Game talkThe more things change…

 Posted by (Visited 16562 times)  Game talk
Jun 182006
 

Mike Rozak speculated,

(Raph’s player lifecyle) + (If players spend less time in each MMORPG that they play, since all the MMORPGs practically the same) =

1) You’d expect to see MMORPG subscriptions get more “bursty” as everyone tries the new game, gets bored of it in 2 months, and goes on to the next new thing. (This effect is offset by new players that have never played MMORPGs before.)

1a) The burstiness encourages guilds to form social structures outside the game, such as their own BBS and chat rooms (or voice chat). Thus, guild members can socialize no mater what game they’re playing. => “Social ties” don’t lock players into a game as strongly as they once did. (Is this true?)

2) Those that get permanently bored will (a) stop playing altogether, (b) go directly to PvP in something like Halo2 or a PvP-specific MMORPG (Eve online), or (c) go directly to a free chat room.

3) It all leads back to innovation and pushing the envelope so that (a) and (c) players come back.


The burstier subscription bases is definitely happening; that much I can verify from statistics.

Again, this is a pattern we have seen before in the days of “stock muds.” The phenomenon in the early to mid-90s was that a codebase was developed – DIKU – that was relatively easy to set up because it used standardized data forms that were fill-in-the-blank templates. You could just download content and put it into your world. You could have a game ready to roll in a matter of hours. But to make something siginificantly different gameplay-wise, you had to hack the code, because rules were all hardcoded.

The result was an explosion of muds of the Diku variety, and along with it, an explosion of variant codebases that each attempted to streamline or otherwise refine that codebase: Circle, Merc, etc etc.

The result of that was “stock mud syndrome,” where there was a vast sea of muds that all largely played the same. Stock muds came to be regarded derisively as the detritus of the mud world – if you logged in and saw Midgard the stock starting city, it did not bode well for the creativity you would see in the rest of the game. Better Dikus made a point of adveritisng “all original areas.” The really good ones advertised themselves as “Dike-derived,” “originally based on Merc,” or some such, and boasted of the many hacks that had been done to the codebase in order to completely change the nature of the game, usually whilst retaining the ease of content creation that templated data implied.

Ironically, it is the Diku model that was then imitated by EverQuest, and has now become the default gameplay mode for MMORPGs. To anyone who played in those days, the differences between EQ and WoW are very much akin to the differences between any two Diku-derivatives: mostly in polish and minor game changes. There is nothing new under the sun. WoW and EQ seem very different until you have literally 4000 other games very much like them, set in contrast to some games that are very very different.

Diku populations were extremely bursty — a new popular mud would come along, be the subject of everyone’s conversation for a few months, and then usually fade away. Often they imploded under their own weight as popularity drove problems like bad administration, reckless code changes, lag because of overloaded servers, and so on. The muds that lasted a long time were the rare ones, and are mostly still around today.

The burstiness phenomenon is perhaps most easily seen in non-MMO communities like the first person shooter world. There we saw that not only were all communities formed outside the games proper, but that long-term loyalty to any one given game is next to nil in most cases; it’s all abut trying out the new shiny, and then perhaps returning to the prior love if the new one doesn’t satisfy. This is the common pattern for most games and hardcore gamers, where we see butterfly-like flittering from hit to hit, long-standing communities centered around one game notwithstanding. Taken as a statistical whole, the number of people fiercely devoted to, say, Quake II, is nothing compared to the number of people who just sample and do not develop loyalties.

The idea that people are more tied to their social circle than to a given game is likewise very old; again, the mud days showed this very clearly, because the games really were so similar and in some cases identical. There was a lot less of the “run the community outside the game” thing going on, perhaps because the communities were basically the size of the game (each game was smaller) and because there was no huge infrastructure for supporting out-of-game communities (it was mostly Usenet and listservs — no web forums because, well, no Web).

It wasn’t unusual to see the tight linkage between games and communities thus play out with actual games undergoing cell-like division and growth. The games that inspired EverQuest directly were of this sort: Copper begat Copper 2 (and many Copper muds) which begat Black Knight MUD (and many Copper 2 muds) which begat Sojourn which begat Toril and Duris, and Toril begat Sojourn 2 and Duris begat Duris 2, but not before Sojourn and Toril effectively begat Everquest.

It was common indeed for community splits to result in a group of mixed admins and players migrating off to create a new game with the issues they were upset about theoretically addressed. To simplify, the Toril/Duris split was over PvP. To simplify, the number of Fires of Heaven guild members who formed part of the core community of WoW suggest splits based on other issues. To simplify, the following Vanguard sees today exhibits much the same sort of approach: it’s that segment of the users that prefers a harder core experience and therefore splits off and follows those admins who share their feeling. The expectation in all of these cases is “give me the same game but with my issues fixed.”

Perhaps the most schizophrenic instance of this would be the UO split, which happened internal to the team and remained internal to the team, creating a two-headed game. (On the other hand, the dramatically large number of UO gray shards demonstrates the ways in which this process of splitting occurs).

As far as keeping people… This argues (as has long been established as best practice) that regular game refreshes with rule updates and content are necessary to keep a given population around. But there’s also tools you can use to tie the playerbase more tightly to a given world – a sense of ownership or investment that provokes a sense of responsibility. If a deep philosophical split develops, you can either surrender to the forces of nichification, or attempt to provide scope for both experiences within one world.

One can predict that there will be WoW folks leaving in at least three broad streams eventually: those who want more of the PvE linear experience, those who want more of the raiding, and those who want more of the RvR. We’ve already seen the dev teams splitting off, of course. And those players who have seen enough will indeed say “OK, now I am waiting for something new,” keep sampling new games with ever-shortening lifecycles, and perhaps abandon the hobby altogether. In Asia, we see popular MMOs bursting up and fading back away in the space of a couple of months, which is a matterof some concern to Korean developers given the difficulty in recouping their investment.

