The best MMO content = the best MMO content

The measure of success when it comes to MMO content is surprisingly simple IMO (the longer the content holds your attention, the better), yet rarely mentioned much less accounted for directly. Both players and developers talk endlessly about many aspects of content, yet when was the last time someone directly stated that piece of content X is fantastic because it’s been reused/rerun countless times?

The absolute worst form of content from a retention perspective is strictly one-off content, yet the most expensive MMO to date based its entire sales pitch around just that, and both players and other devs ate it up for years until launch happened and poof it all went.

People then repeated the same song and dance with GW2 and its personal story, though at least in this case Anet had no illusions of retention and just wanted to sell you a box and perhaps a hat on your way out. (Or at least, said as much and then added resist gear ‘raiding’, but details blablabla)

And at some point we will have a proper name for online one-off games with others around like SW:TOR or GW2, where the bulk of what you pay for is set to be consumed once, while those who REALLY like the theme/setting can still stick around with the other diehards in various attached mini-games (battlegrounds, WvW, hard-mode dungeons, etc), and more can come back to purchase DLC/expansions and one-off that content.

But that genre aside, if you really are designing an MMO, or you really are looking to play an MMO, reusable content is the key. Raiding works for those into group-based PvE in a themepark. It’s hard to argue against the merits of Molten Core or BWL in early WoW when you consider the number of hours poured into them by players at that time vs the amount of dev time spent creating them. And if you don’t think WoW’s early success is tied into that end-game design, I’m guessing you worked on SW:TOR and still think it’s the business model that screwed you.

How Blizzard later handled raiding also helps explain WoW’s more recent performance. About the only thing that ended up being more accessible seems to be the cancel account button, but hey, at least you’re not selling hotbars. (Yet?)

Raiding or themepark-based design aside, it’s easy to look at what EVE does in terms of content and see why a game that’s 10 years old is still a genre leader. Missions are generic and not thrilling content, but given the choice of running 100 missions or one of GW2’s single-player storyline 10 times, which would you choose (factoring knowing the end results/rewards/impact)? Exactly. Plus in EVE you decide when to increase the challenge. You can move to low-sec for your PvE, get into Incursions, or even WH space. And at some point you are going to come across PvP, either because you are seeking it out or it found you, which will open up a whole new can of replayable worms.

But at the heart of replayable content lie the players. Doing the same actions with others (and ‘others’ can’t be easily replaced by silent bots) is just more fun, not to mention somewhat random thanks to human nature. It’s also why focusing so much of your design on REMOVING said random factors is MMO suicide, yet we continue to see developers try to ‘limit the frustration’ and ‘steamline’ things. ‘Groups’ without knowing who is in your group, zero-effort group creating with one-off randoms, rewards for failing, achievements for playing poorly (naked, in joke specs, not causing damage, etc); the list goes on.

Yet during all this trending on attracting… someone… with all this accessibility and single-player online whatever, MMOs that have followed the core principles have continued to do well. With indie-funding on the rise, and quarterly-reporting publishers being minimized, would it surprise anyone if the next wave of MMOs look a whole lot more like MMOs, and less like online sRPGs?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in EVE Online, Guild Wars, MMO design, Rift, SW:TOR, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to The best MMO content = the best MMO content

  1. NetherLands says:

    According to Blizz, only 2% of the subscriber base regularly consumed ‘current’ Raid content before the LFR Tool.

    I don’t find it hard to believe that certain ‘F2P’ games are held afloat by their 2% of Whales (or whatever % BigPoint for example used) that are essentially the ones that pay for it all, but I do find it hard to believe that 98% of the paying subscriber base of WoW would be close to irrelevant for its sustainability.

    A (far) more accurate low cost- high yield example for WoW would be the battlegrounds, especially because Blizzard is rather slow on fixing bugs in PvP (people are still being Feared through the floor in WSG for example).

    Aside from that, I do agree that reusable content is the key to longivity, which makes the SWTOR crew so perplexing (‘we don’t aim for replayability of our core attraction’ or what their exact words were again). Now that Disney essentially holds the SW IP, perhaps The Mouse should get South Park on their asses :P

    • SynCaine says:

      I find that 2% number almost impossible to believe based on my own experience. Just on my old server we had 3-4 raiding guilds (back when that meant 60+ people) per side, with people coming/going often, and we were not a large server. Perhaps its something silly like 2% of all characters created (since most people raided with 1 even if they had 6 other alts). If you have a link I’d love to see it.

      Agree on battlegrounds, especially the original AV.

    • Asmiroth says:

      It was 2% seeing heroic, 10% seeing any raid. The number is very believable. There are what, 10,000 players per server? Not concurrent but registered. Its the only way the metrics work based on the number or servers and population counts. 2% of 10 million is still 200k, which is more than nearly all MMOs have as a sub in the first place.

