How to Lose a MMO Gamer in 10 Ways

In the romantic comedy “How to lose a guy in 10 days” A reporter is writing an article with that name – and wants to prove she can lose a guy in 10 days. On the other side, the guy, a big advertising exec takes a bet that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days. The result is genuinely cute (but mediocre) – no matter what she does that would make most guys afraid he sticks it out. Both are trying to win a bet. It’s not high on my recommended list, but a funny thought. If there are two people with exact opposite intentions, how to they get along? Is that the same opposite forces working between MMO developers who are trying to get as much money as possible for their product, and consumers who want as much bang for their buck?

MMO developer and MMO players look great together!

The truth is in real life that doesn’t work that much. Quick on the heels of WildStar’s decline and some other big launches over the years, lets have a look at 10 ways to ensure you can push those gamers and consumers away from your product.

#10  A flawed vision

I don’t disagree with having a vision – that is critical! What surprised me with WildStar was that I don’t know who created the vision or why. Did they consult with players? Did NCsoft buy into it? I ask these things because I get it – I understand if McDonald’s offers the Super Grease and Cardiac Bacon Burger because they are speaking to their customer base. So Gaffney and targetting the 1% vision was the outcome, but who approved and funded that vision? Why would he no longer be running the company when he achieved what he set out to do? With brands I always believe to be who you are. KFC will never attract a healthy eating segment. Be who you are, and be proud of it. In gaming that means design your game for the audience you want – niche or not. I think you see this improving with recent Kickstarter projects – we’ll see if and when they deliver on those.

#9 : Have key people leave the company near/after launch 

There are a few WildStar examples of this, but also some bigger ones in the past. I get churn, but nothing signals failure more than people leaving/fired who built it or spent years building the community – no matter what reasons are shared.

#8 Gate content in silly ways

Content needs to be gated, we get it. Do it in a way that isn’t insulting to the intelligence of the player base. I would be playing (and paying for) SWTOR if they didn’t make certain quest rewards contingent on subscriber status. I would be more fond of LOTRO if they didn’t make character classes gated by an expansion that isn’t required for them to play in the first place. This goes beyond cash shops though – if you have a subscription, don’t add a cash shop that gates content. If you aren’t a F2P or B2P title, don’t gate content with needless and obvious grinds. I would have played Mists of Pandaria a LOT longer if progression wasn’t gated behind daily quests.

#7 : Lose your most supportive community members

Games like WoW and EQ lived on as much in the fansites as the games themselves. I still read WoWinsider and I haven’t played the game in a year! Allakhazams was pure gold back in the day, and look at sites like MMO-Champion. You need a community to support and hype your game. WildStar lost it’s busiest podcast (among others) and some community news sites. Companies need to celebrate, support, and nurture those sites. When you lose those who are most enthusiastic about your game it sends a bad signal to the community.

#6 Do not reward loyalty to long time customers 

The industry has to mature sooner or later and start treating customers like every other industry – rewarding loyalty, and customers, with things not just to do with who spent the most money the earliest (paid beta, collector editions, etc.) That guy that has paid a subscription to you for 5 years? Give him a title, or perk, or hell – a free month. Do something to recognize the growth that individual has provided you. I know some do this well with early beta access to future titles (etc.) but I strongly believe this is an area developers and publishers can greatly improve on.

#5 Be non-supportive of diversity in gaming

There is a lot of heat on both sides of this argument – I won’t link to the gamer definition discussions, or the Blizzard developer quotes – but it is out there – and companies that aren’t aware, or mindful, of how they represent different views of the gaming community in their games will have a much harder go of it going forward.

#4 : Over market, over hype, under deliver

Warhammer online comes to mind here the most. “We have PVP! PVE! PQs! We have EVERYTHING!” – and they did. Everything except an immersive, reliable, consistent and balanced gaming experience. Too much hype. Less sizzle, more steak. With marketing budgets making up more and more of development costs these days, I am one who firmly believes that money is better spent on development. People will market your game for you if it is actually good.

