MMO Design: What I Would Do If I Made an MMORPG

Now, I don’t claim myself to be an expert on game design – and for that matter, no one should. However, I have been reviewing and analyzing MMOs with Lore Hound for the last two years, have taken some game design classes, designed my own games, and given the fact Sephalon and I are essentially designing an MMO for Amalos,  I have a bit more insight than usual.

I’ve gone over and over in my head this past month all the elements and design choices studios have made to create MMOs since we’ve had numerous launches this year. What I’ve come up with, as a designer and a player, is the list below.

They’re not hard set choices, either, so please, give feedback in the comments below. It’ll allow me to become a better designer, and who knows, if I do end up using this, you’ll have had input in the creation!

  1. Payment Model
  • Initial Purchase

The initial investment should, and will, be low. One of the major set-backs I’ve had about jumping into a new MMO is the $40-60 dump I have to pour into just the first month of play. Since I’m married to another gamer, double that, and you see why we’re hesitant.

I’d set it no higher than $45 with one month of play free.

Each expansion would only be $30. Period.

There are different types of models I’m considering, but all are open options.

  • Subscription Models:

F2P – Micro-transactions:

It’s a valid option, but one I’m never fully privy too. It’s probably from the fact that I’ve never used the market systems because of lack of money, so I always played the basic game as-is.


This option would give more room to grow, and is easier to manage. Jagex uses this model for Runescape, and it seems to work pretty damn well for them. I’m more open to this model versus straight F2P as it provides a steady, stable stream of income to the development and allows for regular development cycles.

Subscription based:

Ah, the feature of all “AAA” titles. The system works; not as well as it used to, but it still does. Star Wars: The Old Republic, TERA, and The Secret World all use the model, and the same price tag. I think the days are gone, though, for the $15 tag.

If I was to use this model, along with Premium version, it would be no higher than $10 and no less than $5 a month.

  1. Content

I honestly don’t know what the content would be at this time. There will definitely be PvE & PvP in the game, but in regards to art style, theme, or franchise. There isn’t one right now.

Creating a new franchise is a very smart move – less chance of retconning lore, and room to not step on your own toes – but it’s harder to build up because it’s new; while a well established franchise already gives you a player base as your audience.

  • Gameplay

Along with the standard PvP / PvE content of MMOs today, we’d include Minecraft mechanics into our game. Allow players to move outside server protected zones to build whatever creations they want with certain “blocks” and “furniture”. This is all shown to every other player, just as in Minecraft.

We’ll craft our own open world dungeons sort of like in Runescape, with mobs roaming. That’s where the best minerals and crafting materials will be found.

  • Questing

Questing will be done similar to TOR’s fashion with choice options and voice acting. It was the one thing they redefined: How people quested. Quests will add vehicles and other styles of questing than the generic “Talk to person x”, “Kill x y”, “Travel to this location”.

  • Character Generation

One of the aspects of MMOs that I’ve taken to heart is the ability to customize my avatar the way I want to convey my character to other players. Some games excel on this (APB), and others give limited power to the players (WoW).

Personally, I would want to invest a fair amount of time into character generation, allowing small changes to individual things, such as: an earing on one ear, but not the other; one, two, three, or no scars on various parts of the body; hair style; hair color for various parts (facial vs. head); etc.

The pedigree would be closer to Second Life, than it would to WoW.

  • Classes
I’m guessing we’ll stick to the classics – Warrior, Mage, Cleric, Thief, etc. – simply because they work and are identifiable. The Holy Trinity is most likely to be used, but you never know what might happen during development.
  1. Development

There will be two very distinct and independent teams that work collaboratively to make the final game, the PvP team, and the PvE team. Neither will cross over. This will allow for the PvP team to design some great battlegrounds, arena maps, and work on the PvP aspects, while PvE can create some epic boss mechanics and fun gear.

Artists will be stuck with the team. More artists would be on the PvE team, as more art assets are needed there. This will allow for different art styles and creativity for the two different play styles.

  1. Gameplay Balance

This is the element I’ve wrestled with for almost a year now, the constant struggle of balancing PvP vs. PvE. I’ve had the decision made up to one of two options:

  • Balance PvE around PvP

Instead of nerfing a class because of a boss fight, and then buffing it elsewhere for PvP to compensate for the unintentional survivability nerf, just buff or nerf the boss to compensate for the class change(s).

There’s also the option of trying to incorporate PvP tactics into boss fight mechanics. Why struggle with the dynamic variable, when you can mess with the environment they’re interacting with?

