So you secured all the investments, grinded out development and made it through launch day. Traffic was somewhat moderate in the beginning, but it's a year later and you're considering selling or worse, folding completely. What went wrong? Often, indie MMORPG developers dream big, but miss the key details to ensuring product longevity.
1: Eliminate Subscription Fees
It works for Blizzard due to demand for their games, but the pay-to-play model is severely outdated. A P2P model gives developers the comfort of a guaranteed income, but it can cut your traffic and potential playerbase nearly in half. However, there's a way you can enjoy the large playerbase of free games like Runescape while earning a profitable income. How?
a: Implement a dual currency economy. Currency #1 will be something common, like gold coins, which players can earn through basic means like grinding, questing or trading. Currency #2 will be 'platinum coins', available for purchase from your website, and these platinum coins can be used to purchase exclusive game items. Sound familiar? It might sound like a pay for perks model, but here's where it differs;
What most developers fail to realize, and this is where the majority screw up, is that they make the 'platinum coins' currency exclusive only to paying members. This creates a gap between paying versus non-paying players, which will manifest itself in angry emails, phonecalls and accusations of game imbalance, further reducing your game's lifespan.
Instead, allow the 'platinum coins' to be freely traded between players. You will quickly see a dual economy spring up overnight, with each currency having an exchange rate. To use a real life example, each individual Iron Realms game, most notably Achaea, allow players to purchase 'credits' from their website. These credits can be used to purchase statistic-altering armour and enhanced weapons from a special in-game store; however, players can also acquire 'credits' by purchasing them with gold from other players. The value of gold will fluctuate as you add content which makes gold easier to obtain, which will in turn effect the value of the credit, but you can balance this effect by adding high-priced content that can only be purchased with one currency or the other.
b: Create a product that your players care about. If you have a lot of players, it's safe to say that people care about your product, and atleast some of them will pay for optional perks. A subscription model quickly puts a pricetag on your game and answers the age old question, "what is a game worth?". People will always invest more into an experience than they do into a game.
2: Role Play With Your Playerbase
It's easy to forget, but the 'RP' in MMORPG stands for "role playing". That means your players are leaving their boring lives and becoming epic characters in the universe that you've created - so why hath you forsaken them? Leaving players to their own devices is a guaranteed way to get your game labelled just another "grindfest MMO". It's not enough to offer storyline through quests; you need to host real-time events that players participate in and ultimately shape the world. Creating a positive player experience ensures positive word of mouth, which after all, is the best possible form of advertising. You can eliminate nearly all forms of paid advertising if you have a loyal playerbase ready to speak praises about your game.
3: The Power of Promotions (and Contests!)
Whether it's extra critical hit Tuesdays or weekly PvP contests, promos will always keep players coming back. That bored player who's been sitting at level 92 for a few months? A double experience weekend might inspire them to make a triumphant return to grinding and even invest in health/stamina perks from your website. Promotions also serve as a valuable marketing tool, since new players will feel like they're entering the game at an opportune time.