#3 : Charge a subscription

I know some people like subs. I know some people prefer them and won’t play games without them. The truth is that a large portion won’t even touch a subscription. This is all fine and good (again) if the company doesn’t mind having less users paying more. I believe hybrid solutions are the way to go and that will retain the maximum amount of players. The all or nothing approach of a subscription doesn’t work as well anymore. There need to be stages and varying access levels for it to be accepted by the majority. Yes, it works for EVE and WoW and the jury is still out on ESO – but WildStar will almost be certainly going to F2P – as have everyone else. There is a reason for this.

#2 : Have a bad cash shop

Not ironic behind the previous point and cash shops aren’t inherently bad on their own. #2 and #3 are interchangeable in order. However,  a bad cash shop is as much the kiss of death as a bad subscription. Cash shops should be always available, never annoying. Let players know there is a cash shop, let them know the sales, then leave them alone and let them play. Constant reminders and popups are a great way to lose the community by sheer annoyance. I did spend a LOT of money in League of Legends, who never did anything silly with their cash shop. In hindsight, I spend more money per month in LoL than I did with a subscription in WoW – but didn’t regret it once. I had the choice of when and how much to spend.

#1 : Lack of immersion.

This is the number one problem for me personally, so I listed it as #1 although I am sure other people will have other thoughts on that. While reflecting on WildStar the truth is that while I loved the setting, the style, the characters and so many things they did right – the worst thing they did was constantly drag me OUT of the immersion. They had an announcer for so many things – challenges, dings, etc. It took the world away and constantly reminded me that I was playing a game. Sure, the point may be to play a game, but I play these kinds of games to feel like it is more than just a game. I want to get into it and feel like my character is helping solve the poisoned river that is destroying the town. I don’t need the 4th wall to be broken with an announcer voice telling me “f&*cking awesome job, cupcake” when I do get it done. EQ immersed me by the third person view alone that was standard back then. The game was through my eyes. DAOC through my realm’s reliance on my actions. WoW has it’s easter eggs but it really dug down in the lore overall. You felt like you were in Azeroth. Let’s get back to to immersion.

Do you agree? I admit these are very personal to me but I also feel they have merit to what is going on in the marketplace as well. Some are more obvious than others and the rankings could wildly change depending on who is reading them. Overall I think it is a good barometer of some huge issues in our hobby and I’d love to play a game that avoided these 10.

My Influential 15

One of my favorite blogs to visit is The Ancient Gaming Noob (TAGN) and he recently posted an Influential 15  list – started by another blogger and other sites are also playing along. The parts I read indicated not too many rules, but just do not overthink it – only take 15 minutes, and list them out.

This sounds like fun. I am going in chronological order!

Mario Bros (arcade) (1985)

I spent most of my allowance money playing this game with two of my best friends at the local bowling alley. It was close enough to our school that we could run there at lunch breaks, and always went right after school as well – but just for 20 minutes before racing home. This introduced me to the side scrolling platform [honorable mentions: Ghost and Goblins, Castlevania, Bionic Commando]

Hardball (c64) (1987)

Two teams – the red, power hitting team and the blue, speedy team. That was it in this baseball game. My brother and I played for hours at home – nice to not have to be at the arcade. (I always got stuck with the blue team). [Honorable mention: Madden (I still buy it every few years]

Police Quest (PC) (1987)

My first foray into the Sierra games series (King’s quest, Space Quest, etc.) and it was always a weekend event at one of my friend’s houses who had it. I think it took us 6 months to complete, since we only had limited weekend time (we mostly played outside – kids those days!)[honorable mention – Maniac Mansion]

Street Fighter (Arcade, SNES) (1987)

Another arcade favorite the one on one bragging rights was a blast. Learning the combos, fighting friends (and arcade enemies) for the right to stay on the machine for the next challenger… flipping a coin for the left or right hand side. All sorts of home field advantages. [Honorable mention: Mortal Combat]

Star control 2 (PC) (1992)

Exploration, adventure, discovery. Space. Has anyone come close since? I am avoiding throwing my money at Star Citizen yet watching it closely. That is a completely separate blog post. [Honorable Mention: Wing Commander. If only for the space.]

