MMOs for gamers or businessmen?
As you can see, there are many differences between gamers and businessmen. Gamers want games made for/by gamers. Gamers get games made for/by businessmen because businessmen make games to make money and repay other businessmen. While the obvious solution is to make MMOs for gamers, please the heck out of them, and make a solid ROI in the process, things just don't seem to work out that way all the time.
"Happy Gamers - (Development + Maintenance) = Profit."
The biggest issue I find with most MMOs is that they are designed to maximize profit instead of delivering a truly amazing experience. For example, subscription-based MMOs have all kinds of artificial timesinks built-in from exponentially increasing experience curves to extremely low-chance random loot drops to souldbinding equipment to instance attunement
. RMT-based MMOs seem to present players with in-game obstactles that can be overcome by out-of-game swipes of the credit card
Let's also quickly discuss MMO innovation; or a lack there-of. One could argue that the masses are not interested in innovation. One could also argue that there aren't many people complaining about the invention of electricity, radio, flight, and the combustion engine. Innovation is expensive and risky though, so you don't often see MMO developers take this road. Lately, it's been more about massaging and incrementally building upon proven ideas.
So, just how do you get gamers and businessmen to sit around the fire singing Kumbaya
? Things need to change, but the sad fact is, you can't change a gamer, at least not with brute force. Individuals are the way they are and generally change gradually over time or of their own accord (usually requiring an epiphany of apocalyptic proportions). All businessmen need to know is that gamers love to game.
Businessmen, I'm sorry to say the burden of change is on you. On the plus side, the forumula is simple when you think about it: Happy Gamers - (Development + Maintenance) = Profit.
What sounds easier; making 10,000,000 gamers happy or making 200,000 gamers happy? What sounds more expensive; making 10,000,000 gamers happy or making 200,000 gamers happy? I'm not suggesting quality should be compromised by any means, but I think developers need to make a thorough re-examination of their scope.
"Youth have two valuable commodities: time and imagination."
The overall pool of gamers who play MMOs is growing day by day. You don't need to capture them all to be successful. You don't even need to capture a tenth of them. As long as you aim for the sweet spot of ROI by designing conservatively rather than for mass appeal (and racking up a NASA-esque budget for your journey to the stars) I think you'll be successful.
Very few studios are running more than one MMO right now, but I think this will be the way of the future. Think of it as the franchising approach. You can build one giant drug store in the middle of town or several smaller ones strategically placed throughout town. If that doesn't make sense, there's that old saying: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."
Two more approaches I'll quickly mention include youth and horizontal design.
Youth have two valuable commodities: time and imagination. As more we see more open source MMO game engines come out, I think this sector has the potential to really take off. Remember all the homegrown MUDs back in the day? Imagine that with MMOs.
Finally, there's horizontal design. Developers, er, businessmen really need to stop punishing people with roadblocks for profit. What sounds like a better option: spending 4-6 months on one character and burning out because you have to do it all over again with an alt just for a change of scenery or allowing players to experience the full breadth, beauty, and variety of content your game offers by making that initial journey less tedious and more diversely expansive?
Service, quality, choice, surety, and accessibility. Those are things all gamers and businessmen should agree upon.