Chipotle MMO

For those blessed to have one nearby, Chipotle is a “Mexican” fast-food eatery.  The menu is sublime.  Customers choose a base (taco, burrito, salad, etc.), a protein (steak, carnitas, chicken, etc.), a salsa, and a few more condiments.  Compared to many Mexican-food eateries, including Taco Bell, the choices are simple, but the comparatively few things that Chipotle offers beats most of said eateries hands down.  In-N-Out Burger and Chik-Fil-A are two more food chains that follow this principle of few offerings that can’t be beat.  This is not a new concept by any means.  America is one of the anomalies in the world that has the restaurants that serve just about everything one could want from pizza to steak to tacos to salmon.  If I had a choice I’d rather go to a hawker court and buy from three separate stalls, and receiving a food item of mastery from each cook who has dedicated his or her career on that one item.

This post brought to you by my tinfoil wrapped carnitas burrito.

I thought about how so many MMOs seem to want to be an Applebee’s.  Combat is central, but not always refined.  There is crafting.  Player housing.  Pets.  Solo PvE.  Raiding.  Quests.  Missions.  Stories.  NPC’s.  Titles.  Traits.  And, all manners of PvP.  They are all over the place trying to dip their hands in to a bit of everything in order to keep your interest (read: subscription).  What if we had MMOs that would rather be like Chipotle?

Take Warhammer Online, for instance, a game which has the crown jewel of RvR.  RvR is an amorphous PvP concept of owning battlefield objectives for your side throughout the entire world rather than a balanced e-sport.  It seems like a great start to making a focused MMO.  Most people bought the game in order to play RvR.  The released RvR was okay, and although I haven’t played it this year, I have heard some great additions and modifications to RvR.  Let’s just assume that RvR is really good now after over half a year’s worth of development.

Warhammer Online also released with crafting, arena-like PvP, and public quests to name a few other menu items.  I, for one, was excited about RvR, but I was absolutely drooling for public quests.  They turned out to be a disappointment.  At most public quests were a generally solid start for a great MMO mechanic.  Crafting at release was fairly horrible especially in conjunction with an eye-gougingly frustrating auction house and turtle-speed mail system.  Arena-like PvP was pretty good.  It had it’s problems with balance and bugs, but the point of Warhammer Online was RvR, and all arena-like PvP did was take away players from RvR.  To put it simply.  Mythic decided to put a lot of developer time in to things that did not help RvR.

What if Mythic had decided shirk crafting, arena-like PvP, public quests, and so many other condiments in order to focus on RvR?  In an alternate universe, Mythic decided to eschew all the entrees aimed at the whiny kids that just want hamburgers and fries regardless of the restaurant and put that development time in to RvR.  Would it be better?  I think it would.  There would be no question as to why I am playing Warhammer Online.  I would not have to dabble in anything else.  Granted the choice on how to play is always there, but at the time I was playing the polish was not.  The direction for the players was not, and in many cases, the rewards were aimed for people to eat condiments instead of the huge RvR steak.

I have already commented on how I (and likely others) pull up a gaming library each night instead of that one game.  On nights I want to play some RvR, the choice would be simple.  There is a game dedicated to RvR.  It has the focus of a 60-year old Thai man with his apprentice of 5 years making the best pork-noodle bowl on the planet.  When I want that, there is no other choice.

So many other video game genres seem to understand this focus.  Look at the popularity of Wii Sports or the sales numbers of Diablo 2.  The problem, in my opinion, always comes back to the business model.  The marketing/business curse that stunts the growth of my favorite genre.  Paying $15/month for a game solely dedicated to the greatness of RvR might be a bit steep, but when the developer adds in McDonald’s pizza, Applebee’s tacos, and Arby’s turkey sandwiches the value seems to appear.  The value is sometimes a superficial one.

the sign, cookie monster, look at the sign

18 thoughts on “Chipotle MMO”

  1. MMOs, unlike any other game, need as many people online for extended periods of time. With a single gameplay focus you’re not only limiting the overall popular appeal of your game (debatable, granted) but you’re limiting the time that any individual is going to spend actually logged in to the game.

    That’s not to say that focused or even niche games can’t be viable, but they’re not nearly as likely to be a desirable business to run from a return-on-investment point of view. The niche game will, by its nature, have less income and therefor have smaller funds for reinvestment. That’s gonna require a lot more blood, sweat, and tears to make up the difference.

  2. It would be ONE spicy game…Ay! Caramba

    (PS: Could we get a Moe’s MMO instead? I seem to like their offerings a bit more…thanks)

  3. Both in real life and in gaming, I’ll take an independent company’s game (or restaurant) using locally-sourced and organic ingredients, paying decent wages to its employees, and appreciating its community, over a huge corporation anytime. I’ll even pay a few dollars per month (or meal) extra to make it happen.

    If the area you live in has any Hispanic population at all, you’ll be much better served looking for a taco truck over Chipotle- the food will be tastier, more authentic, and actually help a family make ends meet.

