Category Archives: MMOG

MMOG Players Overlook Poor Customer Service

Guardian GamesBlog spotted 15 ethnographies written by Trinity University students, exploring sociological issues in MMORPGs. One student determined that the majority of MMOG players are willing to tolerate bad customer service if the game itself is generally fun. This jives with my personal experience; if I had held World of Warcraft to normal levels of expectation for customer service, I would have quit the game within weeks. The vaguely “addictive” qualities of MMOGs surely have something to do with this — it’s hard to quit a game when you’ve invested so much effort into it (and have built so many relationships.)

Still, it is probably unsafe to assume that customer service will always be a negligible factor in player retention. Even if personalized customer service is hard to provide profitably, automated help systems have plenty of room for improvement. (Some commonly reported errors, like finding yourself physically stuck in-game, should never require human assistance.) A greater degree of faith in user honesty (re: complaints that require in-game restitution) is probably appropriate, too — at least in the absence of better automated help.

Not that the handy-dandy Customer Service 3000 isn’t doing a great job. *grin*

Nokia Announces MMOG for Java Handsets

Nokia has announced that “Space Alliance,” an MMOG for Java-ready phones, will be released in Q1 2006. Game players work together to fight enemies, build starbases, and develop / coordinate defenses. A live moderator will coordinate the actions of the enemy alien fleet over time.

The game is designed to be purely cooperative. While this might alienate some people, I think it’s a great attempt to make the game more accessible. With no fear of being PK’d by merciless 12-year olds, you might just see players of all types getting into the game.

Equally interesting is Nokia’s decision to avoid restricting gameplay to Nokia-only handsets. Any phone with a recent version of Java can support the game, apparently. Really good call, IMO — reaching critical mass is crucial for an MMOG. I’m sure Nokia can find ways to encourage players on other handsets to eventually migrate.

MMOrgy – Sex in Games Has a New Home

Slow news day today. Most interesting thing I’ve read was a post by Kotaku drawing attention to MMORGY, a new site focused on virtual sex in multiplayer games. “Porncraft” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

The phenomenon is neither new nor surprising, of course. The zillion-dollar question is: what will happen when game developers manage to transmit the feeling of sex, not just the visuals? Might not be as far off as people think… remember Sony’s non-invasive, brain-sensory patent? Good thing we’ll probably have perfected growing babies out of test tubes by then. We might need to.

PS. I read somewhere that porn-related queries account for 25% of search engine traffic in the US. I wonder if 25% (or more) of the content in games like Second Life will ultimately shift towards sex?

How to Indulge the “Low Playtime” MMO Gamer?

There’s an interesting discussion taking place on Slashdot… a user of A Tale in the Desert says he cancelled his account because he wasn’t playing enough to justify the monthly fee, and asks “where is the metered model for the casual gamer?” The lead designer of Tale responded that he might set up a server especially for casual gamers that limits playtime to a few hours a month, but costs the same amount. His rationale: most casual gamers complain that they can’t “compete” with hardcore players who give the game more time; they don’t complain (at least outwardly) about cost.

First, I think it’s really important not to lump “low playtime” users into the larger category of “casual gamers.” Someone who wants to play WoW for eight hours a week is not a casual gamer; a dedicated user of Pogo.com probably is. That said, I think a “casual” server is a compelling idea, but I doubt you can charge all players the same amount. People feel very strongly about fairness, and as a game developer, you violate those feelings at your own peril. If a casual server is identical to a “hardcore” server but has limits on playtime, gamers will probably expect a discount (and I see no reason why not to indulge them.)

Of course, there are other pricing models that remove emphasis from playtime altogether. Second Life’s “play for free, pay monthly fees for land ownership” model, for example. This could be extended to MMOs like World of Warcraft by, for example, charging a small monthly fee for ownership of a mount, a guild hall, etc. Ultimately, hardcore players would still end up paying a fair amount.

Pricing solutions aside, I’d love to see an MMO that makes both “low-playtime” and “high-playtime” gamers happy by truly addressing the problem of competitive disadvantage. WoW tried to do this via rest experience bonuses (the longer you’re offline, the easier it is to gain experience while online) — but it only helps so much. How about designing an MMO in which “important” functions only require a limited amount of time (say, one hour a day) but “less important” functions can be enjoyed endlessly? For example, a space trading game that limits crucial mercantile functions to a given number per day, but places no limits on exploration, combat, etc?

The game industry is currently underserving two markets: people who would love a casual MMO (like Yo Ho Ho Puzzle Pirates), and “low playtime” gamers who enjoy hardcore games but hate to be left behind by high playtime friends and/or enemies. Going after those markets would probably entail less risk than making the next traditional hardcore MMORPG, too.

Entropia Virtual Property Sold for $100K

Virtual land in Project Entropia

A virtual in-game “space station resort,” auctioned off by the makers of Project Entropia, has been sold to real-life entrepreneur Jon Jacobs for $100K. Jacobs forecasts revenues of $20,000/month from admission fees, residential and commercial rental fees, advertising fees from the station’s billboard system, etc.

Apparently there is some speculation that Jon and the makers of Entropia are in cahoots, trying to generate buzz. Well, I’ll bite. *grin*

While I’m more interested in property being generated by end-users in games like Second-Life, it’s interesting to see how differing levels of creative and/or entrepreneurial need can be addressed by game developers. Perhaps these games will become so popular that developers can offer “design seminars” in major cities in order to encourage further creativity and activity. I bet people would pay to attend the seminars (though it might be worth making them free.)

SOE: broadening the MMO market?

Evercrack

SOE president John Smedley talks about subscription-free MMOs (which rely on upsell models) and moving from the RPG genre to action and strategy. One interesting tidbit: over 33% of the EQ2 players paid for extra services like guild forms and guild chat.

I wish more MMO makers would explore extending the medium to casual and hardcore-but-short-on-time gamers. Yo Ho Ho Puzzle Pirates (among other games) has proven that you can make an MMO for an older audience. There are turn-based models of play that offer satisfying MMO experience in 30-minute bites. Remember the old MM BBS games? Those rocked.

Older gamers (with lives and/or kids) often can’t enjoy Everquest (or WoW) when interesting raids take four hours to complete, and guildmates play obsessively (leaving behind less committed gamers.)