Over the past decade or so, there’s been a repeating pattern when it comes to the launch of MMOs and those marketed as MMORPGs. Random Game Company invests a few tens of millions into building a game over a three to four year period, there is three to six months of press building up to the launch of the game, including an open beta and early access, they launch (either as a free to play game sustained entirely by a cash shop, or a subscription model that very quickly turns into a free to play game with a cash shop), everyone and every game outlet publishes reviews and editorials and podcasts and vodcasts and Let’s Play videos talking about how it’s the “best game we’ve played in years”…. and within three to six months the game is merging servers, cutting staff, and the players who once lauded the game as the “best thing ever” are off to the next item on their ladder of “best game I’ve ever played”.
With the exception of a few gems out there, such as EVE Online, most of these games never make it into the news again, much less show up in Let’s Play sessions or your favorite streamer’s regular schedule. Even the mighty World of Warcraft has seen a 50% population decline in recent years, dropping from 12 million players to the oft-talked-about 5 or 6 million from recent months. And while new expansions often bring back a core of the once-subscribed into the fold, their investment is never more than the two or three months that an expansion provides in terms of content and entertainment.
Wildstar. Black Desert Online. I could go on. We’ve all seen more than a dozen highly-anticipated and heavily-marketed MMORPGs launch in the past couple of years (and more beyond that) which have gone on to fail dramatically, at least in the sense that the vast majority of players who once hyped the game have jumped ship and are on to the next “hot topic”. Many of these games continue to limp on for years after their launch before eventually working their way down to a single server or sunsetting entirely.
Better writers than I have discussed the ins and outs of the whys and havenots for years, but there’s a crucial point that – for us anyway – most either fail to grasp or simply overlook in their rush to join the hype train of the “next big thing” in the gaming world. And that’s the simple fact that the games of today aren’t being designed for the players of tomorrow. They are cash grabs meant to make as much as they can as quickly as possible in order to drive a return on investment for the company (or bank/investors behind the company). Every single little thing about these games is designed to generate a fast profit, not to provide you with a game meant to last over the years.
Nobody cares if the player is still playing the game three months after launch. The box purchase is already made, it’s a free to play title, and while the cash shop generates some amount of income, the only sure-fire way to generate more profits is to crank out another title.
While we certainly have to think about what it takes to keep the lights on, there’s one crucial element to our internal design process that isn’t affected by the bottom line, and what we feel separates us from the rest of the commercial games currently in development. We’re not building a game purely to generate quick return on profit to satisfy a banker’s (or investor’s) ROI. By putting in sweat equity and working for “free” on this project, we’re pumping a different kind of currency into the game: passion.
We’re building a legacy. A world that we anticipate players investing years into, not merely a few months after the game launches.
Legacy might sound arrogant, so let me state that we aren’t using that word lightly. For us, we’re building something that – like EverQuest – we aim to build well enough that it keeps its players entertained for years through the simple act of putting the community at the core of the game design philosophy. Rather than rely on quest hubs and theme parks and gimmicks marketed through a cash shop, we’re focusing on that one crucial element: the fun and friendships that come about from a group of friends hanging out and being involved in a social activity together, just like the tabletop games that are our primary source of inspiration.
If people only want to play our game for a few months before they run off to the next shiny object, we’ve completely failed as a company in my eyes. It’s been crucial to our development to ensure that we’re building something that captivates the imagination and the essence of that tabletop experience: the addiction of social gameplay where you can’t wait for the next session when you’re able to continue the adventurers of Grog the Barbarian, Ephni the Healer, Trak the Rogue, Persiphone the Ranger, and whoever else is part of your party.
It’s not just about you and your get-me-to-the-end-game-as-quickly-as-possible. That’s one of the reasons people don’t stick around most of the modern-day MMOs that launch, because there’s little incentive to play the game once you’ve finished your own story. With us, it’s about the story of the group, the adventures of the party together as they make their way through the world and meet other adventurers just like you, sometimes joining forces with others along the way when your own strength isn’t great enough to overcome the challenges at hand.
It all comes back to that core principle of What Defines Epic. When you start looking at what defines epic adventures, the kind of adventures that keep people involved for weeks and months and years on end, it’s never about the single serving content. It’s always about the group, about the community, and the social experience that keeps players logging in day after day, night after night. They’re not just playing a game; they are living their lives in a virtual world.
For us, that’s a massive distinction. We’re not just building a game meant to be consumed at breakneck speed. We’re building a world here, something we hope will take on a legacy and life of its own as the players become involved in the relationships that come as a direct result of a social experience, breathing life into itself as the community grows, expands, and defines their own set of adventures through emergent gameplay off the beaten path and far, far away from the realm of theme parks.
When we looked at the classical release schedule for those early days of MMORPGs, expansions released at most once a year, and sometimes only every couple of years. In between, there was more than enough content to keep the average player occupied for the bulk of that time. Especially when you consider that it was almost always group-based content that required community and teamwork to complete, so part of the content was the community in and of itself.
Yes, it’s true that we live in a vastly different world today than in the early years of MMORPGs in the late 90s and early 2000s when there was next to no competition and players were naturally more selective about their games because there were fewer options on the table. Today, there’s a smorgasbord of options available, with new titles launching every week from indie and commercial companies alike, so it’s only natural that players gravitate towards the next shiny object to catch their eye….but only if their primary game isn’t giving them what they need in terms of social interaction and an actual world in which they are invested.
If you never feel attached to the pixels, if you never feel as though you ARE the character within the game you play, the developers of that title have failed (in our opinion) at creating an actual world. Sure, they may have created an entertaining theme park that you can explore for a few weeks, but at the end of the day if you don’t feel invested in that world, in that character, than there’s nothing left for you to come back to. That’s why single player titles only ever have limited replayability; they’re only meant to be played once, or maybe two or three times through.
An MMORPG, on the other hand, is meant to be something that keeps you coming back day after day, week after week, month after month, with fresh adventures, new experiences, and an ever-changing landscape where you live and grow with the world itself. This also ties heavily into why we’re a subscription-based game and not a free-to-play title with a cash shop, because we’re not building a game for the people who only log in once a week for 30 minutes here and there. Our primary audience are the people who actually invest enough time into playing that it’s a justified monthly expense, and we want to ensure that we provide enough content to make that expense worthwhile.
We’ve often touted that we expect the primary storyline of Volume I to have 18 – 24 months of gameplay for just the adventuring sphere. We’re aiming to provide an equal amount of gameplay for the crafting sphere, and another 18 – 24 months of content with the zone, dungeon, and city storylines that players can delve into. But that’s only a portion of what we’re building; those quests are 100% optional, the storylines there to provide lore and a backstory to the world itself, and we can’t rely on quests and storylines alone, as they are finite sources of entertainment that players will consume at varied paces. In our world, they are not the primary source of content.
Instead, for us, emergent gameplay is what drives the social experience. It’s the players themselves that create the content, who create the adventures, the relationships, the friendships that keep them logging back in day after day. What lore and quests we put into the game are there as icing on the cake; they are not the cake itself. This is a virtual world, and in that world the players define what is the most important, the most popular, the most exciting, and ultimately the most rewarding.
So that’s what we’re doing, in a nutshell. We’re working hard at building a world, not just a game. We’re building it this way because at the end of the day it’s where we want to spend our time outside of our real lives. It’s the tabletop campaign taken to the maximum level, into the digital, virtual realm. And for us, it’s about building a legacy that will carry on under the power of its community, the people who decide to come along on this journey with us, and invest a little part of themselves into the Saga of Lucimia.