Everybody Wants One! I Want One, Too!

Posted: September 4, 2007 by Kendricke in General Game Concepts, The Gaming Industry

Remember High School?

The bad clothes?  The bad skin?  The bad hair?  Remember the drama that came with every little change?  Remember how there was always music playing?  Remember the constant desire to do “something” with your life?  Remember that overwhelming desire to fit in?

Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like most MMO’s, doesn’t it?  Especially that need to run with the pack…

Why is it in many MMO’s, it’s not enough to have a game that fits your lifestyle or to have enough players on your server to find groups without feeling crowded?  That it’s not enough to really like the storyline or to find a class you like to play?  No, in most MMO’s, you can’t just like where you’re at – you need the comfort that comes from knowing others like where you’re at as well.

Unless you care about the business end of game design, why does it matter that there are millions of players in World of Warcraft or less than a hundred thousand in Vanguard?  Who cares if there are only 3 Matrix Online servers or a few dozen Lord of the Rings Online servers?  Why does it matter if there are more Furies than Inquisitors?

In a word:  validation.

Without realizing it, many of us buy into the idea that not only is there safety in numbers, but a confirmation of our own inherent “correctness”, as well.  After all, if more people play our class or our server or our game, then obviously we made a good choice, right?  Right!?

Really, the majority of players just want to know that they’re among the majority of players.  They want to know that there are lots of people who think similarly.  They want to know that they’ve chosen a popular game/race/class/whatever.

Don’t believe me?  Pick a game, any game.  Now, run a search on that game’s official forums for “popular” or “more players” and tell me what you find.  Here’s a few quick hits from the search “popular class” in Everquest 2’s official forums

Oddly enough, popularity is often counterproductive in MMO’s.  Pick the most popular class as your own, and you now have more competition for groups.  Pick the most popular server, and now you have lag and competition at the auction house or broker.  Yet, even then, popularity is somehow associated with good. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t just stop with player based choices.  This ad populum thinking extends into game design as well.  Often, we see game designers turning around on their own ideas motivated by what appears to be little more than what is or is not popular. 

It’s a little different from their side of the table.  After all, it’s not as if designers build games in the hope that they fail.  I agree that game designers should want their creations to be popular.  However, that said, what of individual choices within the game?

I’ve heard several designers tell me over the years that “there are no sacred cows”, and though I agree with the concept, I can’t help but think that some areas of design should be more carefully considered than others.  There may be no sacred cows, but I have a hard time believing that all cows are considered identically when it comes time for slaughter.

Popularity comes into the equation – whether for good or otherwise.  I can’t imagine there’s an idea that hits the table at a design meeting that isn’t considered through a subscription filtered lens at some point.  Sometimes, I can imagine that lens is the only one used for some ideas, however.

Would it be such a revolutionary thought?  To believe that developers are just as mortal as the rest of us?  To believe that developers might dare to be swayed by what would make them seem a bit more popular with the players? 

It happens.  We’re all only human after all, right? 

Just as some players need to know that the class they’ve chosen is popular, so too can I imagine developers wanting that validating feedback from the players – someone letting them know that the idea they went with was a good one – or at least thought to be a good choice by other players. 

In a way, we’re all still in high school.  We’re all still just trying to fit in.  Knowing that we do is a comfort to most of us.  It lets us know that if we’re wrong, at least we’re not the only ones who thought that way in the first place. 

  1. Xeavn says:

    Good article, and I agree with most of it. I know I am still trying to fit in, at work, in whatever game I am currently playing, etc.

    Still I have to disagree on one point. I don’t think that being on the most popular server is a bad thing. I would much rather put up with some Lag than the having an underpopulated server.

    A larger server means much more items flowing in and out of the auction house. This can result in higher prices, but it can also result in more reasonable prices too. If someone is overpricing an item, there are a lot more poeple around to undercut them. It also results in a larger market for items that might not sell at all on a smaller server.

    Ideally for me, I would like a server that is very close to the maximum number of players that it can support without having issues with Lag. I also think don’t think too many companies try and optimize server performance to squeeze more players on a server. After all hardware is relatively cheap, and it is easier to have a couple extra servers than to design the game to run well with more poeple on it.

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