  46 Responses to “The more things change…”

  1. From a player point of view, my experience would tend to confirm that. Most of the “hardcore” players I knew in SWG are still in the same guild, if under a different name, in various other MMOs, and the common dynamic seems to be either A)Jump from one to the next, B)Jump from one to the next until hitting EVE and then staying there (I don’t know anyone who’s quit EVE yet once they got into it) or C)Jump from one to the next, get bored, take a long MMO vacation.

    WoW has attracted a lot of new players though, although given the Guild-centeredness of the game, I’d expect it to reinforce this trend, by pretty much forcing newcomers to join guilds which then become their focal point above the game itself.

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  3. I want to throw out the general question of: is this a bad thing?

    You can frame it in any context you like; obviously, from a business perspective, it’s horrible (maybe). But from other perspectives, is this burstiness a good thing, perhaps? Should we anticipate year-long lifespans for our games?

  4. This might mean that developers of small, or even larger but less-successful, MMOs will have to band together as one service to offset the costs of development.

    As Raph has pointed out before on this blog, and on a video webcast he did for IBM, MMOs generally cost 3+ times as much to produce as standalone games, and games in general cost more every year.

    Certainly one of the key ways to offset that is use more generated content to reduce the costs of so many developers. Unfortunately, most of those methods and tools are just not up to par yet, and in the mean time, one thing that MMO developers can do is take advantage of this “burstiness” nature coupled with the fact that players generally stick with their guild outside of a single game.

    If a few MMOs, possibly even of competing genres, grouped together as a single subscription, and offered services targetted directly at guilds, they might be able to make the business model work. Gamers would move from one game to another within the service when they got bored or the rest of their guild moved. If the service had a standard framework for development, costs could be reduced (to some degree) by allowing games to share computing resources. With that kind of built in audience, developers might be able to work on smaller games that aren’t built to take all of your time, or are just intended to be played for a couple of months and then left.

    I think this might be the direction that SOE is trying to go with their Station Pass that lets consumers play all of their games for $22/month.

  5. Perhaps the most schizophrenic instance of this would be the UO split, which happened internal to the team and remained internal to the team, creating a two-headed game.

    Would you be willing to elaborate on this a bit, for those of us who weren’t there? It sounds very interesting.

  6. Should we anticipate year-long lifespans for our games?

    The problem is we’re on a trajectory where games take 2 to 4 years (and a large team) to develop. Players like the shiny of WoW; most of them will not settle for less.

    I think the games industry needs to get much, much better at reusing existing assets, and creating new AAA-content much more cheaply than it currently does.

  7. The speed of “consumption” towards burstiness can be seen as the speed in which players or group of players learn the game patterns and makes an informed decision on likes and dislikes, approvals and disapprovals.

    I see it as a natural development of the network effect: increase in speed and breadth of adoption and abandonment. In another worlds, the network effect accelerated the player’s “powerleveling” efforts.

    The question is, as with MMO design, what do we do to retain players? You can build more character levels in the game and in the lifecycle of a player or extend the time and breadth of each level. What else?

    Frank

  8. Just to beat a dead horse that I’ve been beating for awhile…

    If (in the long run) players are going to be jumping around from world to world every few months, does the GuildWars financial model (pay once, play until bored) make more sense than the subscription model (pay every month)?

    I think so, particularly since more and more casual players are playing MMORPGs… If a player can only commit to 5 hours per week, they won’t be eager to pay $15/month. Does a micropayment of $5/month for 5-hour-per-week players make sense?

    Following this line of thought: The only subscription service that makes sense (in the extreme long run) is a cable-like subscription, where new worlds are added to the menu every few months… which is like what SOE is building up with their station pass. Pay $20/month and get access to a new VW every 2 months.

    Furthermore, how do worlds handle the “flash crowds” as everyone wants to play the shiny new game on opening night? Flash crowds are very expensive because of the up-front server costs, and training of product support personel, half of whom will be laid off 2 months after the flash-crowd moves on. Pre 1980’s, fewer prints of movies were made, so a movie would first open in the major cities, and then flow on to smaller cities, then towns; This got the maximum usage out of the expensive film stock. Would something like this happen with virtual worlds? Of course, “location” is a non-event for VWs, so I suspect the early releases would first be issued to players who have a “gold-pass” subscription, followed by cheaper subscriptions.

    If players are only expected to hang around for 2 months, does this also mean that VW’s will get smaller?

  9. Players like the shiny of WoW; most of them will not settle for less.

    Which players? Who consists of "most of them"?

    Generalizations are generally not helpful. ;)

  10. [...] Raph Koster has a nice little piece on the cyclical nature of audience behaviors in MMORPGs. [...]

  11. Furthermore, how do worlds handle the “flash crowds” as everyone wants to play the shiny new game on opening night?

    My suggestion, and it will be rejected by most readers, is to not hype the game for 6 months and then launch it nationwide 3 days after the close of open beta. I’d suggest either rolling it out state by state, or if you can get some deals going, by internet provider. I imagine Comcast or AOL would love the idea of being your exclusive portal for a few weeks.

    As long as we are on the topic of opening night, make it easy for these Metaguilds (communities that exist outside a single game) to meet up on the same server. They preordered the game, right? Let them preregister a guild name and a player name if they can meet some reasonable threshold, like 10 players.

    Who consists of “most of them”?

    I’m going to say that all players that leave WoW to play another game are headed to one they think is done at least as professionally if not better. I suspect that most of them are wrong. :) If you want to play a Diku model graphical MMO you should play WoW, at least until you hit level 60.

