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Kern: MMO noob zones cost about $430K per gameplay hour

Sunday, 7th July 2013 23:52 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Veteran MMO developer and Red 5 boss Mark Kern has said MMO developers spend huge amounts of money on content that most players will rush through, never to return.

Writing for MMORPG.com, Kern noted that most veteran MMORPG players won’t spend more than a few evenings in each beginner zone.

“Mature MMOs (those out for six months or so) only use 10%-20% of the content to serve the plurality of players at any given time,” he said. “The other 80-90% is wasted once played through by voracious players.

“This is why lower levels zones in an MMO often feel like a ghost town,” he added.

Kern said that zone creation is about 70% of the cost of an MMOs development, so for a typical MMO budget of $100 million with a 20 zone game, each costs about $3.5 million to create.

“Coming back to spending two four-hour nights in a zone, that’s about $437,500 per hour of gameplay. No wonder MMOs are struggling,” he said.

“You simply can’t keep up with that number and deliver enough content to players expecting hundreds of hours of gameplay.”

Kern argued that developers ought to be finding ways to have players use whole game worlds, or to reuse early zones, but instead continue trying to make end-game content at the same cost.

“If you are World of Warcraft, you can afford this strategy. If you’re anyone else – well, good luck with that,” he said.

With Firefall, Red 5′s shooter MMO, Kern hopes to have solved the problems without resorting to down-levelling. His team’s solutions include more horizontal progression and dynamic content tailored to individual players.

“It’s more than cost savings, its making richer, more believable worlds,” he added.

“The goal is to have the whole world get richer and more entertaining over time, building and adding value to the whole system for all players at all levels. If it works, it could open up a whole new type of MMO to players.”

Thanks, Massively.

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16 Comments

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  1. TheWulf

    There’s a simple way to resolve this problem and Guild Wars 1 players have been saying it since the dawn of time:

    Remove the vertical progression-based levelling systems.

    I think, at this point, this is what everyone wants, going forward. It’s not enough to have some horizontal progression, have purely horizontal progression, and throw in some flashy items for the kids who need to feel like special snowflakes.

    To be honest, even give combat a backseat to other styles of play. You can have logical puzzles, research, jumping puzzles, exploration, gathering, and all sorts of other systems that make the game enjoyable without combat. If you need to have combat, then instance the areas that have combat and handle it on a more peer-to-peer basis, so it’s more like TF2 and less like… well, WoW.

    I know we have those who think that being a Lv999 Basement Dweller is cool, but I think we’re getting past that, slowly. Combat should be closer to what single-player games are. Stealth would be lovely, too, to be honest. As would multiple solutions to any given quest. Deus Ex would be a good starting point for an MMO, on many levels. Just have horizontal progression built upon augmentative upgrades.

    No level numbers, no button rotations, just good games.

    It’s not that hard, MMO developers. It’s not that hard.

    #1 10 months ago
  2. Biscuitpants

    @1 i guess the problem with that is obviously money, i mean if any mmo dev took more notice to the things you said the games world will be very small and whats the point in making a small world mmo?

    #2 10 months ago
  3. TheWulf

    To be honest, I think that The Secret World got a lot right. Most of what it got wrong was in regards to the combat being awful and having too much of a focus, and the game taking itself too seriously at times.

    I found TSW to be a bizarre thing. When you start out in London as a Templar, everyone has this ‘knowing grin’ style of dialogue, where the border between the bullshit and the genuine lore of the game is blurred for the amusement value. Between Galahad and the Welsh sorcerer, it was a beautiful experience.

    Then you get to Kingsmouth and it’s all SRS BIZNESS except for the Orochi Corp people. They lost the balance, and that’s when the game begun to wear thin on me. I can accept it when the game is self-aware and understands that so much of it is just ridiculous bullshit, spun into a believable plot for your amusement, but… sometimes it gets too serious.

    It’s like amateur Invisibles, to a degree, but without King Mob making light (making fun) of everythihng it… doesn’t work so well. Some parts are really just too serious.

    And that combat is so bad.

    And the AI is so bad.

    But when you’re on an investigative mission and you’re gaining AP and buying items for your deck (a horizontally-inclined system) then it feels right. I want MMO developers to look at those parts of The Secret World.

