Still valid, overly focused on WOW.
Nobody in their right mind says “FPS” alienates the casual gamer nowadays. They gibber about the core gamer something something.
Attention to all developers.
If you’re making a World of Warcraft style game, stop it immediately.
I mean it. Diku mud content, phase based combat, abstractions of the game world, lots of levels, lots of raids, lots of loot, if these are your core pieces of content and you’re spending 5-10+ million to develop it, stop it.
You’re going to lose money if you’re expecting 100,000+ subscribers. You’re going to give online games an even worse stigma than they already have, and make getting development funding more difficult for everyone involved.
Why should you stop? Well think this through.
WOW has ~6 million subscribers. These players are playing the game fairly intensively, making characters, maxing them out, making new characters, engaging in pvp, and consuming contnet.
Think about how players spin out of an MMO. They don’t win it per-se, they burn out on it. They leave with a very negative attitude towards the game, and more importantly, the gameplay style.
Players burn out on a gameplay style from an MMO. And it’s permanent. Their playstyle and play goals have grown beyond where they started, their tastes have evolved, and their expectations of quality have changed.
So if you’re developing a product for 1, 2, 3+ years down the line, you damn well better project out player expectations an desires to match your timeline.
You’re going to have 6 million people coming out of WOW looking for a new experience. A different and improved experience. If you try to sell them the same game, they simply won’t bother.
So now that you’ve stopped development on your lesson in financial failure and reactive design, let’s talk about broadening the appeal of whatever you decide to make next.
To start, forget everything you know about online games.
Why you may be asking. The current development model and experience delivery we’ve slavishly adhered to for 20 years is dragging us, our financial backers, our coworkers and our fans down the tubes.
We deliver a bullshit, abstracted, shallow experience to a hardcore and obsessively dedicated playerbase.
It’s definitely a living, and we’ve done reasonably well financially over the past years, but it’s limiting our growth, audience potential, and to be blunt, social acceptability of MMO games.
First, our audience.
You can make a damn nice living catering to a small audience. See the Long Tail, a superlative study in niche audience development and potential.
But if you’re making a niche game, don’t spend 10 million dollars and 3 years developing it. Spend the money where it’s appropriate, and minimize your development risk. Nurture your 10-100,000 subs, maintain your community and you’ll do great. See Eve for a company that’s done a staggeringly good job of this.
But for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume you want to build a reasonably large, succesful, accessible, mainstream game.
First, what does mainstream mean?
It means maximizing your customer base. It does NOT mean sacrificing any semblance of depth, complexity or gameplay dynamic to appeal to all 6 billion members of the human race. Pick a demographic and stick to it. And for fucks sake, pick a demographic that likes games if you’re going to spend a massive amount of money.
So once you’ve picked a demographic, figure out an appropriate dream to deliver to them.
Player’s have a dream of play. They want to fly spaceships, they want to shoot dinosaurs, they want to save humanity. This dream is the core element to build off of when maximizing your audience.
The content of the dream isn’t the #1 concern, but instead, how do you deliver the purest realization. How do you maximize the experience fidelity so that what they see on their screen matches what they see in their head?
So far for massively multiplayer dream realization, all we’ve done is obfuscate and abstract. We put dynamics, UI’s, numbers, text, and all other manner of bullshit between the player character, the player human, and the dream expectation.
There have been a few cases of developers avoiding this, but generally speaking, we manage to leech the enjoyment out of these experiences in the interest of turning it into an online experience.
We settle for third tier experience representation because it’s on online game. That’s utter bullshit. 10 years ago when everyone used dialup, fine. We actaully had to deal with ultra high latency and low bandwidth connections. We had to abstract out the experiences to make them work reasonably properly on the scale we were working on.
But now? Hell, we’ve got broadband, we’ve got the server processing power, we’ve got the infrastructure. Let’s use it.
So how? Start with the raw input. You want the most direct and absolute method of control. You want the player character to feel like a complete extension of the player.
This means going with an action game methodology. If your player shoots a gun at something, let the player shoot a gun. Don’t put the action in a queue, make an icon blink, start a gun shooting minigame involving matching colors and shapes. If the player shoots a gun, use every piece of visual, gameplay and auditory feedback to let them.
Sure you’ve got your control scheme limitations. A mouse/controller and a gun are different. But you want a direct connection between the input and the action. If you click or press a button, the character shoots. What do they shoot at? Whatever they’re aiming at.
It’s that simple. Make the direct representation of the experience, not an abstraction.
Some might say things like “First Person Shooters/Action Games/Action alienate the casual gamer”.
To that I say “Bullshit”
You know what alienates the casual gamer far more? Massively Multiplayer games. And it’s our fault.
We want players to view online games with the same sense of style, panache and experience representation as Halo 2, GTA, Oblivion.
Anything else doesn’t do the medium justice, and is a waste of everyone’s development dollars.