Friday, May 15, 2009
Third and last post on questions from the open Sunday thread. But I'll tackle the question of "How do you create EQ3 with out dividing your player base by 3?" a bit wider, and will talk about MMO sequels in more general terms, so as to cover Blizzard's upcoming next MMO as well.
So you have a company that produced a popular MMO, and you want to reinvest the money into making a new game, again a MMO, because you think that is the core competency of your company. What goals would you typically set yourself?
- The new game should be even more popular (and make more money) than the old game.
- While a certain number of players inevitably will quit the old game to play the new one, you don't want to completely cannibalize and destroy the old game, as long as it is still making money.
The main problem is finding the balance between keeping the old and creating the new. For reasons of brand awareness as well as making the new game cheaper to produce, there is an obvious attraction of making the new game a "improved" version of the old game, using the same name, related lore, and making a world which is similar to the old one, moved a millenium into the future or the past, or struck by some cataclysm. And of course the people you have available to work on the new game are those that already worked on the old game, and are likely to retain similar game design ideas. It should be obvious that this approach can't fulfil our two goals. If the new game is just a new and improved version of the old game, it will either succeed and completely kill the old game, or it will be not quite as successful, and only split the player base. Very few people play several subscription MMOs in parallel, so if your new game is mainly attracting players of the old game, you can't possibly win.
So as strange as it might sound, your best bet is a new game which the core player base of your old game positively hates. The perfect sequel for Everquest is Free Realms, not EQ2 or EQ3. In that case the new game is more accessible to a wider audience, targets a different core player base, and has lots of unique selling points which are completely different from those of the old game. Free Realms will undoubtedly peak at a much larger number of players than Everquest, and it won't cannibalize EQ1 or EQ2. Goals fulfilled, bingo!
Of course things are never black and white, and there is a wide field between making a pure sequel and making a completely different new game. I do believe that Blizzard's new MMO will be somewhere in the middle. They recently confirmed again that yes, it will certainly be a completely new IP, not WoW2 or World of Starcraft or World of Diablo. But many of the people making the new game will be from the WoW team, including Jeff "Tigole" Kaplan. The talk on "directed gameplay" he gave at the GDC09 makes it obvious that Blizzard still strongly believes in a game design in which players are steered in the "right" direction by quests and incentives. There is some hope that the new game will be a different genre than fantasy, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had linear advancement, and the game guiding you through the content by various means, instead of giving you complete freedom.