Hello readers of MMORPG.com! Some of you may know who I am, and a lot of you may not. My name is Matt Miller, and for the past 9 years, I have gone by the pseudonym of Positron while working on the game “City of Heroes” for both Cryptic Studios and Paragon Studios. I was Lead Designer for the game for almost 5 years, and before that I worked both on Systems for the game as well as creating missions and story arcs for players to participate in.
I spent most of the past two years designing and outlining how the conversion to “Free-to-Play” (or in CoH’s case more accurately “Hybrid business model”) would work. This involved a lot of research in other games and business models and a bit of player psychology as well. Bill Murphy was kind enough to give me a voice here on the website so that I can give you some better insight into how MMO’s are made, and why developers make the decisions that they do. At least, you’ll see my opinion on why they do what they do, which may or may not actually affect reality. Because unless I actually have first hand information, I am just speculating like you and your friends do everyday.
I would hope that my experience on City of Heroes qualifies me to have these sorts of conversations with you, but if you don’t believe it does, I’ll give you a little more of my background. My first MMO experience came when I had a 300 baud modem on my Commodore 64 and logged into what I later found out was called a “MUD” or Multi-User Dungeon. I could roam around and adventure with other people in a text-based game and I was instantly hooked. When I had access to a comp’d AOL account, I started playing Gemstone III addictively, and then other Simutronics games. Eventually my coworkers started talking about a new game called “Meridian 59” and we all started playing that. Until the day EverQuest was released, that is.
EverQuest was a huge turning point and I played the crap out of it. I never reached max-level, but I was young and playing at my own pace. When my group of friends moved to Dark Age of Camelot, I went too. Of course, being a huge Star Wars geek, Star Wars Galaxies became an obsession, and that obsession eventually landed me a job at Cryptic Studios working on City of Heroes.
During my time on City of Heroes, I played tons of other MMOs, but for obvious reasons never really advertised that fact. The MMOs that got the most play out of me were World of Warcraft, Star Trek Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
During one of the earlier PAX shows, I was asked to speak on a panel of MMO designers about the future of MMOs (the very panel now hosted year after year by MMORPG.com). I was incredibly nervous. What if someone asked a question about something I had no idea about? Turned out I had nothing to fear, as every question being asked was stuff my coworkers and I talked about at lunch on a daily basis! It was then I realized I have something that I can offer to the masses of MMO fans.
Soon after starting at Paragon Studios, I decided to start my own blog and grabbed the domain name MMODesigner.com and twitter handle of @MMODesigner. I wrote several articles there attempting to explain the developer’s side of MMO design, but that site had a decidedly targeted viewpoint. I was really trying to reach other MMO designers and have them learn the lessons that I had learned through trial and error. With this column, I’m taking a different approach. I want to explain to the users why developers might be making the decisions that they do.
It’s an unfortunate side effect of business that the end result of almost all business ventures (including games) is to make money. If you can make a game that is fun and entertaining you have a higher chance that someone is willing to pay for it, and therefore your game will make money. This is what all game designers chase: making something that a user will enjoy. Even though some won’t admit it there is an unspoken part to that sentence: making something that a user will enjoy,(so they will be willing to give me money to experience it.
What I want from you, the readers of MMORPG, is questions. If you have a big “why?” question about an MMO I may have an answer for you. I’ll be up front and say that a lot of the “why?” questions will end up at the same answer: to make more money. But I will try to give you, the reader, some possible rationales that get you there.
For my first “real” article, I’ll try to tackle a question I’ve seen a lot: “Why do MMOs insist on putting in random packs of items or keys to unlockable containers on their cash stores?”
Thanks for reading and be sure ask me questions in the comments below!