  • Two copies of each class – PvP and PvE versions

This idea is the one I’m more privy too, but it takes a lot more development time. When players enter dungeons or raids, their stats are buffed or nerfed where needed, and their abilities and talents are changed to how their class is designed for PvE.

In battlegrounds or arenas, their stats are buffed or nerfed where needed, and their abilities and talents are changed to how their class is designed for PvP.

It’ll look similar to dual specing in WoW, but they’re two variations of the same tree, and you get to spec how you want for PvE, and for PvP. While outside of either environment, you get to choose which spec you’re in. The minute you go into one or the other, the game switches your talents, hotbars, stats, etc. to the correct one.

This allows balancing one, without affecting the other.

  1. End-Game content


At launch, there will be at least 6 different battlegrounds, and 4 different arena maps. The Battlegrounds will have at least 3 different types of gameplay with 2 maps each. Preferably only 1 type will have 2-3 maps, and the rest unique.

Things like Huttball, Arathi Basin, Alterac Valley, and Alderaan Civil War will be used as inspiriation.

Arenas will incorporate MOBA or other battleground mechanics into their matches, with limited respawns (only 2-3 per person), so dying isn’t as punishing, but it still can be. If, during development, it doesn’t seem to work, we’ll continue with the gladiatorial style.


  • Dungeons and Raids

Dungeons will come as player level, with heroic modes, and raids with hard modes.  Each content patch will bring 2 new dungeons, and 2 “new mini-raids” of 4-5 bosses. The final raid will have 10-12, with 2-3 new dungeons.

  • Player-made Content

Players will have an SDK to develop their own dungeons and raids as player-content. Even if we went with the subscription model, there will still be a player-content market where players can release them to play. They’ll be able to award players with gear of their choice (that we control and limit, of course).

Players will be able to sell them – and we get a cut, like Apple’s App store – and rate them.

If we go with a F2P/Premium model, only Premium members will be able to release them on the market.

  1. Game Systems
  • Bans

Players will be dealt with by their peers, very akin to League of Legend’s Tribunal system. All judgments will be made final by a select company group.

  • Politics

Similar to TERA’s vanarch system, players will be able to run government for the server. However, it’d be only a few positions, and their decisions affect the whole server, not just one zone. The length of time of their “rule” would be for each content cycle (about 3-6 months).

Things will be set such as sales tax, auction house taxes, housing taxes, and others as we would create them.  All gold gained by this will go to the guild the leaders are joined in.

  • Player housing

It is considered, but may not make it in. If it’s to happen, it’ll borrow our system from Amalos, requiring you to register a location of your house portal, and then purchase the property. I haven’t thought more on this, but it is considered.

  • Banks

This is something I thought of recently that might be interesting, but not necessarily a huge deal. Players have the ability to store gold in their bank. At the end of every month, interest is paid to players based on what’s in their bank account.

This will also allow for loans. Need 15k gold for that new mount? Take a loan out! But be careful: Each time you loot, the bank gets a 10% cut of what you looted until the loan is paid off, with interest.

This robust list is by all means not final, and is very open to discussion. This is the original design points I’ll be holding on to for my company, Spellbook Entertainment, if we ever decide to attempt an MMO.


  1. Guild Wars 1 already had it coded into their skills that when you did PvP your spells would change or some, outright, could not be used (The elites). I do not see why it could be incorporated into any other MMO so you don’t have to balance PvE and PvP around one another.

  2. Just because you are a gamer, have dabbled in a bit of game design and have taken some classes doesn’t mean you’re qualified to design an MMO. But I get it, it’s your dream layout for arguably the most difficult game genre to penetrate but I can promise you now this game will never, ever, ever ship under any circumstances and here’s why:

    Monetization – You have no grasp on this and, in real development, you’d have no say in this.

    Content – You don’t know the content…uhh, you know THIS is what the Game Designer is responsible for and it’s quite imperative that your theme, your offering, your ‘meat n’ potatoes’ is really what has to be laid out beforehand. Everything falls in line once your content is established with your theme.

    Questing – Oh yeah, just like X game. Except what non-developers don’t realize is that shooting for the stars for questing is not really viable unless you have a full production studio that can handle all this and has rooms full of money. Also let’s not forget finding expert scripters who can actually identify HOW to build fun quests, which is no walk in the park (you didn’t think you’d design the quests yourself did you?). Voice acting eh? Have you ever done this before? It’s not even a fraction of how easy it sounds to do and it’s way more work than you can even fathom.

