Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MMOs for the Common Man, Part 1

“I got this great idea. I’m going to make an MMO based off of Iain Banks’s Culture series.”
“What?”
“Yeah, we can have Idirans, Changers, Culture Humans, and other aliens.”
“What?”
“Players can work with space pirates, deal with Eaters, and explore Schar’s World.”
“Ok, almost all those words were in English, but to you, they obviously don’t mean what I think they mean, so let’s start again.”

So you think you have this wonderful idea for an MMO, some exciting idea or unused property that will draw an audience. You have a vision of what the game should be like and play like. You have secured rights, opened a web site and hired developers. Things are running smoothly, but there is one thing you forgot to think about. Customers.

Customers seem the be the most over looked part of MMO development, which is odd considering they are the most crucial part of the MMO cycle, you build, they play, you build more, they play more. With out the “They” portion, you have a few million in development gone to waste.

And considering that I am exactly the demographic that video games and pop culture in general seem to target (adult male between 18 to 34, with multiple computers and game consoles, a household income well over the national average, and plenty of disposable income and credit), it is amazing how often my opinion appears to be discounted in MMOs. They do a good job on targeting press releases, banner ads, and box art to me (Ozzy Osborne, boobs, Mr. T, boobs), but actual game play seems to be targeting the unemployed hermit with no social skills, love of repetitiously engaging in the same series of button clicks, and who happen to have multi thousand dollar computers that they meticulously update with the latest hardware and software on a monthly basis.

Granted, I’ve been on enough MMO message boards to know that those people do exist. But how many of WoW’s 11 million plus accounts belong to those people? Is it really enough that companies can afford to alienate other players by catering to them?

Apparently, there are, based on the MMOs I’ve tried recently. I’ve been playing MMOs since Everquest in 2001, kind of a late adopter, I know. But I’ve been through a lot of them, EQ, Sims Online, WoW, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Age of Conan, Runescape, Matrix Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and a nameless mass of free to play or microtransaction based MMOs. I’ve also beta tested Tabula Rasa, Lord of the Rings Online and Champions Online.

I’ve tried so many at this point, I know who copied what off who. I can play a few minutes and tell you which other games the designers had a hand in. And I know within 1 hour of play whether I’m going to like a game or not. As such, I’ve got a set of guidelines for future (and current) MMO developers who want to target me, a guy with cash, but who also has the stuff that makes cash possible, like a job, bills, a family, and a hobby or two that doesn’t involve the phrases LFG and WTS.

This looks to run a might long, so I’m going to break it up into parts.

1) I don’t care about your “Vision”. Yeah, this one is pointed directly at Cryptic and Jack, I couldn’t care less about what your inner artist believe is compelling and speaks to the inner nature of man. I have a very nice art museum a few blocks from my house for that, thanks. Anything you add or remove from the game that does not go directly to “Fun” or “Playability” (which seem to have become alien concepts to developers recently) just to fit your Vision, you need to reconsider. And if after reconsidering, you want to keep it, go back and reconsider again, and keep reconsidering until you realize we only care about having fun with the game and dump things that are not either “Necessary” or “Fun”.

1a) The following do not fall under the category of “Necessary”:
Time Sinks
Fighting any member of the rodentia family or the equivalent there of
Time Sinks
Death Penalties
Time Sinks

More coming soon

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