Last week at the Austin Game Developer's Conference, Jeff Strain, a co-founder of ArenaNet, gave a talk about how to make a successful MMO. The Guild Wars official site has been updated with highlights from that speech.
Don't be fooled by the much-hyped success of the top MMOs on the market. The game industry is littered with the carnage of MMOs that have failed over the past few years. Due largely to the social nature of MMOs, gamers rarely commit to more than one or two MMOs at a time. This is in contrast to the traditional game market, in which there is room for many games to be successful, even within the same genre. You may play ten different action games this year, but you are very unlikely to play more than one or two MMOs. This means that it is not enough to make a great game - instead you must make a game that is so overwhelmingly superior that it can actively break apart an established community and bring that community to your game. In today's market, that is a tall order.
Regardless of the business model, the primary factor that determines whether an MMO lives or dies is the size of its active player base. There appears to be a tipping point at around 150,000 players. MMOs that reach this critical mass within a few months of release tend to continue to grow and thrive, and those that do not tend to shrink and ultimately die. The majority of MMOs that are released into the market never reach this threshold.
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