The Daily Grind: How would you revitalize a flailing MMO?

    
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spyeeeew

Good news, dear reader! You have just been placed in charge of a game that feels like it’s on its absolute last legs! You know the sort of title we’re talking about here, not something that’s reliably gaining players and doing well but something that seems to be limping along on life support. Maybe it’s a minimum-budget temport, maybe it’s a once-great game that is now failing to update at all; whatever the reasons, this game is now in your hands. You have an unlimited budget and functionally unlimited development time.

How do you fix it?

Yes, this is entirely a thought experiment for several reasons, not the least of which being that “unlimited budget and functionally unlimited development time” is both not a real thing and tends to produce more Daikatanas than Final Fantasy XIVs. But before you can even start to get into the mechanics of fixing an ailing game, you have to first know how to make changes. So pick your favorite flailing game and figure out how you’d make it appeal to players without worrying about the costs involved.

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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Zero_1_Zerum

Step one: take away the game’s flail.
Step two: Apply Phoenix Down.

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Dušan Frolkovič

1) Realize that whatever you do, people will hate it
2) Take the money and invest it
3) Go buy an island

Reader
Jeromai _

Here’s the thing, in this day and age of so many games available, there is a limit to the number of players that are going to stay retained as a day in, day out loyal population.

If one wants to peak beyond that stable number (some might not, and be content with a small, rabid, loyal fanbase that provides a stable monthly income for a small group of devs – risk being is that it’s prone to attrition from boredom and jadedness over time), one has to pivot the game to the new style of locust gameplay.

ie. players hear about something new and exciting happening in a game from third party sources (friends, streamers, journo sites like this one), players pop into the game and try it out for a limited period – 1 week to a couple of months, players lose interest and play other things until the next “cool” thing happens.

This means everything from the game’s monetization to players being able to feel progress and fun/enjoyment for the time they are playing has to accomodate the in and out cycle.

Updates with significant changes should be brought in with a regular frequency – couple of weeks to 3-4 months max, and hyped up, preferably with visible cool things – new features, content to explore, etc. Even some singleplayer games have the hang of this, e.g. Don’t Starve Together, Terraria, Slime Rancher, etc.

Bring them in, let them have fun (and preferably drop some cash) for the time they are playing, let them leave before they can develop bitter hate and burnout and they’ll still have a good opinion of your game when selling it to others and come back when you have something else to show them. Just don’t leave it too long without any more news.

If the game’s monetization can’t support this style, then resign yourself to a smaller steady population of loyal players and payers – make stuff that suits them and that they’ll keep paying more for than just the monthly fee and start working on the next game to prep once the inevitable attrition sinks in for good.

If a one-off sale, then just drop it and work on the next game, expansion or sequel.

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Castagere Shaikura

Anarchy Online is the perfect game for this. So many have said if it dropped the sub and had a cometic and vehicle only cashop they would support it again. Add some new content once in a while and touch up the graphics a little to keep it classic and the one thing to do is beef up the old weapons firing timers to fit the newer weapons in the game. They have old weapons that can do 1 pt of damage and the next could be 30 pts. Newer weapons have better numbers. I’m drooling thinking about how great an e beamer riffle could be.

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Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Armsbend

Shut it down and sell user data to a Russian credit card scam operation.

oldandgrumpy
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Kickstarter Donor
oldandgrumpy

Do something novel like introduce exit polling with follow up.

It seems modern MMO’s all know why you left so they don’t need to ask /s

Try and resolve the difference between what the existing player base wants versa what game analytics are showing they actually do.

Determine if retention is more important than growth as it hard to do both. Change often leads to player loss.

Reread ‘The Theory of Fun for Game Design’ and see if I can find any fun in the games current design :)

Bring in some outside help for a review of the current state of everything.

Sack some people and hire some new ones.

Update my resume as it hard to turn the ship around (it may indeed be sinking)

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

I would not leave it to analytics and Developer best guesses and preferences I would bring it to the people who ACTUALLY keep games alive or not the communities and

I would ask them to put forth suggestions of what they want from the game that it is currently lacking, poll them and then take the best collection of suggestions the developer can do and afford and provide within a reasonable time frame and get to work.

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Utakata

By adding more pigtail options.

…well that least might work for me! >.<

Reader
rafael12104

First, kudos to Eliot for the Daikatana reference. Holy shit. I didn’t think anyone remembered that one anymore. The Edsel of the Video game industry is largely forgotten these days which is ironic because the mistakes continue to be made over and over again. Insanity defined.

Revitalizing a game is not easy and it really depends on the game, the audience, and the issues involved.

But if you are giving me carte blanche, then I will give a very brief example of what I would do to bring back Anthem.

First, a complete reboot. That means taking the game completely offline while the work needed to finish the game is completed. And that includes all of it, the story the loot drops, the works. And, also make a public apology and take complete responsibility.

