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How to Create a Successful MMO (Part 1)


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#1 El Duderino

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 09:51 PM

Source: http://www.guildwars...07/gcspeech.php

Jeff Strain, one of the three founders of ANet, was asked to make a speech about how to make an MMO. I would like to provide a few quotes from that speech and ask you how that compares to the GW2 of today.

Quote

Don't be fooled by the much-hyped success of the top MMOs on the market. The game industry is littered with the carnage of MMOs that have failed over the past few years. Due largely to the social nature of MMOs, gamers rarely commit to more than one or two MMOs at a time. This is in contrast to the traditional game market, in which there is room for many games to be successful, even within the same genre. You may play ten different action games this year, but you are very unlikely to play more than one or two MMOs. This means that it is not enough to make a great game – instead you must make a game that is so overwhelmingly superior that it can actively break apart an established community and bring that community to your game. In today's market, that is a tall order.

So, when people say that this is a casual game that can be picked up at any time and replayed, does that fit the idea of an MMO being a social natured game where gamers only commit to one or two at a time?

Also, do you think GW2 is so overwhelmingly superior that it is actively breaking apart an established community and bringing that community to their game?

Quote

This is a tough industry, and only the most committed studios and publishers with solid long-term financial backing should be undertaking MMO development. I can assure you that releasing an MMO into the market before the development team is proud of it will result in writing off every penny invested in its development. The best publishers are willing to give development teams time for polish and balance. In the MMO market, there is simply no other option, and many publishers are not willing to make this commitment.

How do you feel about GW2 being released in the state it was? Have the publishers of ANet been willing to give developers time to polish and balance the game?

Quote

Before you start building the ultimate MMO, you should accept that "MMO" is a technology, not a game design. It still feels like many MMOs are trying to build on the fundamental designs established by UO and EQ in the late '90s. In the heyday of Doom and Quake we all eventually realized that "3D" was a technology, distinct from the "FPS," which was a game design. It's time we accepted that for MMOs as well. We are finding ways to overcome many of the limitations of the technology that dictated the early MMO design, such as Internet latency and limited global scalability. These improvements can enable a new class of online games that break out of the traditional MMO mold and explore new territory. It can be a daunting proposition to willfully walk away from what seems to be a "sure thing" in game design, but lack of differentiation is probably the number one reason that MMOs fail, so we all need to leave the comfort zone and start innovating, or risk creating yet another "me too" MMO.

According to James Phinney, lead designer of StarCraft and Guild Wars, every great game starts with one question: "What do I want to play next?". This may seem an obvious statement, but his point is that designers are often asked to make a game that is specifically designed to be "better" than a successful game from a competitor, rather than making a game that is exciting and new. How many designers have been asked to make a "GTA killer", or a "Guitar Hero killer", or a "WoW killer"? I personally have heard numerous designers and producers working on unreleased MMO projects describe their game in these terms: "It's like WoW, but..." I just shake my head when I hear this, because the team that is best poised to deliver a successful game that is an evolution of WoW is... well, the WoW team. They've got their thing, and they're good at it. Let's all carve out our own thing, and be the best at it. Truly great games are made by passionate teams who are on fire with the notion of changing the industry. If you are aiming at a competitor rather than aiming to make something fresh and innovative, you've lost.

So, is GW2 more like normal MMO's or have they carved out their own thing and been best at it?

Are they too interested in being a great game that revolutionizes what they do, or are they still wondering what direction to take the game in order to sell more games and be competitive with WoW?

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There is really a lot of information there to take in, so I will leave it at this for now. I am interested to hear what people think in regards to someone who knows the industry much better than any of us and how they feel his opinion compares and contrasts with what GW2 has delivered.

#2 zeth006

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 07:35 AM

Interesting read.

#3 ilr

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 08:40 AM

I see this mostly as a limitation in current Publishing...  an Anachronism to be precise

I'm no expert on literature, or most entertainment for that matter ... but I saw what happened when specific genres evolved their own publishing options as technology downscaled and moved from the hands of the uber-powerful, to the humble hobbyist.  Indy Gaming for example...  Thanks in part to infrastructures like Steam & crowdsourcing, it's hit the potential needed to be self-sustaining which means self-liberating

That's just not possible for MMORPG's yet... The only one even close to having been started & sustained under its own self worth as opposed to that of Wallstreet Investors and huge publishers... is Secondlife b/c it was the only one that tried to actually fund itself off its own fan-content.  And just like any bad fanfiction, when you peel back the veil on it you just see a lot of clunky low-poly porno (/w even worse clipping) propping damn near the entire thing up. ....simply b/c ...well, it's the Internet and what did you honestly expect? :P

Minecraft as well... for all its fanbase?  The entire thing still looks incredibly amateur from an outsider perspective. And I'm not just talking about how often someone builds a giant phalic tower (which society in general has been doing for eons by the way).  And I've yet to see any TripleA title try to accurately emulate any of those successful designs or lessons into itself.  That's really where the rubber hits the road, IMO.

