Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bartle Player Types Revisited

Welcome to my blog. I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft®, Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. Today I will be revisiting the Bartle Player Types. I believe there is a need for a Player Type test that is more predictive than Bartle.

The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology is often used by game designers to ensure a game will appeal to the player type(s) they are targeting. Wikipedia: The test is based on a 1996 paper by Richard Bartle and was created in 1999-2000 by Erwin Andreasen and Brandon Downey. The test comprises 30 questions, each question asking the respondent “do you prefer (a) or (b).”

From Bartle’s paper: “So, labelling the four player types abstracted, we get: achievers, explorers, socialisers and killers. An easy way to remember these is to consider suits in a conventional pack of cards: achievers are Diamonds (they're always seeking treasure); explorers are Spades (they dig around for information); socialisers are Hearts (they empathise with other players); killers are Clubs (they hit people with them).”

“Naturally, these areas cross over, and players will often drift between all four, depending on their mood or current playing style. However, my experience having observed players in the light of this research suggests that many (if not most) players do have a primary style, and will only switch to other styles as a (deliberate or subconscious) means to advance their main interest.”

Bartle was and is a good place to start a discussion about player types. However, Bartle’s paper is now over ten years old. Massives have undergone many changes, and perhaps more importantly, the Massive player base has expanded from under 100,000 in 1997 to 18,000,000+ in 2008 ( In 1997 we can categorize the player base as primarily early adaptors and the games themselves as “sand-box games”. Currently the player base is much more diverse and new types of Massives have emerged, such as the “theme park” game.

Bartle Player Type is Not Predictive

My Bartle Test defined me as a “Killer – Achiever,” which on the surface I would agree with. What the Bartle Test does not disclose is that I enjoy large-scale player vs. player (pvp) primarily with pick-up-groups (pugs). The Bartle Player type would not predict which game with player vs. player (pvp) I would enjoy: World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Warhammer Online, Aion™ Online, etc. Additionally, since the Bartle Player Type is so broad, it does not give any indication of what percent of total possible players my player type represents and what could be done to enhance my player type’s gaming experience.

Bartle says “Killers get their kicks from imposing themselves on others.” A killer in this context means a player who primarily enjoys player vs. player (pvp) content. Player vs. player is a zero-sum game, or to put it another way, for me to win, you must lose. Examples of zero-sum games include: a marathon, a friendly basketball game at the gym, poker, NFL Football, a battle of the bands, even a game of monopoly® with your family. A marathon and playing poker are basically both solo pvp zero-sum games. A friendly basketball game is an example of a pickup group pvp zero-sum game. NFL Football and a battle of the bands are examples of team pvp zero-sum games. A game of Monopoly with the family is an example of a social pvp zero-sum game.

Even if we agree with Bartle that “Killers get their kicks from imposing themselves on others,” the experience of being a “Killer” can be radically different from player to player. A solo killer may enjoy dueling above all else. A pickup group killer may enjoy pvp instances, such as WoW’s Battlegrounds. A team killer may enjoy ladder-type organized pvp competition like WoW’s Arenas. A social killer may enjoy pvp paced to allow socializing, such as Warhammer’s realm vs. realm combat. These four player types: solo, pickup group, team and social are all subsets of Bartle’s Killer player type. I believe by more narrowly defining all Player Types in a similar fashion we can devise a predictive model of player types.

Bartle Question 4

Below is Question 4 from the original Bartle Test:
Would you rather:
· Know where to find things
· Know how to get things
I personally found this question very hard to answer.

Nicholas Yee writes: “The problem of employing a just-so model is that it becomes self-fulfilling. If a questionnaire is constructed such that a respondent has to choose between being an Achiever or an Explorer, then the end result will be a dichotomy where none may exist to begin with. It would be like asking - Do you prefer pizza or ice-cream?”

The Duel-Guy

I’m going to use the Duel-Guy in the next section, so let’s talk about him for a minute. In WoW and EQ a player can challenge another player to one-on-one combat called a duel. In games like Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online, there are not game mechanics for dueling. In those games players use out-of-game communications to set up times and places for dueling. Some players duel to hone their skills, some for the challenge, some to kill time. I personally do not particularly care for duels, but I have witnessed dueling in all the games I have played. I know that some Duel-Guys will keep various sets of gear and such so they can maximize their chances against various classes of opponents. Anecdotally I know that there are some players that enjoy dueling more than any other activity in a Massive.

The Need for Predictive Player Types

There are four broad reasons that we all could use predictive player types
· Help a player choose a character at the character selection screen
· Marketing
· Define viable niche markets
· Fine-tune game play

Character Selection Screen. Let’s say we developed a new test to determine Player Types and offered it to players before they hit the character selection screen. We could then make suggestions on what characters they might enjoy and/or comment on selections they are looking at. For example, Bob is primarily a Duel-guy. Bob uses Professions to help get him just the right gear for Dueling. Now Bob may well enjoy other aspects of a game, but these are key for him. Knowing this about Bob, we might recommend in WoW that he choose a Druid or Paladin. In War, if Bob clicked on a Marauder, we might flash a comment that Marauders are really good at dueling but subpar at realm vs. realm combat.

Marketing. Let’s say our new Player Type test was easily available and used by prospective players. We could then aim our marketing at particular Player Types. Imagine Bob coming to your web-site and sharing his Player Type. You could then give him specific examples of why your game is superior for his particular player type.

Niche Markets. I’m going to blue sky a bit about niche markets, don’t treat these numbers as real. Let’s say our new Player Type test was industry wide and we had good data on a large number of gamers. Let’s say that the potential gamer pool is 40 million. Now if hardcore Duel-Guys were one percent of the potential gamer pool that would be 400,000. That would tell me, that a Duel Wars game would be viable. (See my discussions on niche markets for more information.) I believe that the future of AAA Massives is in creating viable niche games, and predictive player type tests are necessary to do so.

Fine-Tune Game Play. This is pretty self-explanatory. If a gameplay change would enhance Duel-Guys gameplay (at one percent of total) but would negatively affect Story-Guys gameplay (my estimate fifteen percent of total) whether to put it in or not is pretty easy. In other words it would give us a tool to help us allocate resources for maximum benefit.

Player Types

I’m going to throw out some unique Player Types I have encountered while playing. This is by no means a complete list, rather just the start of a discussion.

Raid-Guy. He likes the camaraderie of cooperative play. In another time and place he might have been a League Bowler, on a League Softball team, or perhaps a member of a community orchestra. If you think of new raids as playoff games my simile is complete. Raid-guy is happy to schedule 2-3 raids a week in advance, just as he might on a League Softball team.

Profession-Guy. He likes to be the go-to guy on crafting whether for his guild or for the accumulation of in-game currency. Although he doesn’t really enjoy other aspects of the game, he will do whatever it takes to get rare recipes and components. In WoW, professions are limited to two per character. Often WoW Profession-Guy will have a number of characters in an effort to be self-sufficient.

(My gut tells me there are enough Raid-Guys to support an “EverRaid” or “World of RaidCraft” game. Most Raid-guys like to raid 2-3 times a week, that leaves some downtime to fill. So if we added content to enhance raids available through farming materials and making them useful through Professions we might have a viable game.)

Story-Guy. He enjoys the story being told most of all. Will probably love the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic. Can be found arguing esoteric points of back-story on the forums. Key complaint is that he is blocked from seeing all content/story because he is not hard-core.

Power-Guy (aka Mini-Max-Guy). He wants to have the perfect set of gear for whatever his secondary interest is, such as dueling, twinking, raiding, etc. He is a guy that could not answer the Bartle Test Question 4 either, as to get the perfect set of gear he has to have almost complete knowledge of the game. He can be thought of as a data-miner, or a game-deconstructor. A quick trip to the Elitist Jerks website will give you more insight.

Challenge-Guy. To paraphrase Repo Man: Challenge-Guy spends his life getting into tense situations ordinary people run from. Challenge-Guy is leaning forward in his chair, music off, general chat off, refreshing beverage at hand, totally concentrating on the game. It is possible this complete immersion in the game is what he is looking for. Challenge-Guy is not just a raid guy. He is always looking for content to challenge himself with. More about him on my blog.

Alt-Guy. He just loves leveling. He may have dozens of different characters on numerous servers. He is all about choices in character development, and new areas to explore.

Sight-See’er-Guy. He wants a guided tour through the content. He avoids challenge. More about him on my blog.

Leader-board-Guy. Whether its leader-boards in Battlegrounds (BGs) or Damage-Per-Second (DPS) meters in raids, this guy is all about his big numbers. (insert inappropriate joke here).

Auction-House-Guy. He plays the Auction House (AH) like some people play the stock market. His motivation seems to be the accumulation of in-house currency more of a way to determine who won as a desire to actually use the currency.

Griefer-Guy, Leader-Guy, Arena-Guy, Role-Play-Guy, Collector-Guy, Open-pvp-Guy, Anti-PK-Guy, etc., etc. etc.

Take the above as just a pencil sketch of some Player Types. I’m sure you can identify more. Each unique player type deserves more than just the few sentences I’ve given them here. Also note that there are few people who are just one pure Player Type, most people are a combination of types as Bartle taught.

What Next

To study player types and produce a predictive player type test will require a team of people composed of game designers, players and a Sociologist to guide us. Additionally we will need easy access to players, so will need the support of at least one mainstream Massive company. I believe this study will help the industry as a whole, anyone else up for the challenge?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Tourist: A New Player Type

Welcome to my blog. I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft®, Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. Today I will be focusing on a new player type I call “The Tourist”.

