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Five MMO Wishes

Jon Wood Posted:
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The truth is that, just like in films, Independent MMOs and Studio MMOs are entirely different beasts. The problem is that they often aren’t treated that way. The press tends to either ignore indies, or put them in the same pile as all other MMOs, the public does the same and often independent developers who get any interest generated will present their game as though it were Studio built without managing any expectations. Be honest about your dev abilities, and charge a lower fee. Show people that there is a viable alternative and they’re likely to try it out.

#2: I wish MMO expectations were better managed

I touched on this a little bit in wish three, but it’s important enough to devote an entire wish to:

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Why does it feel like every single game that is launched these days fails to live up to the massive hype that surrounded their development? The answer is simple: unmanaged expectations.

MMO PR and Marketing departments have become very good at manufacturing a great deal of hype and excitement about their games. So good, in fact, that by the time a game launches, there’s no way that it can live up to the monster that was created by the Marketing department and the word of mouth campaign. The trend recently has been for games to launch with stellar box sales (AoC and WAR) and then fail to retain a vital portion of those players when it comes time to renew subscriptions.

This problem stems from the fact that the first rule of marketing a video game is that nothing negative must ever be publicly said about the game. Because of this, every word that comes from the developers, while not lies, can be quite misleading.

Marketing, however, isn’t completely to blame for unmanaged expectations. There are also word of mouth campaigns started and perpetuated by over-enthusiastic followers of the game in question. These are groups of players who write post upon post in MMO and video game forums raving about the best features of a game without ever mentioning the problems, no matter how small.

The solutions are simple: Developers should be allowed to be honest about their game’s progress, whether it is positive or negative. “Ya know, at launch our PvE system is stellar, but that PvP system we talked about still need some balance. Heavy PvPers may want to wait and pick this game up in 3-6 months.”

Players are going to figure it out eventually anyway, and while managing expectations might seem counter intuitive, it might actually help to retain more players over the long run.

The same can be said for the over-enthusiastic players out there. It’s fine to talk about the best aspects of your favourite upcoming game, but for the sake of those who might follow behind you, be honest and open about concerns that you might have or aspects of the game that might not be so shiny.

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#1: I wish there was a six month phase between beta and launch

It is becoming more and more obvious as time goes on that no MMORPG can be fully considered to be “launch quality” until at least six months into its life, sometimes a year. Look at Age of Conan, which launched without some of the key features even listed on the box. Look at Warhammer Online that was forced to cut four careers pre-launch that made their way into the game over the course of the next year. Look at any MMO that has launched with bugs, missing content, unbalanced systems, etc. and it’s easy to see that “launch quality” and “launched” are not the same thing with MMOs.

My wish is simple. I wish that studios would recognize this gap between development and launch quality and do something about it. I am not, however, without a suggestion:

Here are the sticking points to keep in mind:

From the studio or publisher’s perspective, the game needs to start making money as soon as is possible. Investors need to start seeing a return on their money and the team has most likely just spent 3-5 years working on the game where money was running out way… out. That’s only sustainable for so long so the game has to launch.

From the player’s perspective, games are being rushed out the door and we, as consumers, end up having to pay full price while the dev team works as hard as they can to get the game into the shape that it should have been at launch. Why should we pay full price for an unfinished product?

The solution is simple: Offer players a severely discounted rate between beta and a launch-ready date six months to a year after beta. While players balk at the idea of paying $15 a month for a pre-launch quality product, they might be more willing to accept a fee of $7 to play it in its current state.

Here’s the important part: Dev companies would have to refrain from dialling back the quality of the pre-launch quality product. The post-beta quality would have to stay the same as it is today. Players would also have to accept the fact that while near-fully functional, the game is not launch-ready. They would also have to accept the idea that after six months, their subscriptions would have to go from $7 to $15.

It might seem unreasonable, but that is my wish.

 

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Jon Wood