The Possibility of Short-Lived MMO’s

I was reading through the comments of VirginWorlds Podcast #117, and Scytale2 said, “Why not have MMOs which are fun but have less content, but attract lots and lots of players for limited timescales?” While I think it’s an interesting concept for sure, I don’t think this would work, at least not when thinking about MMO’s in the traditional sense. There are three major problems that I see here:

1) There are simply too many people and too many resources involved in MMO’s to expect them to live short-term. If he was speaking from the concept of “10 for $5m instead of 1 for $50m” and the employees can jump from one game to another once each project is complete, I doubt they would be willing to work on a project for six months and be done with it and have to go look for another job. If they did jump from one project to another, they would have to completely switch gears, flesh out a whole new concept and all of the minor details, put it together, and ship it out. If they didn’t switch, and the studio wanted to work simultaneously on all of these MMO’s, they are going to have to hire enough employees to build them all at the same time. Depending on how many people you have working on the game this could work, but the more employees you have working together, the faster it’s going to be ready and the more content/polish it’s going to have. That said, if you are in a time crunch and don’t have much time, you are going to have to fork over more money up front to hire more people, which means higher production costs. Plus, when they were done, they would simply be out of a job (or at least the vast majority of them.)

2) This is going under the assumption that the MMO’s that they build are going to be flawless when they come out, which everyone knows isn’t possible. They usually take about six months after launch before they really have everything smoothed out and they are on to other things like adding content. It sounds like Scytale2 was shooting for games that kept players going for about this length of time, which would mean that only by the time the game was dying would it truly be up to snuff.

3) The last time I checked, MMO’s made the vast majority of their money through subscriptions, not through “box sales.” You aren’t going to be able to charge $50 for an MMO that’s expected to last six months when games like World of Warcraft are charging the same price ($20 for original, $30 for Burning Crusade) and have the potential to be played for 2-5 years. So with that said, you would probably have to charge $20 or less, and if you charged say $6-$10 a month for a subscription (remember, less content, less money) that means that the most you are going to get out of a player is 50 to 80 dollars. If you are starting with a $5 million budget for the game, that means that you would have to sell 60-100k subscriptions just to break even. This is not an easy feat by any strech of the imagination.

Innovation has to come from somewhere, however, I don’t think that this is a viable way to do it. There are simply too many things pushing against this for it to work. MMO’s aren’t perfect at launch, so a short-lived version would be working against this in a horrible way. You either need to hire too many employees, or it’s going to take quite a long time for a smaller team to complete them. There a very strong reliance on subscription fees when it comes to profitability in MMO’s, so if you cut this out of the equation, your profit margins are minimized beyond feasibility.

I think if you do want to head this route and make an online game that is built to entertain for six months or so, you are either going to have to bend the conventions of the genre, or completely do away with it, and in so doing build something that wouldn’t even be considered an MMO in the first place. I think there is a place in the game industry for this type of game, I just think the traditional MMO can’t work like this.



8 comments so far

  1. Thallian on

    All good points 🙂 See metaplace for details and some hope (possibly)

  2. isobelle on

    the one thing i’ve thought of before in a similar vein would be to have episodic content for MMOs.

    a definite timeline. like for 6 months, you’re playing in world 1.0… the final boss is the big bad demon, blah blah blah, and defeating him ends up collapsing his tower in on him in the final battle.

    world 1.1 picks up from there in 6 months, with the landscape having been altered to have that dungeon no longer available. the general lore of the surrounding area reflects this, and “going back to kill ragnaros” is no longer an option.

    if you came into the game “late”, you missed that arc of the storyline, and you would have to be caught up on current events by (gasp!) asking around town.

    “hey, what *is* the deal witht he big tornado out in Zone X?”

    “yeah, we vanquished the demonic air whatever, and his spirit was trapped in a tornado stone, spinning out of control for eternity in Zone X”

    “huh, cool”

    World 1.7 could see the tornado lord finally escaping his torment and unleashing his fury again, whatever.

    as it is, with WoW etc, the landscape never changes, and even though nobody ever runs Blackwing Lair any more, there’s no reason they CAN’T, they just DON’T. this story arc idea seems like it would explain WHY we don’t go there any more, and the world would stay “fresh”.

    it would require the same dev team working on the project, updating questlines and NPC text, but overall, the game would feel less stagnant.

  3. isobelle on

    … ah, and just to clarify, these wouldn’t be expansions, just updates to the core world.

    wow is big enough that they didn’t NEED to introduce the outlands. in fact, the world would have been better off without a new area where all the players ran off to. by updating what they had (two huge continents, that are now effectively ghost towns), they could have kept the new players and vets on the same land masses, with something interesting for both groups to do.

    introduse deathknights, whatever, just keep it on the same land mass, with new storypoints (and slight geographical ammendments) to keep it fresh.

  4. kanthalos on

    The problem with having the world change is that you are effectively cutting off a number of your customers from content that everyone else got to see and participate in. Would you really like it if someone told you that you missed out on the coolest quest in the game because it was removed after the world changed? I don’t think so. On the other hand, having a dynamic world that changes purposefully to drive the story or offer NEW content is something that would be really neat. It’s a matter of finding the balance between those two.

  5. isobelle on

    “Would you really like it if someone told you that you missed out on the coolest quest in the game because it was removed after the world changed? I don’t think so.”

    I certainly wouldn’t mind if there was something new happening that i could take part in.

    Opening of the AQ40 gates in WoW was a “once per server” event, and as a result, the game suffered because everyone wasn’t to ‘be a part of it’ as it happened. they knew they had ONE chance to be there, so naturally it created this sense of urgency that had until then been completely lacking in the static world of WoW.

    having many events like this (or one per patch), would spread out the clusters, but still give people something to look forward to.

    the fact remains that anyone can, at any time, go back and raid the molten core / blackwing lair / AQ20,40 / Zul Gurub, etc etc etc, but THEY DON’T because content has moved on past that.

    even people leveling fresh 70s don’t even bother to stop by MC on the way past 60 because why bother? would having the option to NOT go to MC affect these same people at all? no, because it would probably be a month before anyone even noticed they were closed. having them forcefully closed gives a chance for more lore to be extrapolated upon (“The Molten Core is sealed, the dark demons vanquished once and for all”).

    i honestly hope you don’t think i’m trying to just pick fights here in your posts. i’m offering what i feel would be honest improvements to the genre. ❤

  6. isobelle on

    the AQ40 thing i didn’t really state clearly i think… I meant the server suffered because of the sheer amount of people there. it created lag, because WoW wasn’t prepared for an entire server to congregate in a single zone at once.

    the idea was cool, and people recognized that, but the server hardware couldn’t keep up.

  7. Lars on

    “Would you really like it if someone told you that you missed out on the coolest quest in the game because it was removed after the world changed? I don’t think so.”

    Developers could introduce ways to allow people to revisit events that occurred in the past. City of Heroes does this with time travel missions. I think I’ll post some thoughts about this on my blog.

    Even if there was no way to see the content after it was removed from the game, I think people wouldn’t mind in the long run, since they’d have worlds that they could truly impact. Its a trade off.

    And there are different kinds of players, so maybe this would be for a different kind of game (probably more story and RPG driven) than the current crop which are more loot and level focused. You can’t please everyone, and the future of MMOs will probably be to find more niches, since not everyone will want to do the casual player e-sport direction that WoW, AoC, Guild Wars, and other fast-leveling PvP focused end game MMORPGs seem to be taking us.

  8. Aleta Moss on


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