From the time I originally envisioned this project until today, I have been dreaming of a fully persistent world. It's time to let that dream go.
Lately I've been finalizing my game design. Refining the big picture feature set. Taking the features I've decided to do and figuring out how they are actually going to work. That has involved a lot of navel-gazing, competitor research, and reading an unbelievable amount of game criticism, armchair design blogs and game theory.
No matter how I slice it, I just can't think of a way to build a purely persistent-world game where the no-lifers don't eat the newbs for breakfast. You can help out new players, give them extra powers, add safety nets, but at some point, they're going to have to sink or swim in a pool full of pirahnas. This isn't the ideal scenario for retaining a healthy volume of mainstream players.
Since I started, when I pictured the game in my head, it was about people playing cooperatively. I wanted to recreate the experience I used to have with my buddies playing LAN games on a Tuesday night, but with a bigger circle of friends. The conventional primary meta-game for the genre I've chosen is über-competitive -- kill everyone or die trying. Looking at the array of corpses of other games that have tried it, that particular meta-game is the real killer.
There are other issues with persistent world games as well. What do you do with inactive accounts? Do you leave their old crap laying around all over the place? How do you deal with people destroying your stuff while you're offline? How much fun is it to come online in the morning and find out that some guy in Australia has just finished wrecking everything you've made since you started playing the game? Do you really want to encourage players to be online 24x7 to protect their stuff? Do you want to pay for servers to sim everything tens or hundreds of thousands of players have ever built?
I've puzzled a lot about these questions, and while I think that sort of world would be interesting and challenging for a subset of players, I don't think there are enough of those players to sustain a game on their own.
I have the technology to build a fully persistent world, but I'm choosing not to. At least for now.
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