Monday, April 21, 2008

What Eastern Studios don't understand about Western Gamers

I started writing up an article about some of the different dungeon types in MMOs and I got stuck on the part about procedural generated dungeons. Nothing makes me more mad then getting quests that are linked to private instances which all look the same. City of Heroes was the first game which made me want to gouge my eyes out after entering Warehouse #2395930 which looked just like the last twenty warehouse missions I had gotten. I admit that Cryptic and not NCSoft was probably responsible for that travesty. I eventually forgave them and made the excuse that they were a small studio at the time and probably didn't have the man hours to make each instance unique.

Then about three years later I notice the same trend of repeating instances in Tabula Rasa though not as obvious as it was in City of Heroes. It didn't make me want to gouge my eyes out but I still hated the sense of déjà vu I got walking through every cave and base in the game. In the early levels I had to rescue some researchers from a cave infested with flying squid monsters, then it was flying bat monsters, and finally it was invisible dog monsters. Everything looked the same except for the type of monster in the instance. It seemed like they were more concerned with cranking out as many instances as possible instead of trying to make them good experiences.

I don't mean to pick on NCSoft which has managed to draw me into two games which I consider fine short term MMOs. The problem is that I'm seeing lots of bad design philosophies in products from eastern studios. I mean some like Maplestory seem to work in a subset of our MMO market today but only because they are picking up teens which face the credit card as a barrier of entry. With Disney and MTV ramping up their virtual world offerings I'm wondering if games like Maplestory can continue to do so well. Plus there's just something that seems backwards about a game that has to be localized for America by including more than one skin tone.

While I realize that America is a melting pot of cultures compared to some parts of the world I wonder if games from Korea and China might be too narrowly tailored for their population. Their games seem to stress massive quantities of instances and items over having quality ones with personality and unique graphics. Avatar creation especially in the free to play ones seem to have less emphasis on being able to create an individual. It's pretty sad when a MMO has fewer options to customize avatars then even World of Warcraft. Combine this with some of the well known problems with games like Lineage and there are obvious differences between eastern and western market trends in MMOs.

At the moment I bring this up because quite frankly there is an over abundance of cheaply made and horrible to play MMOs out there. While games published by NCSoft and Nexxon have some redeeming value the hordes of click to move games out there most decidedly do not. There is just something that we stress importance on that is often missing in these games and I think it breaks down to differing design philosophies brought about by different cultures. So for anyone that happens to wander across this rant I just want to highlight some of those differences.

1) We tend to like quality over quantity in our games.

2) The ability to customize our avatars is important even if we all end up wearing the same type of armor.

3) While we know it defies logic we really like the ability to solo in our massive multiplayer games.

4) In general we want PvP to be even and not who has the most friends.

5) While we appreciate the idea of a micro-transactions, it’s not going to catch on until you get a good game using it.

6) In general we consider a unique experience to be a good one. One instance should never look like another.

7) The leveling grind disappeared from our MMOs on November 2004, we're not going back.

8) Click-to-Move is for Diablo Clones not MMOs.

9) We are not enamored with cutesy anime models, no matter what the marketing department tells you

10) Most of us want our MMOs to stay games and keep the real world economy out.


Cow Nose the 50 Pound Cat said...

Excellent blog mate!

Viet said...

Great post.