We should all be familiar with the Bartle Player Types: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Player Killers. Bartle was and is a good place to start a discussion about player types. However, Bartle’s paper is now over ten years old. Massives have undergone many changes, and perhaps more importantly, the Massive player base has expanded from under 100,000 in 1997 to 18,000,000+ in 2008. In 1997 we can categorize the player base as primarily early adaptors and the games themselves as “sand-box games”. Currently the player base is much more diverse and a new type of Massive has emerged, the “theme park” game.

I recently revisited World of Warcraft® (WOW) latest expansion Wrath to see how it has evolved. I initially noticed that the player vs. environment (pve) portion of WOW has become more focused, with quest hubs linked by flight paths, and quest locations usually just a couple minutes away from the hub. When a character has completed most of the quests at one hub, the character is given a quest to go to a different hub. I leveled one of my avatars from 70 to 80 just doing quests. At the level cap of 80 there were over 250 quests that avatar had not done. In effect the new WOW continent, Northrend, introduced in Wrath has become more of a theme park game than WOW’s older content.

What is interesting is that the four Bartle player types do not predict this. Leveling up is easier in Northrend, which should make it less satisfying for Achievers, as their leveling achievements are trivialized. Quests are much easier to find in Northrend, making it less satisfying Explorers. Quests are mostly solo-able in Northrend, making it less satisfying to Socializers. These changes do not affect Player Killer types. The reception for this expansion has been very positive, yet it does not appear to cater to the needs of the four Bartle player types.

More and more Massives have this type of gameplay. In Star Wars Galaxy it is called Theme Parks, In World of WarCraft it is called Quest Hubs, in WarHammer Online it is called Chapters. What they have in common is that a player goes to a location, does some or all of the quests provided and is rewarded with not only experience and loot but also some advancement of the game’s storyline.

The Tourist

Build a theme park and tourists will come. At first I tried to make a real world analogy between Massive Theme Parks and guided tours, and failed. In a Massive once a player is directed to an attraction/quest s/he must still take action to participate/complete it. I finally found my real world analogy with live-aboard dive cruises. On a live-aboard a diver is taken to a destination, then briefed on the dive by a dive master. In a massive a player is directed to a destination, then given instructions on what to do (quest). After completing a dive (30-60 minutes) a diver is rewarded with a hot cookie and a warm towel. After completing a quest (15-30 minutes) a player is rewarded with experience and loot. Perhaps a better term than simply tourist, would be Adventure Tourist to define this new player type.

The reason we care that a new player type has emerged is quite simply to help us make better games. We can design in features to appeal to the Adventure Tourist player. Conversely, if we are designing a Niche game and don’t plan to appeal to the Adventure Tourist player it lets us know what features we can safely leave out.

Our goal should be to acquire knowledge of specific player types and their representation within the total population pool. More on this in my next Blog, revisiting the Bartle Player types.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Game Design Day Three: Groups

Welcome to my blog. I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft®, Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. I will be discussing game design from the abstract to the specific. Today I will be discussing experience groups.

Day One. Define a Niche and have a very rough idea of gameplay.
Day Two. Determine the intensity levels of the player game experience.
Day Three. Determine the experience (including rvr, pvp) groups your game will have and a rough idea of the tools your players will have to form and join these groups.

It is the nature of Massives that a player requires other people to have fun. Therefore early in game design we should think about how we are going to get players together.

World of Warcraft (WoW) is fairly typical in its experience groups:
· Basic Experience Group, up to five people
· Small Raid, up to two groups
· Raids, up to five groups
Warhammer (War) adds realm vs. realm content that may include five or more raid groups. (Note: guilds are not experience groups and I will discuss them and social groups at a later time)

The Basic Group

The basic group is used as:
· a chat channel,
· a gameplay component, such as heals or buffs that effect everyone in a group,
· a method to share rewards, and in some cases penalties.

Grouping up is fundamental to not only the Massive experience, but the Human experience as well. This is one area of design I’m just going to accept, humans group up, in game and out of game. It’s how we work. Our challenge as designers is to implement systems that let people group up easily.

Group Size.

In WoW the basic group is maximum 5 people, in Warhammer it is maximum 6 people. Massives have a fixed maximum level on their group size. If more than one group is required, like a small raid, then two groups are linked together. Some gameplay such as heals, may remain on the group level, and some gameplay such as buffs may extend to the raid (or super-group). A raid can be thought of as a super-group, with again, some gameplay components remaining on the group level and others on the super-group levels.

Let’s look at the basic group size. Keep in mind that a maximum group size limit is a legacy mechanic, it is not necessarily the best way to design your game. WoW (a beginner game) has a group size of five. Blizzard’s game design philosophy seems to be focused on controlling a player’s experience. In vanilla WoW, content such as instanced dungeons required a full group of five. One of those five slots had to be a tank-type character, another a healing-type character, and a third a crowd control (cc)-type character. This left players just two slots to fill as they desired. By restricting groups in this fashion designers got a two-fer; 1. they pretty much knew the composition of the group and could tune (adjust difficulty of) their content and 2. made it easy for players to figure out optimum group composition.

A larger group size offers players more flexibility but may make tuning encounters more difficult. Personally I would accept that a group size of no smaller than 5 has a solid foundation, especially if the alternative was to actually open one of my Sociology books and do some research. A quick search on Terra Nova did not find any discussion about minimum viable group size. For now don’t worry about basic group size, it is important, but let your design dictate the size. Keep in mind that optimum player vs. environment (pve) and player vs. player (pvp) group sizes may be different.

Groups & Tuning Content

Groups are also used to tune (adjust difficulty of) content. For example, instanced dungeons in WoW only allow one group to enter at a time. In this fashion developers can tune the difficulty of the content to a known group size and have an idea of its composition. In vanilla EQ, non-instanced dungeons did not limit number of players. Personally, I led my 40+ guild of lowbies into Upper Guk in a vain quest to find the Ancient Crocs and got em all wiped. It was a blast. Anyway, in non-instance dungeons, players tune the difficulty of the dungeon by how many characters they bring. The risk-reward mechanism is: the more characters along on a run, the less likely any one particular character will get loot. Contrast with WoW restricting the number of participants but rewarding everyone in the run.

So, the first thing to throw up on the white board is: “Who is tuning content: developers or players?”

Public Quests. Warhammer Online introduced a new feature which I feel is greatly underappreciated, the Public Quest. This is content that is open to all, no need for groups, and everyone who participates in the content has a chance at reward. (The reward system was buggy at release, which does not detract from how innovative this system is.) The rewards of the public quest scaled depending upon the number of participants. Thus the risk reward mechanisms is: high participation equal high number of low level rewards and low participation equal low number of high level rewards. Different groups and/or individuals can participate in the Public Quest, thus solving some looking for group (LFG) issues as well as letting players tune the content.

Looking For Group (LFG)

The number one player complaint is: down time waiting for a group.

You don’t like waiting in the doctor’s office, or standing on line in the grocery store. Players don’t like standing around trying to get a group together. Grouping is essential for players to experience content. Therefore it is the designers’ responsibility to design in systems to make looking for group a quick, easy, fun, experience.

Pick-Up-Groups. (PUGs) A pick up group is a group of people that aren’t in a formal social group, such as a guild that join together temporarily to experience content. A typical forum complaint about LFG in WoW is similar to my own experience. That is, a player logs on with a play-time of two hours, and wants to do an instanced dungeon with an expected duration of one hour. Yet because of the difficulties of finding a group, getting it together in the proper place with the proper potions (expendable buffs), replacing the guy who had dropped group without saying a word or replacing the character that did not have the proper gear, takes too much time. None of this is fun.

A lot of you may be shrugging at this point and thinking players should join guilds and just run groups with their guildies; that finding a good group of people is part of the challenge of playing a Massive. We could chase the blame around, designers not giving players strong enough tools, players being too lazy, or in the immortal words of a Stars War Galaxy (SWG) designer “players are not playing the game correctly.” Let’s agree that a lot of players are sitting around LFG and not having any fun.

I started writing out in detail what causes people to sit around and be bored LFG. The problem is, well, complicated. In WoW, some of the causes are: server population, time of day, player expectation, not enough of a particular class (some servers don’t have enough healers, others not enough tanks), the fact that rewards are easier to get in arena’s and battlegrounds than instances, players logged on alternate characters, guild progression, solo content and basic risk vs. reward calculations. And these are just some of the factors. A lot of these problems are created by other parts of game design that are “working as intended.”

For example, a small fixed group size is consistent with Blizzard’s design philosophy (as deduced from their games). This small fixed group size leads to needing a tanking-class and a healing-class as essential members of the group. But there may not be enough tanks or healers on a particular server. Players are given no guidance when creating a new character and may not realize that there is a shortage of needed classes. It may also be that playing a tank or healer is not as much fun as some other class. These are problems that we as designers can solve.

In WoW, arenas give some of the best rewards and are arguably easier to get than other content. That may in fact be working as intended, but the side effect is that players with limited playtime will get their arena matches out of the way first, and then LFG for instanced content. In a similar manner, battlegrounds, which offer superior rewards, take people out of the LFG pool. The easy availability of solo content, such as daily quests, also take people out of the LFG, especially the people with limited play time who need it the most. So a player with limited time may decide to engage in a game activity which is not much fun but is guaranteed a reward, such as daily quests, rather take the risk of entering LFG.
(Note: as I am sitting here editing this Blizzard has announced they will patch in cross server LFG, in effect expanding the LFG pool.)

