Now that you have a basic game out the door, let’s talk about some of the subtle things to keep in mind as you improve the game…and let’s also talk about improving the game.
The game is a service and you have to keep updating and improving the game. This will help keep users coming back and it will also help to make the game more fun so that more folks want to join
Here are some themes to keep in mind now that you have a game released:
Be willing to constantly iterate on the game. Are you willing to update and improve features ever minute. Some developers updated their game 50 times in one hour to address the feedback and suggestions of some of the early players in the game.
Playfish mentioned that “Who Has the Biggest Brain” was updated over 100 times after release to make it successful. It is one of the most successful games on Facebook and it is partially due to constant iterative improvement on the game. When it was first released, it was not a success very quickly. It took a couple months of improvements to finally make it reach the top 100 games on Facebook.
It is important to keep updating the content in the game every week. It is another way to show commitment to players and it also helps to keep things interesting. For example, one week, you can have a tournament. Another week, you may want to release more levels in the game. Another week may be a series of new items or limited-edition items in the game.
When you do these updates, you may want to send notifications/e-mails to current registered players letting them know about the new updates. Most players may forget about your MMO if not reminded, sending them a message about new and fun content is a good way to remind them of the game while respecting their time.
Balancing the Economy
If you have a virtual currency in the game, you need to make sure it doesn’t get inflated. This can happen when there is no proper balancing of the sinks and sources of points/currency in the game. Why is balancing the economy important? It is because it has an impact on the fun of the game. If there is massive inflation in the game, players will stop liking the game and leave. Yes, it has happened in other games and if you take steps, you can make sure the economy is a strong way to keep the fun in the game. Check out this paper to see the effects of inflation in other MMOs…
One game designer wisely suggested that the game have a “wishing well” that players can throw money into and make a wish. It is a good way to help remove money from the economy in a way that is positive to the players in the game.
Another thing I did was have a way for players to donate money to the new feature. If they donated a certain amount, they would get recognition as funding a new feature in the game. This was another positive way to help remove money from the economy and keep inflation in check.
If you have a successful game, people will try to cheat the system. They will try to find exploits and ways to gain more points. It happens in almost every game. You need to make sure you catch these issues quickly as they will impact the fun of the game. If honest players see that cheaters always win, they will leave the game.
So you need to keep track of changes in the game. Keep track of the top players in the game by points every 4-5 hours. If there is a massive change, there may be something going on. Look into it. You’ll also hear about exploits that allow folks to get a lot of money or points quickly. Patch them quickly and then either ban the folks that used the exploit or remove the points they got unfairly.
Making Money From the Game
Your goal may be to make money from the game. That’s a nice goal. However, at first, make sure you serve and respond to players. Get your game up to 5,000 or 10,000 daily users then think about monetization. When you have a new game and new players get a sense that you are trying to milk them for money, your chances of growing may be limited. Of course, you can be the exception to this rule. But in general, first serve your players for a while, make sure the MMO runs somewhat smoothly and then look into monetization.
When you are ready to monetize, look into options such as allowing players to buy virtual currency in the game. Also using banner ads from Social Media and Cubics and also affiliate offers from My Offerpal and Super Rewards
As of this writing, some of the folks at Super Rewards mentioned giving million dollar payouts to single developers. It is possible to make a lot of money from these games provided you make something that is compelling, fun, and addictive to players.
As you have points, missions, battles, and other RPG elements, make sure you properly balance the game. It is important that you make sure the game is properly balanced. Some MMO developers hire people to specifically think about balancing items and quests so that nothing is out of control. When a game is balanced, it is fun. When it is out of balance, players will notice and may even stop playing.
Balance is important. Yes, some folks even set up spreadsheets in excel to run simulations to make sure their game is balanced. Your game may or may not require balancing. If it does, make sure you test out things before releasing new items/things that may upset the game balance.
Working with the community
It is important that you respond to your community early on. They need to know that you’ll be there and are committed to making the game work. As you do this, you gain their trust. Make sure you keep building on that trust. Make sure you are responsive consistently. If you need to take a break from responding to the community, make sure you let them know or get a volunteer admin to help responds to issues and questions.
Taking a break
Developing an MMO can get intense at times. You have to respond to a lot of things at once and not all of them are technical. MMOs revolve around people and there will be social issues that come up…that will feel more draining than most of the technical issues that you encounter in the game.
You can burn out and lose motivation to keep updating the game without taking a little time off. I’ve found that taking a few days off after 3-6 weeks of development helps to keep me focused on improving the game more. Stepping away from things also gives me clarity and insights into new ideas I can apply to the MMO. Constant development without a break can get frustrating, especially if you are developing alone without a partner…even if the community is helping out. Taking a break and letting the players know is a good way to recharge.
Every MMO will have a culture based on the developer and players. You need to have an idea of the culture you want and make sure you reinforce that culture with your attitudes and behaviors in the game. You need to be crystal clear about how you expect your players to behave and then block/ban people that violate those rules. There may be a person that wants to create issues with other players in the game and may ruin the experience for others. They exist and if their attitudes and behaviors and comments towards others is setting a bad tone in the game, be sure to block them from the app. You can ban them temporarily at first and if they continue it, then you can do a permanent ban.
I focused on making my game a positive place. A place for fun and relaxation. I’ve found that to be effective. Make sure you are clear about what social tone of the app.
Studying other MMOs is one way to learn. Another important way to learn is to keep metrics on everything in the game and then analyze the reports. You need to know how many invites were sent today. How many people leveled up in the game. How many players played the game today. How many new players yesterday returned today. Once you have this data, you can start doing split a/b testing. You need to keep experimenting so that you can tweak the game to make it a better and compelling experience.
Split A/B testing is important as minor changes in certain things may make a big change to the success potential of the game.
With metrics, you’ll get an idea of how long people spend in the game, what people are doing in the game, and then be able to modify and iterate based on this data. Proper analysis and use of this data is what can separate you from the rest of the game developers so make sure you put in a metrics system in place early on in the game release process.
As you grow, you’ll need help addressing all of the questions/customer service by others. To help lighten the load, you may want to ask some of the people in your community to be volunteer admins. Most folks will be willing to do it for free. You can give the folks that participate a special badge in the game. The volunteers will help things run smoothly. Make sure you write up a tutorial for volunteers that do help out with the game so that they know clear expectations of how they need to treat people asking for help.
Games as Systems
At the heart of everything, you are developing a “system”…and this system has users providing inputs into the system and then producing outputs like results, etc. You need to work on building this system and the components of the system so that the game will run as much on its own or a methodical fashion as possible.
For example, part of your game system is hopefully getting new players into the game quickly. Let’s say that 20% of the players that join the game decide to stay. You have this stat because you kept metrics (mentioned above Now you tweak a few things and add a tutorial so that now 40% of the player that join the game decide to stay. You have modified this part of the system and it will have a positive impact on the whole system. This is why you need to measure all parts of the game so you can figure out ways to optimize various subsystems of the game to keep it running smoothly. Systems-level thinking is critical for making the game success so be sure to keep in mind that you are really building a system here where the actual game is only one part of it.