Having been a MMO player since ultima online (although i had only a very brief stint in the game) i looked upon the blog posts discussing your "business" plan and became very intrigued. The first part of my post is just somthing i wanted to say but the second part is the actual question/problem i wish to pose.
Ever since i played WAR i always wondered why the developers of that game chose to develop such an absolute mass of tiered content that excluded other content at the same time. It seemed to me a terrible waste of resources. Had they developed just one scenario (order vs chaos for example) and then tuned or changed the other tiers to respond to feedback from the first they would have;
a) reduced development time by 1/3rd
b) ensured a massive amount of players funneled into the areas that need a critical mass of players ( i.e pvp areas, which is similar to your observation that a sandbox title needs a certain mass of player in order to function correctly)
and c) ensured a steady release of content of absolutley mammoth size tailored to your existing player base.
On to the problem i would like to mention, it relates to games such as darkfall, ultima, eve, and even to a lesser extent somthing like wow (and EQ?). If player intakes are so stunted what effects will this have on the game itself? although you listed all the positives in your blog such as a controlled income assuming a high drop out rate of subs, steady population size which is a help for developing content as well as hardware configs and increased feedback to which your game may be tailored (how many times have i heard a mmo PR say that they will listen to the players....), i feel you are either ignoring or blanking out the negatives of this point.
The first and most obvious observation would be; who will the intital X amount of players be? Its likley they will be the very same people who have already racked up dozens of posts on this very forum assuming they hold there interest. This creates a problem because if the developers are true to there word and listen to these players then the game will already be tailored towards them and if the first intake consists purely or mostly of these people feedback will be limited, dissappointing and biased.
The second point comes from a much more financial stand in regards to how to turn players AWAY from your mmo. If you have your active forums and your initial player intake it is inevitable that by "listening" to the player base the devs will likely continue to turn, at an ever increasing rate, to the more vocal memebers of the intial community, the people they feel they have built a rapport with. This is both obvious and natural. Prime examples of this would be the CSM in eve (although that particular body appears to work extremely well), the fact that a lead designer in WoW got his job through being in a guild with a blizzard employee (i know its a very naive way to say it but anyone in the know should understand my POV), In darkfall the top guilds were regularly quizzed on how to improve the game, Again in WoW players early on were given chances to see future content and go on private test servers just for being in a top guild, infact the first wave of beta invites for warcrafts second expansion (after FnF) were to the players in top guilds. Now this is all well and good but the problem i have is; why start a game that has a small family community where the devs listen to the players if as has become the norm numerous times, the players who are listened to are always the earliest adopters, the strongest players, the fastest levelers, the biggest guilds ect ect. Why would i WANT to play a game like darkfall or EVE when i know there are people in a standing both in game and "politically" that i can never surpass or match?
|Ryan Dancey Goblin Squad Member|
I think the answer to your question is that we don't intend to build the game based solely on player feedback. We have a strong vision for where the game needs to go to succeed. What we'd like is player input on how to develop towards that goal, and of course, we want the players to drive the actual in-game development of the sandbox through their interactions with each other.
There's a theory of marketing that divides the prospects for a new good or service into several groups: trailblazers, early adopters, and a mass audience (*read this footnote before you go off about McDonalds or Brittney Spears or WoW or whatever your pet peeve is about mass markets). That theory suggests that there's a chasm between the early adopters and the mass audience which is partly caused by the factors you discussed in your post: The things that the trailblazers and early adopters really like about the product or service may be the same things that keep it from becoming a success with a mass audience.
Crossing that chasm requires both a plan for development to ensure that the product is ready for the mass audience, and a plan for community management to help the existing customers make the transition over the chasm with as little disruption as possible. Inevitably, you lose some trailblazers and early adopters, but that's normal since they're going to go on to the next New New Thing and repeat the process. With those who remain you want to channel their passion without becoming shackled to it.
I will close by saying that if for you having a "big impact" on the design is a meaningfully important consideration, you're likely to be frustrated not just with Pathfinder Online but by any MMO project. It's almost impossible for a single individual who is not a member of the development team to have such an impact.
* In this context, "Mass Audience" isn't very massive. It's the difference between the first tens of thousands of players and the small hundred thousands that come later. From the outside, most people would say that Pathfinder MMO will never be more than a "niche" product for "hard core" players; and given the size of franchises like WoW, or Call of Duty, they're exactly right. But on the inside, there are still important differences between the psychology of the folks who show up on day one, and the folks who join after years of development. So don't equate "mass market" with truly mass phenomenon. Our "mass market" is still going to be people you have more in common with than the average gamer who never looks at Pathfinder Online.