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Mar 24, 2005

Comments

1.

I would say that one trend which continues to develop is the intrusion of real-world economics into virtual-world spaces, with game companies being forced to deal with increasingly large and well-organized farming cartels - the mafia of cyberspace. This is also reflected in recent speculation on news sites (geek and mainstream)that the "fate of online gaming" was to be discrete in-game purchaseable units/items, etc. SL has an online currency which is directly related to American currency by its dev team; most every other MMO has an online currency which is directly related to American currency by third parties such as IGE. All of these point to a shifting boundary between the real world and gamespace.

2.

I think there will be an increasingly fractured market, with games either becoming action orientated, as with City of Heroes, or economic/stat orientated as with Eve Online.

I'd argue this because from my experience there are two types of games playing MMOs, those who want the kick and splode and want to look good, and those who want to feel like they are creating something. I wouldn't be surprised if we ended up with fashion catwalk beat-em ups at one end of the scale and pure-crafting resource crunchers at the other.

3.

The rise of the "casual gamer" friendly game. EQ became increasingly focused on the high-end raid players who put in dozens of hours a week and formed hugh, strict guilds.

Since games have a wider market now, they have to find a way to make them playable for people who can't play more than 2 hours at a time.

Resource-wise, it doesn't make sense to devote time developing large dungeons that can only be completed by parties of 30 or more at the expense of entire weeks of playing time. Only a very small percentage of your gamebase will ever be able to do this, so I can see companies spending less time devoting the resources to create content for a few percent of their playerbase.

4.

4) We will see increasing attempts to cater to what's considered "casual gamers", defined either as those who can't commit to have regular multi-hour play sessions, as well as those who can't commit to spend $50 upfront on an online game.

5.

The ability to communicate externally to the MMOG or digital world you're in (IM, email, pics, social software, etc.).

•The Matrix Online allows players to use AOL Instant Messanger to communicate in-world and out.

•Second Life allows users to send email to people outside of Second Life. It's also home to Snapzilla, which is SL's own homespun version of Flickr's picture sharing and tagging software (which BTW Flickr was hot enough to get snatched up by Yahoo! recently).

•The Make: Blog had a recent">http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2005/03/flickr_upload_f.html">recent post about the possibility of integrating Flickr into MMORPGs, with the specific example of WoW. The author notes: "My wife plays World of WarCraft, a lot. One thing I noticed-- thousands of people are posting screenshots of their game play, guilds, wardrobes, heck- everything online. They're always looking for server space, free hosting or something. They're moblogging the virtual worlds."

He also suggests: "Nokia could sponsor the Matrix online and characters in the game could use a real Nokia phone to post to their photo life blog or something too...

"We can talk about sharing playlists and IMing from virtual to real later, but that's where it's heading...."

•The reBang blog has a good post about Snapzilla and the blurring lines between in-world and real world communication. It suggests that Microsoft should build something similar into their Xbox 2 feature set so players can track virtual assets and content outside of the game worlds.

So I'd call this a very promising trend.

6.

the overall increased translation of content beyond virtual confines and its subsequent conversion into real world product for mass consumption will drive several trends imo:

5) Gamics will merge with print-on-demand publishing. while home printing is an option the result will likely not be as desirable for comix fans as a nicely-printed and cleanly bound item (including UPC code!). i suspect someone is already doing this.

6) Machinima will merge with new online video services built around BitTorrent. Offerings will initially be limited to virtual world/in-game video, but soon after virtual "bluerooms" or "green screens" for compositing will be used into order to merge game video with real world footage (as I documented some time ago here)

and there are more examples not difficult to imagine that are just around the corner.

7.

I have seen an incredible amount of boredom expressed by so many players while playing games such as SWG, CoH, and WoW (and I have spent thousands of hours playing those games - along with many others). Thus, since about 2002, I've been advocating that MMO's need to move on into dynamic persistence rather than static persistence.

My bottom line vision for the future is this; Players need to affect and change the world around them.

I see dynamics on every level, (and there is no excuse for it now that technology has arrived) and have numerous articles and interviews on the subject on major gaming news sites - so at least the gaming community recognizes this vision. My vision is evolution - no more bottomless vendors, a player driven economy, highly interactive environment, community authored quests, no more bucket-load of points leveling cycles, and etc.

In working to realize this vision, I've authored such a transition in what is probably the perfect birth-place, and that being the American Frontier. Having players needing to rely upon one another in a massive survival situation and building something from nothing is perfect fit for dynamic persistence cultivation. Plus the added tension of "We were here first vs. Pressing on into the Unknown." These kind of dynamics involve a whole new way of planning the design for such a virtual world.

For instance, how does a Native American Tribe function as a social group working together across a diverse range of time zones around the world? Well, my solution is to create dynamic templates that enable players to work co-operatively, each template aiding players to figure out what needs to be done, and in the process of doing so - we have incidentally incorporated community into the game mechanics. This departs from the passive Guilds of today's MMOs. Now each community must establish their own laws, law enforcement, governing body, and quests in order to rank within the community (rather than bucket-load of points to hack away on).

Since we all know there is really no such thing as true "soloist play" in any Massively Multiplayer Online Game, simply because soloists chat, soloists auction items, and soloists demonstrate their accomplishments in leveling to the community. Each style of play needs to be taken advantage of by the dynamics of a world that pretends "Each person is an Island" but yet over time reveals paths that lead them one another into sharing their needs along the way, and not always by choice.
This is the quintessential value of a survival game at the academic level, but yet pressing on - we garner posterity in how the tribal communities will govern their land. Recently, on our community forum, Native Americans discussed how values as pertaining to stealing horses (for instance) was viewed as a positive thing among tribal groups, versus some sense of a universal law, (among emigrant settlers) where it was considered wrong and punished, and yet larger crimes, such as stealing land for the sake of capitalistic enterprise (such as mining) was acceptable. I believe the right choice is to allow participants of the game world who are in social groups such as tribes or secret societies to modify the game's "dynamic repercussion & conscience inventory system" to tag character attributes the way that they believe is right. However, I have also set a goal to have a bigger-picture layer where one law applies to all men. I imagine this will more accurately recreate the 'way it was" where everyone did what was right in their own eyes, and lines for provocation were crossed.

Another example of dynamic persistence involves the Frontier 1859 system to must mesh together to aid in feeling like collaborative efforts produce some kind of change in the frontier land. Shying away from any mechanics that help players rely upon themselves, which seems to produce a new kind of selfishness in games, players will need to be able to rely upon one another in order to survive. No man is an island, and mankind is a social group. The advent of Cell phones, lap-tops, PDAs, and iPods fills a room full of people who are no longer talking to one another (because they are speaking with someone on the phone, or paying attention to another kind of device) and that places the priorities of our lives under the spontaneity of someone else's agenda. I believe this lifestyle has invaded our gaming experience because gaming experiences are projections from our real life at a point in time and space. Thus they can offer us a glimpse into our social/psychological condition, and whether or not we accept it, these issues are additional challenges to work through when authoring virtual world environments for the masses.

Finally, I want to guide player-characters along a "Dynamic Pathing System" for their virtual lives. In this virtual world, no two characters are created equal. Some characters will live longer than others. Choices players make will not only be creating their own unique life story, but also change the course of their destiny in the game. This process will be achieved through the layering of repercussions alerted by my "Dynamic Conscience Inventory Tracking system." We want players to perceive that their virtual world is going to be changing / dynamically - much the same way it did in real life. Thus, instead of level grinding, one might look back upon their roster of characters they created, who have lived and died, and each one has their own story to tell. In this fashion, they come to the conclusion that they have experienced living a legend (virtually) in a wilderness adventure second to none. In doing this, the entire act of participation becomes the narrative, rather than employing careful mechanics to imitate narrative.

