One of the buzzphrases in MMO development now is “allowing our players to determine the destiny of the game” or whatever package you want to put that phrasing into. The basic idea that game developers are allowing the players to determine the features of a game by charging an early entry fee into the alpha and allowing them to help craft the world.
This is, utterly, a fraud in so many ways for so many developers. It’s a concept that really can’t come true and it does nothing but to harm the industry, yet so many developers are desperately using it to advertise their “founders level access.” You’re going to ask me why I’m taking such an offensive stance on this and you know, just give me a second to explain.
The biggest issue with most MMOs is that they fail to capture an audience in that first month of subscriptions. You login, game isn’t addictive enough, you log out and never return. The problem with the “founder’s programs” is that for many players, buying into a founders program is the same, if not, more severe than buying the actual box copy.
See, a player now spends money to access an early alpha build, they login, and if the direction of the game isn’t what they desire then they log out and forget about the game’s existence until it’s next big media blitz near launch. At which point, they’ve already payed for the game, and maybe, perhaps, give it another shot if and only if there is enough “proof” that whatever annoyed them in the early alpha is now gone.
Shroud of the Avatar is another game where they offer early access to founders. Check out our preview of release 4.
See, we can’t consider everyone to be super rational when it comes to consumers, by the very nature of the process of spending money, are already expecting something. You can say in big bold letters alpha this and alpha that all you want, you can beg and plead with people to understand the game isn’t finished and that their voice matters, but it’s not going to sink in for a lot of people. Thus, right there, a lot of people face disappointment.
For those who do stick with it and follow the directions, they often find that their feedback isn’t really directing where the game goes. It’s sort of a semi-quasi-maybe-vote on if this one mechanic is working or not. If enough of the testers throw a big enough fit about something, developers might change it, but for the most part the development process is still a closed room. Professionals are hired to do their jobs and craft the games and the founders only have access to provide overarching commentary.
There is no “crafting the future” of the game. If 10,000 “founders” all have a voice then the game is going to be the best worst thing ever much like Twitch Plays Pokemon. There is going to be very few times that the community comes to a clear decision on something and that is pretty much the extent of them “aiming” development.
So how can we better market the phrasing to lead to less disappointment and clearer expectations. Well first, for the first issue, do as Everquest Next: Landmark did and make an introduction video for the game that forces you to learn just what an alpha is and what to expect.
Speaking of EQN - they do it right. They promise early build access and for those who pay up enough, they get to hop into the beta forums early on, granting them exclusive privledge to chat with the devs. For those who want that level of "destiny manipulation" they can get it, for those who want to tinker with the game early on, they can get it. No promises of "everyone decides the destiny." Instead a conservative and realistic plan that they can deliver on. Good stuff.
Second, cut the “you can develop the game alongside us!” rhetoric down a lot and promise instead actual developer interaction on whatever community discussion system the game has. Then follow through on the promise and have the developers actively explore the forums or whatever and talk with the founders. While it’s not “leading” development, letting people understand on a much larger scale that their feedback has some kind of merit to it goes a long way in making a much more satisfying experience.