    I want to throw out the general question of: is this a bad thing?

    Well, I think if the goal is a virtual world then the expectation is that it has an ongoing quality to it. Will it last forever? Probably not. But players should have a feeling that it will last a while. If your goal is a video game, maybe it doesn’t mater. But I’m interested in Virtual Worlds (with a game-aspect and a story-aspect). I want a world where I feel like if I sleep for 8 hours and long back on something may have changed.

  12. I imagine Comcast or AOL would love the idea of being your exclusive portal for a few weeks.

    I believe this was actually the original model. AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, and GEnie were all hosts of text RPGs. I personally began the game I am currently playing on Prodigy, and then stepped over to AOL, starting a new character. I also sampled perhaps half a dozen games through AOL: all free. Simutronics broke off their arrangement, I suspect, precisely to gain direct revenue. They seem to be doing well enough.

  13. [...] Comments [...]

  14. I think one of the main expectations I keep seeing is that players will keep on playing the same MMO for years on end if devs can find the sweet spot that keeps them there.

    Frankly I don’t believe this. A great game will have a longer playlife than a not-as-great game, but players will always end up leaving, because the novelty wears off, even with new content. To everyone comes a point where they say “I can’t face loading this game again, I need something different!”.

    Yes, there may be a small(ish) group of players that will stick with the game for years, but these hardcore fans are generally a fairly small proportion of the player base.

    What this boils down to is that I believe devs should accept that their MMO has an average lifespan of, say, one year, and should work to make all of the content that will be played in that one year better, which will, by word of mouth, keep attracting new players, and maybe get a few old players back again after they’ve bored of whatever game they switched to.

    Focusing almost entirely on the “endgame” experience, trying to squeeze just one more month out of people, just isn’t worth the effort. It becomes less and less cost-effective, as it alienates newer players, and even the most addicted end-gamer eventually realises that they’re being caught in the “one more month and you get a carrot” trap.

    One could perhaps compare the MMO experience to a relationship – with a scarily possessive person. In the end, so much effort to stop people leaving at any cost will probably alienate them, just as hanging on obsessively to a person will alienate them in a relationship. Accepting that players will leave, and trying to give them the best experience possible while they’re there, will make it easier for them to come back later, and make them more likely to recommend the game after leaving (“I left because I’d played for a year and a half, and got tired, but I had a great time, and really recommend it”).

    To finish off, I find an average of a year worth of subscriptions, plus initial box fee, to be a pretty darn good ROI per player – that’s what, about $40 for the game, and $10/month for 12 months? $160 per player, at a very conservative estimate. Compare to $50 for a box title… Plus, this system, done properly, should replace old players with new, in a steady stream.

  15. Lobosolitario said:
    Frankly I don’t believe this. A great game will have a longer playlife than a not-as-great game, but players will always end up leaving, because the novelty wears off, even with new content. To everyone comes a point where they say “I can’t face loading this game again, I need something different!”.

    And I disagree. I want a game that remains the best of what I want. Could it be that you and I have different expectations and wants in our games?

    There seems to be two basic kinds of gamers when talking about this narrow subject. Those like you and those like me. I suspect you attatch no personal meaning to your characters, where I do. I want to be known, at least by a few, in my MMO as the guy who …., and I would like for that to be in a single game. You, I would guess, if an attatchment is perceived at all is more a part of your involvement in the entire net/gaming community. So you wouldn’t have an interest so much in a single game. I’m speculating of course and hope you can fill in the blanks.

    Further,from my part, I not only want to be known within a single game, but within a certain social structure, tied to an area, such as a player run city. As far as “being known”, I’d be quite satisfied if it’s for something very simple, such as knowning a “dark forest” well enough to be of use to others as perhaps a scout. Something of that nature.

    I think there are loads of players from both standpoints. It’s hard to speculate on percentages though. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a larger percentage like me. I also think that percentage will grow as newer players come into the MMO scene. These newer players aren’t from the old “internet savvy” background like it used to be in older days (not so long ago, really), where there were geeks. Nowadays, everyone has a little geek in them. Speaking generally, of course.

  16. And I disagree. I want a game that remains the best of what I want. Could it be that you and I have different expectations and wants in our games?

    Very probably, but not in the way you mean. All that you’ve said about yourself applies to me as well. I was known well on my server as “the best person to guide you round Yavin IV” :)

    Could you explain exactly what you mean by “I want a game that remains the best of what I want.”?

  17. What I was trying to say was that “People will leave a game in their own time, for many different reasons, and spending all your effort on extending a somewhat mythical EndGame at the expense of the rest of the game is counterproductive. If the core of the game is good, and people are happy, they will stay as long as they keep enjoying themselves, and that will generally be long enough to get a good amount of money out of them.”

  18. From my perspective (gamer) I look forward to and abhor switching MMO’s. I’ve been playing for MMORPG’s for 5 years now and I understand my cycle, it goes like this:

    1. Learn about the game. I get very excited learning about a new game, with a new world to learn about, new conflicts, new features, and so on. In addition to the newness of the game, I am usually excited because I hope it will address the issues I have with a current or past game.

    2. Research the game. In this phase I read what is publicly available about the game, developer or publisher web content, interviews, etc. Specifically I am trying to determine if I think the game will be fun, if it will address those issues I don’t like about a current or past game, how I feel about the games’ visuals (art and combat), game play, and what I think about the developers and/or community managers. It is important for me to see the development team acting as a whole without the fractures Raph mentioned (or otherwise Horizons is the result). It is in this stage that I decide to play or not.