8.

Blending different gaming genre's into an MMO setting, such as FPS, Sim, RTS, RPG, Tactical Team based, etc. Initially, it was strong RPG, but instead of competitively improving RPG game mechanics, companies are exploring ways of bringing consumers of other gaming genre's into the MMO market, such as MMOFPS. This is now beginning to blend together, such as MMOFPSRPG, MMORTSRPG, MMOFPSRTSRPG, etc., as particularly popular game mechanics are blended.

Also, companies are adding new consumers from pre-existing fanbases of well-branded licensed content, such as Star Wars, Matrix, Middle Earth, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy. The use of well-branded content has allowed companies to introduce large pre-existing fan bases to the world of MMOGs. To some degree, this had happened with Ultima Online, but the existence of UO so early in the market allowed the convenience of reduced competition. UO would have been successful regardless of it's Ultima brand, but the branded base allowed for even more success. Now, companies are finding that tapping into existing fan bases is crucial to initial success in the MMOG market.

The common theme? MMO companies are tapping into other well-formed markets to introduce new consumers by intersecting the MMOG industry with those markets.

9.

almost forgot:

7) in-game advertising of the kind Massive is developing. the decrease in television viewing as more people migrate to the net, and a need to more accurately track those consumers to gain or maintain competitive advantage in a very tough RW marketplace, will make this a marketing success and force the technology into the virtual space... whether gamers and privacy advocates want it or not.

10.

almost forgot:

7) in-game advertising of the kind Massive is developing. the decrease in television viewing as more people migrate to the net, and a need to more accurately track those consumers to gain or maintain competitive advantage in a very tough RW marketplace, will make this a marketing success and force the technology into the virtual space... whether gamers and privacy advocates want it or not.

11.

/puts on his speculation hat!

4) Puzzle oriented gameplay. The gradual embellishment of resource/item and stat oriented gameplay with puzzle, skill or mini-game based activities. Look at A Tale in the Desert, Puzzle Pirates, etc... Crafting systems will move from being stat based to being skill based with graphical interfaces. Mini games will move into MMO's players will be able to play games against one another, or quest activities will require the completion of graphic based puzzles. Note: this trend will lead to lots of chatter about the nature of gambling in MMO's.

5) A built in voice client will be standard on games. One one hand this will be an effiency creating tool for guilds and groups of players. One the other hand this will either reduce the gaming world to silence or to cacophany, depending on the implementation.

6) More caution or reluctance to develop complex systems in games. Example: the profession based system in SWG was a failure (but a bold move who's attempt should be applauded), rife with imbalances. Reaction: WoW has 6 classes, with narrow, very controlled ranges of player statistics and abilities. I see this trend as a small step backward in terms of making character development more sophisticated than it is now.

7) More games targeted at the adult set. Eventually a MMO will come out with adult oriented content, as is being seen in Grand Theft Auto, Vampire: The Masquerade, etc... Someone will release a mass market game that contains adult language and themes, sexual references, and character nudity. Kids will buy it anyway, leading to both criminal legal situations and attempts at legislation to control the situation. It should also be noted that their is an inevitable intersection between the amount of pornography on the internet and the phenomena of MMO gaming.

8) More corporate sponsorships of MMO players and guilds. As MMOs become more complicated, with more twitch, puzzle or skill based content, "celebrity" players will arise and they will form guilds with one another. Eventually this will lead to sanctioned tournament play, which will not be televised, but viewed over the net. Perhaps people will start leagues, and there will be competition between good guys and bad guys, as in professional wrestling. Attracting these "celebrity" players/guilds to participate in a MMO launch will become a marketing tool to attract hardcore players.

9) In a related vein, RL celebrities will become marketing tool. Will Vin Diesel be promoting D&D online? Will he attract new players to the genre?

10) in game advertising - This is going to be seen as a big money maker. Perhaps the attraction of advertising income will push the development of more games set in a non fantasy/historical setting. Question: Will players be able to turn the advertising off, or will they have to pay a fee to do so, or will they be stuck with it?

12.
3) The rise of socially-oriented content (There, Second Life, Tale in the Desert are more about players than about gameplay. These games aren't new, but they are definitely ascendant.)

Isn't that the inverse of the simplification arguement? I don't know if these games are where I would call ascendant. I am also not sure that they necessarily have to be a subgenre either. The problem is one of task-oriented design more than game-theme.

13.

3) The rise of socially-oriented content (There, Second Life, Tale in the Desert are more about players than about gameplay. These games aren't new, but they are definitely ascendant.)

With all due respect, didn't There go basically out of business and doesn't A Tale in the Desert have a whopping total of 1500 players? That leaves Second Life, which is miniscule compared to WoW. I'm not sure drawing a trend from these games really works.
--matt

14.

>>6) More caution or reluctance to develop complex systems in games. Example: the profession based system in SWG was a failure (but a bold move who's attempt should be applauded), rife with imbalances. Reaction: WoW has 6 classes, with narrow, very controlled ranges of player statistics and abilities. I see this trend as a small step backward in terms of making character development more sophisticated than it is now.

Repeated for emphasis. See also the design decision that eliminated City of Heroes's free-form character creation in favor of character archetypes. To repeat the cliche, the interest in MMOs as pure virtual worlds is simply not there for the mass market -- customers expect gamelike environments. Complex worlds mean complex rules, and complex rules appeal only to a fraction of gamers.

Watching the next few months of SWG's development may be very instructive. "Merchant" players are very unhappy about their work being commoditized through a galaxy-wide vendor search system. ("There's no reason for me to build a nice mall now.") Combat mechanisms are being streamlined to something that feels very "City of Heroes"-like to me. After a comparatively brief tenure, Gordon Walton has left the team (with no acknowledgement on the offical boards). This is a game at the tipping point.

15.

One trend *around* MMOGs is the breaking down of standard Virtual World types, categories, and core abilities. VWs are at the point where their similarities (massively multi-user, persistence, inevitable emergence of external markets, etc.) are no longer out-weighing their differences like they once did, and the "gaming vs. social" distinction is, by itself, too weak. Inaccurate MMOG disctinctions (or lack of distinctions) are significant because they affect what we* can see when we look out over the field of digital worlds, pan for trends (like we're doing here), and consider their future growth potential (*we being the MMOG market, designers, analysts, observers, reporters, and all involved).

As an example, in the third trend of this post ("The rise of socially-oriented content") There, Second Life, and A Tale In the Desert are listed as examples of socially-oriented worlds. Now that's fair enough, but stopping at that hides something very important. Simply lumping a Second Life in (and its user created, superset gaming-social-prototyping-business-creative-ownership archetype) as another socially-oriented world is as misleading a characterization of what is and will be possible in that type of world as would be lumping Google together with Microsoft Word as simply two different productivity applications. It's night and day (unless you're really not into the business or world changing qualities of the Web, in which case you can get away with saying "ah, they're all the same thing").

We've already got the soft distinction between gaming worlds which are "massively multi-player" and social worlds which are "massively multi-user". Now we're seeing the opening of new user created spaces that might be dubbed (at least on a limited basis depending on individual user behavior) as "massively multi-maker".

