Designing the Right MMO for the Right Audience

The recent news of Smed being let go lured Brad McQuaid out to drum up a little bit of noteworthy conversation. Brad wrote a few articles on his Pantheon blog (one of which he cut and paste in the comments of my Smed post) that I think are definitely worth a read.

The gist of his sudden onset of hypergraphia boils down to the very debate I have been having on this blog for the past 8 years: There are still people like me out there who want to play the same kinds of games we used to play, and our interests or tastes in MMOs haven’t changed. We aren’t too small to matter.

Brad summed up part of the problem:

Debate as to whether these newcomers are the only true audience now, or arguing that the ‘old school’ games were better, or more truly an MMO, is really unnecessary and unproductive.  There’s nothing to win here, nothing to be proven, nothing that has to be protected, and also no need to declare one style or design somehow, magically, obsolete.  Unfortunately, some behind some of the newer games that failed to retain subscribers, many of whom then intelligently switched their revenue model, have also (for whatever reason) proclaimed that their failure to retain gamers is because that gamer no longer exists, that the gamers who want to play long term, involve themselves with the community, and to work together in groups and guilds are gone now, or radically different.

I will disagree with Brad about there being nothing to prove. If there were nothing to prove then we would have MMOs being developed to match his solution (see quote coming up below). At every turn we are seeing MMOs come and go, and every time a game fails it’s because “that kind of game isn’t wanted anymore” or “people have changed.”

The problem rests with taking a business model that worked with one design targeted at a specific type of players and applying the same business model to a completely different design aimed at trying to target all sorts of different players.

The future I believe are MMOs that have identified and targeted specific audiences.  Like with any space that has grown tremendously and become much more diverse, developers need to adapt as well and make great games for these gamers but also be ok with this reality: several diverse yet successful games can co-exist, each with different mechanics and features and content.  Likewise, if you make a good game, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it.

That is the key right there, and that is what players like me have been trying to prove.  I’m not one of the people saying that MMOs were better and every MMO should be like the old MMOs. While I do believe that older MMOs were better, I also believe that newer MMOs offer something that tons of people enjoy.

For example, if you enjoy SWTOR or WildStar then more power to you. A game like SWTOR or WildStar exist for people who want a game like SWTOR or WildStar. To say that because these two games “failed” means that MMOs are unwanted, or that the model/design these games originally tried to follow is obsolete, is unequivocally false. I’ll refer you to my comment above about using the wrong business model and wrong design for the wrong audience.

MMOs of all types should absolutely exist. And there IS a battle to be fought here for fair representation in the marketplace. Those wanting a group-centric social virtual world with devoted crafters and some edge of difficulty shouldn’t be relegated to failed Kickstarters and small teams with barely enough funds to hire decent artists. Similarly, those wanting a themepark or something more arcade-like shouldn’t be stuck with the McMMO budget games run by poor leadership destined to go F2P.

Age of Empires Castle Siege on Windows and iOS

Age of Empires Castle Siege Review

Microsoft Studios continues their experimentation in different business models and applications with Age of Empires Castle Siege, the latest entry into the AoE franchise.

This time around, Age of Empires has been adapted to fit what I have coined the ‘time waster’ model. Essentially it’s a full game, but actions are gated behind time sinks. Building a barracks will take just a few minutes, but upgrading that barracks to be able to build your next units may take 10 hours. Gathering resources plays a huge part in time waster games, and that mechanic is ever-present in Castle Siege. Have you played games like Clash of Clans, Star Wars Commander or similar games? If yes then you already know how to play Age of Empire Castle Siege.

Your Kingdom Can’t Run on an Empty Stomach

ResourcesGameplay is centered around building up your kingdom whether it be Briton, Teutonic Knight, or any of the other popular civilizations. To do so, you need three things: Apples, Wood, and Stone. Acquiring these three resources is done with buildings that generate the resource over time then storing them in another building. Each of these buildings (generators and storage) can be upgraded to generate faster and store more.  It’s simple and easy to manage in Castle Siege. [Read more…]

Smedley is Gone

Okay, who had 170 days? Pay the man.

Smedley fired from Daybreak

I choose to remember him like this.

I was thinking Smedley would last at least 6 months at Daybreak after SOE was acquired, but it turns out he lasted just shy of that coming in around 5 months and 20 some odd days. This was coming folks, and whether it was inevitable due to the acquisition might remain a mystery, but look at what happened over the last few weeks.