      Sort of like the percentage who do nullsec vs not. The difference in EvE is that you can have whales due to the way ISK is structured. No whales in WoW.

      • SynCaine says:

        10% seems more correct, and even then I wonder what that really includes. For instance, is that counting all accounts, or accounts with a max-level character? (I’d argue anyone without a maxed character in WoW is a lost cause long before end-game factors in). Trial accounts? Multi-account holders (not sure why you would do that in WoW, but I’m sure some do).

        • Matt says:

          I think even now most WoW players don’t make it to max level, which covers most of the disparity. Among max level players it’s probably closer to 20%, and max level players that log on every day might pass 50%.

          Some of this also depends on ‘regularly’.

      • Carson says:

        10% is more plausible. There was no way it was as low as 2%. That would only be in the order of 200 players per server – and I know there were more raiders than that even on my (total ghetto backwater) server, just from looking at the progression charts on wowprogress etc.

    • kalex716 says:

      the 2% at the top isn’t the important part of that type of content… Its the goal setting progression stimulates that counts for everything. And while yes, the top echelon of raiders were only 2%, large swathes of the player base were posturing and dungeon running to get better gear, to run things better, to get with better people, to perhaps one day engage some of that top tier content. And they took pride in that growth.

      This kept people busy, and allowed them to identify more with what they were doing in their game of choice. Trivialize that treadmill, and goals cease to be meaningful. Things will makes people go “meh” in a much shorter time window without it.

      Sure, user bias will constantly request, in fact demand that things be trivialized in the long run (which happend to WoW) because they do not respect the bigger picture, and have personal agenda’s. Developers, have to be the ones to protect it.

      Somehow, that whole teach a man to fish adage comes to mind…

      • kalex716 says:

        I’m of course talking about pre BC days of WoW, when their really was very few actively running MC and BWL.

    • NetherLands says:

      As Asmiroth correctly pointed out, due to the sheer size of WoW even small percentages are a (compared to other games) large number of people (200-300 in your server’s case; EQ Mac has afaik 500-ish players en toto).

      Combine this with ‘likes meet like’, the player-aimed communication by Blizz , and the fact that sites blogs etc. are almost invariably created by the more invested players (which are more likely to be into more so-callled ‘hardcore’ activities than the people who just log in on Sunday, fool around for a few hours, and still pay the same ‘three beers for a month’ rate) and it is very easy to lose track of the numbers involved.

      The Raid attendance numbers have been floating around over the years, though, while more open about it in ‘non-WoW sources’ like the NYT, it was mostly around the LFR introduction the Blues started flinging around percentages. The one I can think of on top of my head was this one regarding non-Raiders seeing Raid content by Zarhym, though iirc others like Bashiok used it at the time, too

      Note that the ‘Occupy-ish’ ‘2%’ has afaik never been denied by Blizz, and others like Raider The Grumpy Elf came to similar numbers (by different methods)

      The % of subscribers that has at least one CURRENT level capped character was about 30% (a recent calculation on top
      of my head

      Note that during Wrath, with all the bruhaha about twinks, similar calculations cropped up, so I take them as fairly accurate, especially as the source I linked is an ‘End Game Is All’ type (and so would be better served by making the opposite point).

      Do also note that Expansion Holdouts in all likelyhood aren’t counted as having an end-game character. If we e.g. compare the sale figures of MoP (abt 4 million before China launch, including digital) to the subcriber numbers at the same time (abt 10 million, again according to Blizz) one could argue that these redheaded stepchildren are actually a significant amount of the playerbase, and again putting a hole in the whole ‘every WoW player is a wannabe Progression raider’ meme the Furors and Tigoles have been playing all these years.

      Long post is long, but I like documentation and I’ve probably just only looked at the tip of the iceberg.

  2. ALCH3MIST says:

    The problem’s 3x worse in F2P MMOs (in general). I wonder why developers even bother to rehash the same character models each ten levels. It’s mind-numbingly boring.
    One MMORPG that had it good was Fiesta, where you could raid from level 10 – daily raids that sparked off across the whole server. Great way to meet new people and swing some axes.

  3. Mekhios says:

    PlanetSide 2 is an excellent MMO. ;)

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  5. “would it surprise anyone if the next wave of MMOs look a whole lot more like MMOs, and less like online sRPGs”

    I would be surprised if the next wave doesn’t look a whole lot more like MOBAs.

    • SynCaine says:

      DoTA is a lot harder to clone than EQ1. Just look at the current crop of games. Outside of LoL, is anyone else seeing anything close to that level of success? (Answer: No)

      But yea, I expect more clones to be made. Different genre though, no matter what WoT is nominated for.

      • kalex716 says:

        Right but I do firmly believe MMO’s can borrow heavily from some of its elements in terms of simplifying features, prioritizing counter play highly, and adopting progression models that are bound only to the specific session and then thrown away after (upgrade choices in one match of LoL are different than others based on the matchups.).