Matt Mihaly wrote: "With all due respect, didn't There go basically out of business and doesn't A Tale in the Desert have a whopping total of 1500 players? That leaves Second Life, which is miniscule compared to WoW. I'm not sure drawing a trend from these games really works.

There is focusing the bulk of its attention on Forterra Systems and its real world modeling sim for the military. They certainly haven't gone away and I wouldn't be surprised to see them come back in a year or two or three to unleash a commercial massively multi-user world modeled on the real world or parts of the real world. That would have lots of amazing new apps, open up MMOGs to an entirely new demographic, and be truly groundbreaking. If we disregard the trends happening in these non-gaming, non-100,000+ subscriber worlds today, that will be a shock when it happens.

As for Second Life, it's a whole 'nother animal. There are so many experiments being run in that world and lessons being learned that can be applied to other social and gaming MMOGS (and stand-alones) that it's a trend-setting machine all its own. Witness Snapzilla, Gaming Open Market, SL Exchange, New World Notes, SLollywood, Tringo, Unreal SL and other game development projects in Second Life, to name just a few successes that look like they could be leading trends elsewhere. Not to mention that Second Life's subscriber growth looks more like a steady technology adoption curve than the usual MMOG media consumption spike and, IMHO, it would be wise to pay attention. Yes.

16.

I think the message here is a bit confused. Talking about "socially oriented gameplay" being ascendant is futurism, not a top 10 trend.

Online gaming is in its infancy, its going to go through an adoption curve just like other entertainment media. The TREND is mass consumer (like the popular but shallow material on network television) which is hitting its stride in the stripped down, accessible World of Warcraft (disclaimer: I do play this game, I am not insulting myself or others who do so). This will bring people into the medium in a way its predecessors did not (I think you could make the case that most of the MMO's since the UO days have pretty much cannibalized the same player base to a large extent, where WoW is very likely to bring in new players who play games, but couldn't put up with the previous offerings.)

This trend is going to continue to be powerful for a simple reason...it is going to make a LOT of money. Excess rents always encourage new entrants to a market.

"Socially oriented content", with all due respect to the esteemed posters is a non-starter. Not lacking in redeeming qualities, these games will remain the PBS/NPR of the market space. Smart mass-market companies might poach ideas, but they will remain niche's. In the future who knows, but if we're talking trends, it's simplicity, accessibility and truckloads of money.

If anything the trend will get worse. Add consoles into the mix. You can bet Sony and Microsoft are going to be working incredibly hard to figure out how to tap into this market with a next-gen console. Subtract the mouse and keyboard and you have to get even simpler than WoW, and the level of social interaction will drop even further.

17.

Although There, or rather its company, Forterra, has changed its primary focus to platform development (primarily for the military) the consumer side is still very much alive and well. According to the State of There presentation by Steve Victorino (President and COO) http://www.lifeinthere.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=116&Itemid= user numbers are up 4 fold since their low after their refocusing (aka "black friday") in may last year, and even growth rates are now close to record levels. That said, There is still quite small, and still relying on word of mouth for marketing, but, unlike many other MMORPGs, seems to have the ability to draw people back even after extended absences. This puts it (and the similar persistent worlds like it) in a unique position as acting like an intermediate between existing and new "short term" games, and thus gives it a great potential for the future.

18.

The top three trends that come to my mind, in no particular order:

1. The power of graphical display cards will improve until it is possible to render photorealistic images on-the-fly at 30 frames per second. As this reaches more desktops, developer attention will shift to improving the Artificial Intelligence of in-game objects. The hardware industry will then shift its product focus from graphical technology to increasing raw processor speed to handle the increased power required to perform AI calculations. At some point, this could lead to standards for AI processing that allow the development of a hardware "AI card" industry. When this happens, the rate of increase in processor speeds will decline, much as it has over the past two years.

2. An as-yet-unknown Internet-based content creation technology will take the Web by storm, allowing anyone with an idea and lots of free time to make reasonably attractive games. Most of them will be bad, but a few will be good enough to make a profit and get headlines. Established publishers will respond by increasing their advertising budgets.

3. No matter how MMOG gameplay changes, the top complaint of MMOG players will continue to be "poor customer service."

19.

1) Service oriented business models that encapsulate multiple game offerings for a single monthly fee. The trend will be away from single product-single fee offerings.

2) There will be a trend towards player created content. This will be evident in a variety of forms from unique contributions of game item properties and radically enhanced crafting systems to entire player created offerings within a game “system”.

3) Movement towards persistence in the game world environment and higher levels of meaning for player actions. The underlying dissatisfaction among players partaking in MMORPG’s is the lack of meaning to their actions. There are ways in which the game environment can react appropriately to the activities of the players. In the coming years we will witness sub-systems simulations that run in the background that alter the game environment based upon player activity.

4) Improved interaction between players. Currently offerings focus on the individual player and the attributes/improvements of that single avatar. Future offerings will trend towards the group or what we now call the guild. Individual player avatars will advance in capabilities by the actions and feats of the guild. The guild will become just as important to the avatar as character class is now. This will drive individual players towards group affiliation, which in turn will increase game satisfaction and longer subscription life.

5) Commercialization of content by third party marketing groups.

6) More legal issues surrounding the status of virtual property and an increase of problems and issues for those game companies who try to lock down virtual trading.

These are the top ones that spring to my mind, less one or two that I am still thinking through.

20.

A lot of the trends I am seeing in new MMOGs have been mentioned already, but thought I'd include them anyhow to show I'm in agreement. A lot of the trends I see can also largely be rolled up into "appealing more to the mass market", but I've tried to break them out into more specifics. In no particular order:

- Mixing Heavy & Light Users -
Increasing trend to attempt to balance heavy and light users, so that friends with different playing times don't need to be seperated. COH did this best with sidekicking, and WOW's rest system assists with this. Think you'll see more of this in the future.

- Focused Game Design -
Rather than trying to be all things to all people, MMOGs are increasingly picking their niche and getting that right first. This can also lead to shallower gameplay.

- Simple Gameplay -
In character creation, advancement, and mechanics, they are increasingly easy to learn.

- Directed Gameplay -
Players are increasingly given more direction in terms of what to do. The quest system in WOW and the mission system in COH do this very well, compared with earlier games that seemed to instead say "here's a virtual world - go do what you want".

- Softer Penalties -
MMOGs are becoming increasingly soft when it comes to penalizing players for things like character death. I think this is a positive trend.

- New Economic Systems -
By economic system, I don't mean crafting and trade, but how items are created / destroyed / traded in-game and the effect on in-game inflation. Early games for the most part seemed to ignore this. You see more MMOGs experimenting with newer systems now, with COH and WOW both adopting a system that restricts trade for items that have already been used (so they must be destroyed, effectively).

- Achievement-orientated Game Design -
Recent games have an increasing trend to reward players constantly for their actions. I'm excluding the more social virtual worlds here as I don't think they've had the same level of success as some other recent games.

- External Influences -
In-game world experiences are becoming increasingly affected by real world markets and information sources. Don't know a quest? Look it up online. Games increasingly see solutions to puzzle online and auctions of tradeable in-game items/characters.

21.

I'll add a few;

1) Simpler questing systems. Between the waypoint like indicators in City of Heros, the click through quest dialogs in EQ2 and the Betty Crocker cookbook quests of World of Warcraft questing seems to be getting much easier.

2) Maps, travel - In many ways the Travel Tax seems to be getting lower.

3) User content - member content seems to be getting more prevalent. Examples; UI Interface in WOW, Secondlife, There.

4) Data and stats - Between Thottbot and EQ2 webpages, it looks like more and more data is available directly (semi-directly) from the game.

