What’s a successful MMO? How do you actually measure success in a virtual world? Is it the total number of players? The profit earned by developers and publishers? The monthly fees paid by subscribers? Or the ratings obtained on gaming sites and magazines?
I believe that a MMO’s success can be considered a combination of the things above, to which we can add quite a vast number of other features that, albeit minor, can dramatically improve the progress of a virtual world. But if we are to consider today’s star MMO, World of Warcraft, we may even conclude that the final indicator of this success can be heavily improved by certain elements. For example, since Blizzard clearly has the biggest number of subscribers for an online game, and since they got filthy rich in the process, one could easily conclude that WoW is definitely the most successful MMO ever created. But I disagree.
A good MMO is a game in continuous development, able to maintain its player base in such a way that very few of them ever decide to quit. A good MMO should register a monthly increase of this player base, but it should be a decent number, even a small one – as long as it is constant. The newcomers should be able to test the game during an extensive and unrestrictive trial period, which can allow them to form an educated opinion – and if they decide to stay, they ought to stay for good. A good MMO should offer a large variety of goals, accomplishable both in solo and with the help of a community. A good MMO should never force the player to perform boring actions in order to get something done or to get to a level where the actual fun begins – on the contrary, whatever the player does, he or she should feel rewarded and pleased for doing whatever he or she did in game. The reward does not necessarily have to be something pixel-created, a tangible reward such as a piece of equipment – one that simply means more fun can sometimes feel even more rewarding.
Above all, a MMO should avoid by any costs the idea of ending, finish, finality; it should be developed in a way that supports evolution, preferably player-driven evolution.
When we particularly consider the last two ideas, WoW fails with flying colors. EVE Online, on the other hand…
Warp Drive Active
In the beginning, there was the vastness that made EVE Online stand out. I remember that the first time I heard about the game, about 2 years before the launch date, I was skeptical. The two designers who first had the idea and started the project were talking about insane features – considering the hardware available back then. A world with thousands of solar systems, orbital stations and planets, where tens of thousands of pilots were meant to live by doing whatever they could think of, on the SAME server – impossible! EVE seemed like a wonderful dream, especially for a former hardcore player of Elite, X and the like. Fortunately, I was able to get admitted in the beta test and that’s when I remained completely dazzled. True, the producers implemented about half of what they had promised, but even so, it was absolutely overwhelming.
In EVE Online there was just so much to do, from classical missions to mining, exploring or PvP. Everything was laid down in front of you for the taking. It was strange though that back then, because the universe was scarcely populated. In the beginning, there were only about one thousand people with an EVE Online account, a number quite small if we consider the 1500 systems available back then. Other than the starting zones, which were decently crowded, you rarely saw a pilot, especially in the low security zones, where most riches were found. Slowly but surely though, a few corporations started to extend and to explore the far-away areas, dozens of gate-jumps away from the last sign of civilization. As it was expected, they started conquering system after system, and finally began to establish borders.