10 Suggestions to Improve the Next Big MMORPG

Posted: December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

Sort of a follow-on to the previous post, but I thought it warranted separate discussion as it could apply to both traditional or new MMORPG designs.

1.  Have a coherent MMORPG vision.

Of course this sounds obvious, but I seriously feel like most of the games we’ve seen of late are lacking in one of the 3 key words above.  Many of the games simply seem to have no vision at all, that’s the saddest and they are hardly worth discussing.  Some of the games may have a vision, but it’s more accurately a group of visions that have been jumbled together, some which conflict with each other, i.e. the vision absolutely needs to be coherent.  If you want to make the ultimate PvP game, then let that be the vision and don’t compromise by forcing in a bunch of Hello Kitty PvE to gain a few more subscribers.  And lastly, you better damn well know exactly why your game MUST be a MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER game.  If the gamer can get the same (or perhaps even better) experience in a smaller multiplayer scale, or single player scale, there’s no reason to demand all the resources required of an MMO.  STO is a great example of this, the game could have been a nice story-centric multiplayer game where the focus was on you as a captain building up your NPC crew, mixing in space and ground combat for away missions that led to a big epic story payoff. 

2.  Undertand who your target audience is.

You aren’t going to get everyone to play and love your game, so know from the getgo who you are targetting and cater the game to them.   Do your research on the different types of gamers, and learn how much time they are going to put into your game.  Trying to appease everyone generally just pisses people off.  If you are creating a niche game for hardcore gamers who have tons of hours to play, don’t be shy about it.  If you want masses of casual gamers, don’t be surprised or get your feelings hurt when hardcore folk label your game carebear.

3.  Know exactly what the intended gameplay is for every stage of the game.

Let’s say you have divided the game into tutorial, beginning, mid-game, late-game, and end-game stages as a baseline.  Maybe these stages are level based, maybe area or skill based, who knows.  In any case, you should understand exactly what your players will generally be doing (or what you intend them to be doing) to “progress” and continue playing, while in these stages. 

Of course much of this depends on #1.  If your vision is a conventional level up til you are max so you can PvP or raid, it’s probably not too difficult to figure this out.  All you need to do is pace the game the way you intend, and make sure you have the proper content to back this pace up.  Don’t act surprised when people are complaining that they are mid-level and hit a “wall” where they have to grind mobs or have run out of quests or are bored.  Either you intended that or you didn’t, or you were simply ignorant of your own game design.   Also if you have late and end game stages, please please please don’t neglect these until the end of beta testing, or worse, after the game is released.   How many games have we seen do this?  Even the godlike WoW is guilty of this sin.  The endgame should be part of your vision from day one, and should be given ample time and testing to get it right.  This follows right into #4. 

4. Don’t change the rules of the game midway. 

Or more accurately, if you built something really fun from the getgo in the early stages, don’t change it midway.  This I believe was WAR’s (and perhaps AoC’s and even Aion’s) greatest mistake.  They created an almost universally loved/enjoyed tutorial plus early game, but then mid-game created levelling walls that completely changed the pace of the game.  This correlates with #3 as well; ask yourself if your mid-game intention is/was truly to be grinding the same mob after the same mob 500 times to make it to the next level, and if you truly believe that is what your intended playerbase from #2 wants and thinks is fun.

5.  Test ’til you drop (and with the right mix of people).  Corollary: pay attention to all your testers!

Beta testing seems rather hit or miss with the latest batch of games.  Often when the more generic folk (like me) get involved, it’s already way too late to do anything about it.  Most of the testers in my grouping seem to treat the beta test like a free game demo that they are entitled to, and as a consequence, I don’t think the feedback is listened to seriously. 

Contrast this with my most detailed test experience, which started in the Friends and Family Alpha of WoW.  I think it was early enough that concerns from more generic players like myself were actually heard and listened to, or at least I’d like to think so.  We debated things like death penalties and levelling pace, and the discussions were likely and fruitful.  Unfortunately they went ahead without addressing certain complaints (like the lack of endgame battlegrounds at release) but obviously it worked out fine for them anyway.   I think they started early enough and did their homework, tested rigorously, and allowed in a different/fresh mix of testers soon enough to get varied opinions. 

