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

Niche Games & Subscription Price

Today I will be focusing on subscription prices of “A” list Massives, such as EverQuest®, Dark Age of Camelot®, World of Warcraft® (WoW), Lord of the Rings Online®, Warhammer Online®, etc. In particular I will be discussing the benefits of charging an above average subscription price for a niche Massive.

The biggest issue I see today with “A” list Massives is that they all have different skins (artwork) and different feature lists, but at the core their gameplay is very similar to WoW. To my mind competing head up with WoW is a crapshoot. You may get a success like Warhammer Online®, but you may also get a poor performer such as Vanguard® or an outright failure like Tabula Rasa®. My next discussion will go into the similarity of the current crop of Massives called “All Massives are the same, sorta.”

Today I will be discussing Massive monthly subscription prices. As no one has yet supported an “A” list game solely with micro-transactions in the U.S. or Europe I will not discuss it. Additionally no one has supported an “A” list game with in-game advertising. I will discuss both, and other money models in the future, but for now I consider them in the same class as t-shirt sales, nice to have, but not necessary.
RuneScape is a noticeable exception in our list of “A” list Massives. It has a subscription price of US$6.00/month compared to the US$15.00/month of most of the others. It also took over three years from release to generate decent subscriber numbers. RuneScape is a browser-based game and its gameplay and graphics are simpler than the others. For now, let’s treat RuneScape and Dofus (a similar game aimed at the French market) as exceptions and discuss them further in the future.

My conclusions about subscription prices are that:

1. “niche” Massives with subscribers in the 100,000 range can be very profitable, and
2. subscribers are willing to pay greater than standard subscription prices for “niche” games, and,
3. a relatively small increase in subscription price has a large impact on profitability.

I am definitely not saying that World of Warcraft (WoW) can raise their subscription prices and retain their numbers. Nor am I saying that a game that is substantially similar to WoW can charge a premium price. I am saying that a Massive that is not directly competing with WoW can charge a premium price and be profitable. A “niche” game with a premium price does not need as many subscribers to be profitable, therefore making it a much safer investment than yet another WoW clone.

Two Board Games: Risk® and Streets of Stalingrad

The board game Risk® is very popular, probably insanely profitable, and a very easy beginner’s game. The wargame I produced, Streets of Stalingrad, (a “niche” game) is vastly more complicated that Risk, has not come close to selling Risk’s numbers, yet Streets was also profitable. So why didn’t I try to produce another Risk, or a Risk clone? Risk versus reward. I knew that in the niche market of hard-core wargames, a decent game would sell at least “x” copies. I knew I could produce a decent game, I knew I could make a profit on “x” sales. I hoped that my sales would exceed “x”, but I also knew I had a decent return on investment with sales of just “x”.

Let’s say my company Phoenix Games did have a Risk-clone ready to roll out. To bring it to market and go head to head with Parker Brothers I would need an enormous bankroll. So much money that I would now have to sell 100 times “x” to make a profit. And, if I failed with my Risk-clone, which is the most likely outcome of going against an industry leader head-up in any field, my company would fold and I would be living in a van down by the river.

One final note: Streets of Stalingrad went for about ten times the retail price of Risk, which made it the most expensive war-game to be produced at that time. My customers judged its value not comparing it to Risk, but comparing it to other hard-core wargames.

There are plenty of gamers who want something different to support “niche” Massives. By different I don’t mean a different feature set. Any level and grind (diku) game will be marginalized by the king of level and grind games, WoW. Looking around a specialized game store you will find shelves full of board games, but not one of them competes directly with Risk. So the challenge is to find a niche that is under-served by current Massives.

So say you have identified a niche market game, can you make money with it?

100,000 Monthly Subscribers From these charts it seems that something magic happens when a game crosses the 100,000 subscriber line for six months, in that it retains those subscribers for over two years. Add in an expansion at the two-year mark and it is easy to have a three-year plus run. So our goal in bringing a niche game to market is 100k subscribers.

A number of games have crossed this 100k barrier, and hopefully are profitable. In very general terms the ones that did not hit 100k is because they were:
1. Over-hyped. Vanguard defined itself as a “Hardcore” game. It enticed 120k to try it out, but the in-game experience did not come close to the hype.
2. Not Fun. Tabula Rasa was certainly over-hyped. But in my opinion it failed because it simply was not fun.
3. Not niche-y enough. Pirates of the Burning Sea is not pirate-y enough, Auto Assault was not Mad Max-y enough, D&D Online was not D&D-y enough, well you get the idea.

These are problems that can be solved early on in the design process, and fixed with a long Beta test. More on open beta in “Beta as a Marketing Tool.”

I feel the charts support my conclusion that: designing for a niche market, producing a decent fun game that is niche-y enough will bring the 100k subscribers we are looking for. More on niche games in “Defining a Niche.”

Premium Subscription Prices

Monthly subscription fees are US$15/month for most “A” list games. The question is how much higher can you go before meeting customer resistance. That is, how high can you go before a customer makes a subscribe not-subscribe decision based solely on the fee.

