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The Think Tank: Let's play armchair developers

Shawn Schuster

Sometimes it's fun to imagine what we might do if given the chance to take over an MMO's development or community management teams for a month. Sure, a month might not be long in the scope of a game's development, but it might be long enough to get the ball rolling on some new and innovative ideas -- especially with a limitless budget. Hey, we're dreaming here, folks!

So I asked the Massively team what they would do to their favorite MMO(s) if given the keys for a month.

The Think Tank Let's play armchair developers
If I could wave my magic wand and take over Guild Wars 2's development for a month, I'd release two full updates of non-combat activities and improvements. Housing! Cosmetic options! Emotes! City-based activities! Roleplay tools in the UI! New NPC dialogue and an overhaul of the personality system! New crafting recipes to make interesting doodads and new things to find out in the world! They'd find me at the bottom of Lake Gendarr, scorched to death by at least half of the forums. At least Tarnished Coast and Piken Square would mourn for me.

This would, of course, be in a perfect world where logistics and budget are no object. And while I'm casting spells, a pony for everyone!
The Think Tank Let's play armchair developers
If you had asked me this over six months ago, I would have written an essay on the direction I'd take EVE Online if given the opportunity. But today I find that the new Senior Producer has a very similar vision of EVE's future potential, and the direction she's taking the game is absolutely spot-on.

Though neither is really an MMO, I'd like to take charge of Star Citizen or Elite: Dangerous and try to push them in the direction of single-shard online universes. Both games will have online multiplayer in a limited form, which is sure to lead to emergent gameplay like piracy and theft. But to have meaningful political shenanigans, territorial disputes, and dangerous systems pirated by particular player factions, there needs to be only one instance of each solar system. Your actions are a lot more impactful if they happen on the only copy of the game universe and can potentially affect every player of the game rather than just a small subset of them.
The Think Tank Let's play armchair developers
Eh, I dunno, I guess if budget isn't an issue I'd add some real housing mechanics to Lord of the Rings Online. Ditto for Star Wars: The Old Republic, except I wouldn't stop there. I'd scrap whatever BioWare is doing with its space thing and just copy Jump to Lightspeed. Seriously, there's no need to reinvent the wheel, and it's not possible for Star Wars MMO space gameplay to be better than JtL. I'm sure BioWare could manage all that in a month!

If I could take over a game's community management it would be EVE Online's. The game itself is largely stellar, but the perception of the game's community keeps it from being the greatest sandbox game of all time. Note that I said perception, EVE fans. Yes, the larger community is generally helpful but it's the asshats who make all the headlines. And CCP does a very poor job of communicating the fact that not everyone in New Eden is an asshat.
The Think Tank Let's play armchair developers
This is a tricky question, because the initial response is to implement all of my wish list features. But, being realistic, each of the studios has limited resources and are already working on various projects, so to say "cast all that aside and work on my stuff and, yeah, get it done in a month" is hard hypothetical to ponder.

But if I had to pick one, I'd go Blizzard. I'd announce free-to-play for World of Warcraft, a full housing system, armor dyes, and a much faster patch process. Then the team would revolt and throw me into a pit of murlocs. Above all else, I'd be a lot more communicative and relatable with the fan base.
The Think Tank Let's play armchair developers
I don't really know what I'd do, just because I'm so aware of how MMO production and development schedules are. Nothing takes a month, and there are no real big changes that I'd make to a game. If I made a change for something, it'd be Age of Wushu to remove the power creep. It's not something that could be done in a month, but I feel that the only really awful thing about the game is the huge vertical climb it takes to get to the top level. However, games aren't made or changed in a month. People take a lot of development for granted. Content changes take tons of development assets, plus production too.
The Think Tank Let's play armchair developers
At this point, I'd like to take over Warhammer Online for one of its final two months. I know I wouldn't be able to save the game in that time, but I'd just want to help it go out with a bang. Maybe I could release all previously promised content that's in a near-finished state, much like Tabula Rasa did in its final months. Or I could create a lead-up to the pending Armageddon, much like was done for The Matrix Online's finale. I would certainly make sure that the players had fun breaking stuff so they could remember the game fondly for years to come.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.

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