Some quick fixes for LFG. I’m just going to throw out what I see as some quick fixes for LFG in most DikuMUD-based, instanced Massives. Keep in mind that I’d rather see non-DikuMUD, non-beginner games being developed, but here we go.

Problem: Not enough needed classes. Solution: notify players at the character selection screen, offer rewards for playing needed classes. Give needed classes additional rewards in PUGs.

Problem: Creating and leading a PUG group is a pain. Solution: give leader a reward, such as 10 percent additional experience, or leadership tokens to turn in for special gear. (Note: Blizzard just announced they will patch this in. I would have looked a lot smarter if I hadn’t held off publishing this until I went over it one last time.)

Problem. Players not committing to joining a PUG until it is almost full. Solution: give the second player to join a PUG a bonus, the third player a smaller bonus, etc.

Problem. Under-geared characters and players not familiar with the content. Solution: under some conditions allow the maximum group size to go up. Alternatively, give all other members of the PUG a bonus reward for taking a sub-optimum player.

Well you can see where I am going here. And my need to appear clever has ended. So let’s move on. I feel that looking for group is so important that I would design a LFG system and then build a game around it. I can’t tell you how to do that, but let’s discuss optimal LFG features.

Optimal LFG. To me this is a real no brainer. As a player I want to log in and have the game find me a group. Now I don’t want to be unreasonable, let’s say I’m willing to log in beforehand and schedule a time for my group, and accept penalties if I do not show up for my appointment. I’m also willing to be flexible in what content to explore. Finally, I want to group with people on my friends list and avoid people on my ignore list. This is all doable with data should already be in a game’s databases.

By being able to schedule content, I believe we can broaden the appeal of Massives and bring more people in, particularly self-described casuals. I think scheduling would encourage people to extend their subscriptions, even as they have less time due to real life, and/or take up a new game.


I talked about giving rewards for joining a group, or playing a needed class. Let’s talk briefly about tools for group, raid, and realm leaders. WoW lets group leaders mark enemies. War let’s the group leader designate a main assist and every player has a button to target the same enemy the main assist has targeted. Leaders can also kick out a group member, and arrange groups. That’s about it for tools in current Massives. Obviously there is room for more. For example, when joining a raid, perhaps a new chat tab should be opened up for just raid and group leaders only. Groups are important, think about what you can do to make them easier once formed.

Warhammer (War) has some content (realm fights) that need multiple warband (raid) groups to accomplish, such as fort pushes and city fights. The problem starts with the fact that leadership is hard. While a lot of people can teach themselves how to lead a small group, fewer can lead raids and even fewer can lead multiple warbands. The good news is that leadership can be taught. A good place to start is The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual. Having a pool of good leaders makes our games more fun. We could address this as an industry, but since that is unlikely, think about how you can address this in your game. Perhaps an optional mini-game that teaches leadership basics, perhaps quest lines, perhaps just rewards for leadership. Designing games that require leaders to evolve and not giving them training or tools, is sorta loony.

Once you have leaders they need tools. Some of these tools should be communication tools, to automatically create channels just for leaders. You might allow raid leaders to hand out cosmetic rewards, for duty above and beyond. I had one raid leader who had the raid vote on best healer for that particular raid, and then give that person a reward from the guild bank. Another thought is to institutionalize the dragon kill point (DKP) system into your game. Players join groups voluntarily, we need to give leaders some tools to motivate players.

To Sum Up

Groups are good. Players want to join groups. Players don’t want to wait to join groups. This is the game designers problem.

Groups need leaders. Designers need to help create leaders and give them tools to work with to motivate players.

If your design requires players to fill certain niches in groups, then you must also put in methods to motivate players to do so.

Day One. Define a Niche and have a very rough idea of gameplay.
Day Two. Determine the intensity levels of the player game experience.
Day Three. Determine the groups your game will have and a rough idea of the tools your players will have to form and join these groups.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Game Design Day Two: Penalties

Welcome to my blog. I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft®, Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. I will be discussing game design from the abstract to the specific. Today I will be discussing Player Penalties, such as character death penalties.

Why talk about Penalties early in game design? Game play influences character penalties and vice versa. For example: in Planetside® a character is expected to die a lot. Therefore the character death penalty is very short, and a player is back in the game quickly after dying. EverQuest (EQ) was originally designed so that a character death was a rare occurrence, which influenced EQ to have a very severe death penalty.

Interesting read: Chris Bateman on Time and Punishment.

Early in the design process you should have a foggy picture of both game play and penalties. The problem comes in if you assume consciously or unconsciously that your penalties should be similar to World of Warcraft (WoW) or some other game, and let that assumption drive your game play design. Easy penalties make a lot of sense for a beginner game such as WoW. There are good reasons to have hard penalties, see my discussion “Casual vs Hardcore.”


We are all familiar with death penalties in Massives. At the level cap in vanilla EQ the death penalty for a caster was 20+ minutes. In vanilla WoW this penalty was reduced to just a couple minutes in most cases. The death penalty is the most noticeable and most important influence on game play. There are other penalties in Massives other then the death penalty. Any restriction in game play can be considered a penalty of sorts.

Bag Space. The ability to carry and store items is restricted in most Massives. In Planetside this meant a character could run out of ammunition, so had to be aware of ammo expenditure. In WoW a character has to balance the desire to carry beneficial items such as food and potions, additional gear, and still have empty bag space to loot items.

Movement Speed. Vanilla EQ had a weight associated with items. Once items in a player bags went over a certain weight, a character moved slower.

Instance Lockouts and Resets. Some Massives have restrictions on how long a party can take to complete an instance, and how soon a new instance may be opened.

Gold Sinks. This is a bit of a grey area. To me a mount in WoW is a gold sink. While mounts are not technically necessary for game play, it is something most players want. Another example would be potions. Potions are necessary to be competitive in War. Some players feel penalized if they must take time from their preferred form of game play, to acquire game-money items such as mounts, or potions.

Spawn Location. After death, a character typically spawns (comes back to life) in a different location from where he died. In WoW, a character spawns in the nearest graveyard as a ghost and must choose between running back to their body or paying a fee and accepting a stat loss for a few minutes. In War, a character spawns at the nearest camp with a stat penalty that he can remove for a bit of in-game money. In vanilla EQ a character spawned at a location a player previously set without gear and spells. A character had to run back to their body to retrieve their gear. The further a player is from their spawn point when they die, the longer it takes to get back to where they were, in addition to other death penalties.

Experience. Getting an experience bonus for a character being in a “rested state” has become the norm. In WoW beta a “tired state” with an experience penalty was tried, but not implemented in the live game. A quick side note, penalties can have intended or unintended consequences. Rested experience makes leveling up alternate characters much easier.

Other Penalties. There are lots of other less obvious penalties in current games, such as weapons that can only be used by a certain class or race. Another example is level requirement to enter content. On a personal note, my first Massive was EverQuest. When I took my level four character to Najena, one of the guards said “We don’t like your kind” and beat my character into the ground. That actually hooked me on EQ. Imagine, if instead I got a message, “Level 12 is required to enter this content, access denied.”

Penalties drive Macro Game Play

In vanilla EverQuest the death penalty was severe. Players would lean forward in their seats, one-hundred percent focused on the game during combat. [Of note for another discussion, this focus was balanced by an even larger time of inactivity after combat.] In WoW, with its less severe death penalties, players often multi-task during routine game play; such as watching TV or surfing the web. In Warhammer with its minimal death penalty, players deliberately suicide to quickly get from one side of the zone to another.

Another way to think of macro-game play is to compare it to a workout at the gym. EverQuest would be heavy Interval Training with a trainer yelling at you. WoW and Warhammer would be a light aerobic workout while reading a magazine and listening to mp3s.

As this point is so important, I’m going to try one more time. Dying in EverQuest is like having a bowling ball dropped on your foot. A player gets completely focused in the game so their character will not die and they will not have a bowling ball dropped on their foot. Dying in WoW or Warhammer is more like a housefly briefly landing on your arm.

The death penalty is the overall intensity setting of your game. It is not the only way to set intensity, but it is the most pervasive. The intensity of your game dictates other design decisions. Vanilla EverQuest’s formula (for grind mobs) of two minutes intense combat followed by four minutes recovery, was either inspired design or just lucky, but the combination helped make EQ popular.

Rereading the above I’m sorta wandering around. I’m going to let it stand as I think penalties should be part of the core design process rather than added in as a method of modifying player experience. Let me throw out one example of penalties used to create gameplay in WoW-like massives.

Penalties in WoW-style Dungeon runs

The goal in a WoW-style Dungeon run is to kill a Boss mob, as the Boss mobs drop the best rewards. Blocking access to a Boss is an array of Trash mobs, which drop inferior rewards. After fighting through the Trash mobs, a group stands in front of a Boss and the intensity level goes up a bit as the Boss mob is more challenging to fight than a trash mob.

In some dungeons the trash mobs do not respawn, and so have no impact on intensity level. Other dungeons have trash mobs that respawn behind the players, so that if they fail a Boss fight, they have to fight back through the Trash mobs. This respawn can up the intensity level of a Boss fight a lot, the longer it takes to fight through the Trash Mobs the higher the intensity. As killing Trash mobs is not fun, a player is effectively faced with a potential time penalty when killing Boss mobs.