-bruce

22.

The ability to order pizza online? :-P


What was the most important trend in computers in 1995/1996? The fact that the "media" noticed that the Internet existed. They then went on to talk to people making wild predictions about how the Internet would revolutionalize people's lives in the next 5 years. (If the prognosticators had said 20 years instead of 5, they would have been more accurate.)

I find it interesting/disturbing the NPR has reported on WoW. (Other recent terranova blog.)

At some point, maybe this year, maybe next, maybe 5 years from now, the "media" will realize:

1) Computer games are a really-really huge industry and need to be reported on. While the media has plenty of movie-review shows, as well frequent news coverage of movies/TV, the amount of airtime devoted to games is practically nill. They will change this, and go so overboard with coverage that you will be wishing the media had never realized that games are a huge industry. (Just think... "Survivor: Everquest!")

2) Online games, in particular, are likely to really catch their attention because (a) the concept is so intruguing, (b) Nick Yee's data about VW time replacing TV viewing time, and (c) the media can come up with endless current-affairs bits about additction and other social problems caused by online games.

When the media starts reporting widely about virtual worlds, and I no longer have to try (and fail to) explain to my friends what a virtual world is, the nature of virtual worlds will change dramatically... just as the Internet changed.

23.

Allow me to pick a few trends I'm familiar with.

1) Re-inventing the wheel... again. Every new game fails to learn anything from the previous games. It doesn't matter if it's due to ignorance, apathy, or hubris, developers will ignore all the extremely superb material available on the topic. In the end, we're doomed to see the same mistakes repeated again and again. Then it will be reading MUD-Dev from the late 90's as the developers comment, "Wow, running a game like this is REALLY HARD!"

2) Failure to recognize the important aspects of the medium. Large companies continue to see the Internet as yet another platform to "port" their games to. They don't realize that you have to work hard to continue maintenance of online virtual worlds after launch, where a majority of the work will be required. Developers will also continue to focus on the short term "fun" at the expense of long term design needed to ensure the longevity of the game, then be surprised when people get bored once the "sugar high" wears off.

3) Terrible customer service. Related to the second point above, but it bears special mention. Customer service (CS) will continue to be seen as a cost center instead of a vital aspect of running the game service. Contacting a CS person will be difficult and CS representatives will still not be given the proper tools to do their job. ("What do you mean you can only give me Superhero Gloves of Spirit instead of the Superhero Gloves of Intellect that I lost due to a bug?") This means that the people that need the assistance won't get it in most of these games.

4) Size is all that matters. It doesn't matter how good your game is, unless you cater to a large crowd it is meaningless. By attracting a larger audience, even at the expense of watering down your content, you will be able to issue press releases which will be consumed and celebrated by everyone. It won't matter what problems you have, such as basic server stability, you'll be popular and that allows everyone to forgive all your sins. On the other hand, it doesn't matter if you have an original game that tries something daring like not having combat and then allows you to work with a world-famous author on a future project, after hearing that you don't have hundreds of thousands of players even niche text game operators will look down their nose at you.

Have fun,

24.

Not sure if it counts as a 'trend' in the sense that Dave is looking for, but by and large, folks play most level-based MMOGs as though the goal was not really to experience the game's 'content' in terms of storylines or the like, but to get to the maximum level so you can hunt for the really good items, fight the most interesting monsters, etc. Combined with the trend of level-based games making it easier and easier to get to the maximum possible level (it took months to get an Everquest character up to max level, but players have maxed City of Heroes and World of Warcraft characters in weeks), it seems to me that if you're not involved in the game right from launch (or even as a member of the 'open beta') you're going to feel 'left behind'.

The really bizarre thing is it's not the game companies that are doing this, really. Sure, their 'content patches' apply almost exclusively to the highest level characters in the game (when was the last time you heard a major MMOG add a new significant quest line for level 15 characters, for instance?), but the real drivers of this behavior are other players:

- Players freely and openly discuss 'quest spoilers' in zone chat.

- A statistically significant number of quest groups involve one or two members who are far higher level than needed to complete the quest in question, simply to allow the lower-level characters to get their 'kill X mobs' task done more rapidly (thus getting the quest XP more rapidly, as well as getting more XP, since in WoW at least you get a bonus to XP for completing a quest at the lowest possible level). (As an aside, this kind of power-leveling is something of a slap-in-the-face to those who work very hard making quests dramatically interesting, as well as those who feel that experiencing these storylines is part of the 'reason' to play the MMOG.)

- A significant amount of the game-world 'economy' is restricted to high-level characters, because the items have level limits that make them unusable to any but high level characters. In addition, these items are priced with the high-level characters' wealth in mind, so low level characters who might otherwise be interested in purchasing such an item and 'banking' it for use later are unable to even consider purchasing the item unless they receive a grant of funds from an already high-level 'toon'.

- A significant number of guilds, mainly those devoted to instance raiding or PvP play, simply won't even consider a character for the guild unless s/he is already at or near the game's maximum level limit. There's nothing particularly evil about this - these guilds want to recruit those who will be able to help them in their objectives within the game, after all - but again, lower level characters are made to feel like the thing to do is steamroller as quickly as possible past the early levels so that at some point you can actually start playing the game.

Perhaps this is more of a 'futurist' observation, as Dave noted of an observation in a different comment, but at least in the way the 'big' MMOGs are run these days, the longer it takes for you to get in, the more likely you'll find yourself asking, 'why did I bother?'

25.

David's comment is absolutely true. I do not however agree that the seed of the problem (and yes i think it is a problem) lies with the overall world design, not the players. My main aim in engaging with MMOGs is to find two suitable for analysis in my doctoral research. Yet I find similiar problems with access. I cannot explore much of the world unless I go through the whole level grind. WoW might present you with quests when you start off but a few levels in you do find yourself asking "why bother?"

It's indeed sad that so much good content falls by the wayside because one is made to feel that unless they are hovering towards the top levels, they cannot experience much of the world. Why do I have to invest X hundred hours in order to travel around the world and take in the beautiful landscapes ?

I still retain that the problem with all this is the primitive levels structure which dominates ALL MMOGs. The moment discreetly labeled layers of progression are presented into the infrastructure and the majority of the world is structured around these levels, one cannot help but follow them, for the simple reason that they represent barriers to access on every level of world experience.

Looking at MMOGs' predecessors, there is a plethora of interesting world simulation systems that do not operate on the tightly measured XP - Levelling system. For the majority of GMs that I ve met, this system acts as a restricting factor to what is, for most people the main aim to engage with a collaborative fantasy world experience: the immersion (in every sense) into an interesting otherworld.

It's true that players can avoid caring about how many XP the relevant creature is worth and how many more they need to level and so on, but the point is that once the system is so distinctly in place most people will be sucked into it. Unfortunately MMOGs seem to place these quantifiable concerns even more to the fore than their table top predecessors which from my point of view, greatly limits the possibilities for interesting worlds to develop.

26.

Some trends"

- Rising subscription costs
- game bundling (SOE's all access pass)
- Popularity of PvP

The last is more of a gut feel, but I think PvP is becoming more of a core component of these games, EQ2 notwithstanding. UO gave PvP a blackeye, but since then players who swore off PvP have become more open to it if it's consensual. Once they try it, many of them become fans of PvP.