A number of years ago, paperback prices were inching up and approaching the $1.00 mark. I attended the American Bookseller Association Convention at the time when paperback books were at $.95. All the talk at the convention both from publishers and retailers was the fear that when books went over $.95 consumers would revolt. Prices rose, and book buyers didn’t notice.

The average computer game player is a 35 year old. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the average massive player is somewhat younger and skews male. My guess is that the average massive player is a 28-year-old male. (As females make up forty percent of all computer game players, there is room for a lot of growth in Massives that are able to attract females.) Now what does a typical 28 year old male spend discretionary money on.

$35 average monthly cost of a Health Club
$30 average monthly cost of a porn site
$55 average cost of a concert ticket, 6 tickets a year $27/month
$15 average cost of movie w/snacks, twice a month $30/month
$50 average cost of a console game, 6 games a year, $25/month

Personally I think it would be safe to go up to a monthly subscription fee of $25. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even casual Massive players, play about 5 hours per week, or 20 hours a month. That comes to a cost of $1.25/hour for the most casual players. As you are going out to capture a niche market, you should have some feel for your market, their age, gender, profession, etc. and that should help you determine your monthly subscription fee. Just keep in mind there is nothing magical about the current $15/month fee.

To Sum Up

Gross Revenue = Subscribers times Monthly Fee over Time

So as we have discussed above we are aiming for 100,00 subscribers. Personally, next time I go out to pitch a new game I’m going with US$25/month as my monthly fee. Finally the charts I linked above showed clearly that we can expect a run of three years if we have a successful launch, so:

Gross Revenue = 100,000 times US$25 times 36 (months) therefore

Gross Revenue = US$90,000,000

90 million United States Dollars, that’s a lot of money.

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


Box sales. I have not talked about box sales in the above discussion because it is my understanding that very little of the box sales actually gets back to the game company. Furthermore, the business method of selling boxes for Massives is on the way out and cannot be counted as a revenue stream for much longer.

Exceptions. I am speaking in generalities and there are always exceptions. For instance some games, like Eve Online, took years to cross over the 100k-subscriber number. That does not make any of the money people I talk to happy, your mileage may differ. Planetside is another exception. It had a run of close to three years at or above 50k subscribers. I suspect that 1. it cost less to produce than many other Massives and 2. it was not supported subsequent to release with the same commitment of resources that other Massives had.

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

Game Design: Day One

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. First, during the coming weeks I will discuss why I believe:

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

This chart shows the top Massives in terms of paid subscriptions, To me this chart shows there is plenty of room for new subscription-based Massives. To me, the fact that World of Warcraft subscriber numbers continues to grow and World of Warcraft has as many subscribers as ALL the other Massives combined, suggests that Massives are a growing market. The key, from day one of game design, is how to position a new game in the market. And yes, as Massive game designers it is our responsibility to produce a game that will be profitable.

Where to start?

Having an idea for a new game is great. If you are not independently wealthy the next step is convincing someone to put up money, lots and lots of money. Our financial overlords like a tidy return on investment (roi), so we need to show them how this roi is going to happen. On Day One the first thing that should go on your white board is a detailed definition of your target market. Your first instinct may be I don’t have to do that. Just because WoW has 10+ million subscribers, and U.S. and European revenues in 2006 exceeded $1 billion dollars does not mean that your game will get a significant piece of that. Remember Tabula Rasa? or Age of Conan®? Any book on business planning will tell you that bringing any product or service to market does not guarantee a percentage of the existing market. You may dream that your game will be the next WoW, but to start you have to prove that it can be simply be profitable.


If you go to Wikipedia you will find “The cost of developing a competitive commercial MMORPG title often exceeds $10 million.” In 2009 I believe that number is low. But this $10 million figure is vitally important as your money guy will know it. You will have to justify going above or below this figure. Money guys get nervous about budgets that are low compared to the industry norm, figuring that more money will be needed before getting to market. There are dozens of good books on writing Business Plans, I would strongly recommend reading one.

Gross Revenue

In a subscription revenue model:

Gross Revenue = Subscribers times Monthly Fee over Time

As game designers/producers we have a large amount of control over our gross revenue.

Subscribers. I will talk about subscribers in two later blogs “Massives are all the same, sorta” and “Defining a Niche”.

Monthly fee as of this writing is $15/month for most commercially successful Massives. Different markets may be willing to pay different subscription fees which I will discuss in “Niche Games & Subscription Prices”.

Time. Historical figures show that if a Massive sustains 100,000+ subscribers for a period of six months then it will maintain their subscriber numbers for at least three years. I will be discussing more about this in “Keeping a Massive alive”

As game designers we have a certain amount of control over our net revenue as well.

Net Revenue

Net Revenue = Gross Revenue minus (Bandwidth, server hardware, In-game customer support, Live Team, Expansion Team, licensing fees, I.T., advertising, customer account support, corporate overhead, etc.)

Let’s have a quick look at some of these items, which will be discussed in more detailed in later posts. Also realize that this is a rough model, concentrating on items that we as game designers and/or producers have some control over.

Bandwidth is a measure of consumed data communication resources. That is, how much information goes back and forth from a game server to a subscriber’s computer.

Bandwidth can be managed by data compression and off-loading computations to a subscriber’s computer.