To me, varying intensities during gameplay is a good thing. Using respawning Trash Mobs as penalties seems… uninspired. Instead
· Have the Boss get harder to fight after each failed attempt,
· Have the Boss drop lesser quality rewards after each failed attempt,
· Have the Boss get into a snit after a failed attempt and retire to a player inaccessible Fortress of Solitude, for a period of time. This penalizes the player while not dictating his subsequent game play.

The point I’m trying to make is recognize when you are penalizing players, why you are penalizing players and review how you are penalizing players.

Penalties drive Micro Game Play

Penalties can drive players to or from content. Consciously or unconsciously players are always evaluating risk vs. reward when deciding what content to experience.

A good example of this is in vanilla WoW. There was only one spawn point in one of the largest zones, “The Barrens.” The content in the very south of the The Barrens involved one of the longest runs from a spawn point in the game. Interestingly enough the content in the South Barrens was in many respects more rewarding in terms of gear and farmed materials than elsewhere in the zone. Yet even though the North Barrens was relatively crowded, South Barrens was under-populated. At some point another spawn point was patched, cutting the run in half, and South Barrens player population went up.

Personally, I liked South Barrens. As a designer I wanted to see the content. As a power gamer there was some gear I wanted from there. As a T-type personality I enjoy high risk - high reward situations. I am not a typical player.

Before a second spawn point was patched in, the content was under used. I think we can say the typical player of WoW (a beginner game) is not only risk adverse, but also seeks a consistent game experience. Therefore, given a choice players will pick the easier area to experience. So as far as content is concerned, a player will rate it by:
· Reward (Exp, Gear, etc.)
· Encounter Prep (Travel time, how long to get a group, acquire appropriate potions and such, etc.)
· Encounter Time (How long to finish a quest, get to a dungeon boss, etc.)
· Difficulty (This is very subjective, and a moving target as it changes as a character gears and/or levels up, but let’s consider it the percentage chance of failure.)
· Risk (Penalty or Penalties for failing the encounter)

Penalties are not fun! Or are they?

Talking about penalties may make you a bit uncomfortable. After all penalties are not fun, and who wants to make a game that is not fun? Look again at the bullet list above. Now, let’s say you got the best reward in the game for a quest that requires a character to walk for 10 seconds and talking to a non-player-character (npc). Not much fun right? Now, let’s add the requirement of grouping up with five of your buddies and traveling through every area in the game world. More fun, yes.

Consider two versions of our revised quest. First, if a character dies while on this quest, he respawns in place after ten seconds. Here we have (High Reward + High Encounter Time + Low Risk) = a low intensity encounter. By putting in whatever time it takes to travel around, a player character is guaranteed to get the reward. Contrast this with a second version, where if a character dies while on this quest he respawns at the start of the quest, and has to travel the world again from the start. In this second version we have (High Reward + High Encounter Time + High Risk) = a high intensity encounter.

Game design is more art than science. Just making an encounter more intense does not necessarily make it more fun, but in this particular case I think you would all agree it would. So in this little example we have made an encounter more fun by adding in a rather severe penalty. Now our encounter still isn’t tuned. The best reward in the game should require the group to at least fight the biggest, badest boss in the game. Tuning is a topic for another discussion.

Penalties and the Game Community

I am a firm advocate of actually listening to your players most of the time. A significant amount of game forum postings are about reducing penalties in some fashion. For the most part this should be treated as background noise. As I have discussed above, penalties are necessary for good game design and tuning of course. Players are human and are prone to want things easier without thought for good design. Trust your empirical evidence and not forum postings when it comes to penalties.

Penalties and My Game Design

I am working on a game design, let’s call it ST. On day one I choose my nitch and roughed out my game-play. At this early point of the design of ST I am more interested in the intensity of the player experience than whether they are fighting orcs with swords or zombies with AK47s. So without getting into specifics at this early date here is the base-line experience I want a player to go through.
· 15 minutes prep time (low intensity)
· 30 minutes maneuvering and skirmishing (medium intensity with short high spikes)
· 15 minutes the big fight (high intensity, with the possibility of throwing a keyboard through the monitor)
· 15 minutes social time (game mechanics that encourage social interaction)

To get the really intense high intensity gameplay I want I need a very harsh death penalty. For this game that translates into a player character’s death equals the character is booted from the encounter. Pretty harsh, but what I want. This penalty brings up another issue. I now have to find game-play for the player whose character is booted out, knowing that most of his friends or guildies are still playing the encounter. This is really something I need to consider very early on in the design process, so the solution can be an integrated, natural part of the game design, and not something just tacked on.

To Sum Up

Well, rereading this it is apparent I cannot separate game penalties from game intensity. I don’t think that is wrong, so I’m gonna let this stand as written. Let me restate it as Penalties set Game Intensity, which is necessary for fun gameplay. My discussion has wandered a bit, let me try to bring it home.
· Understand that penalties are an integral part of but different from other game mechanics,
· Don’t let your game mechanics alone determine your character penalties. A back and forth is needed.
· Penalties are not for punishing your players. Appropriately used they may punish your player’s characters, but enhance game play for your players.

Design Day One is about finding a good niche for your game that can make it profitable, and sketching out your game play. Design Day Two is about reviewing your game play and determining what type of penalties will be needed to achieve your game play, and integrating the penalties into your design.

Bad Idea? 24/7 Servers

Welcome to my blog. I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft®, Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. Today I will be focusing on whether servers should be open 24 hours a day 7 days a week (except for maintenance).

When a game is in the initial design stage, no one asks, “so what’s our server schedule going to be?” I pay a monthly fee to use my health club, yet I can only do so during certain hours. I have a season pass to my local 6-Flags amusement park, and again I can only use it during certain hours. There are certainly precedents for limited access to a subscription based activity.

Players expect 24/7 servers

When servers in World of Warcraft (WoW) go down unexpectedly, the forums fill up with unhappy players complaining they pay for 24/7 server access. In fact WoW compensates players when their servers are down more than expected.

Why? Obviously players get upset when servers are down during prime playing times. Players get almost as upset at any server down time. There are two broad reasons for this: 1. mini-sessions and 2. a psychological attachment to the server.

Mini-Sessions. The benefit of playing in prime time is that there are more people on-line to group up and explore content with. However, there are a number of activities in Massives that a player can accomplish solo, during off hours. These include hunting for rare spawns in EverQuest, training skills in Eve, crafting in Dark Age of Camelot, playing the Auction House (AH) in WoW, farming for materials in Warhammer, etc. When I was playing the AH in WoW I would log into WoW after breakfast, at lunch from work, and before hitting the gym after work, to look for bargains. These sessions only lasted 10-15 minutes, but were fun for me.

Psychological Attachment. For me, my psychological attachment to my current massive is similar to my attachment to my car (I live in the suburbs). If my car is in the shop I just don’t feel right, even if I am not planning on leaving the house. I feel this same non-rational response when the server is down, even if I was not planning on logging in. I’ve tried and deleted a number of attempts to explain this better. If you have not experienced this feeling yourself, let’s just leave it that a many players feel a disturbance in the force when they are unable to log in.

The Daedalus Gateway is a good read on the psychology of gamers.

Financial Benefits of non-24/7 servers

“A” list Massives give players a choice of different time-zone servers. So even if a server were to be down 8 hours a day, players would be able to choose a server that could accommodate their regular play schedule. With servers down part of the day, less IT people would be required. Additionally less customer support, such as game-masters (gm) would be required. Note: it has been my experience that more player shenanigans, such as exploiting and griefing, occur during off hours. The financial benefits are real. I don’t know that I would like to be the first one to sell non-24/7 servers to players as a means of keeping their subscription prices low.

Realm vs. Realm and non-24/7 servers

In a Realm vs. Realm (RvR) game, one’s opponents can affect one’s gameplay, usually through capturing objectives. In Dark Ages of Camelot (DaoC), this is a statistic buff to everyone on the winning side. In Warhammer (War) access to content is restricted on the losing side. I love these kinds of games and have no problems with the rewards and penalties involved. However, my game-play can be affected by events not under my control. On my server in War my opponents launched an “alarm-clock” offensive. On a holiday weekend, they set their alarm-clocks for the middle of the night, and stormed our city while most of us were asleep. Fun for them, surely. Fun for us, not so much.

There is a certain amount of disassociation between player and game world when events unfold over which he has no control. So we have two competing feelings here, a disturbance in the force when a server is down, and an alienation when gameplay is affected by other players when a player is offline. I believe that an RvR game would be improved by limiting server uptime. I would recommend time-zone servers that open after school gets out and closes down at 2 a.m. That’s ten hours uptime.

Our main object here is to improve gameplay, and ensure that a player has a chance to log in and defend his Realm. I believe players can be made to see restricting server time is an advantage.

There is still the question of players that want to log-in to play mini-sessions, such as crafting, farming for materials and the auction house. Players like these and players who want to log in solely to socialize can be accommodated in War by having the capital cities only, open during off times.

To Sum Up

24/7 Servers are assumed into game designs from the beginning. I believe that Realm vs. Realm gameplay would be improved with non-24/7 Servers. There are potentially new types of Massives that are not based on DikuMUD –type games. When you sit down to design your game don’t assume your servers will be open 24-7. Put high up on your white board “Server Hours?”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Casual vs. Hardcore

Welcome to my blog. I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft®, Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. I will be discussing game design from the abstract to the specific. Today I will be discussing a very misunderstood concept Casual vs. Hardcore.