Smedley’s near-tirades on social media telling hackers “I’m coming for you” and taking his very visible role as President of a company and turning it into a spectacle… I would be questioning his leadership role too. Around the time his social media accounts disappeared is likely the time he got a visit from someone no longer willing to sign his checks.  The whole “staying on in another role” is a nice way of saying he’s gone for good but if you liked him you can pretend there’s hope for a few more weeks.

I want to start into this next paragraph by speculating if this could be good for Daybreak, but I’m not sure if such a spin could even be possible.  Let’s pretend. Let me start over.

This might actually be good for Daybreak. I do not have insights into how much of the F2P movement was due to Smedley’s leadership, but he certainly made it public knowledge how into the whole F2P model he has been and how their game is “F2P forever” or whatever inane slogan they’ve been pitching to the masses. Despite his reputation for those (more than a few) horrible mistakes, Smed did a lot of good for online games. His recent leadership, however, leaves much to be desired from a player’s perspective. I hope whoever steps in steers the ship back to common sense.

This might also mean we get some decent games. (Again I’m running with this whole delusions of grandeur thing; Get onboard will you?) Maybe we will see Daybreak stop focusing on their awful me-too product (H1Z1) and focus more on making EverQuest the game it needs to be in order to give Daybreak any sort of future in this industry.

Smed is out. Long live Smed.

Civilization Online: Conceptually Awesome? Let’s See It In Action.

civilization online

I’m in love with the idea of Civilizations Online. Just the idea of playing in a big open world where each civilization can be built up and ultimately vie for control of the world sounds neat. Players can take on the role of workers to help build up and gather resources, or become a soldier to attack and defend.

Daydreams start to kick in at this point and I can see myself as a worker going out into the world and chopping trees, gathering ore, building farms, etc., to grow my civilization’s resources. I imagine it feeling a little bit like Harvest Moon meets UO meets Savage meets RTS.

Playing a soldier I can imagine taking squads of friends out to go harass the enemy civilizations. Finding their workers in a mine and wiping them out to have our workers come in and steal resources, go on bombing runs with zeppelins, or defend my civ against enemy raids. I’m creating this Planetside-esque map in my head where we are fighting for control of territory and building towers, cities, etc., all in real-time.

civilization-online

The entire game playing out as a MMO RTS/Strategy game paints this wonderful picture. I can see civilizations growing and advancing through various ages and ultimately having there be this cool showdown between a civilization still in the Bronze Age and another which has reached some sort of Industrial Age.

Will it actually be that way? I’m worried. Civilization Online is being developed by XL Games. Yeah, the same studio who made ArcheAge. Ugh. I also watched a few of these videos. Check them out. [Read more…]

Where is Trion’s head at these days?

I’d say that I’m not sure what to think of Trion these days, except I think I am. In fact, I’m growing more confident in my opinion of them every day. What I don’t understand is where their head is at and why they are making certain decisions which make it easy for people to form such an opinion of them. Let’s take a quick look at their history.

Rift :: 3 monther (later turned F2P and doing decent last I checked). Ultimately “failed” because the me-too product status could not win over the current WoW crowd. Why play Rift when you can play WoW?

End of Nations :: Dead in development. It was a half-baked RTS that tried to turn into an awkward MOBA. I don’t know what End of Nations was, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t either.

Defiance :: Flopped attempt at merging a game with a tv show. It’s… bad.

ArcheAge :: An odd mix of themepark and sandbox elements that never formed the cohesion needed to create a lasting experience. The PvP was ganky, the PvE was boring, and the bugs/cheats/exploits made the game unplayable for most of the people who overlooked or even enjoyed the gameplay.

Trove :: It’s like Minecraft meets MMO meets… I don’t know. It’s a little bit hodgepodge and the production qualify felt off to me. I was hoping for it to be enjoyable, but ultimately I stopped playing because it felt ‘cheap’.

So there’s the history. Lots of half-baked ideas and odd execution and implementation choices. Trion doesn’t seem to be stopping there. They recently announced “Devilian” which not only sounds generic but looks the part as well (as seen on their recent video release below).

Devilian looks like an outdated Asian Diablo clone supposedly containing PvP, MOBA, and MMO elements. Once again it feels like Trion is making/publishing a hodgepodge me-too product way after the expiration date. It simply doesn’t look to be any fun at all.

I hate feeling like I’m bashing on them. I genuinely don’t have the animosity this might portray. I’m simply confused and honestly a little shocked that the ideas are so poor. Here’s a studio with potential that makes one weird choice after another — namely their choice to continue publishing these games coming out of Asia.