If it came down to picking the one thing I've found most rewarding since I started writing about MMOGs in the mid-1990s, I might well choose the chance to learn about games, the design and development processes and the industry in general from people whose knowledge goes far beyond my own. Given the growth, broadening and evolution of the category these days, I'm more thankful than ever to be able to access information and highly informed opinions from such individuals.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Adam Bohn, the CEO of free to play developer and publisher Artix Entertainment, which he founded in 2002. While I have definite reservations about putting too much stock in user registration figures, I did take notice when his company announced last month that it had reached the 100 million mark. The large majority can be attributed to five releases including a pair of MMOs, AdventureQuest Worlds and EpicDuel, plus online RPGs DragonFable, MechQuest, and AdventureQuest. All are in the burgeoning web-based sector, which I'm trying hard to understand better.
One thing I wanted to get was Bohn's take on who plays these more casual games, and how they compare with those of serious MMOs, both F2P and subscription. He framed his thoughts in the context of a music-themed zone that is being built for AQWorlds, likening the three sectors' audiences to music lovers who listen to the radio, download MP3s or buy CDs. "See, everyone who loves music... loves music. Sure, there are lots of different genres, but the listeners are the same people. What's different is how they access it. How they choose to listen to their music is a result of where they are, what devices they have access to, and whether or not they NEEEEEEED to get that new CD from their favorite artist - and have the money lying around to do so."
Lest his model cause the raising of eyebrows, he went on to explain that he feels casual mini-games are akin to radio. They're free and available on multiple sites / stations, and new content arrives continually. F2Ps are MP3-like, requiring downloading, which can be daunting at first, but quickly becomes familiar and easy. As well, users wanting higher and more consistent quality tend toward larger companies that charge small, reasonable fees. "Major subscription games are like CDs," he continued. "They are bought from stores, and carry expectations of the highest quality and customer service. Of course... this is where my comparison breaks down into chaos due to the monthly fees."
As for what makes a person choose one over the others, Bohn thinks it's mainly what's most convenient for them at any particular time... "much like in music, whatever their friends are currently into. Most importantly, people seldom only listen to one artist."
And how do web-based MMOGs like AQWorlds fit within this model? After a bit of thought, he compared his game to a free satellite. "Always something new, no downloads, you can listen for free, there are optional premium channels, and you can even get it at work - sorry bosses!"
In a related vein, I was curious to know whether the nature of AQWorlds' particular user base and target audience drives differences in the way it's designed and operated. Bohn replied that the players' most significant effect was making sure the entire storyline and most new content is available to those who don't pay. "Our community and even our paying members were very vocal about making sure the game is enjoyable for everyone. In many F2P games you hit the brick wall where you need to pay for items and consumables just to remain competitive. I give credit to the players as to why AQWorlds will never be that way."
He also said the players help build the game in that the weekly content releases are created using ideas, suggestions and feedback received on the forums. Since as a group, they experience many other titles, he feels AQWorlds' design and expansion are directly impacted by the resultant cross-pollination of ideas, which he describes as intriguing.
I could use the same word to express my feelings about various aspects of the casual MMO sector. Luckily, Adam Bohn has agreed to let me continue my learning process by picking his mind some more, so I look forward to his returning with further thoughts on related topics.
This week's MMOG trivia
Continuing in the spirit of last week's question, Vindictus is the North American name for a game that is expected to launch here later this year. What is it known as internationally?
The original name is Mabinogi Heroes. Created by Nexon's internal devCAT studio and released in Korea early this year, it's described as an online action RPG prequel to Mabinogi.