    Phase 2 usually happens before the closed or open beta, depending on phase 1. It is important to note, that I may decide not to play a game because I can tell if my goals for an MMORPG do not match with those of the developers (an example for me is Vanguard, nothing against the game but certain design goals do not match with the reality of my life right now). If I do decide to play the game I attempt to get into the beta test. My thoughts are “If I am going to be a part of this world, I want to do my part and help make it the best it can be.”

    In addition to bug reports and testing the game mechanics I use the beta to see what the community support is going to be like down the road. Do the developers or community managers actually listen to the beta testers comments, do they stick to mechanics that are obviously (well at least to me :)) not fun? A good example of this from my perspective was Wish. The point and click to move was constantly and consistently criticized, yet the developers wouldn’t budge (the game never made it to production).

    3. Play the game. I’ve been in beta or at least followed others that have and know that this game is going to give me some good times so I play the game. This has ranged from 1 month to 1.5 years. In each game I play I build a mental list of things I do not like. It could be the speed of combat, types of quests, reward system, whatever – the point is I start to keep track of things about the game I do not like. At some point this mental list becomes a barrier to fun, usually evoked by a catalyst. In my last game (WoW), the catalyst became the time requirements for the end game, I do not like grinding instances (although I did for a while because that is what there is to do), nor do I have the time now to do it.

    4. Cancel the game. By now I’ve either had lots of fun in the game but I’ve built up a mental barrier to fun, or the game wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. Either way I’ve decided to cancel my subscription. Around this same time I start on phase 1 again, but something else happens. If I liked the game, I start to feel remorse for leaving. I start to remember the good times I had and I associate those times with the personas I played with (please do not confuse this with the people behind the characters; it is the person + the character, such as skills and class, etc) and with the world itself. I may remember the time me and playerX went to a new zone for our level and had fun with the new content, or a large PvP raid against another (read evil) faction.

    I’ve gone through these four stages for each game I’ve played. During phase 4 I also want to keep playing the game I just canceled. That is to say, I enjoy playing the game almost as much as I do not. It is the mental barrier I have created because of my past baggage. Either I cannot do another kill X quest or another bring 10 Y quest in the same world (because I merrily do them again in the next game), or it is because the game has changed now that I am at the end game.

    I know this is going to happen to me in each game, which is why I look forward to the good times a new game is going to bring, but at the same time abhor the regret and frustration it will bring.

    TBC…

  19. I do not think there is a way to stop me from going through these phases. While I agree there are thing that can be done that can extend the time I am in phase 3, I think all agree – a player will leave eventually. As long as the average playing time meets or exceeds the business plan requirements for profitability I think that’s fine. While the majority of players may not go through phase 1 and 2 like I do, the majority that play your games will always go through phases 3 and 4.

    As a result of this player behavior we are seeing, and I think will continue to see, MMORPG developers and publishers diversify their offerings. We will see specialists like NCSoft the focus on creating multiple games with different goals hoping to keep their customer base in the family so to speak. These MMOG specialists will be able to develop tools and systems that can be reused to reduce the time and cost of development. It is very similar to the way automobile manufactures are switch to common platforms and components to bring products to market quicker, cheaper, and with more quality because they are introducing less new items with each new vehicle.

    At the same time, I think the market for middleware will continue to grow. While large development houses may be able to leverage their size, smaller firms will have to look outside to suppliers (again, like in the automobile industry) to give them certain components. This is happening already, a good example is SpeedTreeRT, but I think the number of subsystems will increase in scope and number in the years to come.

    I think the players like me win if the industry does go down this path. It will provide more quality products to us the consumer, which is always nice. I think an additional benefit, is that it will allow the developers more creative freedom because they won’t be expected to create a game that will have a subscriber base of 1 million+, but instead they can focus on a game that will have 50k-100k players and in doing so add in more things they would like to see in a game that would otherwise turn away grandma.

  20. As a player maintained organisation, guild or whatever they should be called, gets forced to move by some reason it is typically difficult to move more than 25% of the population. This stimulates rampant growth of the organisation. Which commonly leads to total makeover of the guilds in return. Some very tight guilds can do this without growing alot, but most will from my experience turn into the web-based entities described previously.

    Whenver you move a whole guild to a new game it will shed skin several times before reaching mature status which will force heavy recruitment campaigns from the guilds. I think the oh so useful Dunbar’s Number comes into play here again to renew the appeal of the new games aswell. Eventually you will feel less tight with the web-based entity with an active userbase of several hundreds and migrate your loyalties to the new organisation of around a hundred or less members. The web bases organisation is a fallback of sorts if the game you play gets sucky enough to invalidate the social network within them.

    I also think its easy to forget the fact that healthy and powerful guilds must recruit at a steady pace or fail. A really healthy guild might change less than 25% of its population over a year but an end game top level competative guild will have a higher turnover due to burnout. There are of course those rare cases that dont suffer from this but optimal stability is achieved at the expense of being a joe-blow nobody guild which carries insignificant influence within any particular game community. The political power resides with those who keep on bringing in new people. This should be a healthy phenomenon in general :-)

  21. Myself and a number of guildies have been doing the MMO shuffle for the past several months since SOE decided to kill SWG. Personally I’ve played CoV/CoH, WoW and Guild Wars in that short period of time (about six months).

    For us the main reason we’re jumping around is the lack of a true virtual world in any of those games. Instead they are more like virtual playgrounds that center attention on one aspect of game play and perhaps provide a couple of other outlets, but none of which are as good as the main focus.

