MMOs Need to Get Social

Posted on August 28, 2009

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The Champions Online Open Beta is over. I’ve posted my comments in the Beta Forums. Before I say anything else, let me say that I’ve cancelled my subscriptions to two other MMOs in the expectation that I will only play Champions Online when it launches. I had that much fun in the Open Beta.

Meanwhile, people are talking about Bioware’s MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and how much voiceover it will use.

Those two things got me thinking about MMO features. What follows are my opinions. When they are comments on a specific game, I’ve cited that game’s title. Don’t assume a comment with no attribution is about a specific game.

Must Have

You have to support voice chat in your MMO. Work out a deal with Ventrilo or some other service, but get it in your game. Voice chat is built into several games now, including World of Warcraft. It’s now expected.

You must have a wiki. Not only for story information, but for how to play the game. You can launch the story portion prior to game launch, as a marketing tool, but the game mechanics side should launch with the game. If you’re not simultaneous, someone will steal your thunder and wikis are a case where first-to-market matters.

You need in-game web access. No, not just so players can order pizza. You want to set up a web portal, which accesses your wiki, your online store (especially if you’re using micro-transactions), and your forums. You can make it as difficult as you like to navigate away from those sites, as long as getting to them is easy in the game. This portal should be expandable, in case you form a licensing partnership with someone like Dominos, or J!nx.

You must have strong social tools in the game. There are two aspects to this. First, we want good reasons to team up. Maybe missions require characters of different roles or backgrounds or specializations to complete them. City of Heroes and City of Villains (COX, collectively) run holiday events, for example, where heroes and villains have to team up to complete quests. Second, we want teaming up to be easy. Forming teams and building friend lists should be easy. Rejoining a team part way through a quest should be simple, if not automatic. Eliminate everything that stands in the way of socializing in the game.

You must have strong instancing. I played an MMO where my team finished a quest, left the quest map, and each member wound up in a separate instance of the game world. That’s something that stands in the way of socializing in the game.

Want

We want in-game social media access. Let us update Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or any number of other sites (you can start with just a few and expand over time, of course) from inside the game. Let us control the updates. Don’t automate them (my least favorite feature of Tweetcraft, and the reason I uninstalled it), but do include a button with each accomplishment pop-up that allows the player to broadcast it if he (or she) wants to.

Give us global (across server) user names, so we can e-mail our friends across servers. In fact, give us the option of sending standard e-mail from within the game.

We want to sort our quests, and control how the game tracks them. In other words, we want to be able to sort by level, or geographic proximity; and we want to be able to mask out missions in zones other than the one we’re in. It’s okay if the default display and sort is everything, in the order acquired. Just as long as we can customize it. We want to be able to sort quest givers the same way.

We want to change the world. We want our actions to have a persistent impact. Champions Online makes a stab at it, with the way different zones show the same geographic locations before we complete a story arc and after.

We want mobile access to the game. Giving us social media is a good start, because most of us already update social media via our mobile devices. Even if we’re just managing inventory or scheduling a raid, we want mobile access. Let us check our characters’ e-mail via mobile devices. Keep us involved with your game when we’re away from our computers.

We want to see you get tough with spammers, gold farmers, and griefers. We don’t care that you posted a tough policy on your website or in the EULA (End-User Licensing Agreement). We want to know that you’re enforcing it.

Just Stop

A characteristic of MMOs at this stage is repetition. You spend lots of time in the same places, with the same NPCs, while you get e-mail, shop, and initiate quests. Voiceover dialogue, as a result, will be heard over and over. Congratulations, you just spent a boatload of money on a feature that annoys your players. Just stop the voiceover madness.

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