Posts Tagged ‘design’

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Let’s move along now, shall we?

June 10, 2010

Over the past few years, how many AAA MMO titles have we seen get hyped up, release, and shed 50%+ of its population within the first few months? 3? 5? I’m sure there is more to come as well.

I think first it started off as everyone trying to tackle Blizzard, or at least get a chunk of their cake. Games like LotRO, and WAR that were marketed by the eagerly waiting players as “the next WoW killer.”

After that I think companies started backing down to the almighty Blizzard, and decided to not shoot for 10 million subscriptions and would be happy to settle with 1 million. But even that didn’t seem to help, with games like Aion, Champions Online, and Star Trek Online.. all of which have pretty much bombed almost into the “life support” category. (In Aion’s case.. in the US/EU)

So what does a company who wants to design a AAA MMO title have to do to have a successful launch and retain it’s players after the initial flood?

There is a few things I can think of. I’m not too familiar with the development process on the inside of a studio, things like Publisher pressure and deadlines can really screw up an MMO. But that’s about all I really know about what goes on internally. To possibly gain a bit more insight I’ve emailed Brian “Psychochild” Green, online game designer and blogger and asked him to chime in on this post if he has anything to add.

Back to what I think Dev studios could do in order to make the Dev process, testing, launch and post-launch go smoother.

Shrink it!

Most AAA MMO titles feature a large world. Multiple continents, large zones and etcetera. But why does it have to start out large? Maybe the bigger companies can learn a lesson from the indie F2P developers and make your world smaller at first, but have speedy development rotations on adding new content. We all want a bigger world sure, but.. would you rather have a huge world with all sorts of problems in it, or a smaller world with drastically less problems, evolving into a bigger world with time. Vanguard is a great example of what not to do here. The world was beautiful, and enormous. And empty. Not just void of players, but even the wilderness didn’t feel very wild.

Along with shrinking your world, I never quite understood why these MMO’s ship with 15+ servers. Big worlds and tons of servers are great if you’re Blizzard. But not if you’re anybody else. The dreaded server merge announcements that we see doesn’t mean that the game is dying exactly, but anytime one is announced the doomsayers come out of their holes. Usually server merging is a sign of a slowly dying MMO, or at least one that isn’t going to be picking up steam.

So, how about trying something different for once. Start with the minimum amount of servers, and if your game grows, add more. The problem with that idea is usually launch is when you have the highest populations, thus needing the extra servers. My take on server merging is that it’s better done sooner rather than later. If you launch your game and see 500k subs the first month, but at the 3rd month mark you’re down to 400k, it might be time to start thinking about server merging. There is nothing worse than the post-launch exodus that is bound to happen, and then feeling like your left with an empty server. That’s just going to push more players away.

As your game gets older I think watching your servers is important, and knowing when to time server merges before the problem gets too bad. Take EQ2 for example. It does have a healthy population, though the majority of the community are at the top end of the game. EQ2 has had 2 rounds(or maybe just 1, I can’t recall) of server merges in the past, and in this guys opinion.. is well overdue for another. I’d go as far as to say EQ2 needs to drop down to about 8 servers total. 3 normal servers, 1 bazaar server, 1 pvp server, 2 EU servers (I don’t know what the EU population of EQ2 is like), and a RP server. If you’re starting fresh in EQ2 with no friends, it is a very, very silent and quiet game. Very lonely. Not good if you’re trying to attract new customers.

But if EVE online can have 1 server with its healthy subscriber base, why can’t other games? Yeah.. EVE is a special case because it fills a specific niche, but it’s still something to be thought about.

Target Audience?

I think it may be safe to say now that trying to market your MMO to every player type doesn’t work that well. Blizzard was able to pull it off I think because of their timing. Every MMO to come out since that’s tried this has not reached the goals they originally set for themselves and their game. I think if you build your game towards a certain niche of players and stay there, maybe adding on other features later on, you would end up with a smaller population, but a much more stable one. EVE Online does this pretty well as do a few other niche titles.

Are you trying to attract new-to-the-genre players? Harcores? Casuals? PvP, PvE? Social aspects?

Scale?

I never understood why the bigger MMO companies are drawn to making a game capable of supporting millions of people, only to have it flop after release for x reason. Instead of doing that why not set a lower target for your populations. How about 500k instead of 1 million?

I would think that once you set a goal for your customer base, it would make it must easier to design the rest of the game’s size, how many servers you’ll need, and what features you can or can’t use. Also, it would give your publisher a better idea. (Or maybe the publisher is the one who dictates what the target customer pool size will be *shrug*)

Deadlines

Now.. I’m fairly certain that deadlines are set by whoever is funding the project, which is usually the publisher. If publishers used their heads a little bit, and gave the Developer the time that they actually need, we would probably see less MMO’s fall into the sub-200k club.

