Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Business: A Successful MMORPG Is An Apex Product

This video got me thinking about the MMORPG niche.

Consider this: The biggest reason for why MMOs get into this death spiral is because the developer did all of the work up front.

Consider this: Due to the expense involved, MMOs are in practice an Apex Product- the thing you do as an IP capstone to complete your IP structure.

Conclusion: the reason MMOs fail is because they're made too early in the IP development cycle.

Solution: Spread your development out over a decade or more by splitting up development of your MMO into separate single-player and smaller multi-player games, each of which shares a code base, and slowly tie them together over time. When you reach a point where online multiplayer of these separate titles is seamless, keep that running to generate revenue while putting your MMORPG content together.

Use the existing multiplayer system to Beta-test your MMORPG content prior to launch in the form of Limited Time Special Events, and when you are ready--you have enough endgame to keep players engaged for at least a year at launch--then announce the MMORPG. You won't need to figure out of your PVE works because you already did that. You won't need to sort out instanced content viability because you already did that. Account creation and management? Did that. Online economics? Did that.

All you'll need to do at that point is nail your launch and your lore presentation, and here is where you have a drop-dead obvious route to go: each single-player game focuses on a character that (a) is iconic for a playable character type in the MMO, and (b) is a major lore figure; this is where you figure out your basic User Interface, core PVE gameplay loops, etc. so that Fighter Hero in "Fighter Guy" translates directly into Fighter Class in the MMO. Same with Magic Hero, and so on.

By making every playable class/archetype/etc. into a separate single-player game, you reduce the immediate costs of development down to just what that MMO element requires; by sharing code bases across these projects, you reduce time per step and slowly build to the code needed for a viable MMORPG.

The next step is some form of repeatable multiplayer addon, which becomes viable when three to five of the MMO playable character types have their stand-alone games, and this is when that shared code first starts paying off. Here is where you seriously start shifting focus to making the multiplayer content that is your bread-and-butter for MMORPGs, your small group stuff first and then your larger group stuff--dungeons and raids--and if you want your MMO to have PVP this is when you start working on it. Make the specific dungeons and raids paid DLC for a nominal cost has the benefit of providing a way to track Revealed Preference via sales and popularity; Steam analytics is good for this.

Doing your MMO development in the manner can be bothersome, but it means that when you do launch you'll be in a position where your game is pre-sold due to brand recognition and if you reward your audience for moving into the MMORPG by some manner or another and you'll have spread out the development costs considerably so what you spend to put the parts of the MMO together into the actual apex product is what you actually spend on the MMO itself.

It also means that expanding it is also easy since you already have the infrastructure--physical, economic, etc.--to do so efficiently.

I think if a lot more would-be MMOs incrementally built up to their game over time, you'd see a lot less failure in this niche of the business. MMOs are the capstone on an IP pyramid; you have to build up to them to make them successful, and a lot of the failures are attempts to put a capstone on a structure that doesn't exist. World of Warcraft arose out of the Warcraft wargame series. Final Fantasy XIV is the capstone of that franchise. Any other MMORPG that wants this spot has to follow that path; build up what feeds into it first, then make your game.

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