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MMO Server Sizes

Over the past few years the trend for MMO servers has clearly been to increase the population size and decrease the number of servers–even down to one. The mega server idea seems awesome. One big server for everyone? Sign me up. That is, until it becomes clear that instancing is used to separate people into different instances and the population feels smaller and more divided anyway.

MMOs in the past had smaller server populations and larger worlds, but they worked better. Why? I have a few ideas.

Zones were laid out well (so was the world) and players were encourage to spread out yet group up creating the feeling that you were always with other players yet not constantly surrounded by crowds.

Players knew each other. Some of the things I’ve written about recently, like downtime and slower combat, brought people together to socialize. Reputations mattered. You might hunt in the same zone or dungeon as another player for days or weeks. When looking for a group you would often get back into groups with the same people. This fostered immense camaraderie.

I’m all in favor of individual servers without instancing remaining the standard. The number of servers needed at launch is always a point of debate, but playing it smart isn’t difficult. Don’t make too many servers. Don’t launch a world with everyone in one or two starting areas. Avoid the instancing and mega server mentality that creates a shallow world where players needn’t interact with anyone.

I’m curious to hear whether or not you guys are all into the idea of individual servers or mega server tech, and why.

Early Access: The Next Pay-to-Win

Yesterday we had a good discussion about pay-to-win strategies and how gaming companies are starting to slowly back off of the “whale-model.”  We also noted that the pay-to-win or else you have to grind model is also inherently flawed as it fractures the game into how it was meant to be played and how some people are forced or opt into playing depending on which side you’re on. Now I want to talk a little bit about something that I think is starting to replace the pay wall model: Early access.

Early access is a fascinating thing. There’s a degree of marketing genius behind getting someone to actually crave and desire to buy a game before it is completed. Money today is worth more than money tomorrow according to all those finance classes I tried to sleep through in college. We as gamers always want in on the ground level. If a game is ready to play now then we want it right this second. We’re also inherently wanting to be the best.

Is this almost a basic form of pay-to-win? On one hand they’ve simply moved up the date of the game and gotten you to pay to stress test.  On the other hand, if this is a F2P game then they’ve gotten you to willingly pay-to-play or in this case… we might even consider that winning. What’s even more ridiculous is that they’ll get us to pay a price way beyond what we might ever even pay in the cash shop.

I am 100% leading the pack face first into this one. I pay for early access all the time!  I would -never- spend $100 in a F2P game’s cash shop, but I’ll drop $100 to access an alpha for a game I’m anticipating. I’m either well within my right of exchanging value for value, or I’m insane. I think a little bit of both.  Either way, I have payed to–some degree–win.

This entire early access model is going to fall flat fairly quick. What’s happening is that the majority of the industry is becoming frustrated by games never finishing. The incentive to finish a project seems to wane when you no longer have to make sure you’re working hard to develop a product people want to buy–they’ve already purchased it after all. I still have early access cash tied up in 3-4 games that may never see completion. Am I pissed off? Ehhh no. I knew the risk, I played them for many hours already and could justify that for the price of admission alone, but gamers are wising up.

Just like with F2p/P2W models, gamers are expressing their dissatisfaction and unwillingness to accept shoddy craftsmanship. Early access will be no exception here. Regardless of your “business model” (and however hard you try to turn your game into a business), if you can’t make an amazing game you will fail. The market will catch up with every model eventually and demand quality.

This Next MMO Is The One!

How many times have you heard someone say or read a comment from someone saying something like this: “Don’t worry, X game coming out will solve that” or “This next game coming out has exactly what you’re talking about and it will be awesome” or “In this game coming out you can do all of that and more!”

It’s the idea that the next game coming out is the solution to every current problem–the next big thing.  This syndrome is huge across the MMO player community. We see comments here all the time with people saying things like, “Oh man Keen you want a sandbox with all those features? Have you tried ArcheAge it’s the game for you!” I’ve had comments from people saying WildStar, ESO, the next WoW expansion, FFXIV, and every MMO for the last decade would be the game that has all those great things I want.

Sometimes those MMOs do have one or two of the good qualities I’m seeking, but let’s be real here.  We all know deep down that any themepark will never be that game.  Even the most devout themepark lovers who hype every new themepark like it’s the next Disneyland can’t look me in the eye and say they play past 3 months.

The next MMO to have what I want is either going to surprise everyone or I’m going to make it myself. It’s not going to be a game people spread around as the next big thing.  It’s not going to have a huge marketing budget.  It won’t rely on gimmicky dev videos full of buzzwords or trying to capture market share from various player demographics.

MMOs from the golden age were almost never anticipated.  EQ came out of nowhere. I was literally playing The Realm Online walking around and then saw mention in general chat about it.  Later that week my friend invited me over to his house to play the beta.  DAoC was out of nowhere and I got the game on launch day thanks to Graev who just randomly said, “Hey this looks neat we should get it.”  SWG only got on my radar because Graev payed $20 for the beta CDs (They charged you to send you CDs or something).  More on this idea of anticipation killing games in a blog post tomorrow.

Before any of us run around thinking that the next game is going to be the one or get excited that some game is going to have everything Keen is asking for in MMOs, take a serious look at the big picture.  We have a tendency to find the 5% of what we want, get comfortable in that idea, and ignore the other 95%.