You can go to any game forum and you will find a discussion between “Casual” and “Hardcore” players. Their discussion centers on whether game content, such as quests, raids, gear, etc. should be aimed at Casual Gamers or Hardcore Gamers. The forum’ers try very hard to parse exactly what Casual and Hardcore are. Some believe it is the total number of hours played per week, some the number of hours played per session. In this case the forum’ers have it wrong. What the discussion they are actually having is: Entertainment vs. Challenge.

Entertainment............................ Challenge

The debate actually goes to the heart of why gamers play a particular game. World of Warcraft® would rate a 2 on this scale and EverQuest® would rate a 4.

In short, Entertainment-players or fun-players play to have fun. They do crossword puzzles in pencil. They are leaning back in their chairs, with perhaps a beer and pretzels nearby. They may accept that a new game encounter may have a bit of a learning curve, but once they learn the encounter, and perhaps advance their character a bit, they want to repeat the encounter without any difficulty. They want to play the game.

Difficulty over time

A challenge-player does his crossword puzzle in ink. He leans forward in his chair, headsets on, tunnel-focused on the game. He wants the game to constantly challenge him. He wants to win the game.

It is very hard to describe this concept using Massives as examples, since even a beginner Massive like World of Warcraft has multiple sub-games and systems, and in WoW most content might rate a 1, but end game WoW content might be considered a 2 or 3.

Although I am tempted to illustrate this concept using geeky details from existing Massives, I think there is a better way to get at the heart of the matter.

Back before the Internet and Amazon I opened a science-fiction bookstore, Chimera Books, to ensure I had access to all the sci-fi in print. At one point I had three arcade games in the store:
· Pac-Man
· Asteroid
· 4-Player Football

Think about these arcade games when exploring the topic of Entertainment vs. Challenge.

Pac-Man. This would rate a 1 on our scale. From Wikipedia: “Despite the seemingly random nature of some of the ghosts, their movements are strictly deterministic, enabling experienced players to devise precise sequences of movements for each level (termed "patterns") that allow them to complete the levels without ever being caught.” So there is some challenge in learning a new level, but once learned, the pattern can be played with no change, or challenge.

Note: Dungeons in WoW have linked mobs. That is if you pull one mob in a group, the entire groups comes to get you (or aggro). A large part of learning dungeons in WoW is learning which mobs are linked and which are not (the pattern).

Asteroids. This would rate a 5 on our scale. The asteroids, saucers and bullets need to be avoided, while simultaneously targeting and hitting appropriate asteroids. Asteroids rewards a player’s focus and situational awareness. There are no patterns to learn. The game rewards good decisions, such as breaking apart the large asteroids one at a time. Decisions, or tactics, can be learned, but the actions that need to be taken can not be memorized.

Note: Dungeons in EverQuest are not linked. Each mob has an individual patrol path. Mobs aggro on players based on proximity to players. A large part of playing dungeons in EverQuest is being situational aware of where mobs are and where they may path. The key difference between WoW and EverQuest in this regard is that in WoW dungeon pulls can be memoried, in EverQuest they can not.

4-Player Football. Where we would rate 4-Player Football on our scale depends on the skill of a player, his partner and their opponents. If your team has played with each other before (pre-made) and the other team has just met (pug or pick-up-group) your team’s experience might rate a 1 or 2, while your opponent’s experience might rate a 4 or 5. That’s the thing about player-vs.-player (pvp) games is that the experience depends primarily with the people you are playing with and against as opposed to the experience a game designer wants for a player.

An additional consideration with pvp content is that players bring different expectations to different content. For example, WoW has a pvp subset where small groups fight each other called arenas. Playing arenas generate arena points for a character, which can be exchanged for gear. Additionally character titles and special gears are available for the top 0.5% of arena players. A large percentage of arena players, play simply for arena points. They are looking for an entertaining experience as they gear up. A smaller group, but way more vocal, are looking for a competitive challenge. Forcing these two groups to play together is guaranteed to make one side unhappy.

As much as I try to avoid talking specifics about game features, I can’t help a quick comment. A better arena system would be a tiered arena system. The Fun tier would grant less arena points than the Challenging tier. The challenging tier would be the only tier with titles and special gear.

Playing vs. Winning, is another way of looking at a player’s game experience. World of Warcraft® is made up of a number of systems, including:
· Player vs. Environment (pve)
· Dungeons
· Raiding
· Battlegrounds
· Arena
· Crafting
· Auction House
A player may want an entertaining experience for most of his game play. However, he may desire to excel or win at one particular system. In WoW to win at crafting a player must participate in pve, dungeons and raiding. So on the one hand he will want pve, dungeons and raiding to be more entertaining or easy, on the other hand he still wants crafting to be challenging so his winning at crafting has some meaning. In WoW it is almost impossible to make this guy happy unless the crafting system itself is made challenging.

Random vs. Non-Random is another concept related to Entertainment vs. Challenging. In WoW, the damage done during fights is modified by random numbers. Entertainment players are happy with this as it spices the game up, you never know exactly what’s going to happy. There is a subset of Challenging Players that are also Winning Players that hate randomness. These players are usually found in pvp systems, and are acutely unhappy when a player they deem less skilled than they are, beat them due to randomness (even though the bulk of these player’s skill was proper selection at the character generation screen).

Challenging vs. Difficult is the last vs. concept I’m gonna talk about, promise. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes® positioned itself as a Hardcore or Challenging Game. Vanguard launched with 120,000 subscribers, and very quickly dropped to 40,000. To me this shows that the market was ready for a Hardcore or Challenging game, but that Vanguard did not deliver the experience the market expected. In Vanguard leveling up or grinding took more time than comparable games. The problem was that there is very few choices in where to grind, what to grind on and very little variance in the grinding experience. EverQuest®, in contrast, had lots of different areas and mobs to grind on, with the more riskier ones offering more experience (a quicker grind). EverQuest and Vanguard are both difficult to grind up in, but EverQuest was very challenging in finding the right places and mobs to grind up on.

To Sum Up
People play the same game for different reasons. Furthermore they may approach different systems of a game with different expectations. Realize that the main divide between players is those wanting entertainment and those wanting challenge. In an entry-level game such as WoW, both these types of players are thrown together making game design challenging. Designing with Entertainment vs. Challenge in mind makes it easier to find a niche and design a game for it.


Welcome to my blog. I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft®, Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. Today I will be focusing on Fairness in Massives.

One of the hot topics on game forums is Balance. That is, one character class should be equal but different than another character class. At first glance this is reasonable and Fair. Another hot topic is that all players should get to see all the content of a game. Again, at first glance this seems Fair. In addition to these and similar concerns, the concept of Fairness influences much more of game design that you might think. Today I am going to show you where Fairness meets game design and hopefully get you to challenge some of the assumptions both designers and players make. But first a trip back in time to the year 1066.

The Cleric

In EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft and others, the character class The Cleric is a healer who heals with divine power and fights with a mace (or club). Why a mace, why not a sword or an axe? I could not find any mythology featuring a fighting healer who could not use an edged weapon. Finally I came to this image from The Bayeux Tapestry, a contemporary artwork showing William the Conqueror’s version of his conquest of England in 1066.

In this image we see William’s half-brother Odo. William made Odo bishop of Bayeux in 1049. In the image above you can clearly see Bishop Odo is wielding a club. Some believe that Odo was trying to get around the Biblical proscription on spilling blood by bashing his enemy’s heads in. That interpretation is certainly in line with what is known of Odo’s unsavory character. However, Odo is too little known to have inspired The Cleric class.

So I stopped looking in mythology and history and instead looked in modern literature and arts. I found Friar Tuck. In modern retellings of the tale of Robin Hood, Friar Tuck is often depicted as pulling a club from somewhere under his tunic and administering some rough justice when needed. This was particularly prominent in the 1955 TV series of Robin Hood. What makes this interesting is that producers of the 1955 series hired English historians as consultants. These historians most certainly knew of Odo and may have influenced the portrayal of Friar Tuck.

So when Dungeons & Dragons® is first conceived, it is not improbable that the designer, consciously or unconsciously remembered seeing the TV series Robin Hood in his childhood and from that was born the Cleric Class who could not use edged weapons. So something we all know as gamers and designers, clerics can not use edged weapons, can be traced back to a single frame from the Bayeux Tapestry, made over 900 years ago.

I started off with this discussion about clerics because we all just accept that clerics use maces and clubs only. Luckily that actually works well for design purposes. However there are many elements of game design that we currently just accept that should be challenged and in many cases changed.

Pen and Pencil > Single Player > Massives

Pen and Pencil. Our particular part of the game industry started with pen and pencil (pnp) games like Dungeons and Dragons® and Traveller®. Typically these games were played with a small group of 4 to 6 player, with a GameMaster (gm). According to Wikipedia “the Gamemaster’s purpose is to weave the other participants' player-character stories together, control the non-player aspects of the game, and create environments in which the players can interact.” A good GM can moderate the environment depending on the player-characters gathered together for a particular session. For example, if a rogue that was much lower level than the rest of the group were to join, a GM could add traps and locks and such to include the rogue.

In very broad terms, pnp is a small group, shared, cooperative, moderated game experience. A player is responsible for the story of his player-character. If a player misses a session, the other players will bring him up to date. Player-characters are not expected to be equal in any sense, they are just expected to positively add to the group. There is no winning in pnp as there is in more traditional games.

