Friday, December 29, 2006

Escapist article on 'Boutique MMORPG'

Allen Varney over at the Escapist just posted an interesting follow up article to my Lessons from Touring Band essay. He provides some solid number and lots of wonderful examples of village games. You can read it here.

A hundred petri dishes
I'm impressed that Allen tracked down so many great examples. One thing that I noted was the fragmented nature of the market. This market is nothing like the mainstream world (aka WoW land) where you have a unified gamer press all discussing the same game. Every month that passes, I end up hearing about new titles that had existed for years, but for some reason I had never heard about. This delights me and give me great hope.

Market consolidation generally leads to the emergence of standardized product offerings. Niche games targeted at niche audiences are like a hundred petri dishes, each brewing their own particular gameplay potion.

Such companies may not create the over the top productions that you find in AAA titles, but they can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that that new mechanics, new social systems and new business models work. Think of village game companies as a vast network of diligent prototypers. These working examples do far more to get big, risk averse money flowing (albeit slowly) towards new ventures than the most well reasoned pitch docs.

The reward? Many of the folks running these boutique shops do quite well. That also delights me.

Village games learn the lesson of casual games
The ease of use is also starting to improve as we see the 'pick up and play' philosophies of casual games applied to the traditionally dense MMORPG genre. I stopped by the Sherwood Forest game and was presented with a single link. Instead of jumping to the website that explained how I might, if I wanted, think about talking about trying the game, I was dumped immediately into the game world. Boom, I give a name, pick an avatar and I'm off slaying monsters.

I'd love to see this 30 second rule applied to more games. I should be playing and enjoying the game within 30 seconds of hitting the link. No fiddling with controls, waiting on loading or download screens. Portable games do it. Flash games do it. So should online games.

take care