What do you mean, “Game Enhancement?”

    You’ve set in on the design process of your very own online game, and you’re thinking to yourself “what should I be putting in this game, anyway?” In the last column, we looked at some basic acquisition and retention features that should be common to all online games, and this time we’re going to get a little more specific.

    As I’m sure you know, there’s more to a game than just staple features; if there weren’t, then every game would be identical. What sets each manufacturer’s games apart from each other are the features they add along the way, and how they are implemented.

    Ideally, these features should all be focused toward a specific player base that is expected to play the game. Each of these features should also have some retention value attached to them, so that the subscribers stick around to find out what the next features will be. In case it’s not already obvious, this installment is very specific to long-term online computer games, as single-player games don’t expect to have a five year lifespan.

    If you recall, the Themis Group Player Satisfaction Matrix that we saw last month (Column #10) looked like this:

    Bartle Player Activity Types:
    [*]Confusion: 0-1 month—Features—Features—Features—Features
    [*]Excitement (2-4 month)—Features—Features—Features—Features
    [*]Involvement (2 months – 4+ years)—Features—Features—Features—Features
    The simple version of this is “everybody always wants more features.” This table, however, is very abstract; it doesn’t give any indication what these features should be, or how to include them in your game. I can’t tell you how to write your game, nor will I ever try, but I can help you figure out what some of these features should be, to give you an idea of what you should be looking to include. Basically, we want to turn the abstract “Features” parts of the table in to something significantly more specific.

    Replacing those Features boxes with actual game content is easy. What do you expect to see within the first month of your online gaming experience? Odds are you’ll want someone to greet you, to introduce you to the game world. This is probably true across the board; everyone wants this. You’ll probably want some detailed information on the game itself, and the world it takes place in. Socializers will want to start exploring the chat and guild systems, and to meet new people. Killers will want some well defined “us vs. them” hooks to get themselves involved in the game.

    With just a little bit of thought, it’s fairly simple to find features that appeal to the individual player types. These early ones are the features that might register as both acquisition and retention, but only in the short-term. After the first month or so is over, you need an entirely different set of retention features.

    So what do you look for next? The game is still pretty fresh, so you’re going to want to further explore the different facets of it. The socializers will want a highly developed chat system, and some guilds they can sink their teeth in to. Accomplishers will want some tasks, and a clear way in which they can grow their character (stats, skills, spells, etc). Explorers will want rewards for exploring, and killers will want team PvP and the ability to grow their combat skills.

    After another couple months, the novelty of these simple features must be replaced by more concrete, longer-term features that are designed to keep the players hooked forever, or until the sequel comes out. So what do you look for when you play a game for five years?

    If you’re a socializer, you’re going to want the ability to actually create social events, not just participate in them. If you’re an achiever, you want quests and world events to deal with. Explorers want new lands and dungeons to explore, and killers want new people to murder, and new places and ways in which to do it. Now, our Player Satisfaction Table looks more like this:

    Bartle Player Activity Types:[LIST]
    [*]Confusion:—0-1 month—New Player Greeters, Basic Chat—New Player Greeters, Detailed online game info—New Player Greeters, Detailed online game info—New Player Greeters, Us vs. Them hooks
    [*]Excitement, (2-4 month) —Enhanced Chat, Guilds—Things to do, Clear Growth Plans—Rewards for exploring —Team PvP, Combat Skills growth
    [*]Involvement (2 months – 4+ years)—Creating social events—Quests, Events—New land, New Dungeons—Massive PvP ability

    This table is by no means complete, it’s just meant to give you an idea of the types of things you should be considering for each stage of the product life cycle. If you’d like to see something similar to this in a printed book, pick up Developing Online Games: An Insider’s Guide, by Jessica Mulligan and Bridgette Patrovsky, which is an excellent tool for anyone seriously considering creating an MMORPG or similar type of game. I use this book myself to aid me in creating both this column and my own games.

    However you organize the cells in the table, this will make it very easy to see what you want to implement, what you’ve already done, and what’s still incomplete. As you create your games, you will undoubtedly come across several useful tools that make your life easier; this is one of those tools.

    Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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