        And of course, LoL has proved that aesthetics can really drive an economic engine in a big way as well…

  6. Raid content is expensive and before WoW got the LFR very few people saw it. That is why Blizzard are so desperate to re-use old raid assets but putting pets and encouraging item transmog.
    Cheapest content is probably battlegrounds, and battlepets (assets made once and stay current for years), but they are both minority activities too.
    If you want an activity that lots of people see and contains maximum reuse of company assets, you are faced with daily quest grinding. WoW just discovered what EvE has been doing for years, and that is why half the MoP content patches are non-raid patches.

    • NetherLands says:

      While I do agree with your analysis (people tend to forget all the artwork that goes into churning out Raid content, all the inevitable bugs that crop up in an environment dominated by the hypercritical etc.) , I often wonder wether the PvP numbers on WoW are really as low as the ‘priviliged’ (Raiders) like to make them out.

      For example, there was a Poll on both the EU and the US Forums, in which close to 75% of the respondents said they gladly consumed one or more types of PvP content

      Now of course the Forum populance is self-selected (generally more ‘committed’, so the hardcore activities like Rated BG’s and twink BG’s are in all likelyhood less popular; feel free to compare with Raiding numbers) and given the negelected state of PvP, plenty of payers have left the game because of its deplorable state and hence where unable to ‘vote’ to begin with.

      Still, given how PvP fits better with the ‘casual’ demographic WoW officially aims for, I really wouldn’t be too surprised if the whole ‘PvP iz minority’ thing has more to do with EQ Raiders having taken over the RTS IP design-wise than anything else.

    • Paul says:

      I think Blizzard is discovering the dailies are a lot less repeatable than they had hoped.

  7. Ettesiun says:

    Interesting post ! This helps me clearly defined three type of content :
    – one-time content : Story, Exploration
    – Repeatable content : Monster Grind, Dailies, Raid
    – Player generated content : Economy, PVP (open and battleground), Construction ( Minecraft ? ), Collaboration

    The first is the most universal but limited by Developer, the second is often considered as boring by itself, but is cheap and enhance by exterior feature ( loot, achievement), the third one is great, but one of the hardest to built – even harder if you want casual to enjoy it.

    All of these are better when played with other people and friends. But all of these exist in single player game.

  8. Slow Dave says:

    Two parts of me feel different ways about this post.

    One part, the part that misses EQ1 and UO (pre trammel) (and to a lesser extent DAOC), i.e. the best times I ever had in an MMO, agrees and wishes for a genuinely compelling world with so much depth that it’s fun to play in (rather than to just grind in).

    The other part of me dislikes your constant sniping at GW2, IMO you expected the wrong thing of it. I never expected to get EQ1/UO from this, what I did expect was to get the best battleground system/meaningful large scale conflict with easy instant action I had yet seen. I got this from it and am happy with this.

    I would love for someone to bring out the EQ1/UO kinda game that I’ve missed all these years but I don’t think every game needs to savagely criticising for not being it (note this does not apply to SW:TOR – what a fucking waste of the star wars franchise)

    • SynCaine says:

      I never expected GW2 to be UO. Not even close. What I did expect was something that lasted longer than a month, and certainly not something with RvR as highly flawed as WvW.

      The other thing working against GW2 right now is its pre-release hype, both from Anet and its fans. Remember all that “fixing the MMO formula” talk? All the “can’t wait for GW2 to fix this issue” comments? It was insufferable, and the end product does not even live up to 1/10th of the hype.

      • Ettesiun says:

        It fix a lot of thing for certain type of player – the Single MMO player, the explorer; the casual. The Baghpuss, the Ravious.
        It was hyped as ” if you don’t like MMO, you will like GW2″.

        But you are right, it was also hype as the saviour of MMO, the game that will bring them all in Tyria. But, it was useful : the non Single-MMO-Player buy the game and pay for the casual ! ^^

        • Shadow says:

          “…the Single MMO player…”

          My soul was just crushed with such force, I’m getting worried about a singularity in the spiritual realm.

    • GW2 came very close. They just seemed to forget some of the things that made the older MMOs shine. For instance they implemented level scaling and shared looting in the open world, which addresses many of the horrible issues found in EQ. The problem is that they modeled the open world off more of a WoW experience. There is nothing to return for, nothing to push people towards grouping. They successfully removed the barriers to entry with nothing to enter.

      Unfortunately it seems like by removing progression through skills which was the core of what worked in their first game they have now backed themselves into the endless feedback loop that most PvE focused MMOs are in post WoW. Add instanced dungeon, add stats, hope for retention and repeat.

  9. Anonymous says:

    eh? no mention of DF or DF UW the ultimate sandbox mmo to rule them all anywhere? what is the world coming down to???

  10. T'ango A'lee says:

    Stop talking about how awesome EVE is and come play EVE. Lonely without you.


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