My post from yesterday was not as clear as I had hoped (that’s what happens when you rush posts at the end of the day I guess), so here we go for round two.
What I wanted to express yesterday was not that any one feature can mark a game for failure (because it can to a degree), but that just because one game fails due to X, does not mean including X = failed MMO.
Ganking is a prime example here. In most games, veterans ganking new players is a bad thing, but in both EVE and Darkfall the ability to do so actually adds something to those games. For EVE, Empire space not being 100% safe is critical to that game, and in Darkfall the ability for a new players to jump right in (which includes getting ganked) is also a key attraction. If WoW had an achievement or reputation bar for ganking noobies in a starting zone, it would add nothing but frustration, so the details matter here, which is why you can’t just say “ganking in an MMO is bad”.
The other bit of confusion from yesterday was the mixing of unfortunate items (bugs, server downtime, hacking) with basic game design differences (PvP or not, FFA vs pre-set, rep vs loot, classes vs skills, etc).
The first category, in an ideal world, would always be excluded from any new MMO. It’s never a plus to have bugs or massive server lag no matter how you designed your game. But it’s also somewhat rare that a game will outright fail due to these issues alone (I mean, if Anarchy Online can survive, anyone can). If underneath the servers crashing and multi-hour long queues is an overall fun MMO, the game is going to be fine in the long run. Forum trolls will bitch, bloggers will make funny posts with screen shots of the queue, but the game will be fine.
An unfortunate mix of game design decisions is something entirely different. On the surface, it’s tough to say whether pre-set PvP is better or worse than FFA PvP, or whether it’s beneficial to have 2, 3, or 8 sides if you do go pre-set. For WoW, having just two sides works for the game, and it would be tough to imagine the game improving if a 3rd or 4th side was added. In direct contrast, it’s not hard to see how much better WAR would have been with a 3rd side, or just how interesting things might have been had each race (6 total) been it’s own pre-set side. Finally, I’m fairly sure both EVE and Darkfall would be lesser games with pre-set factions, regardless of the number.
So when we discuss a game like APB failing, it’s very valid to bring up ganking as a source of failure. If what I’ve read is accurate (again, never played the game myself), the game actually rewarding veterans for killing new players is indeed just bad design. But ganking in Darkfall? We call that player freedom, and it works in correct moderation. The 24 hour ‘halo’ protection system was added because yes, even in Darkfall, it’s not helpful to have EVERY new player thrown right into the fire. They all still have that option, but for those who wish to get their feet under them first, that option now exists as well.
Ultimately it is helpful to look at a failed (or successful for that matter) MMO and break down what worked and what did not. The better we understand how certain things come together, the better we can predict the results of future combinations. Perhaps the lesson learned from APB and its ganking problem is not that ganking is all bad, but that what’s critical is how the surrounding systems are placed to either control or make sense of that particular player action. To simply remove it might just do more harm than good to your game.
Chuck-o-the-day: Most people fear the Reaper. Chuck Norris considers him “a promising rookie”.