I don't think it's a trend yet, but I think future MMOs will have to be niche products if they are not attached to a hot license (Lord of the Rings, etc) or not being produced by one of the major publishers. You're not going to make a game that will compete well with WoW unless you have a $20M budget, so you'd better make something different and figure out how to make money on 50,000 subscribers, and maybe you'll get that many. Maybe you'll get lucky and get two or three times that.

27.

Contrary to the question asked, I don't think this is really the time to look for trends, at least not "more of what we're seeing now" kinds of trends. In fact, much as a bull or bear on the cover of Time or Newsweek surely signals the end of that type of market, the fact that we're looking for trends is further evidence to me that we're too comfortable with what we know and are instead approaching a time when the trends we've lived with are broken.


So I don't see these as more of the same, but here's what I see:

- World of Warcraft is the apex of what is now known as "traditional" fantasy MMOGs. While WoW is likely to have serious problems with retaining players over time, this game will cast a very long shadow in terms of the commercial success of fantasy MMOGs to follow. Games in this space will have an even tougher row to hoe than in the past. I suspect too that this extends beyond upcoming games that are overtly fantasy-based (D&D Online, Middle Earth Online, Vanguard, etc.) to those that may have essentially the same gameplay in a different skin (Imperator?). For "kill monster get gold" gameplay, WoW is going to be difficult to supplant.

- Similarly, games that appeal primarily or solely to the hard-core market (nearly every MMOG existing today - YPP may be an exception) will find their players more expensive to acquire and more difficult to keep. As evidence of this, previously people said that it was community (i.e., "the world" not "the game") that kept people paying their subscription for years. Now, people are saying that players prefer more "game" than "world." Perhaps. My bet is that designing toward this will result only in shorter retention instead of games where people remain willing to pay to stick around for years.

- MMOGs will not continue to rise in production cost, with the exception of a very few. There will be a few that exceed $30-50M, just as there are a few movies that exceed $200M in production costs. But this level of financing simply isn't tenable for either developers or publishers (or for other funding avenues: venture capitalists are loathe to bet on getting a hit at these levels), and therefore it won't happen: either people will figure out how to make MMOs for less, or this sector goes the way of hex-paper-gaming in the 1980s.

IMO, anything over about $10M (and maybe much less than that) is wasted money: money that could have been saved by more careful design, different gameplay (not just different weapons or setting), better technology, and more efficient productionmethods and tools. We'll see some glorious commercial flops along the way as people experiment with better, faster, cheaper ways of building MMOGs, but we'll also see one or two that successfully turn the current tropes on their heads and still manage to make money.

In sum, starting over the next couple of years I see faster, cheaper MMOGs being developed (albeit not smoothly -- this is new ground); new player demographics being attended to (2 hours per day of killing monsters is not the casual market); new forms of gameplay to support them; and new platforms and revenue models to complement PC-based and subscription-based play.

28.

Marshall Astor>/puts on his speculation hat!

The question was about the top 10 current trends, not the top 10 future trends. That said, I don't suppose Fargo will mind getting two articles' worth of material out of this, rather than just one.

Richard

29.

The rapid change and competition in the MMOG arena have taken the producers to a point of temporal confusion. Make as much money in as short a period of time as possible. This way of reasoning can't go on for very long as the number of MMOG products sky high in the market. So a trend we are going to see is the building of strategies on longevity for the developed platform. Fact is that the product can upgrade and develop parallel to the technological developement.

The number one strategy for this temporal problem today is to deliver add-ons, but that seems to just delay the demise of the product.

The solution must be to give bigger economic freedom and endorsement of user created content.

So for trend number...
8) I would say new strategies for longevity of the product, keeping the userbase loyal.

30.

Richard > The question was about the top 10 current trends, not the top 10 future trends. That said, I don't suppose Fargo will mind getting two articles' worth of material out of this, rather than just one.

I felt that some broad speculation was in order. I am thinking a bit ahead, but some of these trends, like in-game advertising (see EQ2 Pizza Hut situation), and adult oriented online gaming (Sociolotron, chatter about GTA online for PS3) seem to be sprouting on the fringes of MMO gaming right now.

I really think that puzzle or graphical interfaces as an embellishement for stat based RPG gaming are on the near horizon, with MMO developers desiring to implement them into their games, especially in the form of mini-games, but it's not something that will be in full force until the next generation of MMO's. I know that ATITD and Puzzle Pirates have relatively small market shares, but they are doing interesting things in their sandboxes that I am sure larger developers are being inspired by.

I see the addition of client based voice chat an addition to the "player/guild services" carrot that EQ2 provides its players. Providing more services, both in-game and out of game to guilds and players may going to become a competitive area in the next generation of MMOs.

31.
- Popularity of PvP

The last is more of a gut feel, but I think PvP is becoming more of a core component of these games, EQ2 notwithstanding. UO gave PvP a blackeye, but since then players who swore off PvP have become more open to it if it's consensual. Once they try it, many of them become fans of PvP.

I think that is true, but I think it get's intermingled with a more *cough* socially acceptable term: "Player Generated Content".

Let's face it, the some best content other players can offer is giving you something to strive against and an intelligent opponent to overcome. Dropping houses and paving roads is interesting, but it is set dressing, not the plot.

Interestingly, though, I see the opposite pressure in the non-MMO world. Games are including more PvE/CoOp content in their (not so massive) multiplayer online games.

32.

I think that there are current trends that are obscured by the state of the art in design. I am specifically thinking of PvP, which many designers have and are attempting, but which has proved very hard to support in a persistant and anonymous environment. Nonetheless, there is a huge market available to the team that can 'get this right'. I agree with the comment about bundling PvP into the idea of player created content, but I also think that there are important differences between player content creation via player design and player content creation via play. The Super Bowl is a good example of the value of the Killer to games, and the complexity of the NFL draft and the salary cap are good examples of the difficulty of controlling the Killer.

As an emerging trend, I think better UI and player-usable CS tools are two ways that MMOs can enhance both player experience and bottom line return. These are core to player experience, and must generally improve with time if the field is to survive. Improvements here are more likely to be incremental; not many designers are going to be stoked about building 'the best damn CS support tools anyone has ever seen', but I bet a lot of Live Teams feel differently.

33.

> Brian 'Psychochild' Green wrote:
>
> On the other hand, it doesn't matter if
> you have an original game that tries something
> daring like not having combat and then allows
> you to work with a world-famous author on a
> future project, after hearing that you don't have
> hundreds of thousands of players even niche text
> game operators will look down their nose at you.

Brian, your list of trends was absolutely brilliant and I agreed 100% with each one.

Was the above personal attack really necessary? I think we all know who you were sniping at (which is apparently some left over vitriol from other topics).

Current Trends:

1) Customer Service doesn't matter. People expect poor customer service now and will tolerate a very low standard (this is shameful, by the way ).

2) Server performance doesn't matter. 80% uptime is sufficient.

3) Knee-jerk nerfing is completely acceptable. There is no need to actually THINK about balance changes at length. It is much easier to just hastily "nerf" and then sort out the results afterward.

4) Bugs don't matter. There is nothing wrong with ignoring tons of MASSIVE bugs in the game as long as the game is, for the most part, functioning (this is also shameful).

5) The short term is all that matters. I swear, it seems like MMORPG developers read John Maynard Keynes, "In the Long Run, We're all Dead" and treated it like some sort of bible.

6) Feedback from the community doesn't matter. There is no need to explain yourself whatsoever to your customers or to listen to even 1% of their feedback.

In case it isn't obvious, I think all of the above trends are absolutely disgusting. I think they are also evidence of how incredibly immature the MMORPG marketplace is.

