Every MMO fan has at least one design feature sitting in the backs of their heads that we wish we could see in the next big MMO release, but for some reason we’re always disappointed and left wondering why no one does anything new and interesting. Over my next few Staff Blog entries, I wanted to take a look at some of the most popular ideas that I’ve seen thrown around on forums and in conversations and take my shot at explaining some of the reasons that said features won’t be likely to show up in big studio MMOs.
I’m going to start off my dream-crushing rant with a look at the idea of Full, Live Content:
One of my fondest dreams for MMOs, and one that I’m sure must be mirrored by other fans, is for an MMO company to be able to offer live content as a regular feature in their games. The virtual world that I’m talking about would have GMs in-game, running events throughout the game world, on a regular basis. They would be able to plan one-time story arcs, react to player actions, interact with players on a level that goes beyond simple quest boxes, and more. It wouldn’t replace static content, but would be something extra. It wouldn’t be happening everywhere, all the time, but it would be happening somewhere.
The problem is, we’re never likely to see it happen beyond the current incarnation of the occasional in-game live event (that are getting rarer and rarer as time goes on). The reasons are pretty straightforward, starting with the fact that it is nigh on impossible to actually entertain a large enough number of people in this way to make the entire exercise worthwhile. It is very difficult to create an interactive, one-time, story driven event for more than a handful of people. Sanya Weathers actually sums this up quite nicely in her “RP Servers are Hard” column written two weeks ago. In it, she mentions the “ungodly amounts of time to design, plan, and execute” live events, and she’s right.
The logistics of trying to run live events 24/7 (or even 12/3.5 if you want to be generous), on what would likely be numerous different servers, boggle the mind. Then there’s the pesky fact that there’s no way to really be “fair” about the whole thing. The number of headaches that would arise for the poor team working on this game would be endless. Players who never encountered any live content would feel lied to and ripped off while the players who did experience the content would undoubtedly complain that so-and-so was given preferential treatment or that they weren’t given a large enough role in the event, or that the devs behind the keyboard were “cheating.” The list of possible complaints should have any possible Community Team member sobbing and rocking back and forth in the fetal position tearfully singing along to Barney’s “I love you, you love me” song.
Then, there’s the financial investment. I just can’t see a studio shelling out the cash for full-time live event staff. We’re not talking about one or two people here. Doing this effectively, throughout an entire world, possibly on multiple servers, would take a fairly substantial team a team that, financially speaking, could be working on the game’s next expansion.
In the end, it’s too much hassle, and more importantly too much of a financial investment, to ever amount to much of anything.
On the other hand, I do have an idea and a lot of you aren’t going to like it.
MMO companies these days are getting more and more gung-ho on item shop based games. No, this isn’t a shameless plug for my last staff blog entry on the subject (or is it?), but rather an exercise in seeing dollar signs where players should be.
Why not offer live content as a paid extra for players? Why not give players the ability to actually buy the time of a GM, or small team of GMs so that they can experience live content? Guilds, I would imagine, would eat it up. Solo players or small group players with too much time and money on their hands could experience something specifically tailored to them.
Yes, it’s a bad idea, but give me a better one. Seriously, in the comments, give me a better one.