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The MMO Question
by james sadler on 03/14/11 03:19:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I've never been quiet about my thoughts on MMO games; I generally just don't like them. To me there are a few fundamental issues that come with an MMO that just make them a poor game/business model to me.

The Cost:

One of the things that just drives me nuts about a "Pay-to-Play" style MMO is the monthly cost. Generally to buy the game off the shelf would cost around $50. Back when they first started gaining popularity they didn't even come with a free 30 day account when one bought a new copy of the game.

So. I walk into nameless game store and buy MMO game X of the shelf for $50. I get home all excited to install the game and play game X with my friends only to find out that I need to spend another $10-15 just to activate my account.

So. Now we're talking about $60-65 just to get started playing a game. This makes sense in modern times as people generally pay that same amount for a AAA game title. But there are some severe differences that just make this expense ridiculous.

Let's do some simple math here. Person Y pays $50 for game X at the store. They get home to pay another $10-15 to just start playing the game. If they play the game for an entire year Person Y will have spent $170-230 to play a single game.

There are many "Free-to-Play" MMO games out there, and ones that either don't charge for the install desk or give a free month at purchase. Those are great incentives to play, but even with getting the install for free Person Y will still spend $120-180 a year playing the game. "Free-to-Play" MMO games generally don't offer the same level of play or quality and so I have yet to find one that appealed to me.

What does $120-180 a year get Person Y? A never ending game of redundant missions across a redundant landscape filled with glitchy monsters. MMO's can be fun, and I have played a few that I liked, but the cost of playing the game just didn't make sense.

Perhaps if I played the games for 4-12 hours a day I would feel like I was getting my moneys worth, but as I work full time, was a full time student, and have other interests in life, I would generally spend 1-2 hours a night and maybe 4-6 hours on the weekend playing if I was free.

Content:

Another big problem I have with MMO's is the repetitive game content, in both environment and gameplay. It seems like everything is just going from one dungeon to kill mythical monster A to the next dungeon to kill this other mythical monster. There is also the fact that a player can generally do this same event with one team and then leave that team to do the exact same mission over with another team. Man these mythical monsters are pretty darn predictable. A solution to this isn't really forthcoming at the moment as eliminating the redundancy across an entire world filled with sometimes thousands of players can be a very complex issue. Somewhat randomly generated levels could solve this to some extent as each each time a player goes through a mission things are somewhat changed, but having the missions themselves being identical is still an issue.

The End Game:

Really, what is the point of an MMO. With a standard video game there is a story with some sort of story arch that the player goes through to reach, and ultimately conclude, the story and game. MMO's don't end. It is all just one mission after the next to gain a level or item so that they can go to the next mission or kill another player. If the whole point of the game is the PvP mechanic, then $10-15 a month just makes no sense. I can do that playing Halo to some extent for free.

Solutions?:

I don't like to construct a document without purposing at least some type of solution to a problem. Otherwise all this writing just sounds like endless complaining. So the solution to the MMO question for me comes down to dynamics of all the arguments I've mentioned above.

An MMO that I would play, and even pay for, is one that doesn't cost some ridiculous amount of money for every person to play. A sliding scale of cost makes sense for everyone. $5 a month is where everyone starts. After the player has pasts, say, 20-30 hours of gameplay that rate jumps up to $10, and those that log over 50 hours pay $20. At the beginning of the next month all rates drop back down to $5. People could option to pay more, or a designated rate in this scheme, that would give them a bonus during play or some other reward.

So now that the cost is out of the way we can look at the content of the game. Having a game that is ridiculously redundant creates an environment of customers that will only play the game for so long, or those that will play it simply to level their character. But what if we as developers could offer them more? Players could actually have some sort of story arch that they follow. There could be multiple story arches for each race/class of character in the game and which arch a player gets for their character can be selected at random. Each story arch has specific missions that are exclusive to them so having a party with multiple players, each with a different story arch, can explore a multitude of stories with a lower chance of duplicating a mission too often.

Lowering the redundancy in an area just comes down to designing zones that gradually change into one another to make a very large area to play. Large open areas make the game space seem too big, so keeping the open planes to a minimum while embracing smaller areas, not dungeons, allows for more strategy in fighting.Even though Final Fantasy 12 is not an MMO it really felt like one most of the time. The way that the landscape and environments moved together worked well.

One of the other things that bugs me about MMO's is that there are a lot of missions that require a group of players to accomplish. When I played City of Heroes I was the only one among my friends that played it, and so completing those missions was often a pain to do. I would have to play with people I didn't know or trust and hope that they wouldn't just drop out mid mission for dinner or something. Giving the opportunity for the player to buy some "mercenary" type people (number of mercs a player can buy/rent is determined by level and class) so that the player can effectively play through the game either with a group or alone if need be. These mercs don't need to be anything great, just some extra muscle to help the player through the mission. After the mission the mercs return to their imaginary village to disperse their spoils, without the player. This would give the player the incentive to make friends as mercs cost money and don't share loot, and after all the hardship of the mission, they leave the player. There are also times when a group of players might not have all the people necessary to comfortably go through a mission. They can go to the village and buy a merc or two to help them out and then they're done. This can be a very complex balancing act that is probably more in depth than I was planning for this article, so I will move on.

Finally there should be some sort of end to the player's story arch and after that end there should be little to no gameplay afterwards. "Yay I just defeated the greatest enemy I will ever know, now lets go kill some level 20 rabbits!!!" Perhaps instead of letting the player play on there is the option of starting a new character with some elevated initial abilities or they can have access to a special race/class and start at zero like everyone else. Some of that can be played with to give the player the incentive to carry on playing with a new character. Maybe giving them a time limit before this character death thing happens so that if they're helping a friend with their missions there is some time to do so before the end comes. Heck, just the idea of multiple story abilities would make me want to play through another time.

The key things here are that there are ways to bring players like myself who don't find that MMO games hold much for them into their business plans. It just takes some outside the box thinking and maybe some innovation in game design.


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