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Garrett Fuller: Where Do MMOs Go Wrong?

Column By Garrett Fuller on January 28, 2011

I am taking a break from my TERA column this week to ask readers and users a simple question: Where do MMOs go wrong for you? There is a method to this article that I think will help all of us as players get the word out to developers as to why certain things in games work and fail. The market has been flooded with MMOs lately and there are many more on the way, the industry thinks players are becoming more picky.  Well maybe it is because we have a lot to pick from. In an age with tons of free to play games, more AAA titles coming this year, and the general shift to games in the online space, it’s about time we reopened the case file on why games can fail.

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First impressions are critical with MMOs. As a buyer of an online game you instantly know you have to invest time into the product. This is not some shooter you can pick up and put down at any time. You are buying the game with the idea that you will play for several hours just to see if you like the game. MMOs have gotten better at finding new ways to add dynamic content in the beginning of the game, but they still follow the old RPG model of level one. Level one means you are fighting goblins or imps, or something easy. Basically, you enter the game with the point of view that, you are a noob and can only fight things that suck as well. This method is fail numero uno for MMOs. This is not D&D. The DM cannot create an intricate story line around saving a village from a tribe of goblins. In an MMO there is more at stake. You want to capture the player’s attention quickly so they can move through the game, giving them something fun and exciting at the beginning. The idea of, hey you just spent $50 and a subscription fee on an MMO to start off in the mud puddle killing rats... well it’s just plain bad. Even though MMOs have gotten better at this, they still suffer from the low level blues.

The second way that MMOs can hit epic fail so quickly is by not supporting their community. As we move toward a social media world, communities will become critical to almost everything that games and popular culture create. The music industry died, movies are losing more money every year, and it’s because of the fact that people have other forms of entertainment. In many ways this benefits us as a whole. If you like something, Conan the Barbarian or Knitting, you can join a community about it. These communities will eventually become the audiences of the future. Movies will support a massive community of super hero fans or sci-fi fans etc. Online games started this trend and yet many games do not support their communities well at all. MMOs have improved in this area too, but they also need a ton of work. Guilds are gaining more support, but servers are not. Server events should be mandatory in every game and players from that server should be encouraged to help each other.  Players need a voice and developers should listen. Game forums work well but are filled with too much venom. This needs to change so that really positive changes start coming through. While the online world grows it creates these small pockets of fans. That is your audience. That is who you are building games for. That is who you need to listen to.

The third area of epic fail, and one that is becoming more of an issue lately is the East and West of game design, but not in the way you think. There is a drastic difference in how the Eastern audience and Western audience react to games. There is a different mindset and philosophy that go with each. The epic fail comes into effect when many of these games simply do not translate well with either audience. Some Eastern games are grind-fests to Western players, but that is a popular style of game play on the other side of the Pacific. In North America we are constantly trying to get games oversees to tap into the huge audience that exists. In the end, there are still many bumps and hurdles along the way. My attitude in this is that games should be made that appeal to a certain aspect of the market. See my above comments on community. If the game is designed well and players love the genre then it will easily cross cultural borders. If you are trying to force feed games overseas to players hoping to land a hit, well, that philosophy does not work for anyone. In the end games fail because they try to appeal to both, when really they should just try to appeal to their genre and the fans from both continents win out in the end.

So, in closing, these are my three theories on why games of late have failed so miserably. MMOs have come a long way, but companies still have a lot to learn from their players. It amazes me how much money is spent on games and how many of them fail. In your forum responses, really try to think about where you see games failing lately. Who knows maybe your voice will be heard, and if so, hopefully we will see some changes in the online worlds we all love.

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Garrett Fuller
Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997. He originally joined MMORPG.com as a writer in 2005. In 2007 Garrett went on to handle Industry Relations for TenTonHammer.com. Then, in July 2009, Garrett happily rejoined his old team at MMORPG.com as the site's News Manager. Garrett lives in Hillsborough, NJ with his wife, son and daughter.

His column appears here every Wednesday.
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