    Character Generation – Yes, let’s allow for full customization so everyone can look however they want!!! Oh, except now when I pvp I can’t identify if you’re a caster or warrior, are you going to rush me or turn me into a chicken?? Also, a game designer doesn’t worry if you can wear an earring one one ear but not the other during concept phases. It’s a small detail, not a pillar to build around mk? In the end you should be looking at ways your characters can have what we call ‘game hooks’ to stand out from the jillion other copycat MMO’s.

    Classes – So you want to innovate but then revert back to the most tired portion of medieval MMO’s which is their class structure? Oh my…even other failed MMOs had the understanding to at least change their NAMES. Want to know why your MMO has already failed? Because WoW exists. If I want to be a warrior I’ll go play that or 40 other MMO’s with better feature sets than yours. Again, as a game designer this is one of the sections you can actually ‘design’ and make your own.

    Development – This made 0% sense whatsoever, sorry. You will never have 2 separate dev teams and even if you did it’d be a dumb move. So 2 separate dev teams but the artists are on both? Well, not very separate then are you. Again here you’re trying to ‘innovate’ on a sector where game design has no say at all.

    Balancing – … I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Look, a game designers JOB is to balance the experience. By saying “when you go into this we’ll just buff/remove this to balance it” it’s the same as saying well my dog gets hot in summer so I’ll shave all his fur and hope it grows back by winter. No, you give him some freakin’ water. Your balance has to work across all modes because guess what, changing shit on the user is going to confuse them and make them quit your unbalanced game anyways.

    End-Game Content – I know I’ve been harsh but that’s reality and this is the section where everyone needs to understand something. You can have as many good ideas as you can muster but you’ll NEVER get them built in this section. You know why? Game development isn’t easy but one thing it is is expensive. Do you really think you’d be able to develop a FULL MMO and still have time to make end-game content as ambitious as this? Player created content with an SDK?!? MOBA gameplay all of a sudden? I’m sorry but not a chance in any layer of hell.

    Game Systems – I see you’re inspired by previous games here, which is an important part of game design. But here’s the catch, you don’t just copy their feature you make it your own, you improve on the basic function. One of the better examples of this is Epic with their Active Reload feature in GoW. Reload mechanics have been in games for decades. But when they did it they changed it forever, they showed that it can be much deeper, important and most importantly, FUN! Also, I can tell you want to give the players the ability to run the gambit of politics and control but here’s lesson 1 for game designers. User control is a BAD IDEA. I know, I know, freedom in games is paramount right? Wrong. There’s a reason open world/virtual world and some MMO’s are just plain boring, there’s no rule set. A good game is just a series of rules that takes the user through an experience.

    I’m not trying to be a dick but I see this a lot where someone has a few experiences in game design and feels they could spearhead an entire game within an extremely risky game genre. Could you make a functional MMO one day? Sure, I bet you could. Could you build one that could sustain an income to continue to create content and build a brand around? After reading this, no.

  3. ^ @Mad

    You are just plain rude. People like you is the reason people let go of their dreams. Stop being a dick and just read posts like a normal person. Sure, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you have no right to go and judge someone else’s.

  4. @Mad
    I’m CEO of the company, so I have more say on monetization than you think.
    I think I said it twice in the post that this list was not final, and it was written down as a “here’s some things” not a “here’s the exact specific thing I’d do with 20 pages of stuff written down for each section”.
    This post was the kind of thing designers do when they have inspiration and thought of something – way before it hits a real discussion table and development cycle.
    In regards to your snide a rude comments, I never said I was qualified too. I just said that here’s what I would do, based off of my insight. Of course there would be no MMO that would survive this content, it’s in its infancy.
    Your biggest gripe it seemed was that I didn’t provide any real beef to the things I listed, just that I mentioned other games’ stuff. That’s because I was trying to show what things would be in the game, not how they would be done. That’s for later discussion, that I didn’t bother doing for this specific post – besides, if I WAS going to use it, why would I post it all over the internet for God and all to see?

  5. It may come off as snide but the foray into MMO’s is the death of many a CEO.

    A list of wants in an MMO is fine but to mash it altogether as a product is not feasible. You did say in your post you’d use it for development if that is where you are headed. Maybe you can get over the nature of a reality check from a stranger and use it to prosper in the future.

  6. By all means, I know the dangers of jumping into the MMO market, and I have no plans at this current stage to ever produce my own.
    There’s a difference between getting a reality check, and someone taking every inch of a post and smashing it into oblivion rudely, when the post itself mentioned it was all raw ideas being thrown together in a list in the first place.

  7. hello,
    i have been an mmo player since my childhood and now have come up with an completely different type of idea…but the problem is dont have enough knowledge and expertise to go ahead..if anyone of you would like to help in this matter..please email me at

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