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Feb 22, 2008



Too few in this industry seem to have the perspective of Rob Pardo. Worry about making it fun, all this time spent worrying about everything else is aimed at the wrong goals. Building a flawed design because of micro payments is nothing but a dent in the fun.

And then the obvious answer is that a WoW clone can not be more fun than WoW.


Jack Emmert seemed to have tunnel vision: he either saw WoW or nothing. He was bearly able to acknoledge the success of Micro-Transaction games


Liz --

Thanks so much for posting this. Very interesting stuff.


First of all, thanks a bunch for writing this out.

Now, I think Rob does have a good point there, "[...]keep people from bringing RL advantages into the game.". This is my major concern with the micro-transaction based MMOs. As R. Bartle points out in his book, spending RL money for a sword that makes customised sounds has little in common with spending RL money on a sword that does double the damage. While you can say (and you did :p) that some people have more time then the others to progress in an MMO, turning RL-money in the way to progress takes away the whole point of playing a GAME.

Take for example Achaea. You can buy virtually anything there, providing you're rich enough. Best items, checked. All the skills in the world, checked. Hire someone to pull you through the leveling, checked. The best scrips to do pretty much everything for you in combat, CHECKED. Now, as a game designer, you might see a problem here. Apart from the fact that the game should not be about just throwing your money into it, this sort of model can be rather depressing towards the elder players with a slightly thinner valet. If a person with big bucks achieves more in a week than you achieved in 3 years... well, you're getting the idea.

~~ Nicholas


While I wouldn't want to see microtransactions in my favorite MMO, there's a valid argument that it works in some cases.

"turning RL-money in the way to progress takes away the whole point of playing a GAME"

Imagine an MMO version of Space Invaders where everyone shoots the little guys and earns points. (deliberately simple example) Now imagine that players can pay RL money to upgrade their avatar into a spaceship and fly up past the invaders to play an Asteroids game in space.

So, is the Space Invaders portion no longer a game? Is it less fun? Can players still compete for the most points? Did the player who advanced to the space ship portion of the game cheat the ground-based player out of anything? Just some random thoughts.

In regard to the WoW vs all other MMO's question, I was think about the legality of creating an MMO where new players could get some sort of credit for their accomplishments in WoW (or any other game). For example, give them a badge for PvP success, or a special item for having a maxed-out WoW character. It's not any different than people posting on killboards or linking their character portraits and stats to Forum signatures, is it? Anyone have any knowledge about the legal issues there? If it's legal, it could be a way to wean players out one MMO and into another or even get some kind of rudimentary cross-game standings in MMO's.


Thanks for posting this. I wasn't able to make GDC this year, and it looks like my career is steering away from gaming, which is sad. I still like to keep a finger in what is going on, thanks again for this post.


One further thought on the microtrans model. Comments above indicated that you would need to radically change WoW if you wanted to microtrans it. I don't agree. In fact I strongly disagree. WoW is PERFECT for microtransing since it's already set up like a theme park. All you would need to do is create instanced content that is pay-to-play, just like a real life theme park. People will pay extra to experience good content, and some people will even pay to ride the same ride more than once if real life themeparks are a valid comparison.


http://zt.ztgame.com/ Zhengtu online is one of the most popular MMOs in China - a quintessential free to play microtransaction based game. In this game, people can pay real money to gain power and rule others. Ironically, it sorta reflects the culture paradigm in today's China. The game developer/operator went public last year. They are making a lot of money milking people who have a lot of money at the expense of other players game experience. It's a good business because they successfully served the needs of their target group. Do people really want to spend hours killing boars in order to level up? I think No. Such is life and people kinda accept it. Now, I think the challenge is for the game designers to keep the thin wallet players to also have a fun time in the game.


WoW already has a micro-transaction setup involving trading cards that you purchase from retailers. If you happen to get a rare card in your pack, there's an NPC in-game that you can talk to and register it with.

The only difference is, the benefits you receive are innocuous to game play since they don't provide characters with additional enhancements.

