If I were Turbine I'd ask myself have we correctly identified the key elements that distinguish our game from other MMOs and do we strive to improve those elements each and every development cycle. Is there a mission statement that keeps the team on track or does the brand become diluted when Turbine grafts ideas from other MMOs? Is there still a laser focus on what makes the game fun (and making that fun better) or is there a danger in drifting towards trying to be all things to all people in hopes of capturing greater market share?
The list below is what sold me on DDO and has kept me playing for over 5 years where all other MMOs have failed to hold my attention more than a month. From my perspective, this is what makes the game a success. This is what makes it fun. These aspects should be further supported and developed for continuous improvement of the game.
(1) VOICE CHAT: DDO was the first MMO I experienced to offer voice. Facilitating this social connection is what pulls me away from single player games like Dragon Age and Skyrim. No fantasy story is as compelling as hearing about the lives of real people. It is the friendly voices of my guild mates that keeps me playing. What would happen to the game if voice chat were to disappear? Does Turbine consider voice chat to be a cornerstone of the game's success and if so, what improvements have been made since launch? Are there individual volume slider for each player in a party so you can crank up the volume on those who speak too quietly and tone down the volume on the players who have swallowed their microphone? Can Turbine be innovative in any way around voice chat: create an automatic voice chat channel without grouping anytime anyone steps onto the guild boat? How about audio messages that can be attached to letters to friends and guild mates? Have dungeons where a demon curse lowers the voice range of the cursed player so that he or she sounds like Satan or maybe a zone in Xoriat where voice chat sounds like squeaky gerbils? Squelch able user downloaded WAV file movie quotes that can be toggled onto hirelings to increase the value and fun of running with a hireling (same could be done with iron defender pets - growls, barks yaps or even meows). Those are a few ideas off the top of my head, and not necessarily ones that should be implemented; however, my point remains, if VOICE CHAT is one of the keys to DDO then Turbine should be improving upon the customer experience with this facet of the game.
(2) GROUP PLAY: DDO drew me in with the private instance. The smaller groups of 6 creates a dinner party atmosphere with humor and occasionally team work. I've felt lost in other MMOs where at best I exchanged a tell with a zerging stranger and tried to keep up as we avoided other players stealing our kills. I periodically like to solo and it’s important that the game remain accessible for single play but other MMOs can offer crowds of strangers running past each other. Let them be best at single play and let DDO continue to provide the best group play experience. This needs to remain a focus of game play.
With that in mind, has everything been done that can be done to facilitate the Looking For Group interface to making grouping easier? Are further improvements possible; for example, could I enter a particular quest I'd like to run in my LFM profile, say an unpopular one like Faithful Departed. Then, as I play the game, I would get personalized notices akin to World Broadcasts whenever there is a LFM up for my selected quest (Faithful Departed) advising me to go check the grouping interface.
Does Turbine's design philosophy, while necessarily supporting solo play with hirelings and dungeon scaling, still provide a structure that will naturally lead towards grouping? I find that the 10% xp bonus for not having any party members die discourages me from running with people outside of my guild. Now that dungeon scaling is in play I would rather solo or run with a friend than fill the group with PUGGERS who may be less experienced with the game and possibly die removing that 10% bonus. Could Turbine provide some incentive to encourage grouping with newer players, say a "mentoring bonus" of +15% xp for each player if there is at least one party member who is not a TR who has not run the quest or raid on any difficulty. When I run quests with guild members I often don't fill the party so that I can leave a few slots open in case any more guild members log on. If Turbine were to offer incentives, say +20%, +15% and + 10% renown bonus to FULL groups of small, medium and large guilds respectively then would those guilds be more tempted to pick up a 5th and 6th player when running a quest
Does Turbine's design philosophy for Enhancements and named loot facilitate and encourage group play? There is the Favored Souls Prestige Class champion and the Halfling's Hero's Companion but these are the exception rather than the rule among enhancements and hardly structured in power to incentivize larger group play. Could Turbine provide more powerful enhancements that would scale in power to encourage grouping? For example: Collective Consciousness (Each player with Collective Consciousness gains +25 Spell Points for every other player in the party with Collective Consciousness up to a maximum of 150 spell points), Strength in Numbers (You gain a stacking +1 STR/ +1 CON if two or more players are within a 15 foot radius, You gain a stacking +4 STR/ +4 CON if five or more players are within a 15 foot radius). Does Turbine design a respectable percentage of magic items to promote group play, for example +2 Falchion of the Harem Guardian [Min level 6] If 3 or more members of party are female Falchion is +3 and gains Flame burst, If 5 or more members of the party are female Falchion gains +5 and Summon Efreeti 1/day]
Does Turbine place an emphasis on designing quests that encourage group play without mandating it? A good example is the modular design of Into the Depths where it is more efficient to divide and conquer in a group yet objectives can still be completed individually. Does Turbine design quests where team work is preferable to overcoming an obstacle via solo play. The quest Schemes of the Enemy almost had this with the wheel puzzle for deactivating the Peacemaker boss but in the end, its more efficient to beat down the boss as a solo player or as a team than to work as a unit to solve the puzzle. Provide two paths to victory to allow for solo play but make the teamwork approach the more compelling method. Does Turbine make the quests accessible or does Turbine hide quest entrances deep in dangerous wilderness areas so that once the quest has begun newer players are reluctant to join the group because they can't find their way or its too dangerous for them to travel by themselves?