Doom (PC) (1993)

We had huge contests at university with Doom – inter dorm rivalries. My philosophy class suffered fiercely. I made a philosophical argument about augmented reality to the prof and he BFG’d me. University was so cool. [Honorable mention: Half Life]

NHL 94 (SEGA) (1993)

Oh Sega hockey, with the one move that would score 100% of the time.. that was up to you do defend properly. Both ends of the rink, there was that ONE move. Yet it was still awesome. Plus bleeding heads.

X com (PC) (1994)

Turn based mastery. This is on many ‘best of ever” lists, so not going to explain its full awesome-ness. Many have explained it better than I ever could. Xcom is the perfect example of a game you loved but refuse to play it again. I have it through steam. It sucked to relive it – but awesome the first time around. We are not conditioned to accept failing the first X missions before we have a chance. (see what I did there?) [Honorable mention – Civ 1 – bit of a stretch, but very turn based]

Baldur’s Gate (PC) (1998)

I had played a lot of Pen and Paper games and this one reminded me the most of them. I hadn’t played a lot of D&D at the time  and this was my first real foray and experience into that. I don’t even remember if I won or what happened in the game – I just remember the hours spent hunched in the darkness… in amazement. Just one more encounter. One more.

Rainbow Six (PC) (1998)

The AI could be buggy as hell when you were planning your rescues, but this was an AMAZING shooter – one shot and you are dead, get caught/spotted and the hostages are dead. Great premise and superbly executed at the time. You could do many missions in many different ways and had the choice of your own path. The planning and thinking part was as exciting for me as the executions. And oh yes, permadeath! [Honorable mention: Counter Strike]

Everquest (PC) (1999)

The MMO game changer that has spawned 100 clones, for better or for worse (often better, jaded vets may argue worse. It doesn’t even matter anymore. It was awesome and really kickstarted the genre.) It has ruined MMOs for me since, but that is also because of the testserver play environment (hint: community). The rose colored glasses often adorned!

Sims (PC) (2000)

Sims the original was the first game that I could get my girlfriends to play. And my non-gaming roommates. It was the first time I realized games could be for everyone. Then I invented the Wii. (or should have, at least). All that being said, I am pretty sure the things my girlfriend at the time did to the Sims (or tried to do) made me realize that maybe she wasn’t the one. Sicko. May have saved my life.

Dark Age of Camelot (PC) (2001)

My second MMO I played the heck out of and my first real PVP experience was also amazing. I also played on the testserver (Pendragon) and the strength of the community there really improved the overall experience. Sadly, game developers have learned that test servers make bad for the quick hitting types of testing they want with enough sample size, and they don’t really exist anymore. The lesson they should have learned is that smaller, more dedicated communities make for stronger ties. Another post. DAOC taught me to embrace PVP and how humans always beat AI on experience – always.

World of Warcraft (PC) (2004)

What to say? The most successful MMO ever made took an inaccessible genre and made it easy for everyone to participate. While I have spent my fair share of time arguing WoW has hurt the MMO space in many ways, you cannot argue against its influence. I still go back every expansion, do the theme park rides, /hug and /hi to my friends still playing, and then out again.  I think the next MMO Blizzard makes is going to say a lot about what they have learned from WoW. I’m intrigued.

Battlefield 2142 (PC) (2006)

The multiplayer FPS I judge all other FPSs against. It was great. It was better than great – it was awesome. The kits, the vehicles, everything. COD always felt too twitchy and gamey in comparison (even the DICE successors did) and I started playing more strategic, slower paced shooters afterwards. BF2142 was just the perfect balance for *me*. [Honorable Mention: Project Reality]

That’s It!

There is my list! Crazy, and a *bit* sad that the most recent game launch on my list is 8 years old already, but influence is influence. As I re-read this there were a few I wanted to add (RTS such as Warcraft -or- Command & Conquer) but I decided to keep it pure – the ones that spoke to me first. I’m sure as I read through other’s lists I’ll have many an “aha!” moment. I hope mine brought along some positive smiles and memories!