    The Secret World would be the perfect MMO -if-:

    - They dropped the combat and replaced it with a true third- or first-person combat system.

    - They put less emphasis on the combat, and more on the other aspects of the game.

    - The seriousness is ignored in favour of dramedy, since serious MMOs with people acting like idiots just doesn’t work.

    TERA has pretty great combat, and the combat of Guild Wars 2 isn’t that bad at all. It’s just that it could be so much better. And I’m getting sick of fantasy MMOs at this point, anyway. I think I actually do want an MMO with guns. And that doesn’t have to mean modern day. It could be sci-fi, or atompunk, or dieselpunk, or steampunk, or cyberpunk, or any other of the amazing *punk genres out there (and some are indeed out there).

    I dunno.

    MMOs get so close, sometimes. The Secret World just grated on me when it took itself too seriously, or when it wanted me to fight things.

    But it came so close.

    TERA came so close, but the lack of plot and dull world was off-putting.

    Guild Wars 2 came so close, but the patchwork world (which often ignored its own lore) was off-putting.

    Someone has to do this right.

    #3 10 months ago
  4. TheWulf

    @2

    That’s a common fallacy.

    Without vertical progression, it’s small!

    Guild Wars 1 and its campaigns were no smaller than the content found in modern MMOs. Hell, GW1 across its campaigns had and has more content than Guild Wars 2.

    The Secret World, for as much as it grates on me by trying to be a serious big, bad boy when it forgets its levity was still a very sizable game.

    No, it wouldn’t have to be small at all.

    It just requires thinking about things differently, and making enjoyable content the driving motivator, rather than the skinner-box model which only appeals to weak-willed people who end up getting addicted to all sorts of bad things.

    Really, the skinner-box model just needs to go and die in a ditch.

    I’m not a fan of the weak-minded people who actually enjoy those games, either, since it tells developers that making a game compellingly addictive is more important than making it engaging, or good, or even enjoyable. Why have proper gameplay mechanics or a decent world/story when you can just have a carrot on a stick, leading to shiny shoulder pads? /spit

    So sick of that.

    #4 10 months ago
  5. Hcw87

    There’s a reason why traditional MMO’s like WoW and Rift are popular. People need some sort of progression to aim for, and better gear/higher levels give them that.

    Rift also has a nice down-leveling feature, that lets you mentor down to a level below you, but still being able to earn rewards for your current level. Going into a level 20 dungeon as a level 60 is as rewarding, or more rewarding than going into a level 60 dungeon for example. This also means you can visit starter zones and quest through while not being overpowered because of your high level, quite similar to GW2.

    Content is one of the most important things for an MMO to have, and something for players to aim for. Elder Scrolls Online will be a very different MMO with both a First Person view and a Third Person view, i’m cautiously optimistic.

    Also @4 some players actually do get enjoyment out of getting new gear etc, so your last paragraph doesn’t really make sense to me.

    #5 10 months ago
  6. TheWulf

    For those who don’t know what a skinner-box model is:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning_chamber

    Take that and apply it to an MMO. That’s what many MMOs in the past have been. Barely operable gameplay mechanics, a sparse world, a lack of halfway decent aesthetics, a disjointed world… it’s all fine because you can push the button repeatedly to receive your new armour set. Many MMOs in the past have just been a more involved version of Cow Clicker. This trend started off with WoW, and will hopefully end with it, soon enough.

    It relies on people being too weak-willed to stop playing. They know the game is bad, but they apologise for it anyway, because what they’re really apologising for is their weak-willed nature and their inability to kick their habit. TotalBiscuit is a good example of this, he was enthralled by WoW originally but these days he tends to bad mouth it because the spell is broken, and he recognises what a sub par game it actually is.

    That’s the problem — if you’re not aware of it and you don’t have a strong enough will, then predatory models like that tend to sink their fangs into your mind and you just keep going like a hamster on a wheel. You’ll apologise for the game because you can’t bring yourself to stop, you can’t end it. It’s like a gambling problem.

    I’ve mentioned in the past that I saw a roomie go downhill with this. I watched him get dragged into WoW. His social life went first, then his love interest, then his job, then his hygiene. It got to the point where we had to kick him out because he was just sat in the same chair playing WoW all day. When he wasn’t running raids, he was grinding for consets.

