Design by Checklist

Myrix recently made an apt post, the thesis of which was “put the game first, and don’t let the ‘MMO’ get in the way.” He asserts that just making an MMO isn’t special anymore, and he’s right. While the genre has an inherent appeal, in today’s crowded market you need to concentrate on delivering a fun experience over just satisfying the particulars of a formula.

To put it another way: Don’t fall into the trap of designing a game by checklist. That is, you could come up with an entire list of criteria you believe to be required to satisfy your audience (persistence, loot, mounts, quests, combat, instances, etc. etc.) and check off every item, only to be left with a game that isn’t any fun. Players will forgive the absence of specific features; they won’t forgive broken features crammed together to make the back of the box look good if the result is an absence of fun.

It was a startling revelation from a Tabula Rasa developer that the game went into beta with the knowledge that it wasn’t fun yet. A game shouldn’t even go into production unless it’s fun, let alone make it into beta. Production is about having a solid core and being able to replicate it. If that core game isn’t fun, you’re just going to mass produce a bunch of un-fun content. Not a smart move, as history has proven.

The biggest mistake an MMO developer could make in today’s climate is to say “I must duplicate every one of WoW’s features in my game in order to be successful.” Blizzard is too far ahead of you to make that a realistic development goal; you’d inevitably end up cutting corners and falling short of the necessary polish and fun. Instead, decide early on what core elements make your game fun and focus your love and attention on those things. Use your core values as a razor to cut away excess and never lose your focus on the fun.

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Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

6 thoughts on “Design by Checklist”

  1. Excellent point, and one that people would be smart to pay attention to. There’d be fewer failures if they did.

    Some time after we left SOE we made a list of systems, internal and external, and ended up at over 200 that the average “kitchen sink” MMO contains.

    Just don’t go there.

    People tolerate “missing” (you can add that later); they don’t tolerate suck.

  2. As A MMO player thats played sense VERY early eq1, and have played most all the big name MMO’s and a few of the smaller nich ones. The day I stop having fun I stop playing, I might come back a few months later or a year later to see if its gotten any better, but now a days theres to many mmo’s to play one just for the sake of playing one. It needs to give Me true enjoyment,

  3. I completely agree. I do enjoy having “everything and the kitchen sink” in an MMO but, in all honesty, I would rather have less features that were well done. If the core of the game is exciting and enthralling I am willing to wait for those yet to be done features.

    WoW has set this unfair standard that both players and investors expect. I think by that virtue alone games have suffered as a result.

  4. On total agreement here. I am more interested in a fun polished release than a buggy boring feature packed one. Mmo’s have expansion and updates so more features can be added later if they fit the game.

    Looking forward to Copernicus ;)

  5. It’s the concept of “fun” which most bothers me. What I miss most of all in todoys mmo’s is story line. Not the WoW type of story line either, where the story is how the world got to be how it is today, But the character story.

    I reminis over the good old single player game days. Some of those had fantastic story lines complete with weapon upgrades and character developement. Unreal, Nox, Half Life to name but a few. The mmo’s do not do this type of “character” story. The story is incidental to the character. You can get involved or ignore it. Unfortunetly its too easy to ignore, and even then tends to break up at higher levels untill your sudenly max level and there is no story left.

    In all other respects, I agree totaly,

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