What goes into the vertical slice of an MMORPG? I feel that it would be hard to prototype when a lot of the game’s premise relies on quest progression, player-to-player interactivity, etc. It seems like something that cannot be communicated effectively until much later in development.

It's good to remember what a vertical slice is - it's a functioning version of all of the systems we plan on having in the game working together so that it is representative of the final game experience. MMORPGs tend to come with a lot of expected table stakes features, which means our vertical slice needs to have those features. For a MMORPG, that generally entails:

  • At least two distinct players on separate accounts able to log in and play in the same game world
  • A persistent game world - all players are able to log out and the same game state persists between logins
  • Functioning gameplay systems - skills, targeting, combat, leveling, crafting, etc.
  • MOBs that exist within the world independent of players
  • At least one quest that the players are able to accept, progress, complete, and obtain rewards
  • A functioning leveling system that allows players to level up and obtain rewards
  • Functional UI - combat, looting, character inventory, NPC interaction (e.g. quests, cinematic), chat, grouping with other players, etc.
  • A functioning chat system - player A can type a message and player B can read it in real time
  • A functioning item storage system (e.g. bank)
  • A functioning asynchronous mail system - player A can send a mail to player B who can receive it when they next log in.
  • A functioning player-to-player commerce system (auction house)
  • Functioning player-to-player direct trading
  • A functioning gear system

For a vertical slice to be a vertical slice, we don't need all of the different classes or races or gear or systems, but we need at least one of everything working together so that the play experience of the vertical slice is representative of the finished game play experience. Core functionality all has to be there. It can be a little unstable and it can be cobbled together, but everything should be there and it needs to feel like the intended final experience. The purpose of the vertical slice is to persuade the executives that the rest of the game is worth making.

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