    That’s just how weak-willed some people are.

    And MMOs with predatory models take advantage of that. It’s ridiculous how lacking in self-awareness some people are. And they’re such shameless addicts that they just want to give themselves back to the process again and again, just to try to catch that carrot, stuck in an endless cycle. I’m a little more aware than that, thankfully. I spend a lot of time in my own head, meditating, and considering my own activities. I don’t just do without ever considering what I’ve done. I guess that gives me a degree of immunity to it. I see those awful games for the terrible things they are.

    It’s social conditioning and engineering, wrapped around a pellet which drops delicious armour pieces. That’s all it is. And what I’ve come to recognise is that games which have vertical progression often do use that in place of actually being a good game.

    That’s sick, really.

    And I think that the people who’re weak-willed enough to become addicted to such need a system of therapy to help them overcome it, like with gamblers.

    I think decades from now, anything that uses operant conditioning will require a warning to come with it. But today, it’s not so widely recognised as a problem. A lot of the reason I don’t like MMOs is because of this. I keep looking for that MMO which doesn’t fall into this pit trap. Some have come close…

    But yes, dropping levels pretty much means casting aside the skinner-box system. These days, I look at something, and if it has levels then I just sigh, shake my head, and move on. It’s another skinnre-box MMO for the weak-willed.

    Not for me.

    #6 10 months ago
  7. TheWulf

    @5

    “There’s a reason why traditional MMO’s like WoW and Rift are popular.”

    Yes. Addiction.

    “People need some sort of progression to aim for, and better gear/higher levels give them that.”

    Straw-man. I didn’t say no progression, I said no vertical progression. There’s a difference. You can want to have different options across a horizontal path of progression without the ‘climbing the mountain to become the speshulest snowflake of them all’ that vertical progression games are plagued with.

    And it’s not like skill actually has any impact on that, it’s just time wasted. Hence fans being Lv999 Basement Dwellers. Good for them, not for me. I like having a social life.

    “Rift also has a nice down-leveling feature, that lets you mentor down to a level below you, but still being able to earn rewards for your current level.”

    This doesn’t avoid the fact that it uses operant conditioning to make weak-willed people climb its mountain. If you didn’t have levels, you wouldn’t need a mentoring system. Simple as.

    The mentoring system is just admitting the problem, but not fixing it.

    ‘Content is one of the most important things for an MMO to have, and something for players to aim for.”

    A horizontal progression system doesn’t stop a developer from adding content, to the contrary, it encourages the development of good, engaging content since you’re not using operant conditioning to brainwash weak-minded people.

    “Elder Scrolls [...]”

    Funny you should mention that. The Elder Scrolls games have meaningless levels, almost to the point of being horizontal. Things scale with you, so the level is really an irrelevant number. You can go to the same dungeons and locations at level 1 that you can go to at level 300.

    Does that ruin the Elder Scrolls games? Go on, tell me it does.

    In fact, the Elder Scrolls games are the ultimate proof that horizontal MMOs can work.

    “Also @4 some players actually do get enjoyment out of getting new gear etc, so your last paragraph doesn’t really make sense to me.”

    It’s brainwashing. It’s not enjoyment. It’s operant conditioning.

    Let’s take the gambler example: I’m sure that Mr. Gambler with a gambling problem is certain he’s enjoying himself, but then he stops and he realises he’s broke. And the only thing to take that pain away is more gambling.

    A WoW fan? A WoW fan thinks they’re having fun, they’re convinced. Then they finally realise they’ve wasted their life, and the only thing to take that pain away is more WoW.

    It’s an addiction. It’s a health problem. It’s not enjoyable once you realise what it is.

    Like I said… I witnessed a person with this health problem myself. He didn’t think he had a problem, despite smelling like a sewer and having lost his job. I was the problem for constantly nagging him to at least take a damn shower. A person becomes laser-focused on that vertical progression-based goal that they forget their life. This is how companies like Blizzard make money.

    #7 10 months ago
  8. Hcw87

    @6
    Oh god, here we go again.

    If someone enjoys spending their day playing a game, who’s to say they’re wrong? It’s all about living life the way you want it, and if you’re happy playing a game all day, then by all means. It’s no different than someone being out surfing at the beach all day.

