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3 Simple Steps to Extend Your MMO's Lifespan
by Tony Celentano on 08/30/11 10:14:00 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.


 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It works for Blizzard due to demand for their games, but the pay-to-play model is severely outdated.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.

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Martain Chandler
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I think building your MMO without subscription fees:

1) may be great for the developers,

2) Is certainly great for new players to the game

3) is disheartening for long term players

(I have absolutely nothing to back that statement up with, BTW.)

I wish I could gather some hard core stats from MMOs that have the dual-track F2P + Subscription models.

Matthew Woodward
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What sort of approximate cost/benefit are you getting out of point 2?

Tony Celentano
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For an indie developer who can't afford commercial advertisements, it's essential to a: improve player morale and b: give your players a way of spreading the word about your game. I talk about it in another article, but basically you can incentivize your players to promote your product on social networking sites.

Becky Muth
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I can't agree more with this article, especially about point number two. Having played various Iron Realms games, Achaea by far boasts the largest player base, and they just keep coming back for more. Why? The people in the "Divine/Immortal" positions aren't afraid to put themselves on the player's levels. Some have been so convincing that despite their real-life gender, people playing mortal adventurers saw them with something akin to very real hero worship. Who wouldn't want to keep going back to a game where the environment was that effective? It keeps me going back daily.

Jeremy Reaban
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I actually think the smaller MMORPGs do all of this. At least the ones I've played. It's the larger ones that tend to miss out on #2 & #3.

Still, the free to play part is at odds with the premise. While it gets more people to play initially, the costs of playing at endgame (in every F2P MMORPG I've tried) are several times more than a subscription fee. You're also competing with people who literally will spend thousands of dollars on a game in a month. So basically it ends up driving away everyone but the hardcore and rich.

Tony Celentano
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I agree with your comments about the costs of playing at endgame in most F2P MMORPGs - but that's if your MMO has an endgame.

An example would be the MUD 'Achaea'. Players can transform into dragons at level 99, they can become ranked #1 in PvP, they can hold elections and become the leader of their guild / city, they can even apply to become volunteer area builders and the company will train them. If developers focus on creating a persistent world where players feel like they're living a second life, there's no endgame.