Posts Tagged ‘publisher’

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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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