I have been ranting about games going to the marketeers I mean dogs. Well J. Radoff had one answer over at Gamesutra. He mentions a lot in the article that is from a marketing point of view, possibly because he IS a marketeer and not a designer, but a many of the things he says holds true.
First and foremost Gamers talk to each other. In any given week 2 or 3 of my gaming friends will pass on a website or a game to me to check out. Some are flash in pan interests for us, some retain our interests. Let me add to Mr. Radoff's list of things that make a game virile as he calls it.
1. Accessibility - people who are visually or hearing impaired or have other needs are a large minority of gamers. Make certain the game can be played by anyone. This includes making a game that you do not have to squint to read the fuzzy font or that you have to be a contortionist to get the move needed to complete a level out of the controller (think fighting games)
2. Cross platform. Over 50% of my gaming friends run some form of *nix. Many games are still too Microsoft dependant. Not all console gamers are on a cable modem. Do not make the game require the latest hardware just to start. We will put up with slow if it does not crash. I liked Cutthroats. Too bad it fragged my hard drive to hell and back every time I ran it. I still liked it enough to run it off a dedicated drive so that i could defrag every time. But as the game progressed it became unplayable. OPTIMIZE the game for a lower end machine.
3. Cross browser I do not use I.E. Most of us do not use I.E. Firefox is the favorite. Opera is up there, Safari, to name a few.
4. Affordable. Make the core game affordable. Guild Wars is a good example. The core game is cheap in comparison to many other games. Pay for stuff is 10.00 per item (pretty much). The mud I play starts at 15.00 per item. That we can probably afford off a paycheck; anything we have to save up for is probably not going to generate as much overall income.
5. Even playing field. It really irks players when someone buys a character in a game. When items are bought make them useful, in game attainable or status items. Extra storage in Guild Wars, the spell pack that saves the player from having to spend 3 years on line to get all of the spells.
6. Humanize the staff. In an online game let the coders owners admins marketing people be seen sometimes. It lets the players know the developers are still involved.
7. Make the game a challenge but not impossible. Skies of Arcadia was fairly easy but people come back to it over and over because of the way the game was put together, the character interaction, the graphics and the storyline. Toy Commander was hard DAMN hard but the story, graphics and sheer strangeness kept that one going. And I swear one day I WILL beat the Lands of Lore series, I even keep an old machine around so I can play it.
8. The above leads to the most important. Your players have to LIKE the game. Something has to keep them interested during the XP grind periods. Character interaction, other player interaction, quests and storyline. In Guild Wars the what will happen next kept me going. In Zork, Lands of Lore, Eye of the Beholder, Doom and even Descent little surprises along the way, red herrings, sub plots and character interaction are all things that kept my interest. These days Overlord, Devil May Cry, Titan Quest and the Fire Emblems are my interest holders. Eldar Scrolls and Assassins Creed beckon to me, but what I would not give for another good game like the Thief series (in no kill mode) or almost any game put out by the old Westwood Studios.
Game makers by all means listen to Radoff. But the thing he says that rings the truest is that gamers talk to other gamers. And if you are not hearing what they say then you need to get out of the business. Because the best games are those made by gamers for gamers.