Server hardware has not signficantly changed since the industry started. I will write more about server hardware after I have filed patents on the subject.

In-game customer support people are primarily tasked with helping customers with bugs, such as getting stuck in the terrain. Customer Support requirements can be managed by code design, length of beta test and/or giving customers tools to deal with bugs without requiring live support. More in “Help, I’m Stuck.”

Live Team is tasked with fixing game bugs and game balance. Fixing bugs and balancing the game are the top concerns of current Massive subscribers. One solution is to throw money at the problem and have a massive live team. I will discuss reasons why bugs should be fixed in beta, thus requiring a smaller Live Team in “Beta as a marketing tool.” I will discuss the underlying systems that create game balance problems in “Fairness”, and how to change them. The Live Team is additionally tasked with creating new content. More in “User as partner.” The size of the Live Team is dependent on a number of design decisions.

Expansion Teams are usually tasked with producing an expansion every one to two years. Successful expansions can keep a Massive alive. We should be aware that the tools we pick or build will be used for years, and plan accordingly. More in “Keeping a Massive Alive”.

And the rest are just listed to be aware of. There are a lot of things that can effect profitability, we do what we can.

Note: I will save the topics of microtransactions and other revenue streams such as in-game advertising for a later time. At the moment these methods have not proven themselves in mainstream “A” list massives.

To Sum Up
The decisions we make as a game designer/producer on day one will have a very real influence on how profitable our game is years in the future. Making informed choices is the key.

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

About Me

Dan Bress

My business card says “inventor”. My brother and I hold six U.S. patents, 2 international and are patent pending on over 20 more. Our patents range from computer security hardware to new ways of manufacturing and playing Pinball!

The last few years I have been focusing on Massives, with the goal of replacing the DikuMUD system (level and grind, grind and level) with a system with more umm gameplay. Or in other words, Massive Systems that are: Less Grinding and More Fun.

My design philosophy is simple. I envision gameplay I would enjoy, then work backwards to figure out what systems are needed to support it. My blog will discuss various aspects of Massives that have influenced my thinking.

Below is a bit of my involvement with games.

In the Beginning. I published “The Book of Monsters” the first add-on to the original D&D boxed set. I was the first to put out full D&D scenarios for GMs along with maps and color covers, such as The Lost Abbey of Calthonwey. I designed and published wargame rules for miniatures; the best was for 15mm Napoleonic miniatures called Imperial Guard.

Wargame/Strategy Games. As president of Phoenix Games, I won a “Charlie” Award for producing Streets of Stalingrad, which some people consider the best wargame ever made. I designed and produced wargames covering everything from The Boxer Rebellion to a game on Rapi Nui (Easter Island). Working on wargame and strategy games has given me a perspective that is orientated on games systems and game play, in contrast to a lot of current games which feel as if they were built up using feature lists.

Atari 2600. I designed a game based on Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs Spy.” So I gave Mad Magazine a call. I was completed floored when I was transferred to William Gaines himself. He explained that Paramount owned both Mad Magazine and Atari, and Atari was under contract to put out three cartridge games based on Mad Magazine. My brother and I put together a demo, which was quickly approved and off we went.

C64 / Apple II. My brother Steve and I had created a game for the 2600 called Revenge of the Phoenix. We didn’t have any luck marketing it. My brother came up with the idea of using the game as a teaching tool, so he wrote Commodore 64 Assembly Language Arcade Game Programming which included the game and source code on a floppy. We created game demos loosely based on the board games “Trireme” and “Source of the Nile”. We had interest from publishers, but our choice was either do the game and starve, or get a real job. So not starving won.

Early PC. We designed and produced My Town a children’s educational game for Reston Publishing. Sega America gave us a call to discuss porting Sonic the Hedgehog to the PC. Our conclusion was that we could only port Sonic to top end machines with VGA cards, which didn’t work for Sega. They asked if we had something quick we could do for the PC. We came up with a demo we called Blobster. It was 3D Lemmings-type game starring a purple Captain Kirk-ish Amoeba with flopping cheap hair piece.

CDs. We teamed up with LunaCorp to produce educational CDs, such as Return to the Moon. Sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle wrote “if you have any interest in the Moon, this is the one you need.” We produced numerous CDs such as Penthouse Guide to Cybersex and Dan’s Guide to the National Park Service. During this period we created a hybrid graphic novel demo for Penthouse Comix.

PC. We were offered a contract to do a game based on the movie Home Alone. We could not produce a quality game with the money they were offering so we passed. I got very involved playing Warcraft II®, but there was not enough maps. I brought to market 734 Maps for Warcraft II. I eventually sold it to Aztech and it was republished as Aztech’s Armory: Campaigns for Warcraft II. We got credit in Ensemble Studio’s The Age of Kings manual.

Arcade Games. We brought to market a six-degree-of-freedom motion platform arcade game called Lunar Defense. Additionally we created a Lunar Rover Simulator that made national news and is perfect for museums.

Currently. I am working on two new gameplay systems for Massives. Additionally I am working on integrating mobile devices into the Massive experience.

This is a brief look at some of my work in games. As time allows I will freshen up my web sites and link them here.