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Future of MMOs

Basically outlining things I see as needed in next gen mmos.

Author: axlezero

Thoughts on "Failed" MMOs,

Posted by axlezero Monday January 19 2009 at 3:21AM
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A lot of mmo's have come out recently, (Last few years) that have been called failures, and most would blame early releases, and would essentially be correct.  Here is a numbered list of industry "standards" I guess that game devs continue to follow and it boggles my mind that they don't change these.  Find a lower standard, so they release a polished game, while still offering us a game full of content.

1)  Starting Max Level 50: Why 50?  Because eq did it?  WoW did it?  Most games out there have done it?  I would prefer having 20 levels of solid game content, with possible level 20 raid content available to me at release, then to have 20 levels of ok content, and then 30 levels of grinds and crappy or no content.  

There is nothing saying you have to start with 50 levels, and there is nothing saying that level 20 raid dungeons can't be turned into one group content at a later date when you can add levels and more "working" content.

2)  Why release with a billion races and classes?  Give us a run down or list of classes you plan to implement in the future, but have a shorter list of them ready to go out the door.  If you can add more, then by all means go for it.  However get the race/classes that you want at release to be working at least 90%.  Before you try to add in more classes and races.

3)  A world doesn't need to be released with 500 areas right off.  Use one continent, floating isle, planet, or wahtever and fill it with content, and quests, and pack it in good for release.  Planning for others, but not polishing them for release and just give us a big continent packed to the brim, with lots of stuff to do, and then add more to it.  We want a polished game, not one with 300 of the 500 areas empty with out so much as a squirrel to kill.

I say this because the people backing these games obviously want a game out the door making them money, and we, or at the very least me, want a polished game that plays well and has stuff to do.  Racial quest lines, stocked with lore.  Quests for legendary items, that actually work.  Raids, more then one.  Community hot spots for trade, grouping up and questing.

If you give me a solid product with stuff I can continue to do, I will be appeased till you release more content, as I'm sure most would.

What I would love to see is quite simply a game with a max level of 20 out the door, with content actually designed for large groups of level 20s, as well as single group and/or solo content.  Quests that work, zones that are populated, and game that runs smoothly, I can live without the level 50, and the extra races and classes, until such a time that you can continue to release the content.  

In this fashion, you will be able to release a product in shorter time, and the people paying to produce the game will be off your back, because for most mmo's it seems like they are on a 5 year plan, imagine if you could cut that time in half and manage to not piss off your customer base.  A solid product IMO will get more subs, then a massive game with tons and tons of content, that just doesn't work.  Also by releasing a smaller finished game, you can let people know all the stuff that is already in development that will be released over the course of the first year.  Giving customers a lot of cool things to look forward too.

I understand that having all that additional content is good for marketing, but IMO its the game community thats going to keep the subs coming in and if they are happy with the game, then they will tell their friends who will tell their friends.  

Its great that games want to give you the biggest and the best, but as it has been shown time and time again that just fails. Look at WoW for example.  I just think that games try to hard to blow our minds and impress us and fall on their face, where as I'd be impressed with a game that works the first day it goes live, and even more impressed that it has an end game for the current max levels.

Anyway rant off,


fansede writes:

 Good insightful blog.

My comments:

- lvl 50 is as arbritary as the clothes I wear each day.  Guild Wars broke the phantom wall with lvl 20 final level and expanded gameplay laterally with skill sets. It is far from a failure and is successful.  Other games have levels in the hundreds but play more like grindfests.  Levels are values we place on our avatars. It is valuable to the player because we can compare our progression (read: time invested) to other players in the game and give us some sense of organization if grouping / raiding is needed for more harsher challenges.  For Developers levels greatly ease the method to deliver a fun game. Stats, skills, rewards, challenges can be categorized and oragnized so players get a sense of accomplishment. Game balance is a lot easier to achieve as well.

Races/ classes are helpful for players because they want to stand out.  If everyone was Superman, then the MMO game would fail.  You can only soar around with 3-5k supermen for so long. Sure you could change the color of the costume or even modify the costume, but you are still the same character with skills like everyone else. The MMO has to eventually get out the door so a developer can only make so many playable races/classes, and they have to make them fun. So I am always for diversity.  However, like you, I want to enjoy the content outside of character creation. It may be fun for a week or so just playing a creature creator MMO but not at the expense of solid gaming content.

Remember MMO or MMORPG means Massive Multiplayer. If you do not have enough space to handle thousands of players on a server, your game will fail. Vanguard was perhaps a game that had too much space and even mounted travel translated into long trips to have fun somewhere. Years and years of development content gets gobbled up on average in a month. If you try to shrink the size down to a few areas, you better have a buttload of things to do besides host chicken raids, costume contests, dance parties, etc. AND not crash the system because so many people are in the same area at the same time.


