Festival of Gamesâ?? Irina Voblaia talks applying sandbox MMO principles to the game design

MMO models for success

Continuing our ongoing look at the Dutch video game market I decided to introduce you the Pitch & Match event.

Pitch & Match is produced by the Festival of Games and offers an effective business platform for the deal makers within the games and digital media industries.

It features business sessions where parties meet to discuss mutual interests: it may well be a publishing deal, new project acquisition, outsourcing, codevelopment, IP and licensing rights, investment opportunities and anything else to agree upon.

Among the attendees of the Festival of Games participating in the Pitch & Match 2010 is MMO Life. MMO Life sets to own the world’s largest portfolio of popular, local and successful MMO, RPG and related domains. At MMO Life they strive to deliver the right titles to the right audience.

The intention of this article in particular is to explore the industry where MMO Life operates.
There is an understandable perception that the risk/reward ratio for MMOs make the investment in development “prohibitive”.

Although, taking into account multiple competitors in such a vibrant and growing market… What about the development costs – a bulk development budget? Development costs can be reduced where designers allow prayers to generate content and partners in production.

Most MMO developers would place their faith in gameplay mechanics that allow players to generate their own narratives, empowering them as content creators and partners in production. It is spoon-feeding of content that contributes to the bulk of MMO development costs.

Admittedly, this approach may not be suitable to all game genres. At some MMOs, players may forge their own experience based on their ingenuity. Another genres, as a fantasy settings, where players need to be progressively “taught” the rules of that universe, require time for players to understand the world they are in to contribute to this world.

It is about applying sandbox MMO principles to the game design. Sandbox principles most often for MMOs imply a world that exists but the players are able to alter it to make it their own from economy control right down to land ownership.

A world where the player can define his own role, using provided tools for crafting, warfare, or even social activity.

People playing the game will be part of the decision making process to some degree on what does and does not go in, because they will be able to tell what they want to see in the game. According to consumer feedback, a lot of the features may have been significantly changed.

Working with users you will learn about the consumer patterns, which may well help to decide on both the pricing model and subscription model (business model). Furthermore, quite obvious though, different consumers playing the game may contribute to tailoring game worlds to certain customers’ categories. Communicating with the users and constantly listening to the users is imperative. Those who have subscribed and those who have not – try to find out why. What is more interesting, if one do the questionnaire to people who have dropped out of the world it will help steer things in the right direction after all.

Beta testing is absolutely crucial. When you perform the testing, it is wise to remember that you are not just looking for bugs, but you are looking for bugs as well.

The prejudice exists that the typical MMO players are people who have lots of time and money. But people with good jobs, busy family lives and money to spend, can’t lose 40 hours a week playing an MMO.

It can be simply misplaced because there is much to be offered for a gamer who wants something deep I a shorter time. Having that said, go to www.mmohub.org: you will find relevant content for both casual and advanced gamers.

Another vivid example, RuneScape that launches two-weeks releases model. You get a quality gaming experience within 20 or 30 seconds of clicking the link. You do not need broadband, you do not need to pay and you do not need to go to the shop and buy anything. This model is different from what "typical MMOs": breaking the process down by providing shorter sessions and making money through microtransactions.

In-game advertising and sponsorship are now major tools. The most important, advertising should be non-interruptive, exactly as in the real live – the ads are there where you expect them to be.

The popular business model for MMO is free-to-play. However, the recession means that more players than ever are exploring free-to-play versions.

First and foremost, there is a strong believe and mistrust to a quality of “free-to-play” MMO. Another issue, players might be waiting for a surprise: they will probably need to pay at a certain point. It is very important with the free-to-play games that there will be no hidden costs. It is up to the player whether they want to buy special items to customize their characters, or purchase access to certain special features in the game.

Though, the dilemma is how to balance the different expectations and demands of the various people who might then be attracted to a game. If you have a players who time rich and cash poor, they will spend a lot of time in the game. This is the group who enrich and expand the content. Other players, may be cash-rich, time-poor will typically spend money in order to augment their skills and capabilities. The key for success is to strike the balance between these two segments.

How to retain the player? In this respect there is a recipe: engender an enduring belief in the quality of product and a sense of emotional engagement and personal investment. It may be essential to build up the community and generate buzz around the game so that players (and publishers) can have some idea of how popular it might be.

The best possible launch for an MMO is a slow start. Build it up slowly and retain the audience in the long term. And it is also may be a right decision not from the game perspective but from a player’s perspective: to see what is going right and wrong. It should rather be the marketing push than marketing hype. I recall the words of Peter Molyneux: “It is really taught to start something new”. Thus, doing a soft launch can work quite well.

You have subscribed to a service, which I consider the games are. Games are entertainment services. You pay a (regular) subscription to a service and you are getting (regular) content updates. Enjoy it!

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