If the MMORPG were more mature, companies that did any of the above would fail. The fact that they do not is testament to the fact that there are not very many choices out there so companies are able to get away with a lot of disgraceful management.

34.

While Richard is correct that we were supposed to talk about current trends, I'll continue the "trend" of this thread and post my speculative ones:

1) The complete co-opting of third party sellers of gold/goods (e.g. IGE) by the game companies themselves. The money is far too enormous for the company that makes the game to ignore.

Right now we are working our way through the education process of players/customers. Players are slowly learning that buying gold/items with real life money is inevitable. Players are learning that it would be better if the game company itself sold these things so "real players" would not have to compete with farmers for resources and content. Once this happens, the IGEs of the world will go Tango Uniform.

2) More variety. This seems unlikely right now because we are in the middle of a race to the bottom. CoH, EQ2, WoW, and their ilk have been watering down and dumbing down their games in an effort to appeal to the largest crowd possible.

Once this cycle completes itself, the next trend will be for a lot more games that appeal to a wider variety of interests. This happens in non-MMORPG games, music, and other entertainment mediums.

This will be facilitated enormously when a few companies produce afforable, licensable engines that makes it easier for smaller companies to create MMORPGs.

35.

Michael Hartman wrote:

Was the above personal attack really necessary?

What personal attack? I just commented on something that happened in this very thread. I think it makes the point quite clearly that size is all that matters when someone running one niche game completely discounts the affect of another niche game entirely based on subscription numbers.

Now, let me respond to one of your points.

6) Feedback from the community doesn't matter. There is no need to explain yourself whatsoever to your customers or to listen to even 1% of their feedback.

The bigger problem here is getting good feedback. Most public feedback need to be carefully analyzed because the players are motivated by selfish desires; players will agitate for "short term good" things, usually in the form of buffing their class/build and nerfing another class/build. On the other hand, most people will dislike many of the "long term good" things in your game; sometimes you have to make changes which are unpopular in order to keep your game running longer than a few years.

In the end, this means that the most vocal people will feel ignored. Even if you collect better feedback in other ways besides a public forum, people will still paint you as ignoring feedback. I know there's a few M59 that most players support, but that the most vocal people oppose. Learning to deal with this is one of the bigger challenges for game developers.

Have fun,

36.

Customer Support - Does any MMO game do customer support right? this thread has mentioned that most don't provide good CS nor provide good tools. is there a current model to look for?

37.

One current trend not mentioned is:

MMO-gaming rise beyond an activity and becomes a significant lifestyle/hobby in the same way Star Trek went from a TV series to a lifestyle/hobby.

People in this particular lifestyle/hobby will spend significant amount of their disposable income, time, and energy in this lifestyle/hobby.

The increasing volume of third-party market activity is an indicator of this trend. I expect to see more RL/physical manifestation of VW/virtual objects.

They may come in the form of WoW MageKnight-type toys, CoH movie, and such in addition to the fan faires, like a MMO-renaissance faire.

38.

MMO-gaming rise beyond an activity and becomes a significant lifestyle/hobby in the same way Star Trek went from a TV series to a lifestyle/hobby.

Gosh, I hope not. The lifestyle/hobby of Star Trek is an increasingly uber-geek activity in a narrowing market. If MMO is to become a bona fide hobby, it has to become less of a lifestyle, not more. Going deeper into our ravine-like niche is not the way to commercial (much less 'artistic') success.

39.

Brian Green wrote:

What personal attack? I just commented on something that happened in this very thread. I think it makes the point quite clearly that size is all that matters when someone running one niche game completely discounts the affect of another niche game entirely based on subscription numbers.

I assume you're talking about where I pointed out that A Tale in the Desert's 1500 users is hardly indicative of a trend. That remains true, whether it's a good game or not (which is irrelevant to the point being made). Our 5000 (or whatever) users are hardly indicative of a trend either.
--matt

40.

MMO-gaming rise beyond an activity and becomes a significant lifestyle/hobby in the same way Star Trek went from a TV series to a lifestyle/hobby.

I agree with Mike that this would not be a good thing for gaming or the industry (I don't think it's been a good thing for Star Trek, either). It seems likely, in the long term, that there will be a signifigant population of die hard, no outside life MMO folks, and that a cottage industry of services and products will serve them.

The increasing volume of third-party market activity is an indicator of this trend. I expect to see more RL/physical manifestation of VW/virtual objects.

I am not sure if this is a correct conclusion. I think that it is natural that products like mass market MMOs will spawn 3rd party licensing deals, but I think it's more indicitive of desire to market to the large numbers of players entering the market at this point, rather than serving a small minority.

Here's a question: When will someone start manufacturing custom action figures using the 3D models of actual avatars in the game? Given the declining costs of stereo lithography, the ease of translating a 3D model into "printable" data, this seems inevitable. You could probably do this right now for under $1000, including having the model painted, much less than some die hards pay for accounts on Ebay. I would see a trend in this direction as an indicator that the sort of Star Trek fanaticism has entered the MMO marketplace.

Another Question: What will happen when one of the big virtual worlds "goes dark" as it transitions it's population fully to a sequel or fades out of the marketplace? What will the "abandonware" situation for dead MMO worlds look like?

41.

One key development that no one seems to have mentioned here is the degree to which currently non-game off-world social activities will move into the virtual context.

It's easy enough to imagine architecture, landscape, fashion, and design schools setting up classes in a virtual world. I think that is already happening. What else? Event management classes? Maybe. I see the Acceleration Studies Foundation (it looks like a consulting group) is having a conference in Second Life. Will we see a time in which lots of realworld meetings move online? Is having an avatar imbedded in a common space with lots of other avatars a better social experience that engaging with lots of video images tiled across a screen? If so, will the avatar/virtual world experience beat out videoconferencing, at least for some purposes?

42.

Well personally I think that the mmo-gaming community in every aspect of the virtual/real world is in huge growth now and for time to come. Not only are the games released today more perplexing, but possess a magnitude of game control and functionality. This can give a person/gamer a feeling of control and power.

I am a gamer and market vendor products in virtual worlds and it is amazing how competitiveness drives a market. It doesn't matter age, sex, or race humans are competitive. The online gaming communities has become much greater in size with the globalization of these games. Wasn't long ago I remember how fascinating it was to be able to transport data outside of the physical realm it resided in. Now in less than one second you can be connected to someone on the opposite side of the world in many different applications and games.

My opinion is current demands in online virtual markets will not decline anytime soon. Therefore, real world markets that stem from these virtual markets will not decline either. If you are into mmo-gaming like myself and others, you might get bored of a game but you don't stop playing games. Infact would say most that stop playing "one game" is result of newer game released or recommendation to come join another.

As far as the design is concerned it will always be a rat race with developers, hackers, cheaters, etc. There are all sorts of people and when globally joined together it becomes nearly impossible to implement a perfect design. Look at technology how it has developed so greatly over the last 10 years. We have made great leaps and bounds in many areas including security and protection. But, on the other side there is also those same leaps and bounds being made and just like anything else it creates balance. If we didn't have checks and balances in our world I would hate to see what it would be like.

