Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Length of games

Coprolit alerted me to an article on Gamespot about the length of games. Basically indie game developers say that they can make games as good as anyone else, but due to budget restraints the indie games will be shorter than games from big companies. So Coprolit thinks that this principle could be applied to MMORPGs, with better gameplay instead of more content leading to longevity.

I'm not so sure that will work. Not that I'm against better gameplay. But being an explorer in the Bartle terminology, discovering new content is important to me too. Game mechanics *have to* be good anyway, because whether you kill the same mob over and over, or a different mob in every combat, the basic combat steps are repetitive. But players simply prefer a variety of different mobs to fight with. I remember in Final Fantasy XI when it came out there were very, very few different monster models. You left your starting city and killed rabbits, and when you travelled to higher level zones, many of them had rabbits of higher level, same model, different color. You could theoretically go from level 1 to the level cap by killing nothing but rabbits. That is cheap to produce, but not very interesting.

Coprolit quotes the problems of vertical, content heavy, level/area-based expansions, and I agree that I'd love to see more horizontal character development. That is character development that does not add to your effective power, but only to status or the completion of collections or better social contacts. But I doubt that could be done without adding content, the content would just have to be of a different kind. I've played enough games where the landscape was randomly created, and even some games where the quests came from a random mission generator. In general I found these games lacking in interest.

The one "indie" MMORPG I played was A Tale in the Desert, which is very good, but failed to keep me interested for long stretches of time. I think the huge mass of content that World of Warcraft has compared to its competitors is a big part of its success. That this costs many millions of dollars to create is unfortunate for indie developers. But I don't really see a way around it.
Actually these shorter indie games could prove to be the saviour of the MMO genre in general.


They would be the concept test lab for the bigger producers, and while being shorter both in gameplay and lifespan, they could create a living, thriving community from which new concepts could pop up.

I referred a finnish book to you about a fictious MMO, which was determined from the beginning to last for three years. The game itself consisted of three 'chapters' which would progress the global story into a final climax.

After which the game would reset.

In TV there are very few series' which have predeterminated length, and I think Babylon5 was one of the first to make it really relevant. The 5 year story arch, though broken at around season 4, still proved to be strong enough.

If we think of the claim that the MMO's average life has been 3 years, this sort of predetermined length could prove to be viable business model for a successfull indie game, if the content and polish was high enough.

I'm looking forward to seeing an indie game which delivers these promises of high quality at the cost of longevity. I'm sure they could do marvellously in the current market.

I am a big fan of the move to quality over quantity in single player gaming. 10 hours of high quality entertainment is better value and more life friendly than 40 hours of mediocre entertainment in my opinion.

I would like to see short MMORPG type games. Lets say the game offered 50 to 100 hours of high quality content to finish the main story line. Accept that most of the players will leave after that, but perhaps include pvp or some form of grinding for the die-hards who stay on. I don't have a magic answer as to how such a game could make money but perhaps the Guild Wars model shows the way.
Shorter games will only be the savior if they are quality games and a lot of them come out regularly.

Look how bad the wow playerbase gets a year after an expansion pack. Imagine an Indie game 2 months after everyone has found everything. That and I think the shorter to produce games will most likely be lower in quality. And I don't think that MMO gamers will accept that.
No matter how much content a game has sooner or later a player is going to become bored with it. And the more 'content' an MMO has, the more likely it is to be dilute and part of a near endless 'grind'. WoW certainly has a lot of things to do, but I would call a vast amount of it repetitive, unoriginal, grindy, and iterative. That's not content, that's filler.

All MMO's have a limited life expectancy, just like any other game. If developers planned and budgeted for a set lifetime they'd be able to pace the game appropriately and have real subscriber targets to turn a profit. They'd be more inclined to add content that is fun, rather than filler designed to keep people subscribed.

Don't get me wrong, WoW is a good game and I'm not a WoW hater, but most of blizzard's development decisions are clearly based around keeping their subscribers playing for long stretches of time, and not so much for fun. Case in point, the new badge loot in patch 2.4 that requires up to 150 badges. 150. That, on average, will take between 30 and 40 heroic runs. Now that is what I call a GRIND.
Oh, so that was what Paul Barnett was referring to in his Lift conference address when we talked about big rabbits...
I agree; you need a ton of quality content to make a solid, long-lasting MMO. No shortcuts will work. Quality *and* quantity; it's a tough job, and has to feel fun and creative throughout. Even a group a very talented individuals creating great stuff can fall short. We're talking about creating *worlds* here, being interacted with in a myriad ways...
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