The popularity of massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) has exploded over the past few years and shows no sign of letting up. Thanks to the success of hugely popular titles such as World Of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Dark Age of Camelot, the demand for new MMORPGs keeps increasing. Because of this, demand for game designers who can develop new titles in this genre will also be strong for some time to come. If you are interested in a future job creating these types of games, here are several key points to keep in mind.
Design breaks into three main parts. First is the game mechanics side, which is often designed iteratively. The interface players use to control their characters, the powers and abilities those characters can posses and the limits of their ability to interact with their surroundings are difficult to precisely plan. The main concern of a game designer here is to ensure that players can play interesting types of characters, that they can do reasonable things, that there isn’t a silver bullet that makes everything else unimportant and that the interface is easy to use. Character types should be different enough that the player can start over as a different type and not feel bored at doing the same thing again. For best results players should be able to fight and cooperate with other players, as humans are more of a challenge than bots and the social aspects can be a game’s big draw. This doesn’t get rid of the need for classic wandering monsters to kill when alone.
The second part is the setting. The world in which the gamers will play is usually tightly planned. There is a growing trend in allowing player designed content, but it is too early to know if this is a dead end, a minor outgrowth of the main genre or the coming thing. This is the artistic side of the endeavor. A game designer must be able to create a distinct world, one that stands out from the rest in some way. It should have enough verisimilitude that a player isn’t spending time thinking about some part just isn’t right or is a clear reminder that this isn’t a reality. It needs to be flexible. Players will try very hard to think of something you didn’t, and will explore places you didn’t intend.
The third part is the engineering end, ensuring the game is capable of handling the traffic and is stable enough to handle normal and unusual conditions. The game designer here must understand the technical issues of networking and the internet, and must also understand how to design the game to maximize the play aspect and also minimize the strain on the equipment. One way is to clone sections of the setting, such as an arena, dungeon or skirmish site, and have multiple groups using it at once in unconnected adventures. This allows the game to use only one setting, with groups adventuring through the site, invisible to each other and each dealing with their own set of inhabitants.
More than one MMORG has failed when demand was higher than expected and the game was unable to compensate. This will probably ensure that the games will always be on shards, which is the term used for multiple servers running the game. Additional shards can be added as needed, or shut down when not required. This even improves profitability.
MMORPG game designers need a large skill set. Increasingly, companies rely on teams of designers to provide all of the abilities needed. Game designers thus need to be good at one or more of the basic needs of the genre, be able to work well with others, work to further a plan and have enough creativity to make the product a better one because they were involved.