10 Ways to Make MMOs More Accessible

10 Ways to Make MMOs More Accessible

Whether you’re making a casual massively multiplayer online (MMO) game like Maple Story or a virtual world like Habbo Hotel, here are 10 ways to remove game-killing barriers to entry and create the largest possible addressable market.

1. Free to Play

The Free to Play business model is here to stay – and growing every day. In an entertainment world filled with endless choices, asking someone to pony up $50 before they can play a game is rapidly becoming a non-starter. The focus now is on getting players through the front door, keeping them happy, then monetizing 5-15% of them. Non-paying customers become “content” for the paying minority, so don’t think you can ignore them.

2. Integrated Graphics Support

“If our games required a video card, we’d lose 80% of our audience”
– Min Kim, Director of Game Operations, Nexon North America

“Graphics are not important – the mind models the situation”
– Daniel James, CEO, Three Rings

Enthusiasts who purchase the latest, greatest video card make up just 4% of the market. Integrated graphics (i.e. no dedicated video card and therefore lower graphics performance) accounts for over 60% of all new computer sales. It would be foolish to develop free games that require a video card when success in the free to play sector is partially reliant on addressing a large market and monetizing just a small fraction of your player base.

3. Multiple, Regionalized Payment Systems

Finding the right payment method is a key success factor for Free to Play products. When a user finds a payment method they’re comfortable with, they are fiercely loyal to it. But there are nearly as many payment methods as their are markets. Erik Bethke of GoPets said his company previously utilized 90 different payment systems worldwide in order to address the local preferences of each region and make it as easy as possible for users to pay.

Many factors influence payment method selection. Credit card penetration in China is low, so billing customers via their land line telephone provider has become a widely used payment system that provides excellent security in exchange for high surcharges. In Europe, SMS payments are hugely successful and carriers take anywhere from 10-30% surcharges versus the 40-50% fees of North American carriers. PayPal, checks, points cards and more are also used.

We have three people on staff whose full-time job is to open envelopes with single dollar bills and quarters in them. The users can’t figure out how to get the cash to us. One user sent in a $5 bill in a $14.95 FedEx package so it would get to us on time.
– Craig Sherman, CEO, Gaia Online

4. Little or No Download Time

Get users into a game as fast as possible. If your game requires the user to download client software, make it as small as possible and give the user something to do while they wait for the game to download and install (i.e. setting up their character).

But better yet, make your game in Java, Flash, Shockwave or Silverlight so that it’s playable within a Web browser. A game delivered via Java applet (i.e. Puzzle Pirates, Bang! Howdy, Runescape) can be downloaded and installed in under a minute. A signed Java applet will even avoid tripping a user’s installed spyware detectors.

Only ~30% of players actually tolerate downloads at all, the other 70% preferring to play online. I believe this percentage of download-intolerant players is increasing.
– Daniel James, CEO, Three Rings

5. Deferred Sign-up

How many times have you been faced with filling out a mandatory sign-up form before you can starting playing a new game? The barrier of filling out one more form and becoming a member of yet another online site/network/game/etc that might eventually spam you – before you even try the product – is a huge barrier to entry.

Why not let a new player name and create their character, enter and start experiencing the product, then ask for sign up information along the way? A game that gets this right is Maid Marian‘s Shockwave MMO Sherwood Dungeon, which allows you to start playing immediately after you enter your desired character’s name. Despite its simplistic graphics and lack of server-side character saves, Sherwood has attracted over 1 million users to its free to play ad-supported game.

About Adrian Crook
Adrian Crook is a game consultant and 15-year industry vet. He’s produced and designed award-winning, million-selling products on platforms from console to Web. A veteran creative producer, he’s as comfortable writing a social game GDD as doing biz dev and strategy work.

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