    I played WoW for 5 years, but had no problem quitting the same day i started getting bored of raiding. Didn’t play for about a year and a half, before i got back playing very casually, catching up with old friends. Now i rarely play anymore, and i have a very healthy life both physically, economically and psychically.

    You really got no right to judge people by their habits.

    #8 10 months ago
  9. TheWulf

    @8

    “If someone enjoys spending their day playing a game, who’s to say they’re wrong?”

    If someone has a gambling or drinking problem, who’s to say they’re wrong?

    Oh, wait.

    “It’s all about living life the way you want it, and if you’re happy playing a game all day, then by all means.”

    They’re not happy. It’s an illusion borne of operant conditioning. I’ve seen people cured of it, and they now hate the games in question for being drawn into them. It’s a health issue. Ask any ex-WoW player. Ask TotalBiscuit.

    “It’s no different than someone being out surfing at the beach all day.”

    Surfing at the beach all day means you’re socialising and getting exercise. That’s so hilariously not a valid comparison.

    “I played WoW for 5 years, [...]”

    Five years, wasted on the same game.

    I bet you’re proud of yourself.

    Seriously, what the hell are you doing with your life to have spent five years playing the same game?

    “[...] and i have a very healthy life both physically, economically and psychically.”

    Forgive me if I don’t take your word for that.

    “You really got no right to judge people by their habits.”

    I have every right when I’ve seen someone nearly die from it. I recognise it as a health condition. I have every right.

    When you smell like a sewer, haven’t taken a shower in weeks, have lost your job, have no social life, and have lost your job (did I mention that?), you have a problem.

    I was paying for a friend’s WoW habit right up until I kicked him out.

    Far too many basement-dwelling WoW fans are like that.

    #9 10 months ago
  10. TheWulf

    Again, horizontal progression which completely eschews the skinner-box model would provide for the best kind of MMO. Make an MMO which is a good game, not one that relies on operant conditioning. That’s how you win my respect. That’s how your players become known as proper people, rather than zombie-like drones who spend far too much time playing your game for years on end, ignoring real life.

    I’m so sick of skinner-box MMOs at this point. It reminds me of the ’60s and cigarettes, back when cigarettes were considered healthy. People have died playing WoW (really, look it up), and people will continue to. It’s an addiction, it’s a health problem, it’s not a game.

    #10 10 months ago
  11. DSB

    “I had a friend who had a WoW-problem, so now everybody has a WoW problem”.

    Herp derp derp.

    Well, I know a gay guy from Mississippi who escaped bigotry and joblessness thanks to friends in another state whom he met through WoW. He’s now in a committed relationship, working fulltime and living with his old guildies.

    … But then I’m not exactly crazy enough to suggest that that’s somehow everybody’s story. In my experience WoW players were just as diverse and unique as most other gamers. From family guys to mid-level IT executives, semi-pro salsa dancers to army tank commanders, and the odd Finnish alcoholic.

    It makes about as much sense as tarring people who ride the subway with the same brush.

    #11 10 months ago
  12. Ballisticon

    How about we let the market sort this out like it has been doing for a long time.

    #12 10 months ago
  13. Terendir

    @TheWulf, its ok to have an own point of view, but arent u generalizing this whole “MMO’s like WoW are evil” thing a bit? I mean it’s ok if thats your point, but you cant say that its counting for everything and all? I played WoW for like 3 years, and often enough the whole day. So, tell me, whats wrong with it? You are sounding like its a bad thing. Sacrificing the real life, but its the modern age, it IS reallife! You are interacting with lots of REAL people over a digital communication-gaming platform. You are having fun, you are enjoying it. So whats so bad about it?

    You are somehow lining up totally messed up arguments though. You compare the normal to hardcore gamer with drug addicts, from the point of science, that doesnt even work, since there are abstinence symptoms from gaming, and thats just one point why you cant compare this. I mean sure, there are always some people who are totally overdoing it, but those people most often didnt had any social life anyways – which brings us to a completley different problem in our culture, the thing about bullying and so on…, which i dont even want to discuss here.

    Furthermore you even bring up an argument about people dying from gaming. Really? Are you really sure that gaming was the problem and not some whole different physical problems? The human body wont die from a little sleep deprivation, after a few days it gets to a point where it will shut automatically down. So dont believe everything you see or read in the boulevard press… they are exaggerating or leaving important informations out. Like the whole killer-game debate after amok-runs.

