The Daily Grind: How many people should an MMO be designed for?
I was having a discussion with a friend the other day about tabletop games and designed sizes. That sounds a bit complex, but it really isn’t; it’s just about how many people are expected to be playing a given tabletop game. Is the game designed for groups of four people? Five? Three? It’s variable, and it has a pretty big impact on how the game’s adventures, abilities, and so forth are written.
Of course, MMOs are the same way. Not in terms of group size, but in terms of how many people are expected to be around at any given time. If you have a game where having a house is expected but there aren’t enough houses for people to actually own, you have too many people for the game you designed. (ArcheAge and Final Fantasy XIV, I’m looking in your direction.) On the other hand, if you design your game to be sustained on the 1% of the population serving as hardcore raiders and that 1% isn’t enough for a full raid group, you have too few people for the game you designed. (This is also known as pulling a WildStar.)
It’s hard to know how many people are playing a given game at this point, of course, because basically no game studio gives out firm numbers any longer, even World of Warcraft. But today, rather than speculating about sizes, we’re going to take a slightly different tack. How many people should an MMO be designed for? How many people should be on a single server or data center (or instance of the world for single-shard games), and which games do the best job of hitting that target?