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.