MMOWTF: No Nos for MMOs
Weekly Column by Dan Fortier
Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
Sometimes you look at the debacles that have occurred over the course of the short history of MMOs and you wonder: Do they ever learn? You would think that by looking back with hindsight at some of the mistakes that have been inflicted on us by shortsighted or incompetent developers that the next generation of publishers would have compiled a very comprehensive list of what not
to do. Sadly, we see the same mistakes being repeated time and time again mixed in with a fresh batch of new blunders with every title released. Have no fear my fickle readers for I have created a short cheat sheet for all current and future designers called: No Nos for MMOs. Read and be enlightened!
Number One: DON'T MAKE HUGE CHANGES TO YOUR GAME AFTER IT'S RELEASED.
This one is my biggest pet peeve of all. Making sweeping changes may seem like a good idea if your game isn't doing so hot, but trust me, it's bad news. First off, it makes it look like you didn't spend anytime actually testing or designing the systems you are changing. You don't want the customers doubting your competence when they are paying a monthly fee. Not only will the current group of players be less than thrilled, but playing Husker Du with your code isn't the best way to keep the game bug free. Keep in mind that the customers you lose aren't going to be instantly replaced instantly with loyal new players who love your new changes either.
At first glance this might seem to be a thinly veiled swipe at Sony, but it's really not, although what happened with NGE did draw a nose pinch and a slight head shake. My main beef with these kinds of changes is that it shows a lack of preparation and demonstrates a general whimsical approach to game design that doesn't fit well with the MMORPG genre. Players expect a certain level of stability in their game and woe to anyone who takes away a gamer's security blanket.
Number Two: DON'T OVER PROMISE.
I've noticed a tendency in Developers to promise the world early on and it's not always a bad thing to keep all you options open, but when your eyes get bigger than your budget, timetable or coding skills, you are going to find yourself in a sticky situation. Now of course 90 percent of the people attending your Dev Chats or reading your blogs won't be around to pay for the final product if it gets that far, but if you don't focus your efforts on the key features that define your game then you are going to end up wasting a lot of resources on unworkable designs.
The next time your fans ask you "Can I play an evil dragon with a rogue class?", think twice before you say "Why not?". Know your limits and keep your design goals realistic and you will be fine.
Number Three: TALK TO YOUR TESTERS
This may seem like a no-brainer, but anyone who has beta tested several MMOs can tell you a few horror stories of designers that completely disregarded important and persistent warnings about issues that ended up as game breaking bugs. Remember that these people are testing your game for FREE. Make sure they have easy access to all the game files and patch notes and keep them informed on what aspects you need them to test. While many of them may have ulterior motives, they are a great source of feedback and a motivated group of testers will find thousands of bugs that you would never have found otherwise. If you ignore them, treat them like dirt you will find they will just stop helping or hide critical bugs from you to exploit later. Some are going to do it anyway but you definitely want to keep it to a minimum.
Generally speaking you want to have at least a couple people who are in constant contact with your testers and making them feel a part of the development process. They may be fickle of lack objectivity at times, but it's a win-win situation if you play your cards right.
NUMBER 4: DON'T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET.
This one is quite simple: If you spend most of your time designing content for the max level folks instead of enhancing the overall game experience then you are only contributing to the power leveling problem. There are always going to be people that spend every waking hour playing your game and they will always be able to get bored of your new stuff faster then you can design it. Instead of catering exclusively to this, why not give players a reason to stop and smell the roses?
This isn't about casual vs. hardcore either, if you make it possible to take part in PvP or group content throughout the game you will be much more likely to avoid the 'endgame heavy' development issues further down the road. Sure you might tick off the power-levelers and your forums may have a few more "OMG where r the Tier 5 Mage Cloaks!!" posts, but it will save you more headaches in the end.
I think that's enough good advice for a Monday. Until next week why don't you earn yourself a few stars by contributing to this discussion? I'll be watching.