An article, Behind the Curtain: Playing in the sandbox, at Massively, and the ending of Shadowbane got me thinking about how difficult it is to come up with a really successful MMO game. Craig Withers discusses some attributes of gamers and how it is difficult getting into more open or sandbox types of MMO worlds like Second Life.
I guess that’s the idea and appeal to Second Life – that you create the kind of game or world that you want to see, the kind that only you can think of. If other people decide they want to join in, and find your work enjoyable, then so much the better. If not, they’ve got the same tools as you to go make their own.
Maybe that’s the reason I’ve never stuck with Second Life – I’m going into it blind, so to speak, waiting to see what there is to be found, instead of going in with a target in mind. That said, if anyone knows about a Zombie apocalypse themed island in Second Life, drop me a line.
Still, I know that I’m not alone in preferring my MMOs to have more game in them than they do sandbox. The abundance of the former versus the latter speaks volumes to the kind of fun that most gamers seek out.
He mentions the Bartle scale of gamer playing styles which is one way of looking at these. Bartle (1996) has a nice analysis of how to build a MUD (one of the first MMO game formats) and maintain it by manipulating the amount of different player types, Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: players who suit muds. He suggests there is a relatively ideal mix of four player types and that content, openness, depth, and player interaction features are the variables that game world designers need to balance in order to get and retain the right mix of players. This ideal combination he indicates is hard to find and maintain. World of Warcraft has perhaps hit on this blend but most seem not to have found it.
Looking at the current MMO gaming market tends to bare this out. Hundreds of MMOs have been developed over the past 10 years, but only a handful have lasted any significant length of time and/or acheived a large audience. World of Warcraft is the poster child for MMOs currently with over 11 million subscribers currently. After WoW, however the market drops off drastically. Lineage and Lineage II are the only to appear to have ever had more than 1 million subscribers, with the vast majority of MMOs never breaking 100,000 subscribers. This is including all the free ones out there. These MMOs are continually dropping off the market as they find they cannot sustain themselves either economically or as a community. Shadowbane being the most recent one to close shop. And yet, more and more MMOs keep trying.
In the past two years, (since March of 2007), over 42 MMOs have come out. Several more are slated to start up this year. Some are trying for a more open approach like Second Life and others are trying to aim more at families and/or be more educational. Sony is soon releasing a large, open game world called Free Realms aimed more for younger players and families. Coming down the road in a year or two, of particular note: Lego’s is creating Lego Universe and NASA has gotten in the game, helping to create a space MMO. Are these games considering Bartle’s theories? If they want to be successful, I think they should.
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