Honesty I would have to say is huge factor that benefits from all I have said. I will try to explaiin and some will understand and some won't. If you look at it from a different perspective then you can see how alot of what most consider bad actually has alot of good come from it. How do most people get infected with viruses and spyware. Most times from where they go and surf or underground communities where we all know what goes on down there. A perfect example is my son's computer and my computer. I tend to like to surf places that aren't of the most prestigious places and therefore need to clean house afterwards what software protection didn't. My son however still runs computer without any antivirus, firewall except hardware based nor is he even up to date with service pack 2 for windows xp. He has a system that runs just as well as mine but doesn't have to work as hard as I do to keep it that way. So what happens is I get tired of the place i visited and what it does to my computer and therefore am deterred from going in future. Another example of would be what most call a hacker. There is good and bad there as well. Most are those that dissect software and are probably paranoid type people. With the dissections being performed discovers are made of things like privacy. Privacy is a topic that needs a thread all to its own therefore not going to touch it, but a very good example. So many things happen in software that 99% of those that use software don't know what all takes place normally unless told about it. I dont' think I go any further with this and hope that I explained myself well enough on this.

Well i will close with this. Anytime a new trend heats up there is always just as many that oppose or frown on it. It is just something that has always been and will always be. It is like everyone forgets this each time they go to battle against such trends. It doesn't matter what it is. Things happen because of interest in it and sometimes a new trends develops from it and sometimes not. For those trends that make it there is always going to be those that like it and those that don't. So what really is different about now and any other trend we have seen in the past. I say nothing. If it get to a certain point in a actual market place then regulation needs to be implemented. Still all comes down to this. We all have something to talk about. LOL.

Righteous Bandit

43.

Fred Hapgood wrote> "I see the Acceleration Studies Foundation (it looks like a consulting group) is having a conference in Second Life."

Yep :-) We're starting a free monthly conference/Salon series in SL beginning April 28th. Info here and here. Everyone invited. Please RSVP if you plan to come.

44.

Marshall Astor wrote:

Here's a question: When will someone start manufacturing custom action figures using the 3D models of actual avatars in the game? Given the declining costs of stereo lithography, the ease of translating a 3D model into "printable" data, this seems inevitable. You could probably do this right now for under $1000, including having the model painted, much less than some die hards pay for accounts on Ebay. I would see a trend in this direction as an indicator that the sort of Star Trek fanaticism has entered the MMO marketplace.

Given that customizing action figures is fairly commonplace at the hobbyist level (example here), I'd say that you'd need another example of boutique merchandise fanaticism

45.

I don't mean customising figures that already exist. That kind of activity is common to action figure collectors, but not particularily common to enthusiasts of the source material being customized/created.

I mean taking 3D models, right out of the game engine, and having them "instantiated" or "printed" on a stereo lithography system. Then having them professionally painted, and shipped to the consumer. I think that the fact that avatars in games are generally linked to simple 3D models, with easily reproduced surface colour, makes them uniquely suited to this kind of fan activity.

If costs for this kind of activity dropped low enough(maybe $20 per unit), these would make amazing veteran rewards that might help maintain the long term attachment that players have for their avatars, and keep their accounts longer.

46.

I agree with the bulk of the trends mentioned here (though not some of the futurist projections, but that's another thread :) ). For me, I have a top 5:

1) Rise of licenses and brands. In order for the worlds to continue getting bigger (and assuming a not-immediate jump to procedural engines), more success must be guaranteed on the front end. The best way to do that is to drag over an established audience (Star Wars fans for SWG, Blizzard fans for WoW, EQ fans to EQ2, D&D and Tolkien fans for Turbine, etc).

2) Rise of alternative pricing plans. Reinventing the financial model will keep a company from having to compete with the likes of WoW or NCSoft, particularly if they have a game that's not entirely unique nor hasn't a strong license nor brand.

3) Rise of expectations. A "success" these days is much more than it was. EQ2 has somewhere around 350k subscribers, yet because it isn't WoW's 1.5mil nor even EQlive's previous height (>500k), it's not considered a huge success.

4) Rise of accessibility. You can't get much more accessible of a game than CoH or WoW. GW is even more so. These are not simple games for dumb people. Rather, they have very approachable non obtrusive and fairly intuitive interfaces. Instead of dumping players into a game world under a barrage of inputs, they show you what you need to know right then. Later you'll see more.

5) Rise of PvP. I agree with Mark Asher's earlier statement ("I think PvP is becoming more of a core component of these games, EQ2 notwithstanding"), but don't think it's MMORPGs that are driving this. Rather, I feel PvP is being revisited because almost every other genre on PCs and consoles features it as a core part of the experience. I can't say WoW is going to drive PvP back into the genre, since the game is only a few months old. But I do feel that because the bulk of Blizzard's success comes from games featuring PvP, I'm not surprised they have, far and away, the highest percentage of MMORPG servers dedicated to PvP (almost 50%).

47.

And on a few of those issues:
1) on the europe servers - PvP are the ones with the highest populations... and were the first to get the queues etc.

PvP is becing very popular... now we just need a reason for it other than "ganking for fun".

2)Accessability - umm, i see this more as a maturing of the genre. It seems that now these guys are hiring some people with some decent knowledge of UI and human-computer interface. Finally. I expect this to just keep getting better. "Ease of Use" is king in any field.

48.

Re: 3D lithographic instantiation

An artist in a developing country can handcraft one for about USD5 which then can be sold on eBay for USD20. Good margins and no need for mass-production machinery :)

Franchise merchandise serve the emotional need for significance. Some of us no longer play for the sake of playing, we are playing for a sense of significance. This trend will reach the mass market and most will not have the stigma of the Star Trek franchise.

My apologies, I should have used Star Wars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchises as examples.

49.

Big thanks to Terra Nova for posting this thread, and huge thanks to everyone for participating. Lots of great discussion points here -- keep it coming!

For the feature I'm writing I'd like to focus on demonstrable trends, things that the current crop of games (or those slated for 2005 release whose gameplay/billing we're familiar with) are showing right now. For every one of the top ten trends, I'd like to list off the games that show it off.

So I think it's a valid trend to point out MMOGs enroaching into the casual game market (I'd call out Puzzle Pirates or perhaps ToonTown). Whereas my example trend (socially-oriented games) is probably a poor choice because (as a couple posters pointed out) the example games aren't yet making meaningful waves -- at least from a marketplace standpoint.

This is exactly the kind of discussion I was looking for -- thank you!

50.

Premium services! UO used to offer character transfers for a small fee, which I'd consider a premium services since you are paying. The same with changing your character's name. WoW is now offering a limited character transfer option. I'm not familiar enough with other games, but I think premium services will begin to play a larger role in MMO games. I have kind of a mock news article up on my blog (linked below) that lists some examples of what blizzard could do with WoW. Several of my co-workers and I play a lot of WoW, and every few days the lunch conversation turns into "Wouldn't it be great if..." I think if developers find a way to put in premium services that would cost a little extra $$$ to access, but wouldn't give players an unfair edge within the game, lots of people would try them out.

Just one example...in WoW, why not for, let's say, an extra $1 a month, all your bat rides, zeppelin rides, etc. were instant teleports to the location? I've probably spent 5-10% of my time in WoW on bats, zeppelins, or waiting for zeppelins, boats, etc. At one point the trip from menethil harbor to auberdine was an instant teleport...why can't everything work that way?

51.

Just one example...in WoW, why not for, let's say, an extra $1 a month, all your bat rides, zeppelin rides, etc. were instant teleports to the location?

I think premium services similar to this are counterproductive because they will create a "competitveness tax" that players, especially PvP players, have to pay to stay in the game. They stop being premium services and end up squeezing more fees from everyone. I don't design games, but I imagine that travel times exist for the purpose of extenting the timeframe of the gameplay experiece, creating a sense of being in an expansive world, adding to the strategic nature of quests and PvP, etc... I don't think that, in the long term, it would be in either the player's (bored after getting to endgame too quick or not feeling the "immerison") or the developer's interest.