Single Player. The Ultima series is one of the best known single player game series. According to Wikipedia “[Ultima I] was one of the first definitive commercial computer RPGs, and is considered an important and influential turning point for the development of the genre throughout years to come.” Ultima VII “The Black Gate” was released in 1992 and is an early example of a mature single player game. In Black Gate a player controlls one player-character and gives orders to 8 (non-player character or npc) members of his group. Ultima has a unique character creation system. A more typical system allows a player to select a player-character’s class and statistics (stats).

A single player game is not a shared experience. Designers simulate the shared group experience by having npcs group with the player-character. In very broad terms, the game story is revealed to the player as his player-character progresses through the game. A player expects to experience the full story and win the game regardless of the initial condition of his player-character. A single-player game has a limited play time. That is from character creation to winning a player spends 40-60 hours playing a typical game.

Massives. Massives are influenced by the pen and pencil games and the single-player games, which came before them. Perhaps the major difference is that Massives are competitive games. Where pnp is about a small group of friends going through cooperative adventures together, and single player games are a solo experience, current Massives for a lot of players are about who has the best gear, who is in the best guild, who has experienced the highest dungeons, etc. So a player may find cooperative play within his groups of friends, he will feel he is in competition with most other players.

Current Massives are very derivative of each other, with new Massives making evolutionary not revolutionary changes. So the early Massives, Ultima Online, EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot have strongly influenced current Massive design. Now these early Massives had a different type of player base. When Massives were new and not mainstream they attracted Challenge (competitive) players as I discussed in “Casual vs. Hardcore.” These early game designers knew they had to cater to these competitive players. And what is the one thing that competitive players want? Fairness.

Where a pnp gm can modify a dungeon crawl to accommodate a lower level character and single player games like Pools of Radiance can alter the difficulty of encounters based on the strength of a group, that would be considered unfair in a competitive game. A competitive player would be happy to bet on which particular sugar cube a fly will land on. They will find things to be competitive about that designers couldn’t dream of. As long as there is fair competition they are happy.

The desire to make Massives Fair pervades most game systems, which I will discuss below. Fairness, particularly as implemented in current Massives is not necessarily a good thing, and the systems I describe below are not the only way to design a game. Just as Bishop Odo influences our cleric characters, so does game decisions made when the industry was new. As designers we need to challenge our assumptions about how games should be made and only use systems that work for us.

Fairness & Story

Players that come to Massives from single player games expect a similar experience to what they had in a single player game. They expect to experience the game story from start to finish. This in large part has lead to the creation of the unchanging (static) worlds that comprise most current Massives.

Challenge players want a fair game. Risk® is not a fair game. At the start, cards are randomly dealt which determine where a player’s armies start. Chess is a fair game as it always starts the same. Risk is random, chess is static. Note: both risk and chess are very good games.

Static World. In a static world a Player uncovers the story through doing quests, exploring and generally interacting with the world. Except for special occasions, such as Warhammer Online®’s live events, these quests and such are unchanging. A player that joins the game on opening day has a similar experience as a player that joins the game one year later. The ultimate expression of this Static World is Warhammer Online’s “Tome of Knowledge”. By playing the game pages of this book are unlocked, and the story revealed. All players have a chance to unlock all the pages of the book.

I do not want to imply that Static Worlds are not good games. They can be. And, they can be a great place for a new Massive player to get a start. My point is that Static Worlds are not the only way to make a game. The main challenges to a non-static game are involving a new player, catching the new player up on the story to date, informing a player of what happened in his absence and keeping the competitive players happy and/or perhaps designing a cooperative game without the need for competitive players.

Seeing all the content. World of Warcraft® brought a lot of new players into Massives. A lot of these new players were drawn from single-player games. These players expressed a desire not seen in earlier games that is they paid their money and they had a “right” to see all the content. With each expansion WoW has accommodated these players more and more. To me, that is a good way to get new people involved. That does not mean your game needs to accommodate them. Note: if you are not going to make a traditional game, it is up to you to educate your potential players before they purchase your game. A long open beta is a great place to educate potential players.

Fairness Everywhere

Fairness, or the expectations of competitive gamers and single-player gamers get into every part of Massives. Just one example is movement speed. Generally all characters move at the same speed. The big heavy troll in full plate armor runs at the same speed as the elf with a bit of cloth on. (Note: in EverQuest character’s speed could be slowed down due to the weight of stuff in their backpacks.) You could consider everyone moving the same speed as fair, and it does make designing game mechanics such as combat easier. On the other hand it is unrealistic and having player-characters, or even all characters move at different speeds may add an interesting complexity to a game.

I’m going to briefly mention other areas where fairness may get in the way of good game design. I may get into more detail in a future discussion.

Fairness & Player-Characters

Players coming from single-player games have an expectation that their player-character will be competitive in all aspects of the game. In World of Warcraft this is one of the biggest problems identified by players, that their player-character is not as good in one aspect of the game as another. This leads to player unhappiness and massive amounts of developer time to balance the different player-characters. For example in WoW a rogue is very desirable for player vs. player, but not as desirable for end-game raid content. I feel that all Massives could be improved with a more robust character selection process, along with a full disclosure of a player-character strengths and weakness.

WoW and most others use a class-based system. That is a player-character has a specific set of skills, based upon the class chosen, such as a Priest, Mage, Warrior. Asheron’s Call (AC) used a skill-based system, where all players had a option to mix and match skills. In AC this led to many players using the same build, which defeats the design intent of having a broad range of characters.

Keep in mind what your potential subscribers want from a game from day one of design. If you use a class-based system, which is relatively easy to design, you are committing your live team to spending a lot of resources keeping the classes balanced. A hybrid skill/class system may be one way to go. Another would be educating your player base, that not all player characters are the same. There are other methods of differentiating characters as well.

Fairness & Player vs. Player (pvp)

I will focus on Battlegrounds (BGs), which is a mini-game of WoW. In these BGs, an equal number of opposing players fight each other on a mirrored map, for equal objectives. Basically the BGs are variations of capture the flag. At first glance the BGs I’ve described sound fair, equal number of players, equal maps, equal objectives. However, there may be wide variations in character level, character classes, character gear and character skill on the two sides. In the smaller BGs 10 vs. 10 players or 15 vs. 15 players, one side may lack a needed class, and is doomed to failure from the start. In my opinion, most BGs start off with an unfair advantage to one side.

One method to resolve this unfairness would be to have a more robust BG matching system. WoW in fact tried this, but the system not only did not alleviate unfair teams, it also added additional time before matches were found causing players to wait for their BGs an unreasonable amount of time.

I think the way to start is to move away from the position that a mirrored map and even number teams makes a fair game. I think a better game can be made if we start our design with the knowledge that no game is completely fair. Even in chess, a completely mirrored game, the player that moves first has an advantage. Let’s start our thinking with we will design a game that is fair-ish.

If we throw away the mirrored map we can move away from a static map to say a randomly generated fair-ish map, such as Ensemble Studios used in their Age of Empires® game series. If a disparity between the two sides were found, perhaps the weaker side could be given a terrain advantage of some sort. I’m just throwing some ideas around, but the point is a better system fits the players to the game.

Now there are many different types of military maneuvers, which could be turned into BGs. One of the problems I see is that the majority of current game designers come from a D&D background, and not a wargame background. And that is why we have multiple variations of capture the flag, and no BGs where one side is tasked with military maneuvers such as a reconnaissance-in-force, or refuse flank. If you don’t have a wargame background, add someone who owns a copy of David G. Chandler’s “The Campaigns of Napoleon” to your team.

To Sum Up
Our potential subscribers expect Fairness in a game. If we let our subscribers define what is fair we are not doing our job as designers. We want our games to be fair-ish. We need to educate our subscribers on our game’s version of fairness and what they can expect before they subscribe. And most importantly, whether it is a class-based character system or mirrored maps, we have to examine every system in our game to make sure what we are doing is right for the game, and not because it is how the other guy did it

Defining a Niche

Welcome to my blog. I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft® (WoW), Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. Today I will be focusing on Defining a Niche.

Talking about Niches and Massives seems like a contradiction. To be commercially successful a Massive must have lots of subscribers. According to Wikipedia: “A niche market is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focusing on; Therefore the market niche defines the specific product features aimed at satisfying specific market needs, as well as the price range, production quality and the demographics that is intending to impact.”

Previously I have discussed how historically the Massive market has subscribed in numbers of 100,000 plus to niche games, and that 100,000 subscribers can be commercially successful. Now I’m going to try to bring this discussion home and talk about defining a Niche.

How Big a Niche

Here is our basic contradiction again. The broader we make our niche, the more potential subscribers we get and the more commercially successful we are. However a broad niche may not differentiate a game enough from the competition, thus not attracting the 100,000 subscribers we need. Warhammer Online® (War) defined their niche as like WoW with more player-vs.-player goodness, a broad niche. It has been reported that War has 300,000+ subscribers six-month after launch, which is very nice. Vanguard: Sage of Heroes defined itself as like EverQuest with improved graphics, a narrow niche. Vanguard got initial subscribers of 120,000.

I’m convinced that 100,000 subscribers can be commercially successful, so that the safest way to go is to make a very narrow niche.


In broad terms Massives are composed of:
· Historical
· Mythological
· Fictional
· Branded
Artwork (or skins)
· Quality
· Customization of Player Character
· Extent (how much artwork)
Game Play
· Player vs. Environment
· Player vs. Player
· Dungeons
· Raids
· End Game
· Crafting
· Social
· Role Playing

Game Play is further modified by our Entertainment vs. Challenge discussion and further modified by our Fairness discussion. Note: current Massives have similar game play to this list, that does not mean they are necessary.

