Expansion Packs: Features vs Content

After discussing leveling the playing field while adding new content I want to mention another option for expansion packs.  Instead of adding content and levels, these expansion packs (and sometimes patches) can add new features to the game.

People may have different definitions for features and content.  For my purposes, features are things which add new ways to play the game.  These are also known as horizontal gameplay options. Content, on the other hand, adds new options for vertical advancement through the game.

Here are some quick examples of my working definitions.  The looking for dungeon tool that was added to WoW in a recent patch is a feature.  It gives players a new way to organize and play the game at all levels.  But, when WoW patches in new high-end raids they are adding content.  Players need to be at the top levels to continue into the new raid, which will then gain them better gear.  This is a type of vertical advancement.

A great model to look at for adding features instead of content is EVE Online.  They have a game world which is already defined.  The players in EVE decide what they want to do in the world with the tools provided.  When they release a new expansion (which they do - for free - through patches) they add new ways to interact with the world.  At one point EVE released an entire new profession, exploration.  Soon they are going to add the option to claim and harvest planets.  Right now the planets are there, but they don't do much.  EVE doesn't add high end content (although they balance it) they add new features instead.  Their players love this.

When a game adds features - instead of content - it keeps the level gap manageable between top players and new players.  This works in the company's favor because new players actually have a chance to get into the action without a huge grind for levels.  I have seen so many complaints from players saying that they understand the gameplay after reaching 25% of the level cap but they still have to slog through 75% of the levels before they reach new gameplay options (like raiding and balanced pvp).  In between the 25% mark and reaching the level cap it is the same gameplay with different graphics.  I wonder how many players quit between when they understand the gameplay and when they get access to new gameplay?

The addition of horizontal gameplay options also adds replayability to MMOs.  New content does not do this when it is added only to the top levels.  Too often, new content is simply the same gameplay with a new coat of paint slapped on.  Adding new features is an excellent way to diversify types of gameplay and keep a MMO feeling fresh.

On the market today, sandbox MMOs tend to add features regularly while themepark MMOs gravitate toward adding content.  These are the current trends, but both types of MMOs can benefit from the addition of features and content.


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