IMGDC: BioWare's Walton Talks MMO Creation Essentials

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IMGDC: BioWare's Walton Talks MMO Creation Essentials -

At the Indie MMO Game Developers Conference in Minnesota, BioWare Austin co-studio director Gordon Walton parsed out some essential lessons for indie MMO developers. The Kesmai, Origin and Sony Online Entertainment veteran - one of the most experienced MMO creators in the industry right now - addressed issues such as how indie efforts should differentiate from AAA online games, at every stage of the process from development to launch. "I've made one one-hundredth of the ...

[Gamasutra - News]

It's an interesting read - especially if you want some insight into the way some of the players in the MMO space are thinking. That being said, I'm not convinced I agree. I suppose I have to think on it a bit, but a few things strike me as maybe not the best advice:

"The biggest mistake? To design for the taste of the designer instead of the audience, according to Walton. "Designer tastes are not where the audience is going to be," he stressed."

I totally understand what he means, as I've seen an MMo diminished by certain people attempting to mold it into WoW, but that being said, it's a mistake to assume your designers are always wrong. Always question yourself, but don't second guess yourself. If you think you have your finger on the pulse of your audience, double-check that before you just wander away because you happen to like the same things. A gem like Dwarf Fortress flat out wouldn't exist if it wasn't designed for the tastes of its creators -- and it's absence in the world would be a transgression against humanity. It's not an MMO, but the same principles apply. It's not a mistake to design for your tastes - if you are your target market. To give Mr. Walton some support though, that is a very big if. Be skeptical, but don't abandon your instincts out of hand.

In the face of steep odds, then, it's the team that's important. "There is no room for a B-team," Walton warned. "B-level players in an MMO team are grit in the gears. If you have multiple skills you need to pick the one you're best at and stick to it."

What I hope (but don't really believe) Mr. Walton means is that you MUST produce quality work, no matter what. It's no crime to be, say, a hobbyist writer, but to not be good enough for professional work. On the other hand, it is a crime to be, say, a perfectly good writer and eschew the cost savings of doing the writing yourself just because you think you're a better audio designer, or designer, or coder. Save money wherever you can; just make sure you don't sacrifice your game's quality in the process.

How you spend your money, and what you spend it on, are critical, if you're an indy developer. In most cases, you won't be getting a lot of cash and you need to be incredibly smart about what you use yours on. But, don't doom your game to mediocrity to save money. If you can't afford to hire someone in a role and you're going to fill that role yourself as a secondary task, make damned sure you can do it at top notch quality. If you can't... consider cutting the tasks the role requires, or refocusing other aspects of the game so you can afford to hire someone who can pull off the tasks at high-quality.

Above all else though, I'll agree with Mr. Walton: Know your niche!

Features that you think you don't need, because maybe WoW didn't have them, can doom you in the eyes of your niche. Even worse is when you add features, say because WoW did have them, to a game for an audience that not only doesn't need them, but actively doesn't WANT them. Imagine, for example, how successful your automotive MMO would be if you decided to not include races. Imagine how successful your post-apocalyptic MMO would be, if your players had no reward for, or encouragement to, explore the world.

"That's how WoW did it" only makes sense if you're building a game like WoW. Don't forget that - a lot of the "professionals" do, and keeping it in mind will already put you ahead of the game.

Good luck!

-Snipehunter