When MMOs fall flat

2010-09-19

Less than two weeks ago, I wrote a glowing review of a browser-based MMORPG called Pardus. Yesterday, I cancelled my account.

Before I go into the gory details, remember that negative experiences impact us more strongly than positive ones. You know the saying, "Beauty is skin-deep, but ugliness goes all the way to the bone"? That's how the brain perceives things. It's why unhappy customers will complain about your service or product way more than the happy customers will praise it -- which in turn is why any business should go out of its way to make customers happy, or at least not unhappy.

That's also why last time I focused on my positive experiences with the game. I knew the good impression wasn't going to last. I just didn't expect things to go downhill as fast as they did.

In less than two weeks, I discovered that I was forever restricted to about one third of the galaxy, and even in that area many places were off-limits, which made it way too easy to fail missions, and progress was becoming ridiculously slow anyway, and with no level caps the veteran players would always be able to steamroll me in a fight, which I would rather avoid, but in a pure PvP game that's not possible...

Ahem. You get the idea. Let's take the above issues one by one.

Note to self: if I ever make a MMO and allow players to create content (generally a good idea, see below), that should not include the ability to bar other players from exploring. If there is one constant to human behavior, it is that if they can abuse something, they will. In this case, it involves player buildings blocking their fellow faction members (even deep into faction territory!) or effectively turning a supposedly neutral cluster into a faction fief.

Yes, allowing player building makes the game more lively, not to mention the developers can be more hands-off. But that doesn't mean they can afford to ignore complaints until the newer players start leaving in droves. Before long, only the veterans and die-hard fans will be left, and when they grow tired of seeing the same old faces again and again... Can you type sudo shutdown -h now? Predictably enough, the Pardus forums were full of people noting that new players no longer stick around, and voices arguing that they lack patience were only adding insult to injury.

Which brings me to another issue. While level caps may seem artificial and arbitrary, the simple truth is that without them old players will always be way ahead of the newer ones, simply by virtue of having had much more time to advance in the game. It doesn't matter how steep the curve becomes in later stages; they'll have no trouble making slow, but steady progress at their end -- which they'll keep pushing further -- while newbies struggle somewhere close to the start with their shorter legs, and never seem to shake off the newbie status. And with the (otherwise very healthy) action point system, they won't even be able to play more in compensation.

Speaking of artificiality, while mandatory PvP seems more natural (after all, there is no law of nature to protect you from harm just because you're a nice person), it is very annoying for people who join your game to, you know, *escape* reality for a while. And telling them to go find another game misses the point; maybe they like yours. Don't you want more players? Especially when only about one in one thousand is actually active, and only a few of the latter will pay anything?

But what do I know about making games for money. Pardus is apparently still going strong, and in all honesty it deserves that. Go try it; maybe the small annoyances I mentioned are good points in your book. It's just that you won't find me there anymore. Not that anyone will miss me. Have fun!

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