    Take WoW. WoW is about leveling and then doing end game stuff. At some point players are then faced with whether they should just seek the best gear available – because that’s really all that is left to do – or leave because they have basically beat the game. PvP in WoW is a joke, with ranking being nothing more than another grind like grinding reputation. Crafting is overly simplistic with no real merchants playing the game (everybody just makes their wares to pay for their game play). And there is little or no sense of community.

    To me a virtual world needs the following …

    – Community involvement. Even within guilds in WoW there’s a sense that you just need the other people for selfish reasons. It isn’t a true community of people who enjoy one’s company, its a collection of people hoping to be better together than apart. Here is where SWG thrived – you needed to build relationships in the game and didn’t need to hang with anybody unless you actually liked them.

    – A sense of home. Housing or being able to call some plot of land home is important. It connects you to the game as a resident, not just somebody taking up space in Ironforge.

    This also makes it more of a virtual world, not just a playground. You are questing, hunting and fighting in people’s backyards.

    – A variety of things to do, all of which are fulfilling and not just added to say “yeah we have crafting.” When I logged into SWG i’d spend the first five minutes in game finding out what was going on then trying to decide what I was going to do for the next few hours. I had a ton of choices – Bounty Hunting, PvP, crafting, decorating my house, loot hunting, checking my harvestors and maintaining my vendors, setting up a buff station for money, finishing off another alt.

    Most of the other games i’ve played have maybe one or two of these elements. And more often then not the answer is the same – try and find somebody to quest/level with. And even then the diversity in game play doesn’t come until you’re done grinding.

    And in the case of SWG, all of those things could be one person’s focal point and another person’s diversion. I spent most of my time pvping, followed by BHing, followed by loot hunting, followed by checking my harvestors and putting things on my vendors. Others spent most of their time Bhing. While still others spent the majority of their time crafting and running their businesses.

    Of the three, I think the first and the second are the most important in keeping people playing your game for long periods of time. Friends and feeling like a part of a community are often the tiebreakers for folks who might or might not leave an MMO. In Pre-CU SWG, a lot of folks got tired of empty promises and bugs to the point of leaving, only to come back within a month to three months because they missed their friends.

    And having several different paths for a character to follow keeps players from getting bored or burned out.

  22. Could you explain exactly what you mean by “I want a game that remains the best of what I want.”?

    Nothing more than that. To explain what I want, I want a game that centers game play around other things than levelling up towards and end game. City building, politics, discovering ancient secrets, building a “nest” such as a persona or business affiliation, crime and justice, Raph’s ecology, etc. I want a world to play in rather than just a set of game features.

    A game with this kind of “play the world” game play doesn’t hit an end wall. It can constantly be added to, as opposed to changed. And adding levels and higher and higher levels of raids does change a game if you look at it from the newbie perspective, or any lower level. To validate that look at UO. They had skills from 1-100, and a few power levels of magical items. They added scrolls to add to the skill peak up to 120, and they added many more and more powerful items. This changed the face of the trade skills, and made them useless untill you get to the top tiers. In effect, they changed the entire structure of the game by adding higher and higher “levels” of “things”. Even now, when they seem to have seen the results of the changes, it appears to be too late to go back. They have some ideas, but only time will tell if they can pull it back and make the game more well rounded again.

    What they could have done instead was things like adding to the social elements, guilds, expanding them to city social structures. They could have added any number of new magical items that would have been cool yet not added to the power differencials that caused so much damage. Things like polymorphing, for example. Things like scrying crystal balls.
    They could have enhanced animal taming and training better than they did, instead of making dragon taming so easy to use and unbalancing. They did add alot of cool things, to give them some credit. Plant growing, newer house customization, things like that.

    In short, I think it’s entirely possible to keep the majority of your player base indefinitely by adding rather than changing. Some of the “novelty” will always wear off, but you can keep enough of it to keep the players interested. Once you do that, the social aspects of a game (if they are done well) would be the final nail to keep the exit door shut.

  23. Perhaps the most schizophrenic instance of this would be the UO split, which happened internal to the team and remained internal to the team, creating a two-headed game.

    Would you be willing to elaborate on this a bit, for those of us who weren’t there? It sounds very interesting.

    At some point I will do a post on player policing. But for now, suffice to say that UO had a bad PK problem. For philosophical reasons, the original team did not want to use a PK switch to control it, and instead wanted to permit freedoms and have consequences. A series of systems were implemented to try to bring these consequences. They each helped, but only a little. This went on for a year and half.

    By the end, IMHO, it was finally getting close to working. But the churn rate caused by PKers, and the reputation the game had developed, meant that it was felt by some that drastic action was required. Shortly after I left the team to work on new projects, the world map was duplicated, and one copy got a PK switch and the other remained the same. You could travel freely between the two — they were alternate dimensions of the same server. Some predictable results ensued:

    – most everyone moved to the PK switch land, because it was overall safer

    – the economy crashed, because of the flood of spawned loot in pure PvE land (the eBay currency exchange had previously been stable for a year!)

    – a large contigent of players appeared agitating for the pre-split version of the game for a variety of reasons, and went off to make gray shards

  24. “a sense of ownership or investment that provokes a sense of responsibility.”

    Carefull with that one, i played SWG for quite a while, and with all my harvesters, and City, it soon felt like work, Becouse of the system of decay on them, If i did not log on i would loose it all.This isnt the only game that did this, i was just hooked on SWG system for the longist.

    That term, or ideal, is a very ,VERY grey line.

  25. What Aramanthar said! I agree with his assessment wholeheartedly. There’s a good reason that people still play UO and that there is such a strong a devoted community who take the UO base code and make it their own. It’s sad that the EA UO team is so focused on uber-items and ‘boss’ mobs instead of developing, adding and refining the numerous player tools that is what really attracted people to UO.

