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Adam Creighton, Computer and Video Gaming (Subscribe)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

AGDC: Wizard101 - Lions and Tigers and Ninja Pigs, Oh My!

After a wicked busy (but productive) burst of partner and Customer meetings, I went to the post mortem for licensee KingsIsle's title, Wizard101 - "Wizard101 - Lions and Tigers and Ninja Pigs, Oh My!":
"In this post-mortem, WIZARD101 creator J. Todd Coleman discussed the challenges of making a kid-focused MMO, and the role of iterative design in discovering a games personality. How do you blend family-friendly characters, a cinematic combat system, and a collectible card game into a cohesive virtual world? Find out as the director discusses what worked (and what didn't) in KingsIsle's quest to introduce persistent world gaming to a new generation of gamers."
The game is tween MMO that runs lightweight on a PC, it's an 8 Mb download, and streams.

You might have seen the Game Developers Magazine article on the Wizard101 post mortem, but if you haven't, I encourage you to check it out.

One of the things I found particularly interesting from a planning / pre-production standpoint was their plan to create a game that had 3 areas of focus -- and if some 800-pound gorilla launched during their 3-year cycle, they would shift their focus to 1 or two of the other areas of focus. Very savvy from a risk-mitigation perspective.

What's Unique:
  • Personality (the game's got flavor)
  • Combat (card-based)
  • The World (The "spiral mechanic" - which allows for creation of oddly themed expansion worlds and side quests - is brilliant)
  • The story (At the same time, there is a single narrative thread-- as opposed to the typical MMO trope of multiple mini stories -- that keeps things cohesive
The game is ultimately about saving the world, with stark lines between good and evil, and each player is the hero.

Persistence? Respawning? Who cares? It's all about keeping it fun for the individual kid player.

The names in Wizard101 may be the greatest part of the game (Samoorai? Sherlock Bones? Meowriarty? Awesome.)

Combat is turn-based, cinematic, and uses a card collecting mechanic (the goal was approachable like Toontown, looks like Yu Gi O, plays like older Final Fantasy).

On the progression of the battle system, Coleman said they created a physical card game for focus testing with kids (sounds like they did a lot of focus testing throughout pre- and production). Next was a 2D prototype that let them further focus test the gameplay, and the AI. Then they did a canned cinematic to show how it would work together. Then they integrated everything.

What Went Right:
  • Scope - 30 people, and linear play made for needing less assets
  • Prototyping helped refine mechanics
  • Digital download/FTP mechanism for distribution
  • Minimum spec machine - Coleman asserts that kids get the lowest quality machine in a household; interestingly, he said this also enabled them to unexpectedly hit a chunk of the burgeoning netbook market
  • Steady, ongoing launch (as opposed to running up to a launch, getting big numbers, then dropping off sharply)
He showed comparative stats via that I'm going to have to dig into a bit more.

What Went Wrong:
  • Modular world building (bland, and the supposed re-use that drove the decision wasn't worth it)
  • Micropayment model (not enough variety at launch, not enough price points at launch)
  • Stats & Metrics ("too much is as bad as too little"; they had to many probes everywhere)
  • Design for growth (technology is scalable, but the design is not; this is due to things like using % for growth rather than absolute numbers, which causes problems when you need to raise your level cap)

There are social differences in a kids MMO - like for kids, everyone is a friend - but it's different (they'll friend you, but they won't socialize).

They offer a family pricing plan (Yay! Console service providers? Can you please do this?)

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SOURCES:,,,, IGN, GameInformer, Official XBox Magazine, CNN,, and others.


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