Going small

Edit: Camelot Unchained kickstarter is live today, which is relevant to today’s topic. I’ve not donated yet, but more on that in a different post.

After the WAR bubble burst, one of the many complaints was a lack of population in the RvR areas and PQs. Many attributed this to the general decline in the number of players playing overall. Pushing that line of thinking further, many believe you need hundreds of thousands of players AT LEAST to make a game feel populated and ‘alive’.

That’s horribly wrong.

For WAR, the game’s poor design lead to the feeling of under population. Unless you were part of the initial population surge through the leveling game, most areas felt empty, and RvR battles were non-existent. This would have been the case had WAR retained 1m subs, 500k, or 100k.

On top of those poor design decisions, WAR’s population was always spread across multiple servers. Some retained population well, while others were ghost towns from basically day one. If you happened to pick such a server, you got screwed. And as the population overall started to decline, more and more servers dropped below ‘critical mass’.

How many players do you need on a server for things to feel alive? In Ultime Online: Forever, the concurrent population often hovered around 300 (I believe), and yet the game felt lively. Some of this is due to UO’s design, which on most fronts is simply superior to themeparks, WAR included. But design aside, you really don’t need that many people to give the world a lively feel.

The reason we had not seen MMOs with only one ‘normal’ server (EVE is different, as always) in the past was due to cost. The theory was that MMOs had to be very expensive to produce, and so you needed to attract a lot of people to make any money. As many games have shown recently, and will in the coming years, that theory was about as accurate as the 4th pillar being a core value in an MMO.

This is a huge win for MMO fans for a number of reasons. We get away from the cookie-cutter “MMO for everyone” WoW-clone design. We get MMOs that are more targeted, be they PvP-focused or otherwise. We also get MMOs that (hopefully) won’ succumb to chasing the ‘everyone’ crowd later on and watering down things for the core that is actually playing.

At least, that’s hopefully the trend something like Kickstarter can help start. We’ll see if devs and players alike actually see it through.

15 Responses to Going small

  1. Scott says:

    I particularly enjoy the internal testing tiers the Camelot kickstarter has available – yes, you too can pay $180 for the privilege (requirement) of writing detailed bug reports while testing boring functionality; and if you don’t, you’re fired! Only 500 slots available, act now!

    Who else gets a 500 person QA staff that pays to test?

  2. Anonymous says:

    “The reason we had not seen MMOs with only one ‘normal’ server (EVE is different, as always) in the past was due to cost.” Well, I do not know if it is a “normal” server by your definition, but Star Trek Online only has a single server.

    • bonedead says:

      I’m pretty sure it started with many more than that

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think so. I played since beta, and never recall more than the Holodeck server (and Tribble – the test server).

        • bonedead says:

          It appears I stand corrected. I coulda sworn when I made the mistake of buying that game that I had a choice of multiple servers but a bit of googling leads me to believe otherwise.

  3. theJexster says:

    I backed Camelot Unchained. I’d rather play on the forums for this game than play 98% of the MMOs out right now. I took a gamble. I hope it pays off. It’s crazy that MMOs are in such a bad place that I’m willing to pay for faith and promises rather than any of the “mmorpgs” out right now.

  4. Are you backing this, Syncaine?

  5. Whorhay says:

    Story I think is still the biggest single factor in a game, although it’s not the story the developers queue up that matters. Even though I only played EQ for a few years I’ve got the most stories about it, relative to any other game I’ve played. The game design, mechanics and world layout matter more for letting players experience wildly different encounters and really have an adventure.

  6. Isey says:

    WAR: the beta was the best part of WAR: the game. Based off of the beta, I thought the game was going to be awesome. There are a couple reasons for this.

    1) In beta, everyone was funneled into specific areas for specific testing for the most part, so there was always level appropriate competitors

    2) you got to know your enemies by name, style, and tactics. It was awesome when you ran into a Zubon lead group (for example) you knew what to expect. This created an amazing experience.

    SO I had high hopes. When it went live, it was all ruined fast =) Tought me that levels in a PVP MMO is bad though, unless the relative power of a level 1 and lvl 40 are still close enough to not be one shot.

    Due to the kerfuffle of Jacobs and crew wit WAR, it’s hard to support this, but as a long time player and fan of pre TOA-DAOC, I kind of want to.

    Does kickstarter show you how much of the 2m goes to the head honcho’s salary?

    • SynCaine says:

      They say all 2m will go into dev, and if they hit 2m MJ will put in 2m of his own cash.

      • TheJexster says:

        He also has another 1 mill from an investor. 5 mill total, which he says is enough to make the entire game since it has no PVE.

  7. sid6.7 says:

    You know what every good Kickstarter pitch needs? Starving virtual children in 3rd world countries. If we raise $2M, we’ll be able develop trees, farms and rivers that can help save these poor little sims. We need your help!

    For me, the “idea” of Kickstarter is OK and I know there has been a bit of success but it strikes me as more of an MMO charity or sorts than anything else. There are worthier causes than some vaporware that never sees the light of day.

    • Devore says:

      There are always worthier causes, so, meh. Much of the “arts and entertainment” from centuries gone by was commissioned, paid for by a benefactor, or a small group of. Or, as you would put it, charity.

  8. msp says:

    Kinda bizarre… the entire pitch is centered around being all “anti-WoW,” rallying hard against handing players things on a silver platter.. yet the reward tiers are stuffed with special titles, extra character slots, cosmetic items, etc and stretch goals include tablets(?!). There’s probably a cash shop, too. I admit I barely made it past the near endless ragging on WoW and the like, so I could be wrong about that.

    I think I’ll wait and see what (if anything) actually launches.

  9. [...] previously mentioned, the Camelot Unchained kickstarter is up and running, but as of now I’ve not contributed due to a [...]

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