Allow me to geek out for a moment.
Its been awhile since I stepped foot into a game. I think Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was the last time. I was burned with that. A believer such that I spent money to visit them in San Diego during the development. While it was nice to rub shoulders and drink beers with such pivotal icons like Brad McQuaid, it wasn't long until I found out that again, developers and publishers had missed their mark.
To say that a massive, thriving sandbox world of dynamic goals and events has been a dream of mine since I discovered computing, would be an understatement. Ever since I thought, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if I could play Civilization with real people", my geek-o-meter for this genre of game has been pegged.
I'm not going to go into a history of MMOs here, we all know the story. Unless you don't know the story, then go here. Suffice to say, I've been pleased, burned and disappointed.
Lets get to the brass tacks. MMORPGs need to be less massive and more expensive. They need to be customized and niche specific. You cannot please everyone all of the time. Just some of the people some of the time.
- Build your engine smaller
Build it less like a sand box. If you want it to play like a movie or a novel, there is a set or a stage. Add on later.
- Hire talented GMs, writers, etc.
If you want compelling stories, interactive characters and theme, A.I. and scripted characters aren't going to cut it. Hire real people who have a passion. Give them room to experiment. Don't keep them behind the scenes, give them credit and customers will being to recognize and build a relationship and fan base. Fans are by definition, fanatical.
- Cater to guilds, tabletop groups and clubs.
These people play together, are reliable and will invest. They are the hardcore, live it, breathe it types who will come back again and again.
- Personalize the experience.
Real human interaction cannot be replaced by hard-coded goals. Multiple people should be making this experience as unique and awesome as possible. Live give and take in conversation. Fudging of numeric outcomes, intelligent opponents. On-the-fly plot twists.
- Serialize your content and have seasons of games as they have seasons for television.
NBC doesn't have 1 show. It has variety. They also take breaks, write new material. Sell your game as an event. "This fall, return to the realm of rainbow trolls!" Allow the customer to reflect and try another product. Meanwhile, you're planning away, polishing.
- Create exportable characters to allow a single persona to persist across games.
People become attached. Allow them to wear a campaign ribbon or trophy. People become accountable for their actions.
You can't staff this 24/7 nor should you. People don't play 24 hours a day and because you cater to smaller groups, you don't have to. Several times a week, to monthly. All on a sliding pay scale.
You get what you pay for and all of this isn't cheap. It takes more people, more time to and personal attention to pull off this interaction. People pay more for customer service. If they feel like royalty, they will pay to play. Charge a group rate.
Take this a step further. Charge more for pilot programs. If a group wants to boldly go into fresh territory, charge them a premium for the privilege. First to see. Conversely, charge less for older chapters. If there are a hundred walk-throughs, if they've read the transcripts of group-As adventure, then a lot of the hard work, polishing the experience, is done.
These ideas are all very abstract, but ultimately, brings a little bit of the RPG back into the genre.
I am, of course, available to hire or consult ;)
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