Steam Summer Sale Psychology

Every year the Steam Summer Sale brings in to question a handful of troubling ideas:

  • Do I want to spend money on a bunch of games I might not play simply because I like to buy games on sale?
  • Why do I ever pay full price for a PC game?
  • What type of games do I really enjoy?

The first one is something I know many of you share. I think we can all identify with buying several games during a Steam Sale thinking, “aw heck yeah I’m going to play this one finally!” … then we never even remember we bought it.  Happens to me every year.  Not this time!  Not 2014! This year I proudly declared:


That lasted until 20 minutes after the sale began.

I bought Game Dev Tycoon and Don’t Starve + DLC 2 pack (me and Graev).  But that’s it! I swear! I’m not spending … who am I kidding?

Game Dev Tycoon seems pretty fun so far.  I’m currently in the 3rd building you can get with about 5 million in cash.  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong because sometimes I’ll make a game and get a great review, but I make it again (not twice in a row) and critics hate the game.  I think this whole experience is some kind of message from an indie dev studio on the state of the gaming industry.  It’s like one big documentary on the sad state of affairs.  Regardless, it’s addicting and I find myself wanting to start over with the hoe that I do better each time.  I’m still proud of making WarCraft 2 in my garage and making 2 million on it.

Don’t Starve has to be one of my favorite types of games ever.  I can’t believe I went this long without playing.  It’s like Island Troll Tribes, the custom map from WarCraft 3.  I love these survival games! Something about getting wood to make a fire and having to eat before you die; So pure.  Add the depth that Don’t Starve has and suddenly this is a game I can lose hours to in tiny sittings.  Graev and I are REALLY looking forward to ‘Don’t Starve Together’ which is the co-op experience coming this summer free to those who own the game.

The second point is just life.  Things drop in price.  Understanding that point doesn’t make it any less bitter.

The third point is really what brought me to the blog this evening.  I think I have more ‘fun’ playing little games in bursts.  Games like Don’t Starve, Game Dev Tycoon, etc., are starting to be more fun than these massive games like MMOs.  That’s not because I’m changing, etc., etc.  turning into a filthy casual blah blah.  I truly believe game developers are forgetting what it means to make fun games.  It’s not just MMOs either.  A lot of “AAA” games just aren’t fun.  They aren’t games.  They feel more like “projects” or “work.”  Some also like to hide the fun and make the player hunt for it or wait until later.  HORRIBLE IDEA! I should be having fun the second I boot up the game or else I already have one foot out the door.

Haven’t seen you in a few millennia. Give me some tassel!

I’m back from my mini-vacation / leave of absence from the computer, and I wanted to just kick things back off with a good ole fashioned rambling.  Before I begin I want to first say that I missed blogging.  Occasionally I’ll take a day or two off from posting, but I haven’t gone this long away from the blog both mentally and physically in some time.  There are times when I question whether or not blogs are a medium worth continuing in this niche, but in the end I know that I enjoy spilling the digital ink of my thoughts here for you all to see way too much to ever stop.

I’ve been to Disneyland more in the last few weeks than I have in the last 20+ years. The experience as an adult has been quite different than those I remember from being a child.  Everything is smaller, simpler, and slightly less magical.  As a child the walls of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle towered above me.  Now, I can see the facade.  I can see the green mesh on the walls hiding the chain-link fences.  A boy on his father’s shoulders screamed at the site of one of his favorite characters during the parade pleading for that character to give notice.  I looked and saw a guy in his 20s wearing a costume performing a choreographed and generic wave.  Although one illusion is destroyed, others do remain.

The park as an adult still has an atmosphere.  I appreciate the smells, the visual beauty, and the quality Disney has put in to making the park look and behave a certain way.  Attention to detail is key.  From almost any direction you look while standing in the park, Disney has thought of creating an experience.  That’s why I can go to Disneyland and still enjoy myself.  Sure, the rides are fun and I love the Disney properties, but those aren’t as fun as sitting down at a restaurant in New Orleans Square and taking it all in.  Now whether that’s worth paying $96 a trip (or buying a pass) is sometimes hard to swallow…

See the comparison I’m trying to draw?

I found myself comparing the experiences I’ve had at Disneyland as a kid vs. an adult to those experiences found in MMOs.  There will always be that ‘first’ MMO. There will always be the magic of MMOs from days past, and as much as I reminisce about those days they are most likely going to remain fond memories.  However, unlike Disneyland, MMOs are failing to keep that feeling consistent throughout time.  Disneyland for that little boy I mentioned earlier is just as magical or more so for him today as it was for me 25 years ago.  MMOs aren’t better today, nor do they maintain that level of experience or magical wonder and immersion for first-time players.

There isn’t enough attention being given to the entire experience in modern MMOs.  Developers are pushing hard to make the best rides possible or manipulate the ticket price.  They care more about pushing people through the ‘park’ to get them on the rides now than they do letting the players roam freely and consume the ‘park’ as they choose.  Someone like me can go to Disneyland one day and want to ride Indiana Jones, but tomorrow I might go back and wish to simply partake of good food and see shows.  My experience doing so at Disney is always going to be exceptional.  Those choices don’t exist in most MMOs, and when they do they rarely offer the same level of satisfaction.

I’ve had some good thoughts and experiences lately that I’m eager to put to the test in MMOs that I play.  I hope to drum up some great conversations soon — after I get back to playing some games.