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Massive Growing Pains Part 3: The Content War

Part I: An Introduction

There is little doubt that the MMO or MMORPG genre is the biggest new genre to hit the gaming industry since the Real-Time Strategy game. It's a genre that, like most new genres, has boomed and is now stabilizing. The unique thing about the MMO genre itself is that the especially long development times of MMO titles has slowed down the evolution of the genre allowing us to analyze its growth across a much larger scope than would typically be possible.

The purpose of this series is to do just that: to take an academic look at the MMO genre as a whole and see what we can learn about this growing genre and gaming as a whole as well. Backed by academia, through the The Guildhall at SMU, and built on a foundation of in-depth interviews with the developers down in the trenches making these games, this article series is both an intellectual exercise and learning experience, as well as an attempt to offer something back to the development community that is, unfortunately, in limited supply: a source of discourse on game design.

The last article explored the dangers and risks of development and what veteran and up-and-comer alike could do to mitigate risk and what ideas and techniques would provide the greatest chance of success within the genre. On hand to answer the question was a round table from NCsoft including Starr Long, Jeremy Gaffney, Paul Sage and others.

You can see the entire article here:


Throughout this series we have explored the issues that a developer faces when launching into the MMOG genre. Throughout these explorations there has been one topic in particular that has come up time and again: Content.

Part II: The MMO Cold War

MMORPGs started out as big huge projects and as the genre grows so do they. Not only are feature sets ever increasing but with every year the content bar rises in a way that is almost unique to the genre. When Ultima Online and Everquest shipped they were big games. Now, with years of expansions behind them, they are gigantic. Is their current status what developers need to compete against? Is that even possible? And how long can it last? Here's a recent quote from Starr Long:

"…we're in this sort of feature race now and it's kind of what happened to simulation games; if you look at flight sims, they ended up in this sort of escalating feature war. I have 40 kinds of planes and every plane can have 10 different kinds of load outs and then you can modify, blah, blah, blah. And we're kind of getting into that realm now with online games where you have to have pets, and you have to have guilds, and you have to have parties, and you have to have some sort of social system, and you have to have housing, and you have to have multiple races and if you don't have that minimum feature set you're perceived as a lower end product even though, if you look at regular games, there isn't anything like that except in simulation."

The purpose of this article is to examine this feature race, this content war, and attempt to determine the impact it is having and will continue to have on the genre and the industry as a whole.

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The Series
  Part 1
  Part 2
  Part 3