Examples of these prizes are non-combative pets and riding mounts.



If I understand correctly, Arena.net promises to recognize Guild Wars accomplishments in GW2 just as you propose - to wean players into the new MMO.


Yes. Essentially what I was thinking is that people are loath to give up a toon they have spent years building up. If you could give them a way to "bring their WoW character with them" at least in some iconic way then they may be more likely to try other games. Then you wouldn't leave players with the feeling of starting over completely from zero. Give them a little carrot to lure them over to the cart, so to speak.


Rob's comments about a WoW expansion being akin to a new TV season were interesting and on target I think.

This notion of the mmorg as streaming entertainment differs a bit from the virtual world concept. It tweaks the ideas of persistance and the pyche of advancement.

I migth add it might be a bit healthier for players who could see the games more as content that they can gradually see rather than as an obsession to achieve in world. Perhaps the goal would be more to savor content rather than rush forward in a grind.

The idea of content versus political game play/competition tilts more toward WoW being a theatrical production rather than a game.

As a platform for a living virtual reality WoW provides little room to make ones mark beyond politics of loot and organization of thematic raids into set pve instances.

But as visual entertainment there is a lot there. Not much is discussed here about the humor content of WoW. A lot of the bosses are tongue and cheek funny. "time for more fun" or the slow showman-like death of a murloc. The little seasonal quests are there for pure pleasure of constumes and non performace trinkets. Many quests are pretty funny in their frustrating activities beyond kill for drops.

While the promise of better loot is part accumulation it can also be seen as a way to pace a player through the content of the game (along with attunment and quests needed to unlock dungeons).

WoW might find a way to widen its audience and subscribers by tweaking its game play to allow advancemet without quite the huge time commitment.
The quality of items from quest rewards in the BC was a step in that direction assuring that a player could become well equipped without repeating the same dungeons dozens of times to get a special drop.


"This notion of the mmorg as streaming entertainment differs a bit from the virtual world concept. It tweaks the ideas of persistance and the pyche of advancement."

I think there's a distinction here between players and producers. For the people making MMOG's (and expansions) there's probably a lot of similarity to serial broadcast media. For players/viewers I think there is a significant difference between TV and MMOG's.


You want to discuss the future of MMO's and for that you invite big business people that mostly just made EQ clones? That's stupid, why not invite a CCP instead.. Or a Raph Koster?

I didn't really see many new interesting thoughts here.


I wanted to comment on the ed. note in this comment:

"Matt: The console base is larger than the PC base, it only makes sense to target it. [ed. Huh? That doesn't seem right...]"

The audience for people that will pay for a AAA game at retail is more than 6x the audience for PC games.

It gets a little trickier to compare if you are going to single out just one console platform - but I guess you can do the same thing if you are going to separate PC into laptop/desktop or graphical platforms (hardware T&L, etc).

If it is difficult to find this data I can follow up with some links that have actual numbers in them.


Some of you talk about MMO-Achievements... In real life good players usually get a trophy or a medal...

In those virtual world, the only thing that would permit that kind of stuff would be a "METAvatar" system. An "OpenID" for MMO games. Where some of your achievement data would be centralised in a database: specific goals, higher levels, time played, etc...

Then that data would be available to other dev. for usage in their game...

But, everyone on earth is so greedy, no one would ever want to let others use their "proprietary data".

Maybe, some fans could code AddOns (or plugins) to do that job, but then another problem would surface: data integrity.


I never thought I would want to play a micro transaction game but I have been playing travian which is built off a micro transaction model. While not a traditional MMO by any means it is certainly a very interesting game and I strongly suggest people check it out.

The people that spend money get a pretty big advantage but the game is really meant to be played at a group or guild based level. The result is that each side has people spending money and people not spending money. Skill and time spent in game can make up for not spending money to a certain extent.

The game also involves some very serious forms of PVP and loss. Something that I never thought I would like.

