s not finished. Both games and worlds have pros and cons. Worlds offer realism, simulation, immersion, and freedom. Games offer balance, limitations, powerups, and fun. Just as with the casual/hardcore dichotomy, it’s important to understand that game/world is a sliding scale. No game is entirely game, and no game is entirely world. Damion then notes that there is a third leg to the scale, and that’s community. They are MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER games.
This is huge. Balancing these elements, Game, World and Social, seems to be the key to solid, long-lasting design. Second Life might be a cool “social world”, but the “game” is sorely lacking. That’s also the balance that we have to dance as we try to give players more power in the world, as I noted in my Apple Picking essay. Perhaps I’ll dig into that as a separate post later, but for now, I’ll end this essay with a resounding endorsement of the balanced game design theory.