One thing you don’t want to do in testing is fill your ranks with a bunch of raving hardcore fanboys who will defend your every decision to the detriment of the game.  I’ve certainly seen this happen, where developers seem so blinded by all the fanboy-ism and their own jaded experience with the gameplay, that fresh opinions are ignored and forgotten.  I’ve seen this in nearly every beta I’ve been in – longtime testers and developers engage in discussions where half the terminology and discussion is lost on a newcomer.  Then when a new tester tries to chime in with a fresh perspective, they are either ridiculed or sent away to check old posts. 

Never lose sight of #2 when testing because you may be pissing off your meal ticket.

6.  Learn from others’ mistakes.

This is pretty obvious but it seems like the lessons from the past are often not learned, or are simply ignored.  Otherwise, how is it that 10 years into the genre’s explosion, we still get games releasing with the same tired bugs, path-finding collisions, servers that crash or force us into hours-long queues, patch servers that don’t work, boring grindfests that cause players to quit, unbalanced PvP, etc etc.  There’s plenty of experience out there, and more than enough MMOs to look at as examples of what to do and what not to.  If you release your spanking new game with a known mistake, shame on you!

7.  Don’t forget the social aspect.

Many games these days seem so focused on making a great single player experience, they forget the whole reason (or at least one of the reasons) for building an MMO is to engage *other players* to interact with.  There are many ways to encourage social interactions, all the way from an easy to use chat interface, to built-in voice interaction, to designing in-game areas like pubs or meeting halls.  This is something SWG did well with their cantinas and customizable homes/towns, even integrating gameplay into the social areas to encourage socialization.  I know there are some players that prefer to stick to themselves and do everything solo, but my guess is there’s a part of them that is still craving some sort of social interaction, else they could easily stick to single player gaming. 

8.  Don’t be afraid to innovate, and dream BIG.

I get the sense that many people these days are afraid of new, challenging ideas.  I remember a while back I posted some ideas for an MMO, to which the majority of responses were “that’s technologicaly impossible so why bother”.  To that attitude I say poo on you – if I took that mentality at my job (as an engineer) each day, I’d have long ago been fired.  Yes, I realize some goals may be too lofty or difficult to achieve, but if you don’t take a chance on a new idea or at least make an attempt to fully understand the pros and cons, you will never have the opportunity to progress to the next level, no pun intended. 

Ten year ago I’d never have dreamed we’d have handheld touch-screen computer phones that doubled as GPS units and full 3D gaming machines running the Unreal engine, sitting in our pockets, but someone had the vision to believe it could be done – and lo and behold we have that today.  As for MMOs, I know it’s different because it is software, but I’d like to think there are enough talented and brilliant software guys out there that they could solve just about anything, or at least come up with solutions that gave the illusion of solving anything.

9.  Don’t be afraid to steal past ideas.

This may sound contradictory coming from me after all I’ve said about innovation, but if there are some base ideas that “just work” within the context of your vision, don’t avoid them just because they’ve been done before.  Things like level-based, class-based fantasy games, these are traditions that some may consider timeless, and could very well work even in a completely overhauled game.  Good ideas like seamless transitions from area to area should always be carried over.  If your game vision involves the necessity of getting players together quickly, don’t be afraid to steal “Summon” spells/magic or teleporters, or whatever it takes to get it done.  If it makes the game more fun and ties it closer to your vision, go ahead and make it your own.  Speaking of which…

10.  Never forget to make the game FUN.

Last but certainly not least, and possibly most important, don’t ever forget you are creating a game, a place for people to have fun and enjoy themselves in some way or another.  Putting in punishing death penalties, horribly repetitive tasks, long wait times or oddball lockout timers for the best content, just makes no sense to me.

Of  course I realize everyone’s definition of fun is different.  Some people’s idea of fun is to torture themselves with repetition to reach some sort of milestone.  Go back to #2, are those people your target audience?  If so, I guess that’s fine as it defines your game and your vision.  If not, and you are looking for a more general sense and definition of what’s fun for a different audience, then please DON’T stack your game with torturous content. 

Seems pretty simple, but it seems also be neglected time and again.  Another example is ganking (which I define as much higher level powerful players preying on lower level less experienced ones with no consequence).  This may be fun for one of the groups, but most likely it’s not fun for the other.  Maybe you intended to build this in to your game design, but if the latter half get frustrated and quit the game, it was probably a bad decision.  Suggestions #4-6 should hopefully prevent you from putting in something that’s horribly un-fun, but somehow these things seem to find a way to creep into many games.

That’s it for my list!

  1. Sindora says:

    Nice post! Very good suggestions! Hope a dev come read this

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