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Resurrected: Two Main Aspects Of A Good MMORPG

I've come to believe there are two main aspects to be found in a good Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game:
  • Aspect 1: A MMORPG has to be an entertaining game.

    This is a point that is lost on many aspiring MMORPG developers to be: That a game is massively multiplayer does not give it permission to be a poor game. It needs to be a game, unless you're making a MMORP. Maybe only a MMO, if you've no roleplay. It just sort of hangs there, unfinished. This isn't an anagram joke because I've played a ton of boring, half-finished MMOs before. You need that G for Game.

    What's more, it needs to be a good game. You're expecting players to spend hundreds of hours playing this game. To simply implement a series of repetitive tasks and a leveling treadmill only gives the players something to do, it doesn't assure you've given them a fun thing to do. No matter how many "hooks" (aspect #2 below) you have in the player, once they've bored of the game it's only a matter of time until they leave it. Chances are, the hooks will only hold them there until they've burned out so severely that they have very nasty things to think of you and your company's concept of crappy game design.

    As added incentive to implement good gameplay, I'll mention that WoW nailed that G, and that's why it's #1. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I'd say this probably gave only a base appeal whose population of subscribers was multiplied by 1000x popularity thanks to the Blizzard brand-name. Still, without even that base appeal in the game mechanic, WoW wouldn't have gotten any further than any other name brand such as Star Wars Galaxies. 
  • Aspect 2: A MMORPG needs to have a compelling sense of purpose to play.

    To start, let me ask you this question: Why would a player be interested in first shelling out $50 for a box of a game and then pay $15 per month to continue playing that game when there are already a ton of games for $50 (or less) available? After all, every game, at least if it's a good game, offers fun -- there needs to be more to it than that.

    The answer is because MMORPGs appeal by offering a sense of purpose beyond that of simply being a game. Think of this purpose as a reason to shell out $15/mo to continue playing this game when you could be playing something else.

    Some possible aspects include:

    • The spectacle effect.
    • Above all, remember that MMORPGs are spectacles - a lavish, public event. The more you can leverage this into your MMORPGs, the more willing people will be to hand over a monthly fee to participate.
    • You have a character to advance.
    • This appeals to Richard Bartle's Achiever or basically any player with an imaginary power fixation. Don't lean on this too heavily because one eventually becomes disillusioned by the grind and seeks alternate motives.
    • You wish to explore the content.
    • This appeals to Richard Bartle's Explorer or basically any player who wants to see all the cool content included in the game. Of course, if the game is one massive cut and paste job, it won't appeal to these players at all.
    • You wish to socialize with friends.
    • This appeals to Richard Bartle's Socializer or basically any player who is a real people person and takes to using MMORPGs as a portal to do that. Despite the general ineffectiveness of the average MMORPG tavern, don't scoff at this: It's pretty much all they do on Second Life. The trick is weaving socialization into the game instead of expecting players to socialize around it. Star Wars Galaxies' cantina and hospital systems were a good attempt, but they lacked subtlety in that they forced players to be there, and the result was that they completed their transaction as rapidly as possible and moved on. Something that might have worked better would be to have players actively participate in eachothers downtime wherever they are (assuming the downtime does not distract from the game's entertainment overmuch).
    • You wish to compete with strangers.
    • This appeals to Richard Bartle's Killer or basically any player who enjoys proving their superiority over others. I have to say that, out of all the factors presented here, this is the main one you'll want to consider taking a pass on because these players are generally griefers (or close to it). People who are pushing hard for PvP MMORPGs generally want a nice platform to grief others and, I'm sorry, but that's simply a recipe for failure: People do not enjoy being annoyed by you, and neither would you if your roles were reversed. Besides, there's pleanty of games you can do this in without plunking down $15/mo in - such as your average Tribes or Counterstrike spin off - and this is why dedicated PvP MMORPGs tend to flop.
    • The game keeps getting better.
    • One of the things I really enjoy about MMORPGs is knowing that it will continue to grow and change, and this creates a compelling purpose to continue paying $15/mo.

    This is by no means an all-inclusive list of potential reasons you can invent for people to continue to subscribe to your MMORPG. For maximum appeal, you need to include as many of these factors as possible, because different people will be attracted to different purposes. Simultaneously, it should go without saying that this should be tailored to your intended audience. It's safe to assume that most players will have a varying amount of interest in several aspects, and nobody said you can't fish them in with multiple hooks.

    Again, out of added incentive, I'll draw some devastating examples. MMORPGs that have completely missed including a good sense of purpose include Asheron's Call 2, and Earth and Beyond, and Auto Assault. They were not built to properly harness the MMORPG spectacle. They didn't quite muster enough lasting potency in the achievement/social/killer/socializing departments. They couldn't improve rapidly enough to compensate for this. The result? All three games are no longer in service - canceled outright. The sense of purpose beyond the fun is important for a MMORPG!

So, in summary, a MMORPG both needs to be a fun game and have a compelling purpose to get the players to continue to subscribe to it. This is the power of a good MMORPG, and to simply create a virtual online world with many players within is not enough to recreate the appeal.
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