    Likewise, finding a game by a niche developer that suits your specific interest will lead to a more focused game experience than the AAA titles that, of necessity, must offer everything to everyone- and do it poorly albeit popularly.

  4. Specialist vs. Generalist? Each has their place, and a healthy market will have both. I’m all for some more specialized MMOs, especially if they are indeed run by people who try to build a great consumer-producer relationship, rather than just try to milk as many people as possible.

    Perhaps that’s why I’ve always found Puzzle Pirates to be my favorite MMO. It has what I want (in content and business model), and they have a great community. I suspect that fans of A Tale in the Desert have a similar experience.

  5. Generalist definitely has a place, and I agree much of the social nature of MMOs (and design thereof) requires people to be online. Yet, it seems like some MMOs should be specialist, where, IMHO, a better product would result.

    @Chris: Same here. Farmer’s markets and visiting farms is my favorite way to get food. My town has a large Hispanic population, and I have tried tracking down the taco trucks, but they elude me still. :(

  6. @Moondog: Not exactly. Less sales, yes, but not necessarily a smaller profit or ROI. Getting a nice ROI when you put up 100k is a lot easier than getting the same % when you put up 10m. WoW is the outlier because it has 10+m subs, compared to the 100k range of all other MMOs. As in any business, you have to correctly identify your market and cater to it. If you aim for a niche segment of 50k gamers, as long as you draw that 50k, your ROI should satisfy everyone. Putting down 50m and hoping you get a pop sensation like WoW is foolish, and anyone with good business sense knows that.

    If you are a VC, and you know a capable dev team, so long as that team creates a quality product for their market, at a cost related to that market, the overall market size is not a factor.

  7. “so long as… quality product at a cost related to that market.” indeed. ;-}

    I don’t fundamentally disagree with what Rav or actually anyone else here is saying fwiw. I’m just saying there are variable influencing forces in many different directions. Word.

  8. I’d like to see a ‘chipotle’ or even a ‘qdoba’ MMO. Focus on key ingredients and make sure they’re always the best. Change stuff around a bit every once in a while, still using your existing ingredients to create new combinations.

    I think this is something some of the Indie MMOs have done well, but its not been well publicized. ATITD did crafting. Dungeon runners does… dungeon running. I think that some time soon, a number of indie games could integrate to where your character could have a central sign in, chat channels, etc, and then go play ‘modules’ of games. Metaplace may be an awesome example of this down the road.

    BTW, you make me hungry.

  9. You’d get bored with it and leave after 6 months. Unless these indie companies are masterful game designers, you need to have alternate play modes to avoid burnout if you play frequently. I have yet to see an MMO with a gameplay mode that can retain long-term interest by it alone.

    if you don’t its exactly like moondog says, you wont have enough people on long enough to support a community, or to make money. Even if you design it to be stripped down in cost to survive it.

  10. @Dblade: You wouldn’t need “masterful” game designers. You would just need game designers that just don’t lazily copy the Dikumud model or other MMOs. Successful game designers would not rely on stagnancy and lack of imaginative variants as you seem to imply.

  11. The only market that supports crap games is the mass market, which is exactly why almost every F2P game is a copy/paste of the standard MMO formula with 1-2 different shades of neon.

    Compare that to the MMOs that chased a niche. ATITD does very well for itself because it’s great at what it does (economy). PotBS is having a tough time not because the ‘Pirate MMO’ market is too small, but because it failed to deliver on it’s main selling points (player run econ and ship vs ship PvP). GW’s caters to its niche well, and has been rewarded. TR was a bad game, not because Sci-Fi is a small market (EVE), but because it was a bad game.

    It’s also important to recognize that ATITD (or any other good niche game) would be considered a failure if they planned on getting 500k+ players, and spend a budget around that number, even if it was exactly the same game.

    It’s a two part formula: make a good game, and correctly identify it’s market size.

  12. Ravious, people talk a lot about not copying the diku mud, but I have yet to see any real alternatives that wouldn’t sour faster. If it were so easy to create alternatives we’d see them, so the team that actually lays diku to rest would be masterful indeed.

  13. I think MMO’s need to appeal to the vocal online community in order to generate enough buzz that word eventually trickles down to the Average Joe’s who will also buy the game. To generate this appeal they come up with some new feature/niche for the game, e.g. RvR.

    Only, there are a lot more Average Joe’s then there are hardcore people, and Average Joe probably just wants to play a WoW clone when you get right down to it. Hence the perceived need to make a bunch of grindy stuff to throw into the ‘core’ RvR game.

    I’m not sure whether this reasoning is correct, and I hope people aren’t afraid to deviate from it (since the WoW clone thing is surely not working, surely the opposite must be correct…)

  14. “It’s a two part formula: make a good game, and correctly identify it’s market size.”

    I agree with that, but to be nit-picky, it should be flipped around. It is important to understand the market size before you try to make a game in order to prevent yourself from becoming financially unsupportable. If your market is at max 100k players, and you can only reasonably count on 1/3 of your market actually paying for your game, you need to make your game as best you can with the understanding that your game will earn approx. 33k * (fee) per month… which means, don’t spend $50million to make this game.

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