    I was in the UO Beta and one of the early members of Shadowclan (a roleplay group that found a fun way to use the system and tools we were given to be ‘PKs’ but not be an annoying menace to society) and the Trammel/Felucca split sent me running for the hills (after suffering through it for ~6 months and trying vainly to make it work) and away from UO entirely.

  26. [...] [Quote  by:  Ralph Koster] Ironically, it is the Diku model that was then imitated by EverQuest, and has now become the default gameplay mode for MMORPGs. To anyone who played in those days, the differences between EQ and WoW are very much akin to the differences between any two Diku-derivatives: mostly in polish and minor game changes. There is nothing new under the sun. WoW and EQ seem very different until you have literally 4000 other games very much like them, set in contrast to some games that are very very different. http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/18/the-more-things-change/#more-541 [...]

  27. Good stuff in here, I’ll have to agree with the ownership/community, and iteration of games within a game faction as a means of extending player longevity vs. Mudflation/power differentials in keeping players. One feels voluntary, one feels forced.

    Taking the relationship example further is it a case of:
    I love to love you? (and perhaps you love me back and show it via responsivness)
    or
    I love to hate you? (and you remain indifferent and unresponsive)

    Simple but somewhat applicable principles I assume.

    Also has anyone tried a “pay per view” system? rather than a subscription thats recurring how about a pay as you go? (25 cents an hour) imagine the parental controls on that model? “Ok junior go do the dishes and wash the car and I’ll pay for 10 hours of game X, carrot and the stick.

    Wolfe- Your assessment of large guilds was mostly off (at least for long term guilds) in my experiance, except for the recruiting portion, where people find a guild they have “experianced” other VW’s and they have common goals/traits/habits/agendas/morals? they tend to stick around, sometimes taking a break sure, but often returning.

    Shadowclan Orcs? hehe you guys did have a good twist on the RP thing. There was also this group called “The Jesters?” or “Jesters?” all dressed as clowns…PK’ers of course, but funny nonetheless

    I was a CS “Counselor” during the time Raph refferanced, the Pk situation was pretty bad for the Non-PK player, almost game breaking. If I recall most of the calls in game I got were actually either: 1) a PKer putting in a ticket and me responding, only to find they wanted to complain about some loot they “should” have gotten. Or whining about “stat/skill loss” or how someone waxxed them and they think the person was hacking. or 2) Someone harassing someone else in town verbally etc. (usually resulted in “Jail” time if it was particularly bad. And I feel it WAS close to being “fixed”. I left before they split the world. I tried returning to the game after it was done and found it unplayable.

    Further one of the things I enjoyed the most about my role was actually going around on down time and visiting the different player communities that had been built up, some like the RP orcs :) had thier own language, towns etc., others had zoos, library’s, some were pirates, I even met a group of “cave dwellers” once… all interesting, but all pretty much gone after the world split… was very sad.

    Thanks for the good times though Raph, building worlds is important, allowing for the building of player communities should be required…..

  28. Mike Rozak wrote:

    Pre 1980’s, fewer prints of movies were made, so a movie would first open in the major cities, and then flow on to smaller cities, then towns; This got the maximum usage out of the expensive film stock. Would something like this happen with virtual worlds?

    Back on the Middle-Earth Online project (the one Sierra cancelled in ’99) our marketing guy wanted to do a city-by-city limited launch in big cities before the national launch. The idea was that we would go to one store in each city with 100 or 500 or whatever copies. He liked the idea because of the lines it would create and the press those would get. I liked it because it would provide a slow ramp for the servers to climb. (Since then I’ve learned a bit more about how launches go and like it even more because it would let one wave get out of the newbie zones before the next wave came in.)

    Several games have done something like this recently by letting pre-orders first into the late-stage beta and then into a 3 day head start period. This also has the advantage of make sure at least a few of your “open” beta users actually buy the game. :) I suppose you could sell gold, silver, and bronze pre-orders and start the pre-order launch a couple weeks before the full launch.

    Solok wrote:

    I’ve been playing for MMORPG’s for 5 years now and I understand my cycle, it goes like this

    My cycle is a little different:
    1) buy the game
    2) install the game
    3) cancel my account
    4) play the game
    5) If the game is good enough to keep playing, re-activate my account.

    (No idea what is freaking out the formatting there.)

    Step 3 is important. It kept me from paying for my second month in a couple games so far. Not doing much research beyond “does this game suck” is also important. I made the mistake of reading some “How to play UO” guides before I started and it ruined the game for me. I spent two weeks turning logs into arrow shafts and failing to sell them to over-filled vendors and then I quit. I never had a single fight.

    Amaranthar wrote:

    There seems to be two basic kinds of gamers when talking about this narrow subject. Those like you and those like me.

    I’m definately the other kind of gamer. I have no real attachment to my characters if it wouldn’t prevent me from seeing higher-level areas I would probably have a lot of alts. I LOVE trying out new games when they come out, even if I don’t stick past the first month.

    My wife on the other hand, is just like you. Left to her own devices she would never leave a game and only does so because I occasionally drag her kicking and screaming into a new game. (Where I then abandon her to flit off to some NEW new game. I’m evil. :)

    Lobosolitario wrote:

    I don’t know anyone who’s quit EVE yet once they got into it

    So we just need to figure out how to make every game as sticky as EVE and there would be no more churn!

  29. So we just need to figure out how to make every game as sticky as EVE and there would be no more churn!

    I think the reason EVE is sticky is fairly simple – it’s niche. It sets itself some straightforward targets, and concentrates on getting them right. Thus it has a small playerbase relative to more generalized MMOs, but a playerbase that is very happy where it is, as it has all its needs catered for. So, if you’re in the target playerbase, it’ll be very sticky indeed, otherwise, you’ll likely drop in within a very short time.

