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Intentional design "flaws" in the MMO market

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http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/12/27/1748252&mode=flat&tid=127 I'm sure most people have read this article and the usual crapshoot of comments following it, detailing the various techniques that are employed by MMO parent companies and developers in order to extend suscriber time and increase company revenue. It's unsettling to see an entire genre dominated by corporate greed, but what's even more unsettling is that there are actually worthwhile aspects expoused by some of the time sinks and limitations put forth in MMO's. For example, in World of Warcraft, you have to defeat many many "trash" mobs to get a shot at bosses, you have repair costs to worry about and the hassle of getting 40 competent people together for a challenge. However, at the end of it, there is some sense of accomplishment. What are some ideas for extracting the worthwhile from the bullsh*t intentional design flaws?

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Personally, I reckon procedural / emergent worlds are the way forward. Can't see it happening in the mainstream any time soon (too hard to balance and predict) but in the indie scene, definitely.

That said, I think we can look forward to indie MMO's pushing things in quite a few directions, in the same way the shareware scene did with FPS's. New and interesting gameplay concepts can be tried in indie projects without the huge commercial pressures a mainstream studio have. I always ramble on in this way. I'm gonna stop now. :-)

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The writer of that article has it completely backwards.


Why are MMO game companies different than other game companies?


EVERY game company out there is striving to make the most bang for their buck. It doesn't matter what their pricing model is, game design is always going to center around cost efficiency, not player enjoyment.

Often times, cost efficiency and player enjoyment coincide since you need players to enjoy your game in order for them to buy it in the first place. The problem lies in the fact that a game company is trying to do THE ABSOLUTE MININMAL work required to get you over that hump.

Since MMO games rely on recurring revenue they're actually more likely to come up with compelling gameplay than a "regular" game. After all, at least the MMO game has to continue to hold your interest in order to keep getting money out of you. A "regular" game already has your $50 and they could care less if you no longer like the game two days after you've bought it.

Plenty of people don't fall under the spell stated in the article "The game becomes a source of frustration and anger instead of a source of entertainment and fun. It becomes a chore." I for one cancel my account when that happens, as do plenty of others.

When the writer says this: "They care little for player complaints, and less about player suggestions and requests." nothing could be further from the truth. "regular" game developers care little for complaints. They have little revenue to gain from addressing requests and suggestions. MMOs on the other hand have all kinds of revenue to gain from addressing those complaints, since that means continuing revenue from the people making those complaints.

Final words: That article was written in 2002. It's no longer applicable. There was no vialbe MMO alternative to EQ at that time. If SOE didn't provide the greatest gameplay, so what? Where were you gonna go? Ultima Online?

Today, WoW has proven that gamres will chose the best option out there. It is possible to attract new MMO gamers and lure existing gamers away from other games. We're much more likely to see innovation coming from this new competative atmosphere than any "regular" game.




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@benfinkel: Big companies are out for the $, as their investors demand it. Indies can be a little bit better, just wanting to be paid for their time and a bit of money to bank roll the next project. Some people out there are honestly out for the pleasure of doing the work and are just happy to get paid for it. They want the player experience to be amazing and great, screw profits.

Just because the majority aren't this way, don't pigeon hole them all.

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Original post by benfinkel
Final words: That article was written in 2002. It's no longer applicable. There was no vialbe MMO alternative to EQ at that time. If SOE didn't provide the greatest gameplay, so what? Where were you gonna go? Ultima Online?


Actually there was. Sure everquest was largest with its 3-500k members but asherons call probobly hade around 120-150 k members at that time too. And i think Anarchy online was in its starting problematic period.


But as i see it. MMOs dosnt use all the capacity there is to use from presistant world. And mmos as well as other games have been dumbed down to let everyone and there grannys to play. I think its impossible to make an mmo game that satisfies everyone. SOme might like mechs some might like a pokemon approch. Some might wantt o have an fps typ and others like wow.

As i see it there are to many flaws in todays games. And way to easy. And way to narrow. In a world of mmos You cant be the singel hero becouse it isnt a singelplayer game. Therefore there must be ways to make each player unike.

Not like Linage2 or wow were each high level char is built with certain skills and same armor becouse its "the best" game has to offer. So more random More prucedial( generated ) Let the world evold. Have world events. Unike entities ( So you cant kill the same boss 200 times ) And offer great depth and replayebility. Take away "flavour of the month" part ( NO RESPECCS ) Make the character system so that it dosnt force an egocentric way over the game( You have to raid 200 hours before you get to bid on DKP on items ) NO BIND ON PICKUP STUFF. Let "eventual loot" be devided fairly and let the players trade at a later point. Open world, no instancing. A world that evolvs. if it has pvp. Let the pvp mean somthing. Let players catpture eachothers baces brun down eachothers villages and so on. Let each action actually mean somthing and you will have an world that actually effects people able to make each and everyone UNIK.