Then you have the option of “self-publishing.” Which is what Cryptic studio’s original intent was. Looking back over the course of the development of Champions Online, things seemed to be going very well until Atari showed up. You would also have to have the money to back yourself. Not an easy thing to come up with hehe.

What’s worse is when something like that happens, it’s usually the Dev house that gets all the negative press, not so much the publisher. When I first played Champions Online, I was sorely disappointed. Nay. I was pissed. At Cryptic. Even though I knew the game shipped the way it did because Atari shoved it out their doors. Ok.. I don’t know that for a fact, but that’s what the speculation is.

The same thing happened to Vanguard. All was going well (so we think) up until Sony was announced to be the new publisher. Which was right around open beta if I remember right. Then all of a sudden, the game was on store shelves. Oh the cries of the fanboi’s (myself included)

What else could a AAA MMO company could do for itself to ensure the game’s success? Aside from the obvious answer of “make a good game”

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Please just stop already!!! (Pt. 3)

June 5, 2010

Today I said I was going to take you on a text-walkthrough of my rendition of PvE Arenas. So let’s get to it and hope I can keep this post under 1000 words.

Everyone say hello to our imaginary Rogue, Wunderbutts. He will be doing solo arena today on normal difficulty. He is currently wearing all ICC gear and his GS is 62 million. That means shit poop here.

This is not his first time in this Arena. His promoter’s are the Stormwind Lumberjack’s Union (?) and he is just a few points away from hitting Exalted with them. Hop to!

As he enters the arena he sees his first opponents for the day. A group of 5 non-elite Nagas. 3 warrior types and 2 of those evil caster ones that do that big blue circle explosion thingy on the ground. Zangarmarsh, ugh.

Wunderbutts scoffs at the group and charges in, dispatching the foes quickly as he is a skilled (i.e. non-tard) Rogue.

Next up is a single baddie. Doesn’t look too tough, an Ogre Shaman. Haha.. stunlock beoch!

What’s this? Icehowl had babies?!? Yep, Wunderbutts has just discovered Icehowl is asexual. Let’s deal with these 3 babies before they grow into something mean! Evasion go! /charge

Wunderbutt’s looks confused though, as the babies seem to have the majority of big daddy Icehowl’s abilities. Including that stomp/charge. How is Wunderbutts going to deal with all that charging? Skill, that’s how. Pure keyboard acrobatics. and maybe a little help from Sprint.

Ok, whew, they’re dead now. Another trash pack up next. This time they are elites though. Time for some fun! As the pack of stupid elite kobolds walks through the gates Wunderbutt’s takes Stealth. At least SOME thought is going to have to go into this fight he thinks. While making clever use of some CC’s and switching up poisons a little bit he is still finding it hard to take down this group. As one of the little terd geomancers lets loose a Fireball, our Rogue hears a chime letting him know his limit break is ready. He has already met his requirement to dodge 100 attacks, and his ability is off of cooldown. This one however requires Stealth to perform. VANISH! BUTTONSMASH! *amazed* Wunderbutts explodes into a dance of sharp things. 300% movement speed increase, 100% dodge, and a 5 second “Blade Storm” type ability. Only the character retains movement. At 300% movement speed and 5 seconds of whirling death most of the little kobold terds are done for. The rest is just mopping up.

So.. wtf is next? We can’t see anything but Wunderbutts covered in Kobold blood and breathing heavily. But we still have 6 rounds to go! Wait a minute. Wtf is that purple sh–… omfg. It’s Edwin VanCleef and he just sapped Wunderbutts! Roflcopter. This should make for a good 1v1 fight hehe. VC is elite, so he’s not going to be easy and a lot of Wunderbutts abilities are on Cooldown. As it turns out VC is beating the snot out of our friend. He’s at a healthy 70% health and our heroic Rogue is merely scratching by with 35% health left, and he already used the Kidney Shot>Bandage combo. It’s not looking good for Wunderbutts. Lucky for him he was smart and used some of his points to buy special toys. As he glugs down a “Back in the Fight” potion (40s cooldown), he’s brought back to full health, full energy, cooldowns refreshed and even has a HoT ticking on him!!

The fights continue in this fashion. Requiring more skill, smarts and planning than great gear. All the while our Rogue is collecting points, rep and stunning us with his killer moves.