Hasta La Vista WAR! 3 of 4

When WAR classes were dropped they did the mirror classes. The counterpart to the Black Guard was the Knight of the Blazing Sun (KOTBS) quite possibly the longest named class in MMO history. Fact check, anyone? When they released concept art there was so much feathery delight to them that I felt took away the typical tanky archetype edge. Hence the flavour of the comic.

kotbs(Click anywhere on the comic to get the whole thing)

I think this was my favorite one for a few reasons- mostly because I was able to over the top the whole thing and reference some pop-culture. This one makes me think I could have had a future on comics!

Good thing I am a realist. #smirk


Adios WAR! 2 of 4

The second WAR comic was the Black Guard, a terrifying Dark Elf class of pure evil (originally slated to be a tank). His comic was an easy personality, complete evil that even the producers didn’t like dealing with him.

blacked-guard(click anywhere on the comic to view).

This class was actually one of the ones I was most looking forward to. I had always planned on tanking, but the Swordmaster and the Knight of the Blazing Sun didn’t appeal to me (and the KOTBS was also being cut – next comic!). I ended up going Dwarf Ironbreaker and wow were they awesome to play in both PVE and PVP.

They ended up adding them (eventually?) but I never got a chance to play them. I suppose I never will =)

Au Revoir WAR! 1 of 4

I loved WAR. It was the best BETA ever, and really showed the potential for a pure PVP game (with PVE elements) to shine. I talked about it in the past but the short list of why the BETA was awesome was:

  • Every player was funneled into areas – so there was equal representation of each side, and always conflict to be had
  • You got to know your enemies really well – to nemesis status! Some on the other side were known as amazing, and you had to change tactics to deal with it
  • Everyone was forced into the same power level (tests were focused, +/- 5 levels)

Of course, the game fell apart live because everything above stopped happening (among other reasons go read the posts tagged WAR if you are really interested).

I predicted 1,000,000 active subs and a huge success for WAR. I still stand by that based on the BETA experience. Of course, the LIVE experience sucked in comparison. I was so certain that it was going to be a hit, and that I would be playing it for 10 years, that I started making comics about the game.

To be clear, I have ZERO art skills, so was using rudimentary photo-shop skills. I had planned to carry the comic on for a while, but only got four done. I am re-releasing them in honor of WAR closing down. The first, is Hammerer  Ed. I focused my first 4 comics on the “cut” classes and the Hammerer was one of them. Existing in the “nether”, and having the makers of the game explain why they weren’t making the launch of the game.


(Click on the graphic to see it in full)

If you don’t know the game you probably won’t get it. Even if you do, you probably won’t find it funny =) Either way, it stands as my first (and last) foray into comic-ing and at bare minimum remains a reminder of the enthusiasm I had for this title. Shame it let me (and us) down so badly.

1 of 4! Three more comics to go. Will post them daily.


I Am So Weak

Despite my obvious and clear negative reaction to the original thought of supporting Mark Jacobs, a couple things happened that was a tad silly and makes me a soft person. No no, not that kind of soft but mushy nostalgic soft. First, I tried to find the Stratics boards which were the main boards I used to chat it up about DAOC. Weren’t they the official boards at one point? Either way, they are changed but still there. It shows that I have made over 700 posts there back in the day, but alas, only a handful of them are find-able. I guess they migrated and/or scrubbed the hell out of the old boards.

A little google-fu took me to these boards where I recognized names from the server from 2001. And it felt strange yet nice to reconnect and then I realized – the same feelings that made you dislike or distrust a dev (fairly or unfairly) are the same that made you feel connected to the people within that gaming community. And that’s the key, isn’t it – that there is any feeling whatsoever, in a MMOSCAPE dominated by apathy. Who cares what happens in any recent MMO that doesn’t require people to make the game great in the first place.

So heck, go support Camelot Unchained. The $5 you spend might just make meaning in an MMO again. Even if it doesn’t, that’s just one less trip to Starbucks this week. I even give you permission to cancel your WoW subscription 10 days early this month so you can afford it.

(yes, I know it doesn’t work that way. But it should, no?)

Funny enough, I managed to convince a DAOC rep (now EA.. damn you!) that I had enough intimate information about my old account, that even though I didn’t have the email address for it anymore.. its mine again. There is no free trial, no ‘welcome back’  not a thing! But hey, I’ll buy a month – if only to remind me why it badly needs updating and that supporting CU was worth it.