Again good read to get our gears grinding

Mon Jan 19 2009 8:39AM Report
Quizzical writes:

The number of levels is purely a nominal thing.  If Guild Wars had decided to make the level cap 200 instead of 20, but made it take only 1/10 as much experience to gain a level and made gaining a level give only 1/10 the benefit, that wouldn't change things a bit.  (Well, maybe 191 instead of 200, so that you gain a level 190 times instead of 19.)

And no, not all games set a level cap of 50 at launch.  You cite WoW, but its initial level cap was 60.  Anarchy Online had a level cap of 200 at launch.

It's a lot of work to get the basic game mechanics in place and working, even without much content.  To launch a game with half the content wouldn't mean it takes half the time to develop.  That might cut part of a year off of the development time--and will get players screaming about a lack of content. 

Mon Jan 19 2009 8:59AM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

Hmm...none of the MMO's I've ever played had a max level of 50 to start.  WAR, Mankind, Eve, SWG, Atlantica.  I'm just saying.=)

And whatever the level cap is, it is simply an arbitrary definition of the amount of content available.  If two games have 80 hours of content and one has 20 levels available, and one has 80, nothing has changed except the first game has 4 hours/content/level and the 2nd has 1 hour/content/level.  I don't know that changing a levelling system really addresses any of the challenges you list.

The main challenge of having just a little bit of great content is people will outlevel it very quickly...and then you will get posts like this lamenting the fact that there isn't enough content.  This is what I heard regarding Conan.  20 levels of awesome content, and the rest, not so much.  And that 20 levels of good content was devoured by some players within several days (and for some probably quicker).  I'm guessing it is hard to sell subscriptions for a game where the good content is devoured in a few days.

I think we all agree we want good content, preferably lots of it.  However, what each of us consider 'enough' is probably radically different.  Designers have a desired amount of playtime they try to give the average player in order to maximize the return on their investment.  I am a 5-hour a day gamer, so in order to get me past the 30 day mark and into a subscription period is 150 hours in content.  A 3-hour per day gamer will only need 90 hours of content, but the stay-at-homes who provide much of the profit of an MMOG might play 9-hours a day and need 270 hours of content in a month.

Many awesome single-player RPG's take 2-3 years to produce for a mere 30-60 hours of content.  Exceptional games like Morrowind with 100+ hours of content are rare.  And yet MMO developers really need to be looking at the 400+ hour content range if they want to have a 2-3 month buffer while they create new content after a game's release.  Is it really surprising that the content they do end up with is not always spectacular?

Many of the failings of MMO's exist because I'm not sure any developer has figured out how to create 100's of hours of content successfully.  A few are close, WoW because they have massive development budgets.  Eve because it is a PvP sandbox game and the development can go more into in-game systems than tons of levelling content.  Many Korean games turn grinding into an art-form, with 1000's of hours of 'content' provided by just adding zeroes onto the end of everything.

Until AI devleops to the point where it can pick up much of the design slack, I don't know that there is a solution to the content problem other than brute manpower or a unique system someone has yet to develop.

I do agree that I'd rather a game go live with a few very fleshed out races and classes, with more added as the game progresses.  To extend your content you could even give a new race as a reward for getting a character to max level.  (Atlantica is doing something similar, with a level 100 character unlocking a new character type if you choose to restart)  However Fansede is also correct in that you need enough different race/class comboes so that folks feel somewhat unique.  What that happy medium is probably unique to each game; it can also be solved somewhat by a good paper doll system, with plenty of hairstyles and clothing options.

Mon Jan 19 2009 9:31AM Report
Frostbite05 writes:

WoW's original level cap was 60 buddy

Mon Jan 19 2009 11:36AM Report
amimia writes:

lol ok I dont think the OP meant that all games start with lvl 50, I think what he is saying that a lvl cap shouldnt matter to a game. It seems that the Devs want to push higher lvl caps and Guild Wars proved the MMO lvl cap doesnt matter. Also SWG didnt have a lvl cap, it was skill based. I do agree with OP on this one. If you look at Blizzard they did this just with a higher lvl cap. They have released 2 expansions since the beginning. But remember before BC they started with some end game content but kept releasing more along with PvP areas. So yes I think Devs need to look at the big picture and not the small picture which what they are seeing is that they need to beat this massive game which they dont. Make an idea like we want the lvl cap to be lets say lvl 50 and we want 8 races and over 350 areas to explore.

So take most of your staff and create aton of content, areas, Raiding, PvP and crafting for up to lvl 30. You will only start with maybe 2/3's of the races and classes. Polish it and bring back Open Beta for everyone like they use to. I dont know how many games have a 2 week Open Beta for everyone and then they release. Some games dont even let you beta test unless you pre ordered.