That being said, I think there is tremendous potential for the kind of premium services that are currently being offered by SOE in EQ2, or in the form of purchaing a bulk membership (like Station Pass) for multiple games from the same developer. There is tremendous potential for growth in this market, with webpages for guilds, forum systems, statistic/character profile tracking, PvP leaderboards, hosted voice clients, etc...

52.

"Customer Support - Does any MMO game do customer support right? this thread has mentioned that most don't provide good CS nor provide good tools. is there a current model to look for?"

I think the problem is that the current pricing structure of $15/month doesn't cover the cost of providing good customer service. I have no idea what they would need to charge, but I bet it's a LOT more than $15.

53.

> Marshall Astor wrote:
> Another Question: What will happen when
> one of the big virtual worlds "goes dark"
> as it transitions it's population fully to
> a sequel or fades out of the marketplace?
> What will the "abandonware" situation for
> dead MMO worlds look like?

I imagine nothing will happen, unfortunately. The owners of the IP will guard it jealously rather than find some way to distribute it (either free or for a reasonable fee).

This will result in a lot of really interesting content disappearing instead of being lovingly preserved like other abadonware is.

54.

I'm a student at Hawaii Pacific University and I am considering writing a research paper on the topic of advertising inside of gaming worlds. I've read a few of Castronova's articles, but I am coming up a little shallow on good resources. If anyone more knowledgeable than myself on the subject could refer me to a source, be it a book, newspaper article, ect, I would appreciate it. Feel free to email me at Xavium@aol.com.
Thank you,
Rico

55.

City of Heroes popularised a customisation trend (started by Star Wars: Galaxies) that hasn't entirely caught on, but I believe it will change a lot of expectations about avatar and item uniqueness. The accolades regarding character customisation have demonstrated that perception of player differentiation is important even in absence of player-created content. And in economy-based games, player-created content must be freed from the unsatisfying cookie-cutter mold, even if the freedom to customise is at a relatively superficial level, like colour, stats and item name (like SWG). Crafting is dull if items don't bear a personal stamp, some way of being unique and special.

This goes hand in hand with the desire for greater personal agency. What I do and what I am in virtual spaces needs to reflect some aspect of my uniqueness... Or perhaps I am unique in this point-of-view? (a gender distinction?)

56.

I don't think your needs are all that unique. I don't think your needs are all that unique. :)

Some people are satisfied defining their uniqueness by mastery of specific quantifiable elements in a game, like being faster, song twisting better (Macros. Bah! ;) ), having achieved the highest level, the most Realm Points, whatever.

But even these people will find some ways to make themselves look different. Players clamoured over the two glow color options in WoW (white-ish and red-ish). That those glows came from enchantments that provided a stat boost to the weapon is entirely secondary to the then-unique look provided. More recently, Hunters clamoured when Blizzard changed the pattern on a type of mount players chose specifically for the look.

So I agree that some amount of personalization is a good thing. This doesn't mean crafting games should allow players to slap together whatever they want for uniqueness. Relatively simple things are enough, like being able to change the color of Trim and Body of your SWG speeder.

I don't know if players require they have their own name "stamp" on a customization. EQ2 notes the first person to discover any particular object in the game. This is a nice "king for a day" badge, but I don't know how many that interests.

57.

Apologies if I repeat something said above. I only briefly skimmed the previous comments.

Better Responses to Consumers' Desires: Every MMORPG coming out is, in some way or other - whether it be large or small, responding to consumers' desires. EQ2 for the hardcore gamer, WoW for the new gamer or one seeking shorter play times or a simpler game, SL & There as the "social" gaming. Take this and apply it to a lower level of in-game aspects. WoW has an in-game map that fills in as you explore. WoW's last patch integrated various UI options that were previously accessible only by way of player-created mods. As users express the various content and components they prefer and seek, game companies will attempt to capitalize on these desires. Hardly a new concept but one I see reflected more and more in today's games.

58.

the end of bold?

59.

Marshall: I mean taking 3D models, right out of the game engine, and having them "instantiated" or "printed" on a stereo lithography system. Then having them professionally painted, and shipped to the consumer.

I would totally support this. In fact, I'd have to get one of each of my favourite avatars and line them up on a shelf... will they come with changeable outfits? And then can I upgrade them to special effects versions? It's like MMORPG Barbie! Fun! ;-)

60.

3) The rise of socially-oriented content (There, Second Life, Tale in the Desert are more about players than about gameplay. These games aren't new, but they are definitely ascendant.)
I'd counter that with point minus 3) The rise of solo-oriented content. Solo-ability is a major factor of the success of WoW, and even the president of SOE pointed that out in a recent open letter, and promptly added more solo content to EQ2. People like to be in virtual worlds with other real people, but they don't like to be forced to interact with them.

61.

Competition
It's been mentioned several times already, and it really can't be repeated enough. All MMOs provide a forum for competition, but most do it at the expense of their own designs. As everyone knows, in the absence of formal, fair arenas for competition provided by the game itself, players will compete with one another over how quickly and completely they can defeat the designer's attempts to delay content discovery. And if that weren't bad enough for the life of a game, players regularly find themselves in situations which can be best described as unstructured (meaning, not properly supported by game mechanics), unfair competition with one another over access to something they're paying for. Oddly enough, many players find that distasteful. Games that provide fair, structured competition to players at all stages of character development will reap the benefits. (This leads to the conclusion that the process of content discovery should be either entirely decoupled from, or tightly integrated into the formal competition provided by the game. The former firmly establishes the World as a place to explore and socialize in, the latter allows players to compete over exploration rights and even advancement itself. Either way, competition is focused squarely on fellow players, not on the limitations proscribed by game mechanics.) Striking a healthy balance between competition and casual socializing is the strongest trend going forward. This balance is NOT difficult to achieve, as people actually LIKE to mix competition with partying. MMOs that fail to find a balance are left with those players who log in only to party, and that playerbase is not nearly as large as an ambitious designer would like.

62.

The CEO of There (Robert Gehorsam) apparently just made this presentation to some investors, that discusses some of the future trends of MMOs (And quotes Castronova quite a bit): http://www.jvpvc.com/images/upload/media/Playing_to_Win.pdf

63.

I'm wondering if you guys are familiar with a new half MMO / half social network called GoPets? It's being developed in Seoul by an mixed US/Korean team I think.

It's innovative in that it takes the community aspect of MMO to another level, while retaining some of the more innovative item selling business models we're seeing come out of Asia. I'm sure we'll see a black market developing for GoPets shells in due course.

http://www.gopetslive.com

64.

I think many here need to take into consideration what it actualy takes to create a mmorpg from a developers perspective and undsertand limitations that they have to work with.

Whilst some of these limitations are starting to become less relivent given todays technology there's a reason why mmorpg are the most dominant genre and will remain so.

Games such as fps although are idealy suited as online games they're not suitable as mussivly multiplayer. The problem is one of bandwidth and lag. With an rpg where you click to move and select a creature to attack the bandwidth requirments in this regard are quite low as opposed to an fps game based on accurency where the server has to keep track of bullets, movements is all very precise.

RTS present problems when it comes to people loging off. Ai then has to take over, where as in an rpg when a player logs off they are removed from the game world.

I believe there are limitions at a design level as to what works and doesnt in an mmog environment which will always dictate what is possible.

65.

Did you have a look at that?

http://ibm-mmog.blogspot.com

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