I Am Alone In My MMO

Amazing things have happened in MMO advancement. Graphics, systems, play styles, game modes, etc. etc. etc. We have come a long, long way from multiple week grinds to get a level and losing all of your items (and even levels) upon death. Most of us, while we may look fondly back on the memories of those times, never, ever ever want to go back there again.

It was good when it was good. It was all we knew.

It forced us to need each other.

Not just EQ, with it’s punishing death penalties and XP bars that wouldn’t move for days.

I’m talking DAOC as well. In that game if you didn’t have players you didn’t really do anything. And when you were doing anything you had to always be on your toes in case there were other players.

Both had their own special magic because of the other player component. Both of those games made ties that have lasted the test of time, wow clones, and free-to-play bonanzas. Is anyone making them now?

GW2 – beautiful game. I leveled to 40 on it without being in a group, and barely working alongside other players. Granted, I went into that game solo, but wow – trying to talk to people in that game left blank stares and worse. After 40 levels of solo content, I just stopped logging in.

Even WoW – in a guild there, but WoW is so antisocial now. Log in, solo dailies, do a 5-man heroic, logout – all without typing a word. There are people there, but they might as well be NPC’s. It’s like I’m dancing with myse-elf. And sadly, I’m in a guild. What happened to epic guild chat? Green /gu flying up and down the screen? Too many buttons, and no downtime happened.

The only conversation I have had with anyone is my foray back into Blood Bowl. Matchmaker online puts you 1v1 and there are 2:00 min turns – turn based. So you have 2 minutes to chat to your opponent while he is making his moves, and he chats back while you are making your moves.

Downtime = Chat. Chat = connecting. Connecting = sense of belonging/camaraderie. Which all equals paying the monthly fee, continuing to play, contributing to the community, etc.

Maybe I am doing it wrong, but what I wouldn’t give for some downtime.

Keep Camelot Chained

I have a love/hate relationship with Marc Jacobs.

Love for DAOC – I left EQ for that game, and played it hard and religiously for years – even after Trials of Atlantis came out. I played on the testserver (Pendragon) and submitted bugs, and was active in the community. The guild I was a part of at the time lead the Midgard Alliance on the server. Heck, I’m still friends with people I played there with. It was a nice community.

Hate is way too strong of a word – I don’t hate anyone really. More of a distrust. Severe distrust. Just look at WAR and how that turned out. I know, I know, he (and everyone else) is blaming EA but that kinda feels like a copout. When you are in a leadership position, act like a leader. If things were so bad and you knew it was going to flop because EA was forcing your hand, fix it. Be the leader you claim to be at your new (and old) gig. At least go down fighting. Instead, he lied to his faithful supporters knowing the game was going to ship as a terrible piece of software unable to live up to the hype he created and paid for.

Right now, MJ sure looks like a guy who got lucky once, and capitalized on it. Now he wants you and I to make him lucky again.

While the PR behind Camelot Unchained – the foundational principles, et al all read great – why not try that in WAR? If those elements are so critical for success, why didn’t you – as the leader of the team creating WAR – put those in there? Did you not realize it until the megaflop? If you did realize it, why didn’t you do the right thing?

Then I read that he will put in 2m of his own if Kickstarter hits its goal of 2m. First I thought it was a nice gesture. Very cool. Then I realized, if he has 2M liquid he can go to a bank to get 2M more. Which means he is probably avoiding the banks because they will have strings attached to their loans. Whereas Kickstarter “loans” come free and no strings attached. He can allay the donating player base with a fancy blog post here and there, try doing that to a banker and their covenants.

Run for the easy money that you don’t have to be responsible for to anyone – except gamers and gaming news. It just feels against the spirit of Kickstarter. Guys like MJ should, you would like to believe, be able to go out and get a job with his resume. (If he can’t, that just cements my concern). Isn’t the spirit behind Kickstarter to give opportunities for those via an alternate funding model who would have a hard time getting it otherwise?

Maybe it is just history, and maybe I am giving CSE too hard of a time here, but can you blame me for being a bit cautious?