Even if the technology was available to everyone to finally see independent MMO's popping up, and actually innovating again, it would probably be 5 years out or even more before any of their breakthroughs were even half-assedly incorporated in the corporate ones.  Which means the vast majority of people that independent product could have appealed to ... will never know of its existence & get to experience it in its original form :(


edit:... TL;DR version:
...the connotation this has with GuildWars2 and its publisher. ...had things been ....different
And if that other publisher that also muscled in on the Stock of that first publisher...Hadn't.
GW2 is just a victim of the time is what I'm trying to say I guess.

Edited by ilr, 18 October 2013 - 09:05 AM.


#4 Featherman

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Posted 19 October 2013 - 02:41 AM

View Postilr, on 18 October 2013 - 08:40 AM, said:

Minecraft as well... for all its fanbase?  The entire thing still looks incredibly amateur from an outsider perspective. And I'm not just talking about how often someone builds a giant phalic tower (which society in general has been doing for eons by the way).  And I've yet to see any TripleA title try to accurately emulate any of those successful designs or lessons into itself.  That's really where the rubber hits the road, IMO.

I wouldn't underestimate the capabilities of competent developers. Minecraft was revolutionary because of its premises not necessarily its graphics or engine. That's purely design and innovation in the hands of a humble developer. However, it only took three years for EverQuest Next to incorporate many of these revolutionary premises into the MMO format, complete with better graphics and a superior engine as well. It remains to be seen whether or not SOE can deliver on all of their claims, but at the very least its demo serves as example of potential when technological clout works tandem with innovation.

I think it's significant that EQN is expanding on already successful formulas, and that EQN's ambitions would probably be deemed too risky to be developed if it were not for the overwhelming success of small voxel-based games.

#5 FoxBat

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Posted 19 October 2013 - 12:54 PM

View PostEl Duderino, on 16 October 2013 - 09:51 PM, said:

So, when people say that this is a casual game that can be picked up at any time and replayed, does that fit the idea of an MMO being a social natured game where gamers only commit to one or two at a time?

You really don't need several hours a day every day to be part of a social community. Particularly if you have specific times when people tend to congregate (daily reset, wvw reset, guild mission), or you push people towards specific areas in PvE land (dailies, new/temporary content) Still in spite of what Jeff may be implying there's also plenty of "lone warrior" players as well who only socialize for pug type play, their money is just as good as the social player's money. GW2 has gotten pretty good at facilitating "pugging" with the lack of roles as well as non-partied zergs, whatever price is paid with the depth of game mechanics.

It also needs to be recognized that there are people who have limited gaming time. They still end up committed to an MMO but they can't afford one that requires the schedule of traditional raiding to have an endgame. Indeed many still end up playing such MMOs but ignore the raid part entirely.

Quote

Also, do you think GW2 is so overwhelmingly superior that it is actively breaking apart an established community and bringing that community to their game?

GW1 activity dropped from moderate to nothing exactly on GW2 release, and has never recovered. When you look at MMOs like Asheron's Call, Everquest, Lineage, it is not a foregone conclusion that the sequel supplants the original. (Or in the case of Ultima Online, your sequel doesn't even get off the ground.) When WoW and EvE found some success they were wise to keep riding it with expansions rather than risk the transition issues of a sequel.


Usually though it's hard to point at one community falling apart and another rising up, because that isn't what happens. Those leaving from one MMO often scatter to many different MMOs, and no one of them can take credit for single-handedly breaking apart a community. I know some ex-ToR here but that doesn't make GW2 responsible for that game's woes.

#6 ilr

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 08:18 AM

View PostFeatherman, on 19 October 2013 - 02:41 AM, said:

[/size]
It remains to be seen whether or not SOE can deliver on all of their claims, but at the very least its demo serves as example of potential when technological clout works tandem with innovation.

I think it's significant that EQN is expanding on already successful formulas, and that EQN's ambitions would probably be deemed too risky to be developed if it were not for the overwhelming success of small voxel-based games.

Hmmm....

How do we know though ... that it's not just clever marketing (read: Omission) like GW2 did as well?  Telling us it was all about exploring yet we run into invsisible walls still CONSTANTLY ... EVERYWHERE.  They promised us destructible Castles in WvW but it turns out MOST walls can't even be trebbed.  And a player-driven meta but we all know how that turned out as well. See I've already played on "EQ Nexts" proprietary engine.   It's under the hood of Planetside2 which is actually WORSE than Guildwars2 for many reasons  (I even made a video on the part I found most disappointing).  Especially when it comes to culling.  And we've already seen what happens in Gw2 as well when they attempt to inject a TON of "virtualization" or emulated geometry like there is in SAB.   And that's on an engine that's already been optimized to be better than EQN's.

Look how long it's taken Anet just to make a lot of this content playable with truly "Massive Multiplayer" numbers in its vicinity.  The EQN engine is way behind that still judging by PS2's performance where the only "destructible blocks" they have to worry about is a bunch of Vehicles piling up.   ....but OH GOD... when they do... It's BAD.

Edited by ilr, 20 October 2013 - 08:22 AM.


#7 Featherman

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 08:32 AM

View Postilr, on 20 October 2013 - 08:18 AM, said:

Hmmm....