Finally, Wunderbutts.. battle-weary comes up against his final opponent for the day. Oh em gee, it’s Grobbulous from Naxx! The last fight of the day gets a healthy pause to introduce the final match. (3 minutes) Wunderbutts is coming up with a strategy. He knows this guy’s moves, knows them well in fact. But without9/24 of his buddies to back him up is kinda wondering how he will beat this fat tub of lard. 3…2…1… FIGHT!

Wunderbutts decides to take the defensive stance at first and let Grobb come to him. This Rogue is no tank though, and the fat mutant bitch slaps our rogue for nearly 15% of his total health.. in one hit!

Vanish! Now we know how hard this bastard hits.. it’s lucky Wunderbutts stocked up on Gladiator Potions before coming in (Heals 20k hp, 10 second cool-down). Back into the fight! Wunderbutts, fighting for his life, burning all cooldowns he’s got and chuggin health potions like the town drunkard chugs the whiskey. And he’s barely putting a dent in the tubby golem.

Wunderbutt’s is running out of options. He’s used his last “Back in the fight” potion, and he’s only got 5 Gladiator potions left. He’s managed to get Grobby down to 30% health by using the common tactics he learned in Naxx. Kiting him around the Arena. But what about the goo you say? Since its Solo mode there is only 1 goo being spawned, Wunderbutts just tabs over and continues. And how about the gas rings left by players who get diseased? Since Wunderbutts is only 1 person, he gets hit with it every time. But it’s negated since he’s already kiting Grobby. Our smart Rogue used his previous experience, combined with knowledge of his class and some of his own finesse to adjust the strategy of the fight to work for him. And now he hears a fun noise. That’s right, it’s “limit break” time! This particular ability is more geared towards single targets and boss fights, as every class would get 1 limit break for AE situations and 1 limit break for single target/Boss situations. Though our Rogue is not limited to just using one.. if conditions are met for both, he can use both.

For this ability the conditions were take 400k damage, deal 800k damage, and dodge 72 attacks. BUTTON SMASH! and now Wunderbutts is “chargin his lazor”. He dissapears from sight, both of Grobby, and us spectators.

A yell from one of the NPC spectators (what you don’t think they wanna see a good show?) indicates for everyone to look up! As you move your camera towards the rafters you see our lovely Wunderbutts take a leap from the rafters.. or fall outta the sky.. or something. But he looks pissed, his entire body glowing red. He thrusts his blades downwards into Grob’s back for a massive double-crit 157k points of damage. That took a whole 10% from the fatty! But Wunderbutt’s not finished, no way. That ability gave him a 200% attack speed increase, and half energy cost on all abilities for 15 seconds! He’s tearing this fat piece of gaseous crap down! The NPCs are hootin’ an’ hollerin’ as it comes down to the final few seconds of the fight. Wunder and Grob going blow for blow at each other. Face to face, no more potions to rely on. Butts throws everything he’s got! Another slime spawns.. no time for fighting this one. Here’s some dirt in your eye Mr. Goo, now your blind, go run around for 6 seconds while I finish killing this cow. And with the final strike Grobby falls to the floor in defeat. The representative from the Stormwind Lumberjack’s Union comes to greet our Rogue and announces that he has reached full Gladiator status. (Which happily comes with a package of PvE arena consumables, and a tabard)

Now that Wunderbutt’s has hit Exalted with his promoters, they offer him a quest. One that will take him to higher challenges in the arena’s, and possibly elsewhere.. to what end, what purpose? *shrug*

Ok, does that not sound like it would be fun? Sure there are mechanical, and balance issues out the yazoo. But it’s not something that’s going to be implemented anyways. It’s just an idea.. a stolen idea at that! But why can’t we have things *LIKE* this? Hell.. me personally.. I would pay extra for something like this.

As of now we have 2 PvP facets in the game, and only 1 PvE (unless you count questing/levelling, which I don’t) Something like this would just bring another option for us strict PvE’ers. I’m sure the PvP crowd would go nuts if they read this paragraph saying that PvE doesn’t need any MORE stuff. Hah.. crazy PvPers go play DFO nubs.

Also, just to tack this on at the end because I forgot to put it in two posts ago. In the Duo/5man versions you could also design group “limit breaks.” Pretty sure not much explanation is needed for this. It’d be cool. Other MMOs have things like it.. EQ2 and LotRO just for two examples.

Anyways, if you could withstand reading all of this 3 part post I thank you for your time and any comments are great! If you didn’t like the read, or the idea.. good thing it was just an idea right? And you never, ever have to come back to this blog again lol… but seriously. Please stay? : )

~dorf