Well, what's a unique feature in your eyes? Can you give some examples? I'm just failing to see how advanced player housing and deep social structures aren't features.
My point was that the unique features aren't really that important. They won't contribute significantly to the game's success. Features, as they are thought of by gamers, are relatively unimportant. A game can be in most ways a standard, unoriginal ripoff, and still be highly successful... this has been true of many games throughout history. The most important elements deal with execution of the basic game, not the features that embellish it.
/engage psychobabble: a game is ultimately a modulation of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is sustained by novel challenges that are well-balanced against the player's skill level, such that there is a realistic risk of loss and success depending upon the level of effort given. Extrinsic motivation is sustained by properly rewarding the player for participating in the content which is itself the most intrinsically motivating, ensuring that the player's achievement goals are consistent with their desires for play. In this way, a game capitalizes on player motivation.
And when you get right down to it, examining games for what they are--a psychological construct--there are no rules about good features or bad features. However, you can say that interesting, challenging gameplay that is well-balanced, and rewarding players for participating in the content that is fun for them, will definitively
allow a game to be successful. That's because these qualities are distilled from what a game actually is. Basically, it's the same reason that the best way to get a good glass of orange juice is to juice oranges
I think some of the features they're talking about sound really cool. But they'll have to be executed well following the same principles as the core game, and it's how well the core game executes those principles that will determine its success or failure. As I'm quick to point out, game designers don't understand these principles--most of them have never even had an opportunity to learn them. So you really have to rely on their luck, or optimistically, some sort of intuition to carry them through. But the odds are against them.
When I taught education pedagogy at the college level, I regularly had my students design simple games for learning and physical activity, and they were regularly horrible at creating original games (they did okay if they ripped off another game). That was fine, since we were doing it as a workshop, but consider that we're talking about games with depth akin to Duck, Duck, Goose, and they would crash and burn all the time. I wouldn't trust the average game designer to do much better. Designing games is really difficult because it's ultimately a very abstract and subjective balancing act. When you have a -huge- game system like in an MMO, there are so many variables to consider in the system that it really becomes impossible to comprehend all at once.
So at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what cool features you decide to add, it doesn't matter how hard you work and how passionate you are-- if you don't know how to do it, then you just don't. And game designers as a profession accept that they don't know how to do it--they use a design methodology called the iterative process for that reason. The idea, literally, is that they don't know what they're doing, so they're better off with a trial-and-error approach. And that's the design engine behind this game and most every other--a team of gamers working from their own, individual theories about game design, figuring it out as they go. Edited, Feb 28th 2013 7:11am by Kachi