Nearly a month ago, I posted an article entitled "Time is Money, Friend" asking the readers the following question:
Is there a way to market an MMO that does not require an extensive time investment to progress?
Let me go on record saying that finding a defensible prototype for a time friendly MMO has been surprisingly difficult. In retrospect, I see why. Normally, when designing an MMO, one doesn't base the design exclusively on a demographic. But in this scenario, the primary objective was to design a game that above all else, allows progression without incredible time investments. At this time, I do not have a finished product, however I do have an outline to follow with regards to the most important components for a time friendly MMO.
First and foremost, the game must be fun and the game must have replay value. While this can be said with all MMOs, the issue at hand is that a game that doesn't have huge time investments and that doesn't have replay value is doomed. Whatever is created must above all else, fit this mold.
From a game play standpoint, the biggest challenge in this game is to create tangible risk versus reward that doesn't require major time investments yet can still be entertaining, rewarding and provide a general sense of accomplishment. In traditional MMOs, players will eventually achieve their goals after sufficient time is invested. The greater the reward, the longer the quest or progression sequence necessary, from running a particular instance to dragging a raid around to complete an epic quest. Our goal with this exercise was to remove the time requirement from the equation. This doesn't necessarily mean no player loot but if everyone eventually has all the best gear necessary in a week, why keep playing? Having the infrastructure of traditional MMO player motivation largely removed is the consequence. As of now, this has been the primary detriment to creating a prototype.
A major lesson from games like Vanguard is to create a game in and of itself. There is no reason to try and become a "WoW Killer" and modeling a game to attempt such a task is foolish. The majority of the blogosphere has correctly stated over the course of the last year that WoW will die a death of 1,000 paper cuts, slowly bleeding players of the course of its lifetime. The rate at which this occurs will largely be determined by Blizzard's ability to create new content and adapt to player desires and other gaming companies ability to create games that lure the current WoW crowd to new games. Our goal with a time friendly game was not to set out to attack the WoW player base. It was simply designed to take advantage of a potential niche in the MMO consumer base.
One could make a case that Blizzard has made an effort to take advantage of this niche. Easy to complete daily quests, lower leveling curves for new characters and tier 6 quality gear for easy to obtain Badges of Justice have made WoW more casual friendly than ever before. Something I've said repeatedly is that WoW is more a marketing success than game play innovation. This falls right along those lines. The marketing team sees a potential leak in the ship and plugs it up. Nevertheless, this is good for most gamers as it removes much of the time demand needed to reap rewards.
I have two other ideas to truly brainstorm for a time friendly MMO before I throw up the white flag. The challenge of keeping players paying monthly subscriptions without forcing time sinks has been the most difficult obstacle to overcome. Once again, any input from the readers is most appreciated. I should have the final two ideas hammered out by next week and should conclude this series at that time. Until next time...