A MMORPG “sequel” done right

There was a rumor yesterday about a Final Fantasy Online sequel:

July 17, 2006 – Japan’s Nikkei Net news service reports today that Square Enix is currently at work on a sequel to Final Fantasy XI. The next generation massively multiplayer online RPG is being developed for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows Vista formats. Further details are not provided.

Square Enix has previously shown trailers for a next generation MMORPG engine, without actually announcing a final product based around the engine. It’s unclear if the FFXI sequel is going to be the game to use the new engine, or if Square Enix has another title in development.

The “next generation engine” they talk about is the one that Square presented during the E3 2005, which was nothing more than a flyby around that place you can see in those screenshots. It was for them just a test for the XBOX360 hardware, so it’s not sure if those art assets will be used or not, or if they’ll even reuse that engine.

That a new mmorpg was in development based on their main franchise was already known as Square hinted about this possibility in many interviews. It probably became a stronger need as they see FFXI subscribers slowly decreasing and the 360 version deluding and not taking off as expected. I’d say that the game is crippled more by awful game design on certain aspects than the real need for “new”, but if nothing has changed significantly along these years then it means that Square “doesn’t get it”.

So this news about the sequel is nowhere surprising, but still disappointing. Mmorpgs sequels are DUMB. But I’m writing about this because what is interesting is the possible transition.

Some players on the forums are already complaining since the development of a sequel means that their world of choice will be made obsolete soon, and all their invesment will lose value as the “new” will be hyped. I wonder if Square will be smart and handle the transition in a new way, or if they’ll be dumb and just repeat the mistakes of every other mmorpg sequels.

I think I just felt a hint of existential anguish.

What am I doing?! I’ve had this game for two years and my highest level is 42. I have yet to experience CoP or Zilart missions, Sky or Sea, HNMs or Dynamis!

And soon, it will all be obsolete!

Why am I not playing now!? My mortality is apparent and the end is nigh! Repent, repent!


My idea is that if you really want to develop a “sequel” then you need an “exit strategy”. What I mean is that the sequel should really replace the previous title and not try to co-exist as SOE tried to do with the EverQuest. You may think that is much more convenient from the commercial point of view to keep two worlds alive till they are both profitable (and the experience also taught us that sequels still have a very hard time to affirm themselves over their elders. This is valid for EQ as it is for Counter-Strike) but I have a different way to see at this scenario.

The idea is to create a real sense of progression between two titles, so that the players won’t be encouraged to try to keep a foot in both, but instead move to the new game with a strong motivation and bond with the game world and their characters. The risk with a sequel is that when a player is forced to look for something else it’s not granted that he’ll chose what you are going to offer him. It’s more probable that he’ll chose a completely different world, or nothing at all, to never return again.

When you encourage your community to move, you risk to lose them as customers.

This is why instead of a lax policy that aims to keep both worlds active, I believe it would be a better strategy to plan a smooth, deliberate transition. With strong incentives so that the players get even more attached to their character and presence in the world. Want to make a mmorpg sequel? Okay, then have the balls to really develop a replacement and advance the world. Moving your whole playerbase over.

Keep the “elder” game alive for a year or two. Develop the new one as a “remake” set in the exact same game world and locations. You can create a completely new system, but the goal should be about porting over at least 70% of so of the content of the previous game into the new one, with the remaining 30% being brand new. The new world should be familiar and new at the same time and I believe that the proportion I’m suggesting could be a good compromise. Porting the old content would be about reevaluating all the content in the old game to only select the best, and then polish and adjust it to the new standards. It would be interesting for all players to experience the content for the first time or even what is already familiar to then to discover what changed.

The goal would be about porting the characters directly to the new world (maybe set slightly in the future to excuse some compelling twists in the plot and the aspect of the world), offering them even an incentive to accept the transition. No need to reissue billing infos or resubscribe. Maybe even a refund of $20 if you move from the previous game to the new over the cost of the box, so that you would pay for about the same the price of an expansion to have your characters move to a brand new game, without losing progress and with still the possibility to access the large majority of the content that you could expect in the previous game (due to the port of content).

This is how I think you can create a strong bond between the game world and your community. The sense of progression would be lead by the content ported over, the slight progression in the timeline, the new content and continuation to the events to discover, along with the possibility to not lose your own progress and continue seamlessly with the character that you played for so many hours.

Instead of feeling that sense of loss because the world that you love for so long is being made obsolete and replaced with something that you feel distant, your character would become your tie and bond with that world. A way to reaffirm your presence and participation. An incentive to continue on that incredible journey instead of that sense of loss that would encourage you to look for something entirely different.

So progression and persistence could become a strong motivation to be part of that world, to renew the bond.

In short:
70% of old content ported and revised. To let the players continue to experience the content that they still didn’t see and preserve a sense of familiarity. Along with a strong sense of progression and discovery (new content, timeline advancement, new plot twists and slight changes around the world to discover)

Possibility to port (copy) old characters. Again to create a bond with the game and not lose any of your progression on your character. Nor your “identity” and feeling of “belonging”.

Semi seamless transition. Install the new game, log in with your old account, insert the keycode and select “upgrade” to have your characters automatically ported. The monthly fee is the same you continued to pay, no changes needed.

Single monthly fee to access both worlds. For the one/two years that the “elder” game is kept online a player with an “upgraded” account can still log in the old version to play with friends. Since the characters data is ported to the new game as the account is upgraded, all the progress made in the old world past that point will be likely lost. This will be compensated through a form of “currency” to which you can convert/recash your progress (loot, money and exp, for example) and that can be transfered to the new game. (recycle exp/money/loot gained in the old game by converting them into “currency” -> transfer currency between the two games -> convert currency into progression in the new game)

Concrete incentives for the transition. $20 refunded on the price of the full new game if you use the key code as an “upgrade” instead of creating a brand new account.

This, I think, could be a recipe to make a successful “sequel” that isn’t dumb and that would retain the former community without worriesome losses, while also attracting many new players.

Sadly I don’t even remotely hope that these ideas will be ever used.

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