Last week we looked at the various business model options and picked the one we liked the best. It wasn’t all that much of a surprise to see Subscriptions win with 39% of the vote for anyone who has followed the industry recently considering the rise in predatory practices from companies in games that use other models. MMORPG players long for the times when they simply paid for a subscription. From the looks of it, studios are also picking up on this and the subscription model is seeing a bit of a revival. The last MMORPGs that released strictly using a subscription model were The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar which launched just a few months apart in 2014. Both of these games ended up abandoning it because at the time the subscription just wasn’t popular.
In our poll from last week, Buy to Play took second place with 33% of the vote. The model I created called Patron, or The Total Honesty model came in third with 13% of the vote. Free to Play and Hybrid were the last two, both with 8% of the vote. On Reddit, the Total Honesty model had a few supporters. It’s a model I also fully support but the fact that it requires companies to reveal how much money they need, how many players they have, and the risk of a quick death are all enough to make sure this never happens. Still, it’s interesting to think about. Who knows, maybe sometime in the future, we will see a model like this pop-up.
With our look at business models out of the way, I want to return to the actual game development to take a look at MMORPG starting zone options. Where players start often has a big impact on their early game and which races they pick. People playing as a group are unlikely to play characters who have different starting zones, so in this case, more starting zones is actually less beneficial. At the same time, it may not make sense to have everyone starting in one place, especially if open world PvP is going to feature heavily. These are all things to keep in mind as we go forward.
One Starting Zone
Having everyone start in one zone builds a fantastic world hub that is open to everyone. It becomes the central unifying place for all things to happen. We saw this in City of Heroes that while technically had two starting zones for heroes, only one of them ever really got any use and the second was destroyed by the developers. Atlas Park was THE place to be for most events player run and developer run. This worked well because the game only had one faction, though. What happens when you have three factions in one place? You have to put in PvP rules that forbid fighting amongst the players in that zone in order to protect the newbie players. It will also make some players unhappy when the cross-faction group they’ve been playing with is forced to break up at the end of the zone.
In our Dark Fantasy MMORPG, a single starting zone would begin in a massive city open to all citizens of the world. It is a merchant town with everything you could possibly need in it from crafting to representatives of your chosen faction. In this zone, your combat skills are put to the test by your faction before you’re sent out into the world to perform basic tasks like delivering letters for them to outposts just outside the city. Of course getting to them means crossing through a forest full of various creatures that think you look delicious. Here you’re taught the basic mechanics of the game and you get your first introductions to the story. You learn why the various factions don’t get along as you get attacked by a group of Shadows who have come to steal your shadow.
Choose Your Own
Similar to having one starting zone for everyone is the idea of having several small zones scattered around the world for players to pick from that are open to all players in all factions. They would offer the opportunity to have the one starting zone experience in different parts of the world and on a much smaller scale, but there are some downsides. You may end up starting the game on the opposite side of the world from where your faction is based and that cross-faction disappointment is going to come to you a lot quicker. You also won’t be creating the world hub that you did with one starting zone.
For our game, I’m picturing 8 options. Two in each of the player faction-controlled lands, one in a central hub, and one in the universal NPC enemy’s controlled lands. Each offering a different start depending on your faction and the location they’re in.
Alternatively, it could be that each race has its own starting zone near their main city but you’re able to pick which one you want to go to.
Ultimately, it’s likely that there will be one or two that become the favorites and the others end up rarely being used.
Faction specific starting zones are one of the more popular choices in MMORPGs. You tend to start nearby or in the main city of your faction. Here you will be introduced to the enemy player races rather quickly, learning why they’re your enemy and fighting off NPC versions of them. This is exactly how it would go in our MMORPG. This is a very appealing choice because it doesn’t decentralize your players too much early on and it provides good faction specific hubs.
Every race has a place they come from. When the adventure starts there, you can explore why the factions are the way they are. There are a lot of downsides to doing race specific starting zones, though. If a race isn’t popular, the starting zone will feel like a ghost town, which is never a good thing. Additionally, it forces friends to all play the same races if they want to play together from the very beginning, which they will. That will only further inflate the problem for the least popular races. But having race specific starting areas gives players a greater sense of what their chosen race is all about. You see them in the heart of their homeland doing things that make them who they are.
A little more tricky when you have factions is the class-specific starting zone. For our game, this means starting at schools where you learn the art of…whatever your class is. Maybe you’re a new student who just graduated, or you’re returning to your school after having graduated years ago. In these schools, your faction doesn’t matter. The schools themselves are neutral and only interested in educating. What you do with your knowledge outside the school is your business. The pros and cons of this option are similar to those we’ve already seen. You may end up making friends with people in a different faction. There won’t be a central hub created by these starting zones. And if you’re playing with people who want to play different classes to you, which…of course you are, you’ll be forced to play the start of the game without them. In a later article, we’ll be looking at which classes will be in the game.
As you can see whichever MMORPG starting zone option is picked will ultimately start to shape what our world looks like. Starting next week we’ll be able to get our first look at what the map of our world will look like. For now, though, vote on how you’d like the starting zone to work. Keep in mind that with this you’re influencing how the world looks, and what the tutorial will be.