Sorry hope this rant is helpfull to someone or argu/discuss with me what can be done to improve the world of massiv multiplayer online games.


summery: Todays games to easy, to dumb. MMO's to narrow to static.

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Original post by Mike2343
@benfinkel: Big companies are out for the $, as their investors demand it. Indies can be a little bit better, just wanting to be paid for their time and a bit of money to bank roll the next project. Some people out there are honestly out for the pleasure of doing the work and are just happy to get paid for it. They want the player experience to be amazing and great, screw profits.

Just because the majority aren't this way, don't pigeon hole them all.


Mike,

You're right, I'm sure there are plenty of people out there developing "for the love" as opposed to the paycheck. This isn't about individual developers or designers. It's about companies and their motives. ANY company, any company at all, answers finally to the bottom line. They can have the best intentions in the world, but the bottom line rules all. Any company that doesn't pay attention to the Benjamins will go out of business and not be developing at all.

I wasn't trying to be mean or take shots at game developers. They need to eat just like everyone else and as consumers of their product we need to understand that their interests necessarily need to lie in places other than our interests.

Aside from that, the companies being addressed in that article are not the small, indie dev studios cranking out amazing games for the IGF and then never being heard from again. It's the Sonys and MSs and Bungies and Ubis of the world that are in this position and they DEFINATLEY are driven by corporate needs.

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Original post by Athos


Actually there was. Sure everquest was largest with its 3-500k members but asherons call probobly hade around 120-150 k members at that time too. And i think Anarchy online was in its starting problematic period.



True dat. But, I still don't think people at that time "recognized" the alternatives or were jumping ship from one game to the next all that easily. People playing EQ tended to stay playing EQ, because they felt (probably accurately) that they couldn't get the same gameplay elsewhere.

It's different today. MMO gameplay has taken some major strides. It may not have had any major leaps yet, but WoW definatley has come close to perfecting the original EQ formula that you could consider "1st Generation MMO Gameplay". People today know more about games like Eve Online, WoW, Planetside (still around?), and even services that compete in a different paradigm like XBox Live (I for one cancelled my WoW account to sign up for an XBox Live Gold Account).

If nothing else, the sheer volume of MMO alternatives today is so much greater than 2002 that MMO developers are forced to innovate and compete for the gamer's attention more than ever before. You've named three MMOs available in 2002. How many are there today?

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Original post by benfinkel
Since MMO games rely on recurring revenue they're actually more likely to come up with compelling gameplay than a "regular" game. After all, at least the MMO game has to continue to hold your interest in order to keep getting money out of you. A "regular" game already has your $50 and they could care less if you no longer like the game two days after you've bought it.

Today, WoW has proven that gamres will chose the best option out there. It is possible to attract new MMO gamers and lure existing gamers away from other games. We're much more likely to see innovation coming from this new competative atmosphere than any "regular" game.


Ironically enough, I play in a raiding guild in WoW. I find the same complaints and mannerisms expoused in that article are true even in World of Warcraft.

Also, take a game like WoW for example: The $240 million in box sales (this figure assuming that the only people who bought the game are the ones still playing it; actual revenue is much higher) more than covered initial development and deployment costs as well as providing a buffer for subsequent costs of operation. That $15 they charge a month is gravy.

Given that the general goal of business is maximum profit for minimum cost - doesn't providing a mediocre and addictive experience save money compared to actual gameplay?

The dicotomy between "raiders and non-raiders," over abundant time and money sinks in the game world, and generally tight lipped "community managers" in WoW doesn't bode well for any ideas about WoW not being an almost completely commercialized MMO. It's perfectly engineered to keep people playing and paying indefinitely - for profit.

Compare this to a game like Counterstrike Source - past the initial game sales, what reason does the developer have to provide content with no reccuring profits? Yet they still do - often in my experience more satisfactorily than Blizzard does.

It's either ineptitude or money hoarding. Given the departure of design leads and even the Vice President and cofounder from the company, it seems to be more the latter...

In any case, one example. Don't discount it as tinfoil hat pseudotheory either - it's a well known fact that that's how business functions.

WoW may be the best MMO out there, but not because it's good - the other ones suck comparatively. There is no competetive market - it's a market dominated by one product with a 6 million user base. Hopefully, something innovative (and procedural ;P) will come along to rock the boat.

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Original post by Nytehauq
Also, take a game like WoW for example: The $240 million in box sales (this figure assuming that the only people who bought the game are the ones still playing it; actual revenue is much higher) more than covered initial development and deployment costs as well as providing a buffer for subsequent costs of operation. That $15 they charge a month is gravy.