(3) ACCESSIBILITY: I have a family and I travel for work. I consume my entertainment in 30 - 60 minute increments. DDO succeeded where other MMOs failed by allowing me to log on and quickly access my entertainment without requiring participation in the MMO to be a part time job. I don't have to jog 15 minutes to reach a quest entrance before I can start my fun. I don't have to click on 500 dead bodies and sort through those inventories when I can open a single chest. Now there is dungeon scaling and hirelings so I don't necessarily have to wait to fill my party before beginning a quest. The game has been a success for me because I can partake in most of the content without grinding.
Is accessibility(*) still a central tenet of the game design. Does obtaining an end reward from Challenges require excessive grinding before an end reward can be created? Is Turbine designing Raids so that the casual player can participate in those Raids on normal without named loot/ Greensteel in every equipment slot? Is the crafting system designed for the casual player in terms of time investment or was it designed for a different type of player? When Turbine designs new quests and raids does it consider the amount of time needed to complete that content and strive to provide a few 30 - 60 minute options to promote accessibility for a wide range of players?
(*) Please note, there is a subtle difference between accessibility and difficulty. The game can still be a challenge with Elite settings and accessible via convenient to reach quest locations with minimal grind and optional Casual difficulty settings.
(4) CHARACTER CUSTOMIZATION: The ability to make mix and match the character classes into unusual combination is a big part of what has sustained my interests in this game. If limited to a few narrowly predefined classes (fighter always = tank, cleric always = healer) then I would have exhausted the game content by now and moved to something else. As it stand, I keep adding character slots and rerunning the content to try the latest prestige class or some unusual combination of my own creation just to see how it feels. Turbine is doing a good job in not pigeonholing us and letting us play what we want but could more be done to further customize character choices so they felt and played differently from one another rather than just being an assemblage of gear. Take alignment for example, has Turbine done enough with alignment to differentiate the play experience of a pure lawful neutral fighter versus a pure fighter that is true neutral, neutral good or chaotic neutral? Could more be done in terms of alignment specific enhancements and gear so that the choice of alignment would feel as distinct in game play as the choice of character race? Is there enough diversity feat selection or are we limited to a small subset of playable feats? Could there be more of an effort with enhancements and named gear to make some of the less popular feats (Bullheaded, Skill focus heal, Snake blood, Athletic, etc. ) more useful and interesting? Are there mechanics currently in the game that with just a little more attention and power adjustment could open up entirely new fronts of game play (trap making, pet augmentations etc.)?
(5) D&D SPIRIT: DDO is first and foremost a video game and yet what drew many of us to try the game was some past experience with pen and paper D&D and a desire to recapture some of that nostalgia. As Turbine improves its video game does it place proper emphasis on enhancing and further deepening the "flavor" from pen and paper D&D. Are quest and raids developed advancing the story of the Lord of Blades or do we get Challenges like kobolds mining gems as we lay torches or operate extractors with little back story and negligible connection to the D&D universe. What is Turbines priority for adding Iconic D&D monsters like purple worms, carrion crawlers, and even Owlbears versus adding Ice Games, Mabar coffee and increased bank space.. Turbine pays homage to classic video games like packman in the Shroud but does it try to bring classic D&D modules to life like Tomb of Horrors or White Plume Mountain? Are there still classic D&D magic items that could be added to the game? How much value does Turbine see in the DM narration and how is Turbine improving upon this element of the game (celebrity voice acting)? What is the relative importance of completing Prestige Enhancements or implementing Patron Deity options for cleric spell selection?
(6) ACTIVE COMBAT: I don't have any specific suggestions here but I think most would agree this is one of the major draws of DDO over other MMOs. Given this is the case can Turbine make that better? Rag doll physics? Simulated attacks of opportunity when a player enters the swing radius of a monster (normalized D&D movement rates in the attack radius consistent with monster's movement speed)? Environmental effects such a water on the floor weakening fire walls or rain and wind decreasing the effectiveness of missile weapons? Are there more things we can break, move and set on fire in the dungeon setting to make it feel more dynamic and interactive?