There’s a fairly basic marketing theory known as the unique selling proposition. I’ve been contemplating MMO design, as I usually do, and made a connection between design principles, the MMO market, and this simple concept. Many of you share my belief that developers don’t understand their market, their customers, or even the games they are trying to make. I’m convinced there are some developers (and/or their corporate overlords) who literally believe copying a successful game will yield success. Let’s see why they are wrong.
Here’s a basic USP template:
For [target market] the [name of product] is [single most important claim] among all [competitive frame] because [single most important support].
Pretty common sense stuff. You figure out what market you want to target, what your most important claim is (point of difference) within your frame of reference (defines who your competition is) and you give a reason to believe (why you should buy). Now pick any random MMO in the last 5 years and try to figure out their unique selling point. It’s pretty tough, isn’t it? What makes it even tougher is when a company will fill in the blanks, but what they actually do — the product they actually create — doesn’t align with their goals.
How many games come out of the game targeting a very specific market? I think most say “we want to appeal to everyone!” How about SWTOR? What is (was) their single most important claim? Is it story? Is it their instanced content? What makes them stand out? What market did they target, and what supports their claim? Maybe they could say their rich story is enhanced through fully voiced dialogue, but is that the most important aspect they want to provide their players? It was certainly one of the most expensive components of their game, and in the end I’m pretty sure most people didn’t care one iota about the dialog when deciding to quit.
A good MMO will be designed for a specific market, with a very clear explanation (supported by proof) of why it is different. I’m confident that any MMO failure in the last ten years can be easily identified if you run it through a simple checklist, and it’s not something you have to do in hindsight; run any upcoming MMO through the process and you’ll quickly see potential problems. People don’t want more of the same or a game that isn’t well thought out to appeal to a specific group for a specific reason. One size fits all design doesn’t work. Start making some choices and execute on a plan. Stand out, be different, and own your space. Easily 50% of oldschool MMO success can be traced back to having a unique idea that appealed to a specific group of potential players. They did what they did better than anyone else, and what they did mattered to the players.