[MUD-Dev] Star Wars Galaxies: 1 character per server

Marc Fielding fielding at computer.org
Wed Jan 1 22:08:33 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003


[ Caliban Tiresias Darklock ]
> From: "Marc Fielding" <fielding at computer.org>
 
>> With budgets for commercial MMORPGs climbing into the tens of
>> millions, developers don't have the luxury of limiting their
>> target market.
 
> Absolutely wrong!
 
> This is a very basic marketing concept: if you're putting a lot of
> muscle into moving the train, make sure you're pushing it in the
> right direction.  The higher the stakes, the more you have at
> risk, the bigger the budget, the more CRITICAL it is to know
> EXACTLY who your customers are and EXACTLY how to get their money
> in your pocket as soon as possible. Define your exit strategy and
> recoup fast, so you can start pulling in profits and making
> sensible decisions about how and where to broaden the market.
 
> It's simple inertia. Grabbing a big idea and swinging it wildly
> will hit a lot of people, but you'll get tired a lot faster than
> if you used that big idea with surgical precision to hit *exactly*
> the people you need.

You misunderstand me. I'll try and make it clearer.

The context for my discussion with Mike was his honest desire to
maintain a game's atmospheric purity at the expense of a popular
playstyle he happens to find disruptive. My central thesis is that
the MMOG market needs to bring new gamers into the fold, primarily
through lowering any barriers to entry.

Given that context, my clarified statement is that developers don't
have the luxury of limiting their target market *to the extent Mike
desires*.  A target market *is* essential; mine includes casual and
uninitiated gamers.

>> customers have no real incentive to stay put, as there is always
>> something new arriving on the scene in "two weeks."
 
> The problem is that there isn't something *different*
> arriving. Nobody is splitting up the market. They all want the
> whole thing. We have half a dozen major MMORPGs which are all
> trying to own ALL the marbles, which simply never works.

It's my opinion that this nascent market is far too immature for
developers to be solely focused on market-splitting tactics. We are
still in the breadth-first traversal of the MMOG game design problem
space. Until Sims Online, most major MMOGs have focused on a
"classic RPG" style of gameplay. As far as I'm concerned, the dozen
or so MMOGs coming out this year are just a "tempest in a teapot":
the dynamics of this market's development are far from played
out. Many will fail, but the failures will stem from a market
saturated with undistinguished titles.

> The single smartest MMORPG on the planet right now is Furcadia,
> which is not *competing* with any of the other games. It's doing
> its own thing and doing it well, and nobody takes it at all
> seriously except in its own little niche market. Furcadia doesn't
> want the world, they want a small part of the world. they know who
> they want, and they know what those people want, and that's what
> they do.
 
> Ten years from now, Furcadia will probably still be there. Most of
> the others will have long since become embarrassments and
> liabilities to their owners, if they're up at all. Because
> Furcadia knows better than to grab for all the marbles, and
> apparently nobody else does.

Furcadia is doing well because its ambitions are reasonable: it is
content with its niche. However, major MMOGs with state of the art
graphics, immense environments, and tens of thousands of players are
doing the opposite: they are swinging for the fences. The large and
growing development costs associated with the latter make it
unlikely that the currently tiny MMOG market can sustain a "niche"
player of such size.

MMOG devs either need to live within their means or look to new
customers to fill all those *empty* seats.

>> Today's "vanilla" product (as you put it) serves a purpose. It
>> provides a taste of MMO gaming to the public. From this seemingly
>> homogeneous mass of humanity will come new generations of
>> roleplayers, socializers, explorers, and, yes, powergamers.
 
> That's entirely backwards. Today's vanilla product ought to serve
> as the basis for tomorrow's chocolate, strawberry, pistachio,
> white chocolate macadamia, and banana split. No ice cream shop
> sells nothing but vanilla.  They sell the proverbial 31 flavors,
> to satisfy more and more people. If all they had was vanilla,
> nobody would go there.
 
> Vanilla ice cream doesn't teach you how to eat chocolate ice
> cream, it teaches you whether you like vanilla ice cream. We
> *need* more flavors.  Right now, I'm sitting around wondering
> whether SWG is the flavor I want; when I get a chance to play it,
> I will *probably* say "nope, it isn't" and keep looking. But I'm
> going to try it, anyway, because it looks promising.  Nothing else
> has, to date.  

We're actually agreeing here...to a certain extent. I'm just looking
at an earlier stage of MMOG exposure than you are. To continue your
analogy, the question I'm asking is, "What if the person has never
had ice cream before?" You don't give a Kalahari Bushman a bit of
"Rum-Raisin Swirl" for a first taste. That would be overwhelming and
somewhat of a waste. For him, the very act of eating something
creamy, cold, and sweet is a novel experience.

The same concept applies here. The new customers I am targeting do
not know WHAT they want. To grow this market, designers need to
court these kinds of players...give them a variety of options and
playstyles, let them pick and choose what they like.

>> Those newly minted roleplayers will seek refined experiences,
 
> No, they won't. They will seek experiences that are more of what
> they like, and less of what they don't. It takes a certain kind of
> person to appreciate refined experiences, and that kind of person
> tends to turn up his nose at vanilla.

You just made my point! An informed consumer will seek those refined
experiences, but first he needs an introduction.

A good example would be AOL. It may be mocked by the cognoscenti,
but it serves as a gateway to the Internet for those who would
otherwise be intimidated by its complexity. Acknowledging this
reality, ISPs catering to more advanced users (e.g. Earthlink) seek
to lure away AOL users who are ready to leave the walled garden.

First educate a consumer about his options, and then provide him
with choices.

<snip>

> There are some people, like me, who think this is too big a pain
> in the ass.  I think you're one of those people, too. We don't
> care how you can get someone from level 1 to level 45 in a single
> combat. It smacks of cheating, anyway, and that's just not
> right. We determine that this is both immoral and unethical, and
> we don't do it.

Agreed! I actually enjoy the process of achievement.

> But a lot of other people just want "easy". And those people will
> find it much more simple to train a new character than to go out
> and look for someone with the right skills. How many people have a
> level 42 cobbler with a specialty in basilisk hide? Not many. And
> if you can rip a new character up to level 45 in a day, it will be
> harder to *find* one than to *make* one.

First of all, the dedication required to spend a "day" leveling a
character to a high degree of skill is already off-putting to most
people. Secondly, I believe it's faulty design to allow such a rapid
level of skill advancement.

<snip>

> I just don't think the money is enough incentive. I don't know
> what would be a good incentive, but I'm skeptical of money's
> ability to motivate people when it doesn't represent anything of
> real value. Muling is attractive because your mule produces things
> *you* want and need. Why is crafting for others attractive?

Good points. SWG supposedly allows crafters to leave a "maker's
mark" on their creations, with a bit of experience being transferred
to the maker each time the item generates XP (e.g. a player-made
blaster kills a monster in combat).

Time will tell if that is sufficient incentive. ;)


-Marc
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