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WIM Summit: GoPets' Bethke On MMO Goal Structures As A Panacea

At the GDC 2008 Worlds In Motion Summit, GoPets.com CEO Erik Bethke discussed similarities between MMORPGs and virtual worlds, outlining the important design aspects MMOs use to draw in and hold users, and imploring his audience to measure what's working
This afternoon at the Worlds in Motion Summit at GDC, GoPets.com CEO Erik Bethke gave a talk concerning the cross-over of traditional MMORPGs and Virtual Worlds. An area focused on by many in the industry is the constant struggle of the User Interface. Bethke thinks of this as misplaced focus in that “You need to think about the core of the virtual world, [that] trumps any UI problem you can think of. UI is never the problem.” Using World Of Warcraft as the basis of his comparisons, he mentioned than many in the virtual worlds industry look down on WoW because it all comes down to “killing monsters and taking their shit.” Showing a screenshot of the game overflowing with windows, hotbars, and myriads of other UI covering almost every corner, he made the point that “you can have a super complicated UI and still make over a billion dollars a year.” To give further context to the importance of this, WoW’s 10 million subscribers is equal to around 5 percent of total television viewership and equal to the entire Xbox 360 user base. In trying to determine what the appeal is, Bethke showed another screenshot from WoW, with a goblin with a yellow exclamation mark over his head (this indicates an available quest): “That’s what’s missing from so many virtual worlds. No guys with yellow exclamation marks over their heads.” Using an example from GoPets, for a three week period a fruit tree was available, a feature which Bethke admits “wasn’t that great.” If a user looked at it for sixty minutes, a fruit would drop. If the user went off to do something else, the timer would reset. Eventually they began getting requests for the timer to not reset, and eventually found an incredible amount of users were engaged by the fruit dropping mechanic. When they began to study these users, they found that they were eleven times more active than baseline users. Four times more likely to pay than baseline active users, which means that as a group, they were forty-four times more monetization than baseline users. Summarizing the lessons he’s taken from GoPets, he stressed the importance of metrics, imploring designers to “measure what the people are using.” He also noted the importance of embracing the hardcore, borrowing his reasoning from Zen of Design, and said the hardcore are “high investment,” and “beacons on the horizon.” Directed Content (quests), because “People love jobs, they really do.” And a game structure that creates transactions and goals. As a final thought on the potential of more game-like virtual worlds, “A good online game is an engaging pastime. A great online game [has a] robust market economy with people spending a significant amount of time, capital and intellectual creative inside these spaces living lives.”

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