Second, take care of the players. Those that bought the game or are paying EA access should be taken care of in terms of compensation when the game goes live again, and with other things of value to them in-game. Their loyalty should be acknowledged and rewarded and they should get a formal apology.

Third, an honest campaign. Start a new PR blitz but with a sobering an honest assessment of what was wrong and what will be done to correct the issues. And this time with realistic expectations and goals.

Publish a realistic timeline including milestones leading to the game’s re-release.

Fourth, make it an MMO. The in-game mechanics should include chat and other community-focused systems.

Fifth, a specific focus on quality. This should happen in all stages of development in order ship the cleanest form of the game possible at re-launch.

Last, employ a real testing strategy that includes free Betas to loyal players and includes issue reporting.

Random MMO fan
Reader
Random MMO fan

If I have unlimited budget and some old MMO:

1) Shut it down. This is a NECESSARY step
2) Rebuild it using modern engine with latest features, especially DX12 which has certain benefits for large battles and seeing large amount of people on screen. Same for latest visual features, this is VERY IMPORTANT for monetizing game through cosmetics – for example I never felt compelled to use any cosmetic in ESO and one of the reasons I quit playing it since everything looked very depressing with the dull desaturated green + brown, with bad lighting system, bad shading system, no realistic reflections and so on.
3) Add stuff that would attract EVERY kind of mature adult player:

PvP zones with open world PvP (not mandatory to visit for people interested in story), connected to other zones and having unique crafting resources (people who do not like PvP can buy them on global market, those crafting resources will not be necessary to craft any gear not used in PvP areas or for majority of cosmetic items) and capturable areas where you can build defence or resource collecting structures, not affected by server resets. Build your own keeps, hire NPC guards (or player mercenaries) to defend it, or build siege engines and vehicles to destroy them. Join large guilds if you cannot do that or pay them to be under their protection!

PvE areas without forced PvP for all people who just want to experience story, with PvE instances with boss fights to enhance the story.

Keep writing the story which would be interesting, with plenty of humor and drama, supported by soundtrack with various music styles. Story never has to end even if it does in books. If I am not allowed to expand story beyond books or what original lore says – this MMO is not worth supporting and I would not spend anything on it. Make sidequests memorable and non-grindy.

Endless dungeons – just floors with progressively harder enemies and bosses, similar to FFXIV’s deep dungeons, without limit of floors, for everyone who finds it fun to grind PvE monsters (I don’t), with gear unique to those dungeons.

User-created dungeons where user can create a dungeon of limited size with pre-built monsters but user is free to put any number of monsters and free to use his/her own items as loot for any of monsters, each user can create one of such dungeon, other users can access it through special ingame menu and can vote on how fun it is.

PvE gear and PvP gear: encourage crafting by giving a chance of your gear becoming permanently broken if its durability falls beyond certain point of if you are killed, or allow other players in PvP area to loot items from you and same thing for NPC enemies in PvE (you can get items back if you kill that enemy, unless someone else kills that enemy first). Let crafting be always in demand beyond cosmetic items.

Cosmetics items – allow users to create their own cosmetic clothing and decorations and sell them in in-game store with a certain amount going to user (80% or higher), obviously copyrighted stuff will be disallowed to sell or to be available for free.

Social stuff for people who don’t want to do PvP or PvE grinding: good music system (better than in LotRO), system for public posting about your concerts or other events in game, good housing system (with limited number of plots and taxes for using those plots, if people cannot get those housing plots – they can still rent one of limitless apartments in apartment buildings or rent room in someone else’s house), good emote system with 100’s of emotes for all kind of situations. Maybe (maybe!) ability to get your character fully nude in privacy of your own house or apartment – adults play games like this and there is no rational reason to prevent them from experiencing more mature stuff, this can be controlled by adding parental controls where you can disallow your children from entering anyone else’s housing without your permission. Or just disallow your children playing this game completely – plenty of other more kid-friendly games to play for them and there are plenty of adults to sustain the game like this. Just rate the game “MA” and be done with it.

VR support, with full support for body motion tracker sensors – this is the ultimate social feature since it is possible to make your character to not rely on pre-set emotes or dance moves and let you do your own. Before anyone will say “well, not many people own such VR sets and most sensors cannot track body movement well” – this is all because there are no popular games supporting this hardware.

No botting and no multiboxing for any reason. This annoys majority of people not interested in doing this and also one of the reasons some of them quit the game. Doesn’t matter if multiboxers are paying customers. Use every possible tools to combat them – from in-game GMs to automated tools which would scan for known multiboxing tools and bot programs. For same reason – no trial accounts, no ability to turn in-game currency into sub time, flat sub fee for everyone regardless of the country.

That’s basically it. With few tweaks this can apply to any MMO, regardless of setting (unless the story and gameplay is not allowed to be expanded by the holder of IP for this game, in which case this MMO is not worth supporting or relaunching).