    Of course, there’s a little more to it than that – niche isn’t enough, what EVE concentrates on is PvP, in all its glory. Not just killing, but politics, power play, space control, economic wars… and it’s the fact that what’s going on in the game is mainly player driven, so it’s fresh, unpredictable, challenging, in ways only people can be.

    Player interaction would seem to be the key to stickyness, for the above reasons – people are always novel, whereas games are not.

    In short, I think it’s entirely possible to keep the majority of your player base indefinitely by adding rather than changing. Some of the “novelty” will always wear off, but you can keep enough of it to keep the players interested. Once you do that, the social aspects of a game (if they are done well) would be the final nail to keep the exit door shut.

    I agree with this, and with a lot of what you’ve said in your post. Personally I would say “significant minority” rather than “majority” but that’s probably just my natural cynicism speaking, since I believe a lot of players just aren’t that committed (however, these are the ones that you rarely interact with, as it’s the “significant minority” that makes up the real community of the game). I would also (somewhat pedantically :P) precise that “adding” should be taken as “adding to the game as a whole”, not as “adding stuff onto the end of the (levelling) game to make it longer”, which I believe is what you mean anyway.

  30. Holy moly your comment stream is getting pretty thick!

    Back to topic at hand:

    >The burstiness encourages guilds to form social structures outside the game

    *or* to flock to services/structures “outside the game” that are offered elsewhere. (vs forming them themselves).

    Xbox friends list would be one example. EA Pogo community would be another.

    In other words, take the community and give it a promise of migrating to new games experiences without losing the community.

  31. Focusing almost entirely on the “endgame” experience, trying to squeeze just one more month out of people, just isn’t worth the effort.

    I wish most endgame gameplay was just that: The end. WoW would be a better game if after you hit 60 you could do the Oxynix quest chain, kill the dragon, and then the credits roll. Mnemon’s comments here seem spot on about WoW shortcomings as a virtual world.

  32. I think the reason EVE is sticky is fairly simple – it’s niche. It sets itself some straightforward targets, and concentrates on getting them right. Thus it has a small playerbase relative to more generalized MMOs,

    Umm, take a look at http://www.mmogchart.com/Chart2.html
    Eve is comparable in size to some of the other “big” names – COH/V, UO, DAoC, SWG.

    even so, eve is a horrible game for PvE experience, the AI of the mobs is atrocious, there is little in the way of normal “classes” (heal/damage dealer/tank) and is a pretty hellish experience for a new player/solo player.

    What is it doing right? PvP in all aspects of game? Player focussed experience? Are there any other games which do something similar? Should someone copy the core idea of game but try it in another genre (fantasy etc)?

  33. Personally I feel that we’d need a lot more detailed numbers to know where to even start. There are a lot of possible explanations for why players play less and less of each MMORPG. One very simple explanation is that there are more MMO’s *on the market* with each passing generation. When I started playing MMORPG’s I only knew of 2 (and only 1 was 3d). Seemed pretty simple to me. By the time I quit that one and tried others there several 3d MMORPG’s (5?) on the market and so it made a lot more sense for me to play one for a while and then try another. After the first wave there were also higher expectations and some poorer products with low stickiness that affect the numbers rather a bit. And so any figures that start with UO/EQ seem to be doomed to a strong bias towards this trend just because the market was so different when UO/EQ were your choices versus how it was just 3 or 4 years later.

    Try this on for another hypothesis that explains player “fatigue”:

    MMORPG’s feature lots of compulsive players who are not just logging on to play for an hour and chat with friends but try to stay logged in for 4-24 hours a day (often with alts). A number of lifestyles can accomodate that but many/most lifestyles won’t. I think that a lot of players continue to play longer hours than they can afford to for some time, pulled in by community obligations (be it an obligation to make armor to restock their store, an obligation to show up for a raid or just an obligation to be on to talk to certain people). And it is that community that creates the stickiness. If they don’t have to do something for *someone* they will probably leave earlier. But eventually something happens and they do, finally, leave the MMO. Maybe the guild they are in move to a different game (or simply disperses). Maybe they have a bad experience with the game. Maybe they graduate from college and get a job. Or a new baby is born and takes up game-playing time. Somehow or other the compulsion is broken. All along the player has been partially aware of the compulsion to play dealing with things like: “I’d love to go out tonight, but I promised the guild I’d go on a raid.” And once the player sees that it is easy to break out of that cycle and/or their life has adjusted to have a new kid in it, a job, whatever, it is suddenly much easier and more natural for the player to play MMO’s sporadically.

    If this latter element does in fact shape a lot of how players play then I think that the natural movement is not necessarily away from DIKU style worlds but rather away from worlds with complexity. That’s where I do think WoW (modulo raiding) really has done a pretty good job. ONe can log in for half an hour, do a quest, and go. Alone or with friends. Need your friend to make you something? Mail it to them and they’ll make it when they’re online and mail it back .. with less than 30s time invested. Generally you don’t even need that friend’s support because WoW has such a simple economy and the auctionhouse. The result is a game that does a good job of pretending that you’ll never to invest too much time or depend on too many other people to make progress and yet still does a good job of pretening that the players are doing meaningful things and are heroes. I think a really successful MMO these days has to use lots of smoke and mirrors.

  34. Also I would agree that EVE is sticky to those who are interested in its strengths, exactly because it is niche. I have seen a lot of players pick up EVE, hate it almost immediately and move on.

