A Letter To All MMO Developers Out There

Of course, this post has nothing to do with Final Fantasy XIV's open beta. Of course.

To whom it may concern.

Dear MMO-designers, companies, economists, marketers, PR-agents and all you others involved in the development and launching of a new MMO.

We love you, we really do. Many of us jump between many different games, read up on news and theories and all MMO-related things that we can get our hands on. Hey, some of us even blog about you or go chasing you down with a camera man in tow whenever we get a chance. For some of us, the thought of not having an active MMO sub at any given time feels odd. We’ve seen countless games go into beta, many more launch and even some crash and burn.

But there are a couple of things that you never seem to learn, one lesson that you really need to finally wrap your head around. While not everyone will stick around and play your game for very long, while a lot of people will return to World of Warcraft or Everquest 2 or wherever they originally came from after a while, there seem to be a huge hunger for new games in the genre. Some games develop a huge following long before launch, fansites start to pop up in a matter of days after a simple announcement. And every time the word “beta” is mentioned, a lot of people will jump.

You guys need to be better to anticipate the amount of people that will come storming your servers by the time you go into open beta. You need to be prepared, you need gauge your own hype. Take a look at your balance sheet, see that terribly big number next to “launch day expenses”? Copy it and put it next to “open beta launch” too. If you don’t do that, how about just skipping open beta in the first place? You got your closed beta feedback, use that instead. Use other ways to stress test your servers before launch, if that’s what you want the beta for. If you’re a small company with limited funds, that might be the best way to do it. If you’re a large corporation, the first option is probably the better.

Ok, I lied. It does have to do with Final Fantasy XIV's open beta.

Also, and this has been said so many times now, at some point “open beta” became synonymous with “free trial” for many. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it happened. I’m not sure who to blame, the companies or the players. It doesn’t really matter, it’s the way it is. Unless your beta product is very, very polished your game will probably suffer because of it. People decide if they are going to pick up your game on launch day or not from the quality of your open beta. There are different ways to handle this, and placing your open beta really close to launch is a gamble – it gives you more time to prepare, but if players feel that the game isn’t ready for launch things might get messy anyway.

I just thought you should be told, again. The strategy that all of you seem to be using these days is pretty flawed. You need to learn to humble yourself a bit, to plan better, and be prepared for the storm that will hit your servers. Trust me, it will come.

Yours truly,


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  1. pasmith says:

    Well, I’m going to be the lone dissenter in your comments.

    You’ve got some conflicting thoughts in this post.

    If you think they should just skip open beta… well why don’t you just skip open beta? Er, that sounds aggressive and I don’t mean it that way. But if you don’t want to deal with the hassles of signing up for open beta and getting the client downloaded and all that, why not just skip it?

    In my experience, automated load-testing software is crazy expensive and rarely does a good job of simulating what real people are going to be doing. I think they really do need stress tests to see if their hardware is up to snuff. In this case, it wasn’t. Would it be better to find this out on launch day after people spent $50?

    [Of course, that assumes they're really stress testing and making hardware adjustments for launch... if they aren't then they're asking for trouble.]

    So the answer is to do as you suggest: better gauge the hype. How should they do that? I personally was surprised at how many people I know, who hadn’t indicated the slightest interest if FF XIV before now, suddenly decided to try to get into Open Beta.

    You say they need to be more humble, but also say they need to anticipate their open beta being more popular than they planned for. That sounds like conflicting advice.

    I realize you’re really frustrated and it may seem like no one has gotten in, but in-game you can barely target some NPCs for the crowd that is amassed around them. Plenty of people are apparently getting in. From the start SE said they’d be limiting the number of open beta slots they’d give out…I just don’t think this is technique they expected to use to limit it! :)

    It’s really easy for us to point out the problems, but we’re not dealing with juggling expenses with income, or dealing with the black magic that is server load, or having to do things that sound really simple (estimating how many people will sign up) but that aren’t all that simple once you think about it.

    Also, say 2,000,000 want in on the open beta, but 50,000 plan on buying the game. Do you really think it is sound economics for them to spend money on hardware to support all those people in open beta for 2 weeks?

    On the other hand, you make great points that plenty of people are coming away from this experience bitter about the game, and it is probably costing them sales in the short run. Maybe they’re planning for the long run and for word of mouth to bring people back in over the long term? I don’t know…

    In any case, this is going to be a niche game at best. Everyone says they want something different until a company makes something different, then everyone bitches that the UI is too hard or the fatigue system is too limiting or whatever.

    If I were running a company launching an MMO, I’m not sure what I’d do. If I could guarantee a smooth open beta…I wouldn’t really need an open beta, would I?

    Ideally I’d open registrations for Open Beta a month before open beta actually launched; then I’d know how many people would be hitting the servers. But how much nerd rage would there be once the sign-up period ended but the beta opened? People mad that they didn’t know to register a month earlier.

    I dunno, I just am willing to cut them some slack. Launching a website is hard, I know from experience; launching an MMO must be grueling.

  2. Petter says:

    Lone dissenter in the comments? You’re the only one in the comments, Pete. :P

    First of all, the “skipping open beta”-part was more for them than for me, as FFXIV is hardly the first game that has huge problems at this stage. And I didn’t mean that Square-Enix should do it, I’m just brainstorming. That’s what I meant with “how about…”, as an idea. :) I didn’t take it as agressive, no other way to say that really. But I agree that the word “humble” might be a bit misleading there, as it was related to launching a MMO in general, not only about OB.

    But I also think you misunderstand me – as I say in the penultimate paragraph, this is how perceptions have changed. People see this as an open trial now (and let’s be honest – in many ways so do I. My main reason for wanting to play the FFXIV OB was to see if my comp was up to par or not). Something needs to change in general, and I do think that sadly this is the way reality looks right now – this is how I think MMO companies need to change the way they look at the whole procedure. :)

    In this day and age, word travels fast and reputations are torn down way too fast. While I certainly agree with most of what you say, MMO companies are not in an easy position these days. Sadly.

  3. Steve Kramer says:

    Having been a dev on EQ2, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I share your frustration with the beta launch of FFIV. I pulled the trigger on this slower than other people and can’t get past the point where they assign me a beta key. I wish they had thought the whole thing through a little more thoroughly before opening it up wider.

  4. I’d come out with some brilliant comment highlighting my own experiences with the game, but alas, I have yet to, and may not be able to, experience it.

    Square Enix is pulling some stupid moves, to be sure, but I’m guessing they’re being cautious about balancing the number of people playing now versus the number of people who will eventually play and stay.

  5. I’m becoming more and more anti-beta as I get older. I honestly think they are going from being true testing experiments into early access free trials. It’s totally out of the spirit of the concept and frankly, as a consumer, it’s becoming very annoying to see so many large news sites (not talking about opinion blogs here) constantly report information and review beta data. That’s not what betas are for!!

  6. Yeebo says:

    Like it or not, the MMO community does treat open beta’s as a free trial. And honestly, how much to major game mechanics tend to change between open beta an launch anyway? The open beta game is the launch game to all intents in most cases. The only recent counter example I can think of is the launch day power set nerf in CO. That went over about as well as you’d think . . .

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