Defining a Niche

Defining a Niche is more art than science. I’m going to discuss my thought processes in coming up with a niche massive. As I go through this process I am keeping in mind that I want a game that is different from WoW in a way that I can describe easily. Such as: Vanguard® is like WoW, but for hard-core players. Or Warhammer Online® is like WoW but for dedicated player-vs.-player enthusiasts.

I want our new game to be unlike WoW, aimed at more experienced gamers. I want to be able to say “[insert name here] is for the thinking gamer. When you have outgrown, Candyland®, Risk® and World of Warcraft® move up to our new game.” The Niche I want to fill is a Massive for non-beginner players.

Designing a Non-Beginner Massive

Knowing we want to design a non-beginner Massive is a good start, but it tells us what we are not doing, not what we are doing. Not only are we designing a non-beginner game, we also want a game that is very easy to distinguish from existing games. So given two equally good choices, we are going to pick the choice that will differentiate our new game from WoW.

A player new to Massives will probably start with World of Warcraft®. WoW is a beginner friendly game. We don’t want to go head-to-head with WoW so let’s start with a non-beginner game. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would be real happy to not see any more Orcs until the movie “The Hobbit” comes out. So, no Orcs in our game. Note: WoW is very Orcish. Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that as players get older and more experienced they no longer have the desire or time to play grind games such as WoW, so let’s make a game that requires less time to play. We have now defined what our game will not be:
· Not a beginner game
· No Orcs
· No Grinding

Target Subscriber. Since we are not making a beginners game it would follow that our target subscribers will skew older than a beginner game such as WoW. This in turn allows us to potentially charge a premium subscription amount. As we are aiming for 100,000+ subscribers even charging a premium subscription price we still have to keep an eye on our pre-launch spending. We will keep that in mind. Also our older target subscribers probably will have less time to play in a session, so we will design our game play around this. So we can add to our list:
· Premium Subscription
· Limited Play Time

Social Target. Different content in Massives require different social sizes. In general one can play solo, run a dungeon with a small group of 5-6 and do raids with 20-40 people. Each game is targeted at a different social size. On the low end is Warhammer Online® (War), which uses a very innovative system, called Public Quests, to cater to solo players. WoW caters to small groups of 5 to 6. Guild Wars® caters to larger groups. As we are targeting slightly older, experienced subscribers it follows that they will have made friends in previous games and will be favorable to a game requiring a larger social group.
· Large Social Groups

Story. I spent a lot of time working on a single-player Viking game. I’d love to do a Viking Massive. There is so much material to work with; the historical Vikings were explorers and traders as well as the warriors we all know. Most people know a bit of Viking mythology, Odin, Thor, and Loki among others. Then there are fictional Vikings such as the book Space Viking by H. Beam Piper or the Northworld Triology by David Drake. I have tried to come up with a game for all this material, but nothing came to me.

A while ago my brother Steve, Mark Jacobs and I where discussing games we would like to do. At that time I was real hot to do a Wild West game, a wild west as seen by Hollywood. My problem at that time is that you can’t have a Northfield Minnesota Raid (a real event also depicted in movies) without a bunch of players willing to run shopkeeper player-characters. I solved that problem recently, but other problems cropped up such as how to portray Native Americans responsibly in a European-centric game. I need to do more research and talk to some Native Americans before I can come back to a Wild West game.

I’m a big Discovery® channel fan, and endlessly fascinated by anything about Ancient Egyptian. The mythology is vibrant. As a bonus our target subscribers have a little knowledge of it and may want to know more. Historically Ancient Egypt is equally fascinating. We know ancient Egypt had many external enemies. So we could have an Egyptian vs. Barbarians game.

In my discussion about Fairness, I talked about how fairly balancing a Massive can be a real money sink in the long run. In order to avoid that our game will take place in an Ancient Egypt, which is divided between north and south, with player-characters from either side having basically the same options. As a bonus, at one time Egypt historically was divided between north and south.

Why just two sides? Dark Age of Camelot has three sides. Historically we could make a case for up to five sides. I have some thoughts on game play that work for two sides. Going for more means more money on artwork and more money on balancing later on.

For now let’s call this game Ra. Why Ra? Ra is the name of one of the ancient Egyptian gods. And well it just sounds better than some of our other choices, such as Atum, Geb, Isis, Osiris, Nephtys, Seth, Shu, etc.
· Historical and Mythological Ancient Egypt
· Two Factions North and South
· Working Title Ra

Artwork Quality. In general, the higher the quality of graphics, the more expensive the computer needed to play it is. WoW for example uses lower quality graphics and is playable on most modern computers, including laptops. Looking ahead, I want to support player vs. player battles with 200 players in close proximity. So I want to scale my graphics back where large battles are possible. Ancient Egyptian artwork is so impressive I want to use as high quality as I can when I know it will not cause problems with gameplay.
· Medium quality graphics in player vs. player areas
· High quality graphics in quieter areas

Customization of Player Character. This is a highly desired feature by gamers. Being able to make their player characters unique really brings a player into the game. WoW is on the low side of player character customization. The higher the customization the harder it is to display during large player vs. player battles. My desire is to have more customization than WoW for advertising purposes. How much customization we can have will depend on what the coding guys say.
· More player character customization than WoW

How much artwork. Artwork in Massives can be broken down into two categories, World Artwork and Character Artwork. Artwork costs resources to produce. Artwork costs computer resources on a subscriber’s computer to display. Subscribers like lots of artwork; hence we have a conflict to resolve. Our game is set in Ancient Egypt, so for world artwork, we will spend a lot of resources on Monumental Architecture, like Pyramids, temples, obelisks, etc. We will go with more generic world artwork depicting villages, farms and other everyday objects.
· Lots of different Monumental Architecture
· Generic everyday architecture

In WoW there is different character artwork for the different player character classes as well as different artwork for different gear a character may equip. In WoW, this artwork is a visual record of how far a character has progressed in game and is very important to the players. Our game is going to be more social focused than WoW and will have a private area that WoW does not have. At this point of our game design let’s just note this needs to be resolved, but needs to wait until more of the game is designed.
· Character Artwork needs to be determined

Game Play. Under game play above I listed a number of bulleted items that are common to current Massives. Our new game must have novel gameplay that experienced Massive players will enjoy, while still retaining enough gameplay that they are used to in order that they are comfortable in the new game. Players expect to be able to equip gear to differentiate their player-characters. So our new game Ra will include gear, however, it will not be as important or as rare, as it is in WoW. How a player customizes a character will be familiar to a WoW Player. How combat is performed will be familiar to a WoW Player. In general a lot of the Hows will be familiar to a WoW player, in Ra the differences are in the Whats and Whys. I’m just going to briefly sketch out some ideas here, you all really don’t need to read a 200 page game “bible” to get the point.

In Ra the Gameplay will be divided into three main areas, Faction (north vs. south), large social group (commonly referred to as guilds), and solo. In WoW a player must choose how best to advance his own character. In Ra a player must choose not only how to advance his own character, but perhaps more importantly, how to advance his guild and his faction. In order words we are creating a more complex game by giving players more choices.

Ra Faction Gameplay. The two factions are at war. Every month (or technically every lunar cycle of 29.53 days) a winning faction is determined, the winner getting a bonus to some aspects of game play for the next month, and the war is reset.

Ra Guild Gameplay. Guilds have the ability to build Monumental Architecture. The size and type of this architecture gives bonuses to all player characters in the guild. For example, a guild may build a small temple dedicated to the god Set, which would give a small bonus to moving in deserts and at night. A temple dedicated to Isis will make peasants work faster, thus making future Monumental Architecture take less time to build. Monumental Architecture will take a long time to build, so while a guild might build a small temple in a month, it would take many months to build a pyramid. A guild will be challenged to decide how many resources to allocate to various tasks such as: to defend their area, to keep their peasants happy so they build the Monuments as fast as possible, and to contribute to the ongoing faction war. In effect we are adding some real-time-strategy game complexity to our Massive. It is one thing to look up a guild’s accomplishments in a game such as Warhammer® and see some dry statistics. It is another thing to be walking down a road and see a guild’s pyramid blazing in the sun.

Guilds in current Massives can be as small as 10 people and as large as 500. One way to keep things Fair would be to segregate guilds (i.e. put them on different servers) depending on their size.

The single biggest problem in Massive real-time-strategy games is having to defend one’s area 24 hours a day. In Ra guilds will only have to defend their area for predetermined hours. For example, a small guild of 25 people may have to only defend their area six hours a week, say Monday and Wednesday between 8pm to 11pm. I know the problems, and have designed game play to solve them.

Solo Play. In Ancient Egypt having a good tomb was essential for the afterlife. In Ra a player will be able to design, build and expand his own personal tomb as he plays the game. There will also be living quarters that a player can customize. A player will have a traditional game experience of fighting mobs, taking part in player vs. player, questing, crafting etc. The reasons for actions and consequences of in-game actions will be different. For example, in WoW a player may be tasked with killing ten alligators and be rewarded with some coin and experience. In Ra a player’s guild may post a quest to kill ten alligators which are terrorizing the peasants working on their Monumental Architecture. In Ra the player will be indirectly rewarded by his guild’s architecture being completed faster, as the guild’s peasants are happier.