While most of the crew is working on the game up to lvl 30 then have the rest which wouldnt be much working on content from 30-40 and that would be all of the same areas I just talked about above.

Once the game is released then you move most of the crew to help with the devs that are working on the lvl 30-40 content and a couple races/classes. At this time take a few Devs and start with the content from 40-50.

Start having the community test the content from 30-40 and once its in good shape then release it but make it alittle easier to lvl lets say from 1-15 or somthing like that(just let blizzard).

Just repeat the same with the previous steps but instead of putting everyone on the lvl 40-50 content have a few of the devs go back and start making new content for the old areas like from lvl 1-30. I know its alot harder then that but i think the company that would do this would have a much happier community. Every company needs to realize that the gaming community for MMO's is going to bounce between games alot and yes you will have those gamers that rush through games and then complain that there isnt enough for them but if the game is good and runs well they will come back for more content. that is how Blizzard has done it. they dont keep all 11 mill sub from start to finish. they have their ups and downs too.

Great post :)

Mon Jan 19 2009 12:42PM Report
axlezero writes:

I actually menat 50+ not just level 50.  Meaning as the previous poster said, that I don't need to have a ton of that content at release as long as their is end game for the lower level cap for people to play with for awhile.

Also, Alternate Advancement would be vital as well, giving players ways to advance their charcters without pushing the level cap, just making content at that level easier.  Newer skills tweaked stats and caps.  I'll make a blog on this explain more later.

Tue Jan 20 2009 12:36AM Report
eldanesh117 writes:

I have to say that I agree with all of your points on there.

1) This fact goes double with games with level caps well beyond 200. I could think of some, most notably, Conquer Online.

2) Too much diversity is just as bad as too little. A moderate number is good, but don't make it so that the players have to spend 5 hours just looking through the options. And that's only for the hair on your guy's head...

3) Small area with plenty of content is as big as 500 zones provided you can always provide something to do. Which wouldn't be too far off if they released patches in steady increments.

Tue Jan 20 2009 9:31PM Report
SuperCackle writes:

It's a 100 topic answer to state why MMO's fail But there are key reasons and those are not really debatable in a sensable fashion...

For starters, level caps.. A cap is a bad thing to begin with.. for when you forfill that cap, You lose focus on goals. For instance I have a level 40 shaman in WAR, as soon as i reached 40, the realms stuff was not interesting enough to hold my complete attention, so I quit the game.. I did not want to roll another character because, well the questing in the game was utter boring, a lame path to level 40... Where was the Fun?!?!?!
Ever notice AC has no cap? I think i seen a level 200+ the other day ahaha and its not unbalanced..

Take all the classic and good game MMO's out there.. Asherons Call, EQ, WOW... The questing was actually enjoyable... Each a bit different in their own way.. But basically, you wanted to do a quest, and enjoyed following them and the story.. They had meaning, for you didnt have to do them all but most of them had some sort of reward, whether it be a cool gadget,, A funny ending, A strange twist, or whatnot, you use to show this stuff off and talk about these things with other players..

That leads to the questing problem.. Games just toss out a bunch of crap these days in regards to quests... Go here, kill 20 bears, go here, kill 20 spiders.. go here kill 10 penguins... go here deliver this note... I mean.. I actually want to interact with these NPC's and say NO, DO IT YOUR DANG SELF! hahah

More Long Term Goals...
I remember having to collect things for weeks as I found them to make that special

Since when was grinding bad? I loved grinding... The only ones that hate grinding, are not MMO players and if you hung out on teamspeak in communities over time, you would realize these people have 15 minute game spans...... Usually come around and yack bs non stop and say why they hate this and how things should be.. Pfft, MMO's is all about grinding, and grinding with others in a cool enviroment with a sense of eeireness and threath of death with one false move!

Level rewards, Since when did levels mean i got a new tactic?
A level was a icon of achievement.. not a reward system.

Button Mashing,
Since when did button mashing combat need to replace auto attack? It's not about skills, sorry pvpr's but you know it.. (I pvp sometimes too hehe ) You complained in AOC when you were the TANK in dungeons, because you had to give 100% of attention all the time in the dungeon and if you missed your combo, you were dead... and so was your party! Hahaha,Skill sets is not the answer and creates massive unbalancing in games with each additional class..

Chat systems / grouping interfaces
This instantly showed whether or not a community in game will be successful... you cut off chat, you kill your community. AC had it down to a science, then all these dumb tools and area chats had to be implemented, i can yell so someone farther awya could hear me.. lol get real.. or ughm get FAKE, if you have a community you need to communicate, and OMG Anti-Whiners or Fan Bois, where did this darkenfowl arise from? People slamming on other peoples opinions... and all t hat stuff.. Not good, If they are in chat yapping nonsense your game sucks, its that simple.. if the game was fun, noone would be yapping crap, they'd be busy doing what needs to be done or having fun.