Not entirely gravy. I would imagine they have an overhead that we can barely imagine. Staff salaries and technology upkeep alone are taking a big chunk of their change every single day.

That doesn't mean they aren't making money hand over fist. I believe they absolutley are. It's just that their business model is predicated around people CONTINUING to play the game, not buy it once and walk away. Blizzard is using that "gravy" money to fund the current operations as well as future projects.

Quote:
Original post by Nytehauq
Given that the general goal of business is maximum profit for minimum cost - doesn't providing a mediocre and addictive experience save money compared to actual gameplay?

The dicotomy between "raiders and non-raiders," over abundant time and money sinks in the game world, and generally tight lipped "community managers" in WoW doesn't bode well for any ideas about WoW not being an almost completely commercialized MMO. It's perfectly engineered to keep people playing and paying indefinitely - for profit.



Addictive? Yes. Mediocre? almost irrelevant. But that was the point of my post. They will always be trying for efficiency. This means lowering the gameplay standards (if we assume that worse gameplay = cheaper costs) but there is a minimum standard that they have to maintain in order to not lose players. They couldn't patch the game so that it crashed every ten minutes, people would leave. That minimum point will be constantly changing. Given the more competative nature of the MMO market today as opposed to five years ago, I believe that minimum has risen dramatically and will continue to rise.

And doesn't good gameplay by definition have to be at least a little addictive? If I wasn't addicted to it at all, where would my motivation to play come from? Games are a luxury good, not a necessity.



Quote:
Original post by Nytehauq
Compare this to a game like Counterstrike Source - past the initial game sales, what reason does the developer have to provide content with no reccuring profits? Yet they still do - often in my experience more satisfactorily than Blizzard does.


That's purley opinion. I played CSS quite a bit too and plenty of people bitched and complained about the poor quality of the gameplay, the poor quality of the updates, and the constant bugs that those updates brought with them. Search around the interweb and you'll find plenty of people with the same complaints about CSS and Valve. And Valve doesn't even have to maintain nearly the technological overhead that Blizzard does. CSS is client-hosted.


Quote:
Original post by Nytehauq
It's either ineptitude or money hoarding. Given the departure of design leads and even the Vice President and cofounder from the company, it seems to be more the latter...

In any case, one example. Don't discount it as tinfoil hat pseudotheory either - it's a well known fact that that's how business functions.


Again, that was my exact point. They are a business, not a charitable organization. If they acted any different they wouldn't be acting in the best interests of the 'shareholders'. The thing to realize is that what counter-balances that fact in ANY industry is competition. The more competition, the more likely you are to lose your customers to a better product. That's what forces you to improve your product. The reason that games sold on a 'regular' price model get patch releases by the Developer at all (remember, that's a sunk cost for them) is because the Developer wants you to buy a FUTURE game of theirs. They want MORE money out of you, same as an MMO. The 'MMO' price model is the same but they're interested in you continuing to spend money on an existing product.



Quote:
Original post by Nytehauq
WoW may be the best MMO out there, but not because it's good - the other ones suck comparatively. There is no competetive market - it's a market dominated by one product with a 6 million user base. Hopefully, something innovative (and procedural ;P) will come along to rock the boat.


Amen. WoW isn't all bad, but like I said in one of my other posts, it's the best "1st generation" MMO out there for sure. I feel that WoW has finally proven the article wrong. It's proven that people WILL flock to better gameplay, which will cause developers to find ways to improve the gameplay in their offerings. The 'addict' model really doesn't hold much water. If people didn't enjoy some aspect of the game, they wouldn't play. You can't blame the Developers for somehow hypnotizing all of these people into playing. I mean honestly, we can go outside and kick the football around too ya know, it ain't Blizzard's fault that I want to get to level 60. And don't give me any "I just want to play all of the game I bought" baloney. Every buyer knows exactly what he or she is getting when he or she buys that game. Noone has been duped or fooled into a model they were unaware of.

The simple fact of the matter is that all game companies operate exactly the same, as does any other company out there. You're fooling yourself if you think that they'll ever operate any differently.

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I played WoW for a while, I didn't think it was exceptionally fun. It certainly didn't feel groundbreaking for an MMORPG. There are now hundreds of mmo's to choose from. Heck, just look at mmorpg.com.

Rather than singling out MMORPGs, look at the corporations. Heck, not just gaming corporations, but all corporations. How far are corporations willing to go for profit? How many will pull an Enron; lie, cheat and steal their way to $$$ in a manner that makes Mr. Krabs look generous. By and large, corporations hold profit over customer compassion. Its sad and true.

I think indy developers generally work under a different philosophy. That philosophy is "Have fun making this thing because it probably won't make a lot of money."

In hindsight, the article is much more an [old] critique of Sony's Everquest. Most of the comments in the article are specific one one MMO, not all.

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