Trouble with Online Games

Wired reports on Electonic Arts' decision to shut down UXO (Ultima X: Odyssey) and goes on to elaborate on the pain and cost of running a massive online games.  While developing the game client and server itself is within the realm of developers' abilities, creating the content of a virtual world and keeping it an interesting place to live in is a difficult and neverending task that most developers will find difficult to manage, even if they have a deep pocket like EA.

The missing ingredient in today's online games that full 3D online world developers forgot to translate from MUD (Multiple User Dungeon, a text-only online world) is community participation in building and maintaining the online world.  Instead of hiring legions of artists and area designers, they should have leveraged the creative power of the players themselves by creating tools and offering incentives.  With such legions of superusers, all they needed was a much smaller staff to control the legion.

Player participation in running online worlds should not stop with content but also operation.  Let the superusers handle most of the in-game headaches such as user complaints and conflict moderation.  Going beyond that, superusers should also be used to play NPC roles such as monsters, shop owners, etc.

Unfortunately, EA looked only at the numbers and chose the easy way out instead of using UXO as an opportunity to explore more creative options.