[MUD-Dev] MMORPGs & MUDs

Koster Koster
Sat Dec 22 15:01:41 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Michael Tresca
> Koster, Raph posted on Friday, December 21, 2001 10:38 AM
 
>> Of course every customer's opinion is significant. And lest
>> anyone forget, half her examples in that article were ME
>> personally, and it certainly kept me up nights and led to much
>> soul-searching.
 
> Hrm.  It seems the fact that I used Jessica as an example is laden
> with, er, let's just say "emotional baggage" and probably clouded
> my argument.  That's not my intent.  Although I agree with many of
> Jessica's points, this is not meant to be a personal attack on
> anyone.

I understand. I was trying to convey that I have indeed read and
thought about her article quite thoroughly.

It feels to me like the point you are trying to make is tangential
to her article. In fact, you often seem to be arguing the opposite
side. By reducing the target market, screening potential players,
etc, what you are doing is directly in opposition to the approach
she suggests. You are aiming for what is fun to fewer people. I
don't see anything wrong with that, but the fact that you have
latched into her article as an exemplar really muddies the waters
for me.

>> But also, yes, in any service, you also have to try to satisfy
>> the largest number of customers possible, and some will not be
>> happy. You can't please everyone all of the time, I believe the
>> saying says. :)

When I wrote this paragraph, I was actually referring to people who
are *already* customers, as opposed to potential acquisitions; but
the point is similar enough that there's not much reason to
argue. :)

> Well that's not entirely true.  You want to satisfy as many
> customers in the TARGET MARKET as possible.  This is entirely
> different from the "largest number of customers possible."

Very true. To be honest, I live completely submerged in my target
market all day, so I tend to take them for granted when making a
statement like that. I am not going after some hypothetical
"everyone." On the other hand, my current situation is such that my
target market is rather broad. It doesn't, however, happen to
include many text mud players, and probably does not include many of
the people on this list.

> Any company that's out to "make as much money as possible" has a
> horrible marketing strategy.  Why?  Because it means when a MMORPG
> doesn't make money, nobody knows WHY.  You can't react to your
> market if you don't know who your market is.

I really don't think that the MMORPG companies are charging in quite
as blindly as you think. Mind you, one of the fundamental mistakes
made early on was to assume that the market consisted of mud
players. As a result, the explosion in the MMORPG arena caught the
publishers very by surprise.
 
> We've just hit on my fundamental problem with the MMORPG approach.
> MMORPGs are using "we have graphics" and "we have massive amounts
> of players" as their fundamental appeal -- and oh wait, one
> embarrassing one, "we don't have any bugs".

To the player, I really don't think that's the fundamental appeal. I
would have characterized the fundamental appeals of MMORPGs the same
as the ones for text muds, with the addition of graphics: taking me
away to a different place, being a different person, doing things
that I could not do in real life, and lastly, doing it with other
people, etc. Graphics and massive amounts of players would not
fulfill the needs of the market alone. If the wish-fulfillment isn't
there, then you have no audience.

Focusing on the graphics and the size and the bugs feels like a *mud
developer's* take on what the MMOs use as selling points.

A while back I read a great business book called "Discovering the
Soul of Service," by Leonard Berry. In it, he made the point that
great service companies are those that serve some altruistic
goal. They seek to make their customers' lives better in some
fashion by fulfilling some need. They are not wedded to the *means*
of fulfilling that need. Companies that get wedded to the means are
ones that perish when the nature of the market changes. As examples,
he offered up the train companies. They *should* have been focused
on how to ship people and products in the way that made their
customers happiest. Instead, they were focused on the fact that they
were rail. As a result, they crumbled when the rail aspect they were
so wedded to became irrelevant in the face of newer
technology. Who's the winner in the transportation game? The guy who
said, "hey, if we have a universal container with a coherent
tracking code, we could ship stuff by plane, train, and ship, never
having to repack it, and we can track it safely anywhere in the
world!"

Think about MMOs: The graphics are there because people don't want
to have to do work. The box with the CD is there because people
don't like to have to do work. The larger and larger worlds are
there because they reinforce the illusion of a different place, an
alternate world. We can argue all we want about how larger worlds
shreds the fabric of community, about how download is a more
efficient way of distributing the games, about how text frees the
imagination. It's not going to matter because these developments are
implicit in the underlying promise.

  (That's why Neverwinter Nights is smart to present itself as not
  being a mud. And the people who are ex-mudders who are flocking to
  that product SAY they want to build a mud with it, but really what
  they want is something cozier. To which I say, great! That's why I
  am skeptical about NWN "replacing" the MMOs. The implicit promise
  is different).

> All the MMORPGs say they have the above attributes (except DAoC,
> who really has less bugs apparently).  Okay, so what's the next
> MMORPG going to offer?  Better graphics?  More players?  After a
> certain level, doesn't a player's ability to perceive these
> attributes diminish?

The next MMOs are going to offer the following, IMHO:

  - much, much higher production values. This is just a natural
  evolution.

  - MUCH more formalization of social mechanics than exists in any
  text mud I've ever seen, much more creation of interdependencies
  and social networks, etc.

  - an explicit focus on microcommunities within the larger
  environment.

These three things are in large part dependent on scale. In other
words, they are things that only the big worlds and big games can do
effectively.

Will the player's ability to perceive these attributes diminish? I
don't know, you tell me. They don't seem to be attributes that are
currently present.

> This is the gold rush days.  I'm just the harbinger heralding their
> end.  In fact, this is a lot like the Dot Com bubble.  Too many
> people making money without asking questions because -- hell, it
> makes money right?

You don't need to be a harbinger. Look at the corpses and the
patients on life support and the stillborn, many of them quite high
profile: AD&D Online, Majestic, Allegiance, JumpGate, Anarchy
Online, World War II Online, arguably Motor City Online and 10six
and Mankind and Starpeace and Midgard and at least one take on Harry
Potter and at least one previous take on Highlander and ugh, more
than I even want to think about.

Six months after UO came out, the industry still thought it was a
failure, unaware of just how successful it was because its launch
was so rocky and the publicity so bad. After EverQuest, it could no
longer be ignored. So everyone and their cousin jumped in. The vast
majority of them wiped out.  This has not gone unnoticed. There
aren't a ton of people making tons of money off of this right
now. There's *definitely* less of them than there were during the
height of the AOL gaming era. Frankly, it's a fragile time for the
MMORPG.

> A long term business plan and market strategy has proven effective
> in business for hundreds of years.  MMORPGs aren't any different,
> it just seems that way because the technology is "selling itself"
> -- innovation only lasts for so long.  The next generation will
> have to differentiate itself by defining its target audience and
> going after it.

Why else do you think the next batch is all going to be
license-driven? :)

-Raph
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