Setting Expectations

Syl gave me a comment on my FF14 starter post with a truism that many of us seem to neglect.

“what’s true though is that it always helps to temper your expectations about any MMO – more pleasant surprises that way.”

In my line of work, setting expectations is often overlooked until you get to end user testing. This is a bad thing since you’re designing in the dark.  Imagine if you were making a water slide but people thought it was going to be a roller coaster.

If I look back 10 years, the MMO market was sparse.  Expectations were more around the D&D format and MUDs, social before mechanics.  WoW comes out and streamlines a bunch of stuff, makes a pile of money too.  Others tried to clone the idea but expectations had already been changed by the time they came out the door.

It’s simple in concept, difficult to implement.  If a product meets or exceeds expectations, odds are you’ll have a good time.  If the product fails to meet expectations, bad things are going to happen.  If your hype cycle doesn’t properly set expectations, then the default one is going to be “industry standard”.  In the MMO world, if you’re a themepark then you’re set up against WoW for content, SWTOR for story, RIFT for player customization, GW2 for public events and a few other tidbits along the way.  Either your game meets those expectations or you are super clear that you are trying something different.

When I try a new MMO, I instantly compare features as I consume them but the expectations from the start are rather sparse.  For example, I think Neverwinter does a super job and doesn’t try to exceed its reach.  When I started playing that game, my expectations were low (partly due to the developer, partly due to lack of hype) and I was extremely pleased with the result.  Comparatively, my expectations for SWTOR were very high because they promised me a pony and gave me a bag of doorknobs.  The 4th pillar was amazing, and I wrote about that extensively, but the rest of the game was really poorly thought out.

Looking at FF14, my expectations were really low.  I know the first version failed miserably and a re-launch rarely works out.  In this particular case, when I logged in, I was familiar with very few of the systems – essentially only the 2.5s cooldown and class swapping.  If you think about it, there was little to no communication about the various systems during relaunch, just word of mouth.  And that word is good.

This is more of an issue with TESO, an established franchise with extremely firm expectations, and WildStar, a new IP but with a rather strong PR campaign about system mechanics.  I feel like TESO cannot possibly meet my requirements to merit the name it’s using and that I know exactly how WildStar is supposed to work before I get to play it.  The idea of discovery is just… gone.  And to be honest, that’s where the thrill is.

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