MMOs Are A Three-Legged Stool

MMOs Are A Three-Legged Stool

It’s an old business cliché, but it is for a reason.

Have you ever had a stool with three legs? What happens if one leg is shorter than the other two?

That’s right…it’s a wobbly experience, and the first stable chair that comes open you’re going to swap. Sometimes, it’s so wobbly that you’ll go back to sitting on the floor, and the only reason you got up to begin with was that it was making your ass hurt because you had been there so long.

And what happens if one of the legs is completely broken? That’s right…you take a one-way ride to “Busted Butt Town”, because it won’t hold up. And then you throw it away, cursing the guy that built such a lousy stool to begin with. “I’ll never buy a stool from that store again!”

Replace “stool” with “MMO” in the above passage, and it still holds true.

What are the three legs of a good MMO? In my opinion:

  1. Fun
  2. Stability
  3. Community

That’s it…if you allow for all three of those to be equally strong, then you’ve got a good solid MMO…one that can potentially stand on its own and support people for years.

However, remember this…none of those three legs are any less important than the other two. If you take any one of them away…your MMO falls down, breaks a hip and never rises to the heights it could have. And if you skimp on one, it’ll be a wobbly experience at best. Let’s look at each leg:

Fun – This is the trickiest leg of the three to get right. Why? Because every single person on the planet has a different idea of “fun”. And what constitutes “fun”? Quest design, play mechanics, PvP options…the things everyone considers “the most important part of a good MMO”.

I call bullshit.

If a new MMO has more bugs than Paris Hilton’s underwear, a severe lag problem and a client that won’t even run on your computer…how much fun is it? Likewise, if it’s a stable playable game, but there’s no one there to play with or against…is it any more fun than a single-player game that you don’t have to pay a monthly subscription fee (or blow money in microtransactions) for? You can’t have “fun” without the other two.non_stable_environment_shirt-p2351377456719347411pn_400.jpg

Stability – Again, if an MMO won’t run, or is bug-laden to the point of bringing screams of frustration from those that attempt to play, no one’s going to want to have anything to do with it, no matter how many free trials you offer. However, if your game runs like a freshly-oiled sewing machine with no server crashes and zero bugs (the unattainable goal), guess what? If it’s not “fun,” it won’t matter, because no one’s going to stick around. Likewise, if it’s “fun” and stable, but the community is bad or non-existent, then no one’s giong to stick around for long. And they certainly won’t be back after they leave for greener pastures.

Community – Obviously, this is important. As we’ve seen, the other two factors aren’t irregular-apparel-electoral-community-college-shirt.pngenough to hold a game up by themselves. But guess what? Neither is community. If there’s a tight-knit group of people playing your game, but the sheer number of bugs stop them from doing most of the things they want to do…they’ll leave. And usually, they’ll leave in clumps. Also, if the game is stable and the game has the best community ever seen…if it’s not fun, most of the community groups will again leave, this time in search of that fun. (And probably gripe about how much more stable their last game was on the forums of their next game.)

If one of the three legs is missing, all you’re left with is two nice accomplishments that you’ll see on developer resumés after the game folds…usually after limping along for a few years after letting McQuaid go and putting in a free trial island after a while.

However, even if your stool has three sturdy legs, some will still get up and try out another chair from time to time…the upholstery is always greener on the other side of the den. But it doesn’t matter if the new chair is as comfortable as your stool…it had better be more comfortable (or have stronger legs) than your stool, or sooner or later…people will return to yours again.

Unless you’ve panicked and changed the entire thing while they were gone in order to get them back of course (oh hell, I’m too lazy to search up a new one…insert your own “Star Wars Galaxies NGE” link here), in which case they’ll mutter something about “This isn’t the game I loved!” on the forums and wander off…permanently.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Tags: , ,

4 Responses to “MMOs Are A Three-Legged Stool”

  1. Surely a three-legged stool is always stable, since any three points (the ends of the legs) always lie in a plane? It might not be *level*, but it won’t wobble. It takes a four-legged stool to be wobbly…

  2. While I agree with your three legged theory, I just want to comment on the point you made about microtransactions. Here’s another prime example of where and when microtransactions benefit players. Let’s say you’ve plunked down your $30 subscription fee, are all fired up about a game, and then shortly discover one of the legs is missing. Now what? You’re out $30 for the sub. and $xx for the actual title. With free-to-plays, if you head on into the game and shortly discover it sucks, you’ve lost only your time, and not a hefty pricetag for both the subscription and actual in-box game.

  3. @Larry: Even so, he’s got a point. Whether it’s wobbly or just slanted to one side, when a better thing comes along fickle gamers will jump ship. And even the most loyal of fanbases have a bottom line to consider; you can only support a failure for so long before you lose heart and go play a bigger game until ‘the next big thing’ comes along.

  4. I could not agree more! In fact I have said the same things in public and private. At the MIGS conference in 2008 three aspects of MMOs was a central theme of my presentation. Our definitions of each leg are slightly different, but the ideas are the same. My approach is driven from a technical perspective, that is there are 3 independent but integrated technical systems that need to be in place to run an MMO, and provide that stable system you talk about. From a technical, and a business perspective an MMO(or social game) is very unlike traditional games, or more traditional forms of literary entertainment. An MMO is a _service_, and if I compare an MMO to production of a TV series, an MMO needs real functional houses, roads and infrastructure, where a TV series can get buy with sets that just give the appearance of persistence. This service nature of an MMO requires a lot more technology and development (as well as different business models) that are not needed for other types of games.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>