This one is quite simply, to have an economy, you need to deal with gold farmers, why do they bother you? Oh the spam? That can be dealth with.. But to have an economy that is workign means you have to have value to end user and that means things can be bought and sold... You dont want to deal with that? Well might as well remove gold/auction houses etc of the map. WTF is gold for if it has no value?

Who the Heck made the rule, characters can have no inventory? The whole basis of MMO's was around inventory.
So ridiculous... lets make everythign BoE, BoP, untradable
Ugh, Itemization is what MMO's are all about, don't haave it?
You dont have a game... It's that simple. You take away trading
you just helped destroy your own game economy.. Oh you only have a couple purple items.. Pfft, A rare item like that should be obtainable by everyone thru harsh grinding and collection of rare parts, built together by that special crafter with a complete chance of failure... Then it was all worth it.. And it should be prominently displayed.. Oh wait... your 4 toons that look the same all 80 levels long can't handle the chagne because it will take 40 weeks to redo

Development Team
When developing a game, you typically have a story, a world, a bestiary, etc... You design around this lore, not around setting levels and goals, You have to create a world of that envision, and understaand the size thats needed, you cant really always do this with certain lore and a MMO is a huge Project, you may plan to have this that and this and realize you can't do that later on.. you cant say, ok create this and we can patch this in here.. For starters that's already killing basic design flaws.... Aside from this you need talent... you might have all the ideas and money in the world, but if you dont have the right tools, and talent, that can work with one another, you are going nowhere fast.. You also have to implement restrictions on design... ever tell a designer ugh, you need to remove 20% of detail from that sketch (just making stuff up for topic sake) or something along those lines to make it usable? It's not easy to adapt when you employ these people and then performance is not happening... Ever work along side with one of those physics programmers? They are not very pleasant to be around and everything they say is 100% correct and has to be their way, yet at the same time they are laughing at how they can't believe how stupid that last bit of code was.. People leave and people go.

Game design can change overnight based on development teams problems.

This post I can go on and on with... Set record of length with ease.. But I think I got enough thoughts across

When the cookie crumblies, its easy to see the bottom line is if your game fails... the developers failed and the game is not a game... Just becauses its called a game.. dont mean its fun and I think we are seeing too much of this in todays 3D pc gaming land.

Games are just not interesting and very little effort going into FUN

Sun Jan 25 2009 9:34PM Report
SuperCackle writes:

OH, I  forgot to mention the major reason why MMO's fail

Level Based Play can not be achieved in a normal friendship enviroment. Hence why you have these lame cookie cutter MMO's. 

Ever tried to play a game with your friend? You never could, because he did'nt play for a week and you are 10 levels higher. A friend never joined and played because he knoew you were hardcore and he had a fulltime job, a wife and a kid and would be playing alone..

Then you have the situation where the solo minded, and group minded players are segragated.. Now, understand there are many types of solo players.. Some just don't have time for a group, those are understood. But then there are those that only care to solo, why they are in a MMO? i have no clue.. But if you give a player who would group with others the chance to solo... that path WILL be taken.. the easy route.... Well, its easy to him because finding a group IS A PAIN. why is it a pain? Because game developers don't understand a group interface is NOT going to solve anything because low level players and common players don't know enough of what group to get in...This is where "taverns" came into play.. go to the tavern and create your group..and only there can you do so..and you must do so, and then pick a dungeon to raid base on your group..  But this  will never be done because OMG there are 10 players on my screen and my super high res graphics MMO cant take it... so instances need to be done.. YUCK omg,.. blah blah blah you have a catch 22, catch 44, catch of death

Right now I am playing a mage in WOW, (never played this game as i was in AC forever) anyhow I can't even level this mage, its too hard.. I die 15 times a day..I am always looking for a group..  but the tanks want to solo at their leisure (LOL, that is the true imbalance of gameplay) You make a class that can't proceed and a class that will proceed, and you have a clash of disinterest.
He should struggle as much as I as a mage does. I can't proceed, i get bored i log off, eventually i realize my $15/m is more important to me than the non fun title.

Perhaps we solved the true reason why MMO's fail.. Classes
<SARCASM>OMG the game only has ONE class I am not going to play it!?!?! <WHINE><STOMP></SARCASM>
10 bucks says if the game is fun... this player will be all over it like white on rice... But no, 5000 classes must be implemted, and male/female versions, which means 50000 hours animators work.. 0 money for game design.

Unless a game is fun.. its a fail Thats the only concrete knowledge to know and understand

Sun Jan 25 2009 11:20PM Report writes:
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