    Please understand that not everyone sees things like you. A lot of people need those success moments like a lvl-up in MMOs – otherwise they wouldnt be successful at all. Whats the point in continuing playing if you dont really improve and step the ladder up? They need shiny Armor, cause its a social thing to show how awesome you are. If u dont like the games, dont play them… totally fine. Play Singleplayer, Angry Birds or Tetris.

    “Five years, wasted on the same game. I bet you’re proud of yourself.”
    Whats so bad about that? You wont invest too much money on other games. Also there are dozens of others examples besides WoW. Cardgames like Poker or playing check. Are people who play those wasting their time? Offcourse they do! But thats what hobbys are for!!! Wasting time and enjoying life! If you dont want to waste your time, then you should stop playing games at all ;)

    well i could go on and on, but i dont want to waste my time here anymore, otherwise i may get addicted xD

    #13 10 months ago
  14. GwynbleiddiuM

    To me Blizzard addressed a lot of those issues in Mists of Pandaria. I only enjoyed leveling during the Lich King expansion in WoW. In Mists, you have incentive to go out there enjoy your character progression. The quests you did for Lorewalker Cho and the time you spent discovering the mysteries of this new continent was a joy, to me at least.

    I really really enjoyed it, it was fun and often it distracts you from the seriousness of your situation with some cleverly written and funny quests. The time you spend in the Valley of the Four Winds with locals is just great and it’s mostly not about fighting and war, it’s about helping people with their vermin problems, around the farms and their harvests, their lifeline.

    Another zone I truly spend time in was the Dread Wastes, it’s great, spending a lot of time helping the Klaxxi’ves, worshipers of the Old Gods whom will not shy away to tell you today we accept this temporary alliance ut when the Old Gods are awaken we will do their bidding whatever it is going to be.

    I played wow for as many times as I did because it’s enjoyable for me, I get to make new friends and do stuff with that my normal IRL friends aren’t interested in, even though mostly they are scattered around the world.

    I disagree with most of what you said Wulf, about WoW. DSB said it, generalization is bad – don’t do that. Just because you have a biased opinion about WoW it doesn’t mean you should have that about the people who’re enjoying it. there are people who spend too much time in WoW, I’ve seen that. To of my good friends in WoW had to quit it because it became so important in their lives that interfered with their IRL, their work, their relationships, started to be affected by it. I told them man you need a time off of wow, go spend some serious time with your kids and partner. That’s what he did, I sometimes check on him on facebook, he’s doing fine now.

    #14 10 months ago
  15. Puggy

    Hm, the “wasting time” argument is interesting here. So, generally spoken, what is not wasted time?

    Time spent procreating, or preparing for that act (food, “power”, habitat), so your genepool can be passed on?
    Or is it making money to… well, no idea what you would need it for, after you passed a certain level, where your mundane everyday problems do not pose a threat anymore. And in the end it boils down to the “power” attribute from before anyway.

    So yeah, who am I, who are you, who is anyone to tell people how they are allowed to live their lives? As long as they are not hurting others, people should be free to act as they please.

    And more on topic. Yes, starter Zones are more or less wasted money, since people will be in the late level areas (you get more and faster money, better drops and so on, generally like a promotion in your Job). However, should your starter Zones be lacking, new players will most likely not stick around to play your game and thus pay your bills.

    #15 10 months ago
  16. GwynbleiddiuM

    Funny thing about the “waste of time” portion of the argument. Everything you do in your day to day activity is a waste of time, a time you waste on your partner/GF/Wife to make them happy is a waste of time, same goes with children, books you read, works you have, movies you watch, live events you participate, etc etc. See how flawed is your waste of time argument Wulf?

    People do what they like to do in contrast with the things they don’t like/want to but have to do. That is called LIFE. People enjoy life differently, some like to party, some like to travel around the world, some prefer the comfort of their homes, some prefer to hang out in these fantastical worlds and kill shit with their buddies, that’s an adventure on its own.

    Of course there are some other people who prefer to sit behind their computers and pass judgement on everyone else on the internet.

    Lastly, I’d like to know what is it that made you hate World of WarCraft and people who are playing it so much?

    #16 10 months ago