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The MMO Post-Launch Period: Do's and Don'ts

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The massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) business is a lucrative one, as consumers typically first pay for the game, then are charged a monthly fee of $10-$15 to keep playing it. At least that’s the case for huge productions like industry leader World of Warcraft, and despite what some people say, it’s a model that still works.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to build a sustainable business; many MMOs fail during the crucial 1-2 months following their launch. However, the ones that play it right have every chance of carving out a profitable niche — maybe even of taking a chunk out of the WoW pie.

Funcom’s launch of Age of Conan was successful by any measure, selling some 1 million copies. But they were soon bombarded with complaints over the instability of the client as well as numerous bugs. So while they claim to have more than 400,000 paying subscribers, that’s just 40 percent of the number of games that were sold at launch.

With that in mind, here’s a list of do’s and don’ts aimed at MMO developers and publishers preparing for that critical post-launch period:

The Do’s

  • Make sure that the game is stable. Too many unfinished products are being pushed out prematurely.
  • Include a significant amount of content for players of all levels, not just the initial ones, because players will advance faster than you think. If the game gets boring, they’ll leave.
  • Add new content on a regular basis — frequent, small chunks at first, to really show commitment.
  • Make it easy for players to network, form guilds, go on raids, or whatever is fitting for your MMO. Remember, these are social games, after all.
  • Let players move characters between servers. This option should be there from the start, so that you can join your friends playing on other servers without having to start with a new character from scratch on that particular server.
  • Keep an open dialogue with the players via forums and blogs, and listen to their suggestions. This not only makes it easier for you to improve your game, it also looks good for curious would-be players, and might prove to be a selling point.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t promise features that are months away. It doesn’t matter how amazing your new PvP system is, it’s frustrating to hear about features of a brand-new game that will involve still more waiting.
  • Avoid having apparent portals and exits to parts of the world that you haven’t made available yet. Limit the world in a seamless manner.
  • Don’t rebalance the game too much, too fast. Players pick their classes, skills, weapons and armor after the framework you’ve given them, so when you alter something drastically you’re essentially breaking their characters.
  • When gamers start to complain, don’t just ignore them and fix the issues in secret. Publicly acknowledging problems makes you more credible and inspires another level of loyalty — as long as you follow through with them, that is.

Image courtesy of Age of Conan.

6 Responses to “The MMO Post-Launch Period: Do's and Don'ts”

  1. I am sorry, but – as someone who’s spent many years in the MMO industry – I strenuously disagree with, well, almost every single point in this article. I doubt that anyone with post-launch knowledge of a live MMO would agree with this list.

    Thank you for raising the topic – it’s an interesting area, definitely – but I don’t think you understand the MMO industry at all – neither the developers nor the players nor the history – and several of your recommendations above will probably do most people more harm than good.

    For a detailed breakdown and analysis of what’s wrong with this list and why, and a very brief start on what people should think about instead, c.f.:


  2. @Allan,
    There is great need for innovation indeed, I agree. This include business models that will make a game sustainable even if the subscriber count isn’t in the 100 000’s. Some games actually manages that already, but the MMO industry needs to wake up on this matter on a wider scale.

    @Butler Lampson,
    That is indeed a great game, and I’m sure we’ll cover it in the future should a nice story arise.

  3. Those are some great tips thanks. I think the WOW revenue model is sustainable only for the highest quality games that get the most market traction. For every second-tier game that might still be fun but doesn’t have the high production value, I think there needs to be an innovation in this space. More so now that there are a ton of startups, VC backed or not, that are gunning for a piece of the WOW pie. I think I might have an answer….