The one issue I don't see mentioned is the future of non avatar based progression and the feasibility of placing soft caps on avatar progression in a mass market game.


Reading this over (I wasn't able to attend the panel), it seems like a lot of the discussion was more about "how the past is or isn't going to work now" rather than about the future of MMOs. I'm reminded of the statement by Henry Ford that "if I'd listened to the experts, I’d have given them a faster horse." As recent spectacular MMO failures have shown, a next-gen "faster horse" is not the future.

Was there any serious discussion on the panel about things like Flash-based MMOs? Or moving out beyond the "huge world, huge server, graphically intense quest-based gameplay" model of MMOs?

Or any acknowledgment that MMOs seem to be at an inflection point right now? MMO tools were in abundance on the expo floor, but with very little new stuff to show in terms of who is using them successfully. Very quietly I heard questions about whether, given the turbulence in MMO development, the market for MMO middleware was going to emerge as a strong market (I believe it will -- in some sectors, especially those that support higher-end, not-just-fantasy-world games).

And in many conversations, people were at a loss to come up with an MMO expected to come out in the next year or so that they were excited about. This is hugely significant, IMO, and in line with the inability for people two years ago to answer the question, "if I'm playing WoW, why would I switch to your game?" In terms of upcoming games, Age of Conan and Warhammer were two that people reached for, but almost always with caveats like, "these aren't games I'm interested in, but I think they'll have a following" or "I want to try them out, but I don't think they'll attract a wide audience." Or the conversation turned to all the high-profile games that have been cancelled or cratered recently -- Vanguard, Tabula Rasa, Star Trek, Gods & Heroes, etc.

The real future of MMOs, IMO, is potentially very bright but also, by our own making, highly uncertain (but I've been singing this song for a while now). WoW continues to grow to previously unimagined user numbers. MMOs we love to forget -- Habbo Hotel, Runescape, etc. -- keep raking in the cash as well. And the fact that hugely successful games/worlds like Maple Story, Gaia Online, and even Club Penguin escape the notice of otherwise knowledgeable industry insiders says something about our insularity and the incipient failure of creativity in an industry that relies on it.

In terms of this GDC panel, it's telling to me that, as another poster above said, the people on this panel represented big companies, big MMOs, and those that were successful in the last generation. To look ahead, talk to the guys from Club Penguin, Areae, or anyone not trying to feed at the worn out trough of monolithic quest-based game worlds (though to be fair, it'd be nuts to bet against Rob Pardo or Blizzard -- whatever they do next will necessarily have a huge effect on the overall future of MMOs).

Given the proven lifespan of existing MMOs, existing games (those that already have users locked in) aren't going away any time soon -- I expect WoW will hum along for a good seven to ten years before quietly sunsetting. But as for the future, we won't find it by looking at the past. Look instead for lighter clients, easier entry experiences, more meaningful character interaction, broader (and much less quest-based) gameplay, new revenue models (microtransactions are the near and certain future, but not the end of the story), and new ways to involve the users that go beyond uploading simple content. Everything else is just a celebration of the past.


WoW is neither invincible nor invulnerable. It has flaws in game play and can be bested or surpassed. Talk to any player for a while and you'll find a few.

The problem with competing directly with it, in my view, is two fold.

First, it's expensive. They put a lot of money in there, with a lot spent on polish and completeness. Any successful challenger will have to match that polish, which nobody has managed to do yet. To beat WoW you have to be *ready*, and there is a very strong industry force that pushes out games before they are really ready. Overoptimistic planning and schedules, delays, marketing commitments, whatever.

Second, Blizzard is king of incremental improvements. The target isn't standing still. They've done more to change, adapt, and improve WoW since release than EQ did over their entire lifespan. And they've been more successful in putting in the right changes than SWG or Vanguard. This is blizzard's greatest strength in my opinion. Their games always improve over time. D2 1.1 patch, the years of Starcraft improvements, and so on. If you do manage to fund and build a game to beat WoW, you have to beat not today's WoW, but the WoW of the future. And that's also very hard.

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