    It reminds me of the downloadable games. The average casual game gets something like a 1% conversation rate from demo downloads to sales but a niche title can get really impressive conversation rates like 10%. The difference is that the more general title is an unknown and lots of people will try it even though only very few like it enough to buy it. The niche title will scare off a lot of people well before they decide to get a demo or not and those who do grab the demo are already in a demographic that is very predisposed to enjoy and buy the game.

    You have to be careful with how you interpret that and make sure you get the details. The casual game with a 1% conversion rate and 1,000,000 downloads still sells 10,000 copies. If the niche game only gets 10,000 downloads it will only sell 1,000 copies.

  35. Umm, take a look at http://www.mmogchart.com/Chart2.html
    Eve is comparable in size to some of the other “big” names – COH/V, UO, DAoC, SWG.

    “Niche” has nothing to do with size, it has to do with focus. An argument could easily be made that WoW is niche as well, focusing almost entirely on quests/raiding.

  36. StGabe… you must be playing a different version of WoW than I am… the whole damn game is built around time-sinks (one of my favorite examples is the flight paths that first do a complete circle of the city before landing. Sure it’s nice the first couple of times to see the scenery. But at the 200th time, you’re pretty tired of having that extra 15 seconds tacked on to every single flight you take).

  37. Tholal,

    Sounds like you need more warlock friends :)

  38. Tholal – yes i realise its niche.

    I was more referring to the

    Thus it has a small playerbase relative to more generalized MMOs,

    statement.

    where is the cutoff we set for big/average/small games now?

  39. StGabe,
    I’m not challenging your statement, I am wondering where that 1% figure comes from? Is that an internal figure or is there a published piece related to this?
    The reason is I would think that the % would actually be slightly higher, somewhere around 5%. Or maybe Im not differentiating between:
    DL a demo and convert to a sub. vs Buying and Dl the game.

    Anyhow I think this % can only increase over time as the distributable DL systems get better developed and more optimized. And as overall use of high speed connections becomes more prevalent.

    Also what about the case of DnL, a prepurchase DL for 60$ that allowed the buyer to get into a “pre-game” if I remember right they sold around 10k or 50k preorders. (All sold out in less than 2 hours if I remember correctly)However this may be the only game that had less people playing on release than in thier “pre-game” and “beta” if thier community sites are any indication. Im unsure of thier current numbers though.

  40. [...] Citation: Tu aura toujours un contre-exemple prcis, mais je te redirige sur le site de Raph Koster qui explique trs bien que ce sont, quel que soit le systme, toujours les mmes 20% de joueurs qui remportent 80% des combats. J’ai pas l’url sous la min mais sur Google ca doit se trouver facilement. oui j’est dit a la fin de mon prcdent message que globalement j’etait dacord. Sinon tu parles de ce site ? http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/06/1…hange/#more-541 [...]

  41. I’m not challenging your statement, I am wondering where that 1% figure comes from?

    A lot of casual indie developers discuss and post figures like this on the forums at indiegamer.com. 1% is generally accepted to be a typical conversion rate for an average casual title. I remember reading a discussion a while back about Weird Worlds, a very niche title (and a great game), that was getting a very high conversion rate (~10%, I don’t really remember exactly) but obviously had a much lower download rate. Similarly I know the developer for the game Democracy reports much higher conversion rates but for much lower download rates.

  42. Awesome thanks for the info!

  43. Speaking of time sinks and cities and layouts, heres concern by the player base about the validity of cities, prior to release:
    http://www.flyinglab.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=13002

    Note the concern and desire for minigames within the gamespace that encompasses the city. Also if you note the forum userbase here youll see a good cross section of players from fanatasy (WOW, EQ, DAOC) to futuristic genres (SWG, EVE, etc) waiting to play what some on this thread might term a “niche” game about ship v ship combat set in a historical setting, with NO avatar combat on release and only ship v ship RVR.

    Is this going to turn some people off? Surely, and avatar combat might be thier path to long term player retention of the casual gamers from the “fantasy genre”. Actually I think it’ll be required in the long term…too many now used to the WOW model.

    Is this going to reach the (as Raph said)”Ok now Im waiting for something new” crowd? Definately

    I smell a slam dunk for flyinglabs, at least initially. I hope they control for very high download demand, and server populations…..

  44. Guy Kawasaki

    — What can an e-commerce startup learn from your experiences selling sex toys online?

    Dr. Sandor Gardos

    — Find a niche that is currently under-served in the way you want to serve them. Then, continue to mine the data, listen to your customers, and keep creating ever more experiences that are amazing for them. Also, stop thinking that you are selling a product — that puts you into commoditization and the only thing you can compete on is price. You are selling a solution to a problem that your customer may not even know they had. Finally, forget about all the latest trends and gee-whiz technology; if it doesn’t really help the majority of your customers, it is worthless or worse.

    Historically, extremely successful products were initially niche offerings. The reflective advice Dr. Gardos provided in the interview with Guy Kawasaki is not unique to his particular situation. You’ll find the same advice in every business journal, every business magazine, and from every business advisor (e.g., SCORE.) That’s what entrepreneurs, especially serial entrepreneurs, learn from their experiences: serving underserved markets builds a foundation for business and market growth.

  45. “Find a niche that is currently under-served in the way you want to serve them. Then, continue to mine the data, listen to your customers”

    Everyone er loves(?) a good data miner :)

    “You are selling a solution to a problem that your customer may not even know they had”

    Spot on, actually that whole article is pretty amazing……

  46. [...] The Lifecycles of a Player The More Things Change…and if you haven’t read it before, Players Who Suit MUDs. The first two are articles by Raph Koster, who was a lead designer on Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. The last one is by Richard Bartle, who created the first MUD.Personally, I agree with most of what these articles say, at least in my experience. I’ll probably comment more on these later, but that’s a fair amount of information to digest. [...]

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