In the MMO industry, dead men DO tell tales! What new MMOs should avoid.
Every player has his/her favorite little slice of MMO paradise. Maybe you’re a rabid World of Warcraft fan anxiously awaiting the new expansion, or an RTS mastermind praying for an invite to the next End of Nations playtest. Perhaps you go for older games like Ultima Online or Final Fantasy XI because the relationships that you made there have spanned a decade. But for every game that attracts even a few tens of thousands of players, there are a dozen that die alone and unloved, because they didn’t learn from the scores of casualties that came before them. This article is dedicated to those games and the lessons they’ve left behind.
1. If your game rates extremely poorly with players in Beta, you’re doing it wrong
It would be easy to pick on Final Fantasy XIV for most of these critiques, but I’ll try to keep the criticism spread out in the interest of fairness (plus, I’m a Final Fantasy fanboi from back in the days of the original NES game). So let’s keep it simple: repeating terrain, little content, hard blocks on progression if you play for too long, a terrible vendor/auction system, hell, even a lack of jump. And these criticisms continued for months in Beta, with the only real hope being the developers saying “Well, wait for the actual release!” The actual release came… and, shockingly, nothing changed. Because by Beta, if you don’t know what you’re doing then you’re likely doing it wrong. ZAM’s BFF Report tore it apart at the time. I will be the first to admit however that Square Enix finally got their act together and have attempted to completely overhaul the game. Too little too late? We’ll see: but hopefully other companies have learned from Square Enix's mistake!
2. The fine line between too much information, and too little
I’m going to tick off the WoW fans for a moment: do you ever feel like you’ve been playing the new expansion for months now, there’s so much information out there? To be fair some of you have been Beta testing for months, so that’s a valid assumption. And do you remember the last content patch with a raid was in November of 2011? In their first year, Blizzard released content patches roughly as quickly as Rift does today (and I love Trion precisely for this reason); now they’ve moved on to talking about all the cool new stuff without actually giving current players much at all. We’ve been sitting in front of the candy store, salivating over sugary goodies for most of the past year: we know the factions, the lore, the mounts, the item sets. Heck, by now there are strategies out for the instances. By the time the expansion is actually out, I feel as though the first reaction will be “Oh, yeah, Wowhead showed this off months ago. Moar content, plz!”
Now take the opposite extreme, with Curt Schilling’s now-infamous “Project Copernicus.” Schilling had a fantastic sounding premise: hook up with big names like R.A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane to create a game world that jumped from a single-player game into an MMO. And… that was all the information we had between 2007, when 38 Studios was named as the new kid on the block, and May of 2012, when the company fired all of its employees and filed for bankruptcy. Almost no information on the tomes of lore written by Salvatore, no glimpse of the amazing figures drawn by McFarlane. Project Copernicus died in obscurity, its lasting legacy being “maybe Schilling should have sunk $50 million into another venture.”
3. If you’re going to copy an idea, at least make sure you do it better
Let’s have a quick show of hands: how many people played with LEGO blocks as a kid? Now, how many of you loved Minecraft? Good! And how many of you loved LEGO Universe? If you’re scratching your head and saying “What’s LEGO Universe?” the answer is “nothing much, the game died early this year, and I totally called it." Minecraft out-LEGOed LEGO itself. LEGO Universe had several things going against it: first, as a “free-to-play” game, less than 20% of the game was available for free. Second, the “building sites” were extremely limited, both in the size of the area you could build, and in the materials available “for free.” Want all the best blocks? Prepare to invest hours to level and reach the really rare patterns… and you’ll need to pay the $10 a monthly subscription fee. Or, hey, you can buy Minecraft (like I did back in Alpha, when it was 10 Euros) and play forever and build whatever you want with no subscription. And even upload some LEGO add-ons to make the game look more like LEGOs than LEGO Universe.