Learn from fails: Coreless MMO

Our first multiplayer game was Bloodlines of Prima. It was ambitious and full of “MMO” feature creep so you can imagine the out come for a small team. Eventually everyone stopped playing, but we never had many players to start and never did advertising. The goal was to learn first and foremost, essential as two people bootstrapping a multiplayer startup. So here is part 1 of what we learned.

Don’t call it an MMO

When you call it an MMO your invoking a very specific feeling. In a way the MMO genre is simply dead. Runescape, Everquest and World of Warcraft fans are chasing a very very specific feeling, and that is what they call MMO. Unless you’re specifically targeting them, I would not use the MMO tag anywhere. You might be setting expectations that you can’t fulfill.

We are a first person game and in general MMOs are third person with tab targeting. Our thought was questing would lead to exploration in the open world, but most MMOs use questing for story. Then you had survival elements and drop loot on death and MMO’s have nothing like that. Our differences where too much from the MMO core for players to accept the “massively multiplayer online” part of the game.

Find a core loop

Our deviance from traditional MMO tainted the “quest and get loot” loop. We didn’t want to have a full on HUD to hand hold. Unfortunately that made players less interested in questing they wanted to follow markers on the map. The core loop was split between the MMO and the survival game, neither a full experience sadly.

Our original goal was including a building system, but it never managed to get into the slice. Instead we focused on the ability systems and FPS mechanics then allowed traditional MMO system to creep up over time. Soon the survival mechanics just felt tacked on thanks the MMO creep.

Going cheap doesn’t payoff

Strapped down with no budget leads to a long hanging fruit, cheap deals and free keys. The need was to test the basic mechanics of the game but had no funds to kick things off. No networking with existing game industry, we are just two people from Kentucky after all grinding away in our freetime from our day job. So fruit was on the menu now.

Steam sales are good for a premium game. No doubt about it but no need to go too cheap. It can bring the riff raff in to multiplayer and most won’t even play it. They just add it to the library to increase game count. Balance is key here.

At a point it was moving about this fast…

Then we decided to give out keys for the game on our Discord server. We gained something like 30,000 members over a week. We made a bot but it couldn’t hardly serve the keys fast enough. Then we ran out of Steam keys and Steam said we couldn’t get anymore. Our CCU in game didn’t change at all hardly, people just wanted something for free.

The command for the bot was Getkey, needless to say the spam made memes

Final attempt was a rework to free to play. I’ll cover this more in the future but it was a solid pivot to a degree. It still lacked the building system and it needed the trimming of unnecessary fat that caused its demise. So downloads went up but CCU was still pretty much nothing. Sold a few in-game items, just a few hundred dollars worth. But Youtubers and other critics love to point to F2P in the MMO space as a kind of automatic scam alert sadly. Only a time proven game should allow commerce….?

This is the first of a series of articles about learning from our failures, more to come soon.

Thanks for your time reading!