From Gordon Walton’s presentation at GDC about making MMOs post World of Warcraft
1. Take a critical look at your genre rather than being a fan or having experience. Blizzard were not experts in the genre — in fact, the company had never shipped an MMO before — Blizzard learned well from the genre’s past.
2. Keeping system specs low. “This is not about getting some more customers — this the opportunity to get lots more. Like 4-10x more.”
3. Quality counts. “What was consistent about every MMO pre-WoW is that they were buggy as sh*t. They were rough. Even if they were fun, they were rough. They all launched with hundreds, if not thousands, of known bugs.”
4. Embrace solo play, because gamers want it. Blizzard says, “We look at soloing as our casual game.”
5. Simplify the GUI! WoW’s interface is “as simple as it can possibly be and as fun as it can possibly be … but no simpler.”
6. It sucks to build content, but you have to do it. A player should not perceive all that she can do from the beginning of the game: something tantalizing has to hang out of reach. “If I can visualize everything that will happen to me by the end by level 3, the game’s over.”
7. Strong PVP (player vs player combat) is essential. Besides the core PVP gamers, “a certain percentage of people [exist who] don’t know that they want to compete once they have some mastery.”
8. Don’t tune for the hardcore. Don’t forget that the object is not to keep people as long as humanly possible, but to provide entertainment. When it comes to grinding, “they will do it, but they will hate you.”
9. Let players quit. Otherwise, “they quit because they’d stayed too long… the only way for them to escape was to demonize the game.”
10. Give players clear direction and choices. “An accessible game is directed. You never leave them in a place where they go ‘what do I do next?’ The vast majority of customers — particularly when you get out of the hardcore — need the signposts.” But don’t give them too many choices, and make them all good choices. People want to feel like things are complex, but they don’t really want them complex. You have to give them the illusion of complexity but keep it super-simple.”
11. An MMO should be easy to learn but difficult to master. “Nobody’s entertained by feeling incompetent. Feeling competent and gaining mastery is a huge part of game fun for people.”
12. Brands matter.
Some of these are also applicable to social media sites. Worth reading the Gamasutra summary of the talk for more color.