How do we know though ... that it's not just clever marketing (read: Omission) like GW2 did as well?  Telling us it was all about exploring yet we run into invsisible walls still CONSTANTLY ... EVERYWHERE.  They promised us destructible Castles in WvW but it turns out only certain walls can even be trebbed.  And a player-driven meta but we all know how that turned out as well. See I've already played on "EQ Nexts" proprietary engine.   It's under the hood of Planetside2 which is actually WORSE than Guildwars2 for many reasons  (I even made a video on the part I found most disappointing).  Especially when it comes to culling.  And we've already seen what happens in Gw2 as well when they attempt to inject a TON of "virtualization" or emulated geometry like there is in SAB.   And that's on an engine that's already been optimized to be better than EQN's.

Look how long it's taken Anet just to make a lot of this content playable with truly "Massive Multiplayer" numbers in its vicinity.  The EQN engine is way behind that still judging by PS2's performance where the only "destructible blocks" they have to worry about is a bunch of Vehicles piling up.   ....but OH GOD... when they do... It's BAD.
It's difficult to tell with just the Engine, but they are releasing Landmark soon, which would at the very least show the building and destruction in action. It's always good to be cautious of promises, however, as there are far more potential issues that just the engine. I just wanted to point out what EQN is trying to do.

Guild Wars 2 has culling issues because the feature was implemented at the last minute. The issues apparently have to do with the type of game models being used and not necessarily the power of the engine. It's a part of the poor optimization that everyone talks about, and at this point it probably too costly to redo the assets that cause the problems in the first place. For instance, the water layer that exists below each map is not properly culled in some areas. I'm just going off of memory at the point, and I can't say for sure as I'm not a programmer.

#8 El Duderino

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 05:01 PM

I suppose I should chime back in on the thread I created.

I don't think the social nature of the game has anything to do with how often people log in at a time, but I do think that a game that touts itself as being able to be picked up after months of not playing doesn't gel well with a genre that is so social. What I mean by this is that I have found that the best part of a lot of MMO's isn't necessarily the game as it is the people we play with. If those people don't play often and take long breaks - that seems to me to be something that will drive social networks apart due to large absences and possibly people coming back to find empty guild, etc.

Also, in regards to communities, I don't think GW2 has done much to "break apart" any community and bring that community to their game. I think that there are a lot of people from various communities that have found a home in GW2, perhaps the biggest being a casual and fairly solo-happy crowd. Although, I do think they have done a good job establishing that community which appears to be mostly PvE oriented. It is certainly as niche, if not more so than GW1's community.

Also, I agree with ilr, because of how much ANet grew as a company, and how big their marketing push was on GW2, they probably fell trap to the publishers that keep wanting to push out games with little regard to polish. As it stands, I think there is a lot of forgiveness among the MMO community for unpolished games, citing that they will get better as the game progresses. Although, I'm not sold that GW2 has gotten more polished as much as people have given up or forgotten about the things that aren't polished. Part of this is due to the way the Living Story encapsulates a lot of where people play currently. I do wonder if this is intentional or accidental as it relates to obscuring the things that are still broken.

Last, while I think that there is a genre of people that we can define as generally liking GW2 and its direction, I don't think that ANet is doing anything to specifically grow that niche. The continual promises of "nothing is off the table" or "we are looking at everything" that we hear constantly is indicative of that thinking. The push try and make eSports a thing with GW2 is definitely harming them as I really don't think they have the kind of game as a foundation for eSports. WvW has a lot of potential, but their original feelings that WvW wasn't supposed to be as big as sPvP seems to keep them from making the necessary changes to placate the WvW crowd - which is also a good niche that they could take advantage of - but seem to refuse to. In fact, they seem to even spite that community by adding things which the community generally does not want, such as bloodlust, which shows that the WvW community is pretty much more in tune with that game type than ANet is.

As such, I don't think that Anet is taking advantage of the ability to be best at the things that, without their expectations, became big parts of the overall GW2 community. This is something that we saw in GW1 as well. I wonder if they will ever capitalize on their successes even if it isn't the successes they anticipated?

#9 Zhaitan

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Posted 22 October 2013 - 03:08 PM

If the game designers are not the game's publisher, it will be very challenging to meet the creative aspirations of the original concept. But, the risks are high and so, people would like to distribute the risks to multiple stakeholders. This is also the reason why many top notch hollywood studios are churning out stupid and idiotic movies lately while many actor/directors are looking for indie alternatives.

Edited by Zhaitan, 22 October 2013 - 03:08 PM.


#10 harniq

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Posted 31 October 2013 - 11:58 AM

To answer the questions:

1/ Arena.net didn't break apart any communities but made a new one. GW1 and GW2 are niche games and do their thing correctly. These are games which (mostly) respect the player's real life and that's pretty unique in the genre.

2/ GW2 was released too soon, but at the same time it released more polished than any other MMO before it. Furthermore, it matured a lot in the past year which makes it the best game at it's own 1 year birthday. Compare to other games at the 1 year mark: most go f2p, many shut down and WoW was still a bug-ridden disaster after 1 year. In comparison GW2 is going strong.

3/ GW2 is unique, whether you like it or not. I like it.




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