Once I shipped an expansion pack where players had no ability to access the contents of the expansion pack.

Meridian 59, my first shipped MMO, was a middling success, and we got to build an expansion. But Meridian wasn't an open-world. It was instead a linked series of maps, which were build in a Doom-like engine.

So we would need to put a teleporter door to take you to the new zone, a pretty cool Aztec themed island with a central temple that showed off our shit-hot new technology: the ability to have sloping floors (I shit you not).

The new location was an island but... we didn't really have boats. Or oceans. We didn't want to suggest it, or draw attention to the fact that we didn't have boats or swimming. Having an NPC teleport you was easy, but felt lame. What else could we do?

I hit upon the bright idea of having a tunnel connect the old world with the new world. And then I got really clever. What if we implied there was a secret door there that was ALWAYS there but you just couldn't open until now?

In the same expansion, we were adding a school of magic. Our magic was all tied to different Gods of Meridian, and the new school was tied to Riija, the god of Illusion. This seemed like an opportunity.

We needed to give players tools to deal with Riija so what if we gave another school a Dispel and made it so it would dispel a false wall, revealing a door that led to a tunnel that led to the island? Hot shit, this solves all our problems! Make it so! And so we did.

We also sprinkled in some vague clues - you know, object descriptions and NPC barks. Super vague. It would be a little puzzle, but people would figure it out and it would be cool. We implemented it early in dev of the xpack and frankly forgot about it.

Anyway, the xpack goes live and everyone is having a blast with a whole bunch of new stuff. We're watching chat with our God characters, watching them try to solve the puzzle of how to get to Ko'Catan. They don't figure it out the first day. We're feeling pretty clever.

Day 2 and they still haven't found it yet. We're still feeling pretty smug. This is a GOOD PUZZLE. Still, we have the QA guy check to be sure that those NPC barks are there. They are. Check that the object clues are there. They are. Check that dispel works. It does.

On Day 3, we're starting to get concerned, but our bosses order us to stop spending all day online. So we move on to whatever our next tasks are.

We have a CS guy go in the game and give more vague hints to the players and move onto our future work.

Somewhere around Day 7, our community manager sends a report out. He notes that the community is starting to get very frustrated that they can't get to the shiny new island. It is, after all, the bulk of what we sold. We're concerned.

There are some other complaints in his report, and then near the bottom, almost as a throwaway line, are complaints from players that have finally levelled up Riija that they can't cast most of His higher level spells.

Oh, no.

Oh, no. No, no, no, no!

The Meridian 59 system was based on reagents - consumables for spells - you needed dark angel feathers to cast certain spells for example, which were consumed when they cast. In retrospect, it was barbaric and harsh but that was our economy.

And the story of Riija's addition to the Pantheon was tied around the discovery of Ko'catan, which he was inexorably tied to in what feeble lore we had.

I think you can see where I'm going with this.

That's right, the reagents you needed to cast his spells and those that countered his spells, like Dispel Magic, and reach Ko'Catan were.... only available on Ko'Catan!

Holy fucking shit. We are, as a team, mortified.

Humbled and chastened, we put together an emergency plan. We ran an emergency event where we built some big monsters with emergency art - probably a big red yeti- and loaded their loot table with the missing reagents and spawned them in a town invasion for players to kill.

The players got the reagents, used the clues to find the secret door in like an hour.

It was all obviously very ghetto and obviously cheap and shitty, and so you can imagine how the community responded.

That's right, they FUCKING LOVED IT. Unlocking the new area in a massive event was INCREDIBLY AWESOME. They thought we were FUCKING GENIUSES.

People on message boards and in chat would try to point out that this seemed sloppy and half-assed and that we were fuck ups and they would get SHOUTED DOWN by all the players who thought this was JUST AMAZING.

The morals of the story:
1) Always have QA play through like a player with no cheats.
2) An event can paper over any fuckup.
3) Making MMOs is awesome.
4) Anytime you think you're smarter than all the players put together, its probably time to panic.


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Over the weekend, I played a board game called Praga Caput Regni, and let me tell you, if you like relatively heavy shit, it deserves to be In The Conversation.
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