Cross Faction Play.
Current Massives do not allow cross faction cooperative play, so to differentiate us from them we will. We will have instanced mini-games similar to WoW’s battlegrounds, but ours will be Egyptian player-characters (both north and south) vs. barbarian non-player characters.

Game Play Summary. We start with Historical Egypt and Mythological Egypt, take a bit of the realm-war from Warhammer, add a little “wonder” creation from Age of Empires®, stir in a bit of guild vs. guild from Guild Wars® and take the best non-grinding parts of current Massives, stir em up and we have a new game.
· Realm vs. Realm
· Guild vs. Guild
· Real-time strategy Monument creation
· Player housing and tombs
· Cross faction cooperative play

So we have sketched out a niche game. Our niche is a game for non-beginners. Ra is for the thinking gamer. When a player has outgrown, Candyland®, Risk® and World of Warcraft® they can move up to Ra.

To Sum Up
We are in the game industry because we love games. (I’m pretty sure there are easier and quicker ways to make money.) It costs a lot of money to produce a Massive and investors expect a return on their money. Therefore it is part of our job as designers and producers to design a game from day one that will get that return. Designing a good or even a great game is not enough.

I believe that historically there are 100,000+ subscribers ready to try out a new game. And that 100,000+ subscribers is enough to make a Massive profitable. And that the best way to get 100,000+ subscribers is in my opinion is to design a niche game that is clearly differentiated from industry leader World of Warcraft.

Niche market design is more art than science. I discussed my thinking behind a preliminary design of a niche game I’ve called Ra. Before you begin thinking of a new game, pull some random books from the history section of the library, turn on The Discovery Channel, or perhaps think about a feature from your favorite game, Massive or not, and see how it can be incorporated into your new game.

A niche-market game is safer to bring to market than yet another WoW-clone.

1. Game Design Day One
2. Niche Games & Subscription Price
3. Massives Are All the Same, Sorta
4. Defining a Niche

Related discussions.

Casual vs. Hardcore

Massives are all the same, sorta

I will be discussing “A” list Massives aimed at the American and European market, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft® (WoW), Lord of the Rings Online®, Eve Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. Today I will be focusing on the similarities between these games.

By understanding the current market and truly understand the similarities among these games, we can more easily define a niche market.

The following charts are very useful in understanding the market. Just take a quick look at this one and move on. It shows WoW dominating the marketplace, no news there:

Now take a quick look at this “B” list there are some lessons to be learned here, but that can wait for another day. For today I would like to point out the sharp initial subscription spikes on many games such as Anarchy Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea and Vanguard. This shows the willingness of the Massive market to try new games, which is very encouraging.

Finally the “A” list (minus WoW) mostly of games that that have gotten 100,000+ subscribers and maintained them for three years or more

Eighteen Games

There are 18 games listed on the chart. Of these I am only interested in games aimed at the American and European market. Why? Massives are by their nature social games. There are very real differences in game fundamentals between say EverQuest (an American game) and Final Fantasy XI (a Japanese game). As I am only familiar with American and European culture I will restrict my comments to them.

Today I am only interested in games that at any point had over 100,000 or more subscribers. That indicates the market was ready to embrace that game.

There are important lessons to be learned from games that crashed and burned, such as Tabula Rasa, which got initial subscription numbers of about 120,000 yet shut the servers less than a year later. Such as, don’t overhype your game, have a long open beta, provide a compelling reason for gamers to leave their current game and/or new gamers to play yours. More on games that didn’t make it in “Case Studies.”

Foreign Games

Final Fantasy XI is primarily aimed at the Japanese market. Tibia is primarily aimed at the German market, with a low monthly subscription price. Dofus, a French game, shows significant subscriber growth over time, produced using Flash and played in a browser. It is free to play, paid subscription to upgrade. Dofus charges one-third the monthly costs of other “A” list games. If we “normalize” the subscriber numbers by monthly fee, it still has interesting numbers but doesn’t jump out of the chart.

Social Games / Kids Games

A game may be a social space for some subscribers, but a social space cannot be a game. Second Life and The Sims Online are social spaces, not games.
Toontown Online is primarily aimed at kids. It has kept 100,000 subscribers for over three years. However as with foreign games, kid’s culture is different from adult.

The Final Twelve (plus two)

So we started with 18 games and have set aside Foreign Games and Social/Kids Games. That leaves us with the following Twelve Games:
· Ultima Online
· EverQuest
· Asheron’s Call
· Dark Age of Camelot
· Eve Online
· Star Wars Galaxies
· City of Heroes / Villains
· EverQuest II
· Dungeons & Dragons Online
· Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
· The Lord of the Rings Online
· Tabula Rasa

And from Chart 1 we add:
· RuneScape
· World of Warcraft

In this list we have Games with SuperHeroes, Orcs, Jeddi, etc. How can they be the same? Although interesting, all that is just Artwork or “skins”. The underlying game systems or rules, of these games are what makes them similar. Whether you play Monopoly® with the top hat to represent you or the car to represent you, you are still playing Monopoly.

Two of the games from this list are different from the others, sorta: Eve Online and RuneScape, I will discuss them below.

Game Feature vs. Game System

In Monopoly a player rolls two six-sided dice, then moves his counter around the board based on the number rolled. The Game System here is a die-based movement system. Other games may use a single six-sided die, a single twenty sided die, or two four-sided dice. The type of die or combination of dice used is a feature. Risk® uses dice as well, but it uses dice for a different game system, a die-based combat system, not a die-based movement system.

Another way to say this is that a Game System is like Cake, and a Game Feature is like Frosting. If you don’t like chocolate cake, it really doesn’t matter what frosting is on it.

Why do we care about the difference between game features and game systems? Because putting a lactate-free, low calorie, mocha-chocolate swirl frosting on a chocolate cake may be sexy, but it is still a chocolate cake. And there are potential subscribers who would like a different type of cake.

Three Common Game Systems

The Massives on our list are all basically the same because they all have the following three major game systems:
· Grind Game
· Restricted Items
· Static Story Telling

Grind Game. In this game system a character gains experience (or levels) and items to become more powerful, which enables him to take on harder monsters to gain even more experience and items which enables him to take on yet harder monsters to gain yet more experience and items… well I think you see where this is going. How a character grinds up varies from game to game, but the grinding system is the same.

A character goes from killing rats to killing epic dragons as he progresses through the game. A higher-level character is more powerful than a lower level character. The game system for gaining experience can be stated as:

A character gains power through playing the game, wherein length of time played is roughly equivalent to a character’s power.

This is the most defining characteristic of the current crop of “A” list Massives. Gamers call this game system a “Grind” game. Let me repeat, ALL games on our list use this system, all of them.

Restricted Items. In this game system items are not only used to make a character more powerful, they are also a visual representation of a character’s accomplishments in the game. Various games restrict items by character class, character level, and character accomplishments. Items may be acquired through crafting, questing, random drops, player versus player combat, etc. At the heart of this system is that items are increasingly more difficult to get, with the best items in the game available only to a small percentage of subscribers.

Static Story Telling. Let’s ignore expansions and rare one-time events such as “Awakening the Sleeper” in EverQuest for this discussion. In a static story telling game system the Story is written and scattered throughout the game for the player to find through exploration, questing, etc. WarHammer Online has taken this to a new level with their “Tome of Knowledge” which is a virtual representation of a book with the Story of the virtual world revealed as the character explores the world. A Static Story Telling system requires the game world to be unchanging, so every character, new or veteran has a chance to experience the complete Story. A further consequence is that a character has no lasting change on the game.

To Sum Up

I could fill up chart after chart showing that all the games on our list have these three game systems in common. But if you have read to this point a little reflection on your part will save me the writing. These three systems are at the heart of all the games on our chart, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

A mistake, in my opinion, is to try to make a game by starting with these three game systems. The best advice I can give is to visualize gameplay that you would want to play, then work backwards to figure out what systems you need to implement to get that gameplay. That is, don’t try to make a game similar but better to WoW. Start with a new concept.

What I would like you to take away from the discussion to date, is that:
· Current Massives are very similar
· Common sense tells us not everyone wants similar products
· There are 100,000 potential subscribers who are willing to try a new game
· 100,000 subscribers is enough for a successful game

A niche-market game is safer to bring to market than yet another WoW-clone.

1. Game Design Day One
2. Niche Games & Subscription Price
3. Massives Are All the Same, Sorta
4. Defining a Niche


Eve Online and Dofus aren’t exactly like the other Massives I have discussed. Dofus is marketed primarily at French-speaking people. That said, it is the very definition of niche marketing to choose a specialized market to aim at. After seeing Dofus’ numbers I would be very confident to market a Massive at a very specific group. The other interesting thing about Dofus is that is charges a monthly fee of about one-third of the other Massives. It would be interesting to examine what trade offs gamers are will to make for a lower subscription cost game.

Eve Online. Well Eve is definitely a Grind game in that the longer a character plays the more powerful he gets. Furthermore items are restricted based on how long a character has played. Where Eve differs is in its story telling. Eve has a fairly weak story compared to other “A” list Massives. Eve makes up for this by having different social groups of players (corporations) in effect creating a story and having some effect on the persistent game world. I think this is the key to Eve’s success and a lesson for all of us. Even though Eve’s player story telling system is fairly crude, I believe that is what attracts players and shows that with just a little bit of difference in game systems a Massive can build a niche market and profitability.

A niche-market game is safer to bring to market than yet another WoW-clone.

1. Game Design Day One
2. Niche Games & Subscription Price
3. Massives Are All the Same, Sorta
4. Defining a Niche