The "Question Of The Week" feature, an industry-related question to be answered by professional game developers reading this site, followed up after the Austin GDC event by asking what high-end MMO World Of Warcraft can learn from Web-based social world Habbo, and vice versa.
"Following the Austin Game Developers Conference last week, how important do you think online worlds such as Habbo and web-based social gaming in general is to the future of online games, compared to existing game biz successes like World Of Warcraft? What can WoW learn from Habbo, and vice versa?"
What follows are highlights from the responses sent in by our readers.
Relic's Crook On Browser-Based Gaming
Says Relic/THQ Canada's Adrian Crook, who covers free-to-play gaming at his FreetoPlay.biz site:
"Aside from incredible graphics, there is nothing inherently better about client-based gaming (vs browser-based gaming). And great graphics does not appear to be a purchase driver for a casual consumer. My favorite quote about this was from Daniel James at the Virtual Goods Conference. He said, "Graphics don't matter - the mind models the situation"... and he is right.
Look at Habbo or Daniel's own product, Puzzle Pirates, and you'll see 2D, orthographic, "dated" art. But the personality and interactions imbued by an avatar, both real and imagined, are what really creates the "magic" in a product. Players come for the game and stay because their friends are playing. With a web-based, free to play game, the barrier to friends joining and remaining a part of the game's community is practically non-existent.
For example, I am far more likely to remain an active part of the Habbo community even after my initial interest has waned because I am not paying $15/month like I am with WoW. $15/month virtually ensures that as soon as I am done playing the game, I am constantly evaluating whether it's worth paying to remain in the game world just to socialize. With free to play/web based gaming, I can stay in the game world for free, interacting with others and therefore providing them "content" (in the form of me, a real live player), who in turn are convinced by that activity to participate in the world financially. Everyone's happy."
"The biggest lessons I'd like to see products like World Of Warcraft and other traditional, retail games learn are:
1) Free to Play - the traditional game world needs to embrace this when possible to avoid missing the next generation of gamers.
2) Little to no install (or let me start playing and stream in the rest).
3) Minimum spec graphics compatibility.
4) Deferred/minimized sign up process.
5) Warp not walk (trudging all over the world is a hardcore "feature")."
Conduit's Ogles On Barriers To Entry
In another notable response, Conduit Labs' Dan Ogles expects that while games like WoW aren't going anywhere, they'll remain relatively niche products compared to the Web-based MMOs of the future, due to the former's high barrier to entry:
"Consider this scenario: my friend recommends that I try out World Of Warcraft. In order to do so, I must go down to the local game store, buy a copy, go home, install it, patch it, and give them credit card info before I can even play the game.
This can be hours of effort to try something I don't even know I'll like or not. Even once I'm in the game, I might have to level up my character for weeks in order to get to the point where I can play with my friends.
When you think about MMORPGs from this perspective, it can seem amazing that anyone plays them! Compare with a friend recommending Habbo: I go to habbo.com, register my email address, maybe download Shockwave if I don't already have it, and I'm in. It usually takes less than 5 minutes. The world does not make it difficult for me to chat or play with my friends immediately. It's so easy, why wouldn't someone try out Habbo?"
NCSoft's Jennings Talks Gaming Structure
Finally, NCSoft's Scott Jennings concurs with Crook on the MMO as a community experience, and adds that accessibility and 'structure' is also a significant factor:
"Clearly MMOs in general need to be more accessible, both in being less dependent on the latest hardware and in the gameplay itself being more forgiving. This is a lesson World of Warcraft has already learned to a degree, and we can expect most other games to move in this direction as well.
Games such as Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin are very much about free-form 'gameplay'; adding the structure seen in 'classic' MMOs would change to a large degree what these games are about. On the other hand, one of the most frequent dings against games such as Second Life and ActiveWorlds is that there's simply 'nothing to do'.
Classic MMOs do give a structure to gameplay and a coherent world, complete with enemies and shared goals that freefrom games tend to lack. It's noteworthy that the CEO of GoPets gave a talk where he wanted to see their game move in exactly that direction; it'll be interesting to see what comes of that."
Gamasutra would like to thank the respondents for their thoughtful answers, and will be running a new Question Of The Week in the near future.