The road to success for modern MMO launches has been a frightful achievement to strive for, and with no guarantee for success even for the most popular creators, there is always a significant amount of risk in creating them. WildStar executive producer Jeremy Gaffney outlined to Gamasutra how “he hopes to serve MMO players a game that will provide exactly what they’re looking for.”
There’s no doubt that money lurks in the success of MMOs, but obtaining that kind of success is tricky. Gaffney stated, “There’s still a couple billion dollars in it, so that’s the plus side of it– but getting those billions of dollars is challenging. Especially when people have been playing a game they love, prying them out of it is next to impossible. That’s our challenge, is figuring out what we can do to really break that.”
Obtaining fans doesn’t seem to be too difficult of a challenge, but the test lies in the ability to keep players once they have been hooked. “There’s a fan base out there that’s interested. But what everybody has failed at, to date, is how you can keep people for the long haul.”
Gaffney continued, “The only way you can keep people over the long haul is have a good game. If you have a flashy box and a cool looking game but it’s kinda boring, in the box business you can sell 10 million units of that and you don’t care if everybody hates it a month later. In our business, you’re screwed if everybody buys your box and they’re gone a month and a half later.”
Carbine Studios has spent a lot of time detailing and polishing a world to lure in players.
“No sane human being would set themselves out on the course to make all this stuff just to get your game out the door,” Gaffney stated. “It is very hard to just bust an entrant into the MMO field, because that’s the base barrier you have to clear. And you can do all that stuff, and you still have to prove yourself. You have to still make sure your game is fun in the real world.”
As someone who enthusiastically wants to enjoy an in-depth MMO experience, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect recipe for one yet. Boredom is usually a heavy factor in deciding whether to grind through a game or not. This is one thing that WildStar is focusing on.
“If there is a fun thing to do that is inefficient and a horribly boring thing like smacking yourself in the face with a shovel next to it that gives more XP, players will do more XP. They’ll try the fun thing once or twice but then go, ‘No, I can’t help it. I need to hit level 50. I want my end goal more than I want my journey.’ So it’s very easy to have the journey trivialized.”
He continued, “Achievement is the love of watching bars grow– that’s our industry. I don’t think there’s a more fundamental human need that gets tapped into by these games than watching your bars advance, and that feeling of progression– of being able to say, ‘I am tougher than I was before.’
“The goal is, it’s tough to get bored. Most MMO players, they’ve killed enough 10 goblins, and they don’t need to kill 10 more goblins. Every area in the game, we try to have an interesting thing going on in the environment.
“We’re mostly bored MMO players. That’s a crowd we serve in particular.”
Understanding player behavior is one aspect that companies should focus on.
“It’s so interesting watching what people do, or choose not to do. We data-strive everything in the game. It’s very weird to have people actively enjoying a thing. It’s not our buddies in there, it’s jaded MMO players,” Gaffney said. “Even a good game churns 5 percent of its users out every month. That means every 20 months you’ve churned out your whole user base. We don’t really give a crap about your buddy who’s still playing; we give a crap about your 10 buddies who aren’t playing anymore.
“That’s the crew who goes to buy your 1 million, 2 million, 10 million boxes. You need to have a damn good and deep game that follows that if you are going to keep them for the long haul. It’s a very unethical business to be in, I think, in many ways,” he continued. “If you don’t provide a service people enjoy, then you fail.”
For me (who may be in the minority compared to more hardcore MMO players), no MMO is more attractive than the ones that refuse to heavily linger around constant leveling. Sure, leveling and growing stronger as a fighter is always important in a world full of battle, but other skills should be interesting to explore. Not all skills should be centered around battle.
I’ve always dreamed of a MMO that also catered to the players who would much rather heighten a skill that would help the high level heroes, to play in worlds where players can affect economies and ecosystems. I could be set on achieving my own goal as a top blacksmith. Questing to find the perfect resources, selling equipment to leveling players, rivaling against other growing blacksmiths… the possibilities that surround the non-battling players are amazing.
But as a player who may seem a bit uneducated and naive compared to experienced life-long players, my dreams may seem a bit silly. What qualities keep you glued to certain MMO titles?