Let’s put my review update on Star Stable Online in perspective. When I first started looking at colleges I really wanted to go into game design. I ended up studying fashion for reasons that are a bit too long to go into. However, I never hung out with fellow fashion students. I wasn’t a barista or a bar tender. I didn’t like partying. I hung out with the game design and animation majors. We played video games. We talked about video games. We did role playing. We were into stuff coming out of Japan. The Academy didn’t really have an English major so I couldn’t hang out with those people. Once again, my life choices really should have told me something.
I love video games. I loved watching the behind the scenes stuff of animation and how they came up with the original Myst and I would watch my roommate use Zbrush and Maya with fascination. (But by then I was in too deep with fashion classes to change majors and nothing would have switched.) And when it came to choosing my first MMO, I was really choosey and demoed a LOT of them before choosing Guild Wars. And over the years, as I’ve dabbled into different types of games, I’ve come to realize that MMOs (and honestly most RPGs) should have some differing priorities than other games.
First off, have the hardware to run the game. If the company doesn’t have enough servers, then the game isn’t going to get anywhere. Even big companies have run into this, EA and Spore? No one likes a game that constantly crashes.
But the second biggest priority and honestly the thing that should be settled long before servers are an issue is story. Story. Story. Story. I cannot repeat this enough. Have a story. Have it completed or at least to a first good “pause.” Make sure it has the ability to be expanded upon. An MMO is usually on an epic scale, so there should be heroes and villains and betrayals and things that make you laugh and things that make you cry and things that make you mad.
There are eight types of MMO players. Five of those types depend in some way shape or form on story. Points and leveling come through quests, and quests come through story. Exclusive and Unlockable content, tends to come through story. There are three types of the eight MMO players who rely on social connections. A lot of times these social connections are through helping other players with quests, so thus, story. So, let’s just break it down and say that 2/3 of the people who play an MMO are in it for story content even if it is because they want the highest level toon with the best gear. They usually have to go through story to get that toon and gear.
Only half of the players are there for virtual goods. One quarter for exclusive content and sadly, 1/8 for unlockable content. (Yes, to be fair, a lot of players do not want to put in the time and effort to “unlock” areas or items.) Unless, unlockable content is the stuff you have to pay to get to. And there are plenty of players (myself included) who don’t want to “unlock” things with real world money either. Expansions are different, expansions are like entire games of themselves. (Or should be.)
Story drives the game. An awesome world or cool concept can get players to the game to check it out, but unless there is a story that gets them involved right off the bat, 2/3 of them aren’t going to stick around.
Look, for decent story, players don’t even need graphics. There are plenty of text driven games that were fairly popular. These were the origins of MMOs, the Multi-User-Dungeons or MUDS. The computer version of a ‘choose your own adventure story!’
Have a story. Have a good story. Have it relatively completed. And for God’s sake, put it out in a steady manner. I don’t care if your model is the WoW/GW model or a weekly update model or whatever. Don’t leave the player’s hanging for story.
Though, now a days, decent graphics are almost a must. And I say “Decent” because you can’t have them so high resolution that the game lags to load, but so low resolution that the player feels like they are either a cartoon or a bunch of mashed together flat textured polygons. By all rights, most MMOs cannot afford to do game console quality graphics and they shouldn’t have to. WoW has a certain cartoonish style. Guild Wars went slightly more realistic. Those are now the standards. Three dimensionality, a bare minimum of shadowing and a certain art style that is cohesive throughout the game.
Yes. Please. Have one art direction and stick to it. Please. Please. PLEASE. Things start looking horrible if you’ve got 3 art styles right next to each other in the game. It doesn’t work. Choose one. ONE!
And yes, it does take time to create more story, especially since you’re working with 3D graphics and adding stuff into a huge world. So, give the players the ability to go back and replay what they’ve done. That way the story remains fresh in the player’s mind and there is a lot less complaining about getting new story.
The players should also have more things to do. Things like fishing or crafting or mining or farming. There are certain types of players that will do nothing but grind for drops and create things for themselves and other players. They like doing this. It takes up more time and keeps players around longer. It’s become part of an accepted MMORPG experience.
However, this whole farming, crafting and lots of items and gear can lead to what I think is one of the worst additions to MMOs outside of an in game trade system, microtransactions. Sometime in the last ten years the internet has evolved enough that companies realized that people are almost constantly connected to their credit cards and/or paypal. So, they’ve put items in games that have no real world intrinsic value and slapped real money values on them! You want that super mount, pay .99 cents to 50 dollars for it. You want this exclusive item, pay money for it. You don’t want ads, pay money for it. You want to speed up time, pay money for it! This really, really begins to add up and call me old fashioned. I find it really annoying.
I understand that a certain amount of microtransactions are de rigeour today. However, if your microtransaction content starts eclipsing your regular content (meaning quests aka story) then your game has a major problem. Limit the microtransactions!
And you know what, I don’t even mind merchandise. Tie in books. Action Figures. Clothes. Coffee Mugs. Whatever. People will buy that stuff if they are into the game. They’ll buy it even if they aren’t into the game because they have children or people they know who like action figures or reading in whatever genre that game is in.
I draw the line at codes attached to these products that are redeemable for in game content. That is a road paved to hell. That is when more hacking starts. That’s when people start trying to sell the codes. That’s when people stop buying period.
And lastly, have an easy battle system if you must include a battle system. I’m not really fond of combat anymore in my MMOs, that’s why I was playing Star Stable. However, so many combat systems are very cluttered. I liked GWs, as long as you were the proper level, had bought or taken the quest to get the spell and had the mana, you could USE said spell. They limited you to so many spells, so players were forced to create “builds.” But you know what, it was easy to use, press 1 through 0, you cast a spell. End of discussion.
Honestly, I want a MMO that is more like Okami without the battles. Go around, heal the land and let me farm, craft, mine my weasely black guts out, with story, lots and lots of story. Of course, if you want something done. You’ve got to do it yourself.