When do you wipe an MMO?
That question has been floating around Darkfall for a few days now, sparked by the massive dupe-fest that required a 5 day rollback, but grounded in the fact that the game has had major systematic changes over the last few months, and will continue to dramatically change with the upcoming removal of skill groups/limits.
Rather than focus on Darkfall for this post, I’d rather talk more generally on the pros and cons of wiping, along with some history and different ways to reach a similar conclusion.
A fresh start is a notable PR event that gets picked up by gaming news sites and generates buzz for your product. The degree can vary, but news about your game, especially news that is new-player friendly, is always good.
You wipe away past mistakes such as duped items, exploited characters, and whatever other side effects bugs produced while your game matured. You also allow your game economy to work as planned NOW without past imbalances impacting it, and if your previous economy was poor, this can be very significant.
A fresh start is new-player friendly. Those on the outside looking to jump in have the perfect reason to do so, en-masse, on the day of a fresh server. This kind of event is important because those new players jump right into a world that is highly active, with everyone else doing similar activities. This helps get them into the flow of the game and stick with it, compared to starting on a random day on a server that is well-established and mature.
Some portion of your current playerbase is going to be upset. This will range from mildly annoyed to frothing ragequits. If you lose more players than you gain, taking long-term into consideration, that’s obviously a major problem.
Player trust is tarnished. I’m not big on this one, but some feel that if a dev team is willing to wipe once, what’s to stop them from wiping again? Why work on and build towards something in an MMO if tomorrow it might be wiped?
The gains might be minimal. The power gamers who got ahead the first time are still going to power-game and get ahead again, so a ‘level playing field’ is only true for the first minute or so of the server being live. A similar statement can be made about economic problems; if you haven’t fixed the root issues, your economy will return to a broken state in short order. Also no MMO is bug-free, and every update brings the possibility of new exploits. Wiping after every bug or exploit is exposed isn’t feasible.
In summary, when or even if you should wipe is a tough decision that requires the consideration of many, many factors, some which can’t be measured.
How you execute a wipe is also another discussion. The obvious option is to take your current server, delete everything, and put it back up, but that’s not your ONLY option. You can put up a new server while keeping the old one(s) up. Those that want to stay can do so, those looking for a fresh start can also do that. If the old server(s) end up mostly empty, closing them down is a much easier, less impactful decision. If the new server has population problems, you made a major miscalculation in terms of needing a wipe/restart.
Partial wipes (just items, just gold, just holding, etc) are also options, though I think they get very messy very quickly. The one exception I would make is character names; I think there is a lot of value in allowing current players first dibs on their current character names.
Certainly an interesting topic IMO, and one that I think will see more traction